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Thomas: Theater of the Absurd in Ferguson, Missouri

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

It was in a college theater class that I learned about a genre called “Theater of the Absurd.”

These were plays written mostly by European playwrights between the 1940s and 1960s, as well as a certain style that flowed from their work.

What reminded me of this is now “playing” in Ferguson, Missouri, after the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was – select one – a) innocently walking down the street when a police officer shot him to death without provocation, or, b) walking with a friend in the street and told by a police officer to get on the sidewalk, whereupon a physical confrontation occurred and Brown allegedly tried to grab the officer’s gun and was shot by the cop, now identified as Darren Wilson. This after Brown allegedly robbed a convenience store of some cigars and was seen on a store camera intimidating the clerk as he walked out, which may, or may not, have been related to the shooting.

The rioting and looting that followed and the pundits who weighed in with the familiar narrative about slavery, discrimination, stereotyping, joblessness, lack of education and absent fathers, are familiar scenes we have watched in incidents dating back to the race riots of the 1960s. Blue ribbon commissions have been appointed to study the “causes.” Laws have been passed. Little has changed.

The Theater of the Absurd, as defined by The American Heritage Dictionary, is “A form of drama that emphasizes the absurdity of human existence by employing disjointed, repetitious, and meaningless dialogue, purposeless and confusing situations, and plots that lack realistic or logical development.”

Doesn’t this sound like Ferguson, Missouri, in recent days?

The cast of characters has expanded with the introduction of the National Guard, ordered to Ferguson by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to quell the unrest, much of it apparently fomented, according to some locals, by outsiders taking advantage of the situation to engage in criminal activity.

Just how absurd things are getting in the St. Louis suburb and in some of the commentary written before all the facts are known can be seen in these headlines on the Drudge Report: “George Zimmerman attorney urges caution” (Zimmerman was found not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin); “Iran’s Ayatollah weighs in;” “Jesse Jackson: ‘state execution.’”

If jumping to conclusions were an Olympic sport, some of these loudmouths who insert themselves where they don’t belong and frequently fan flames instead of working to extinguish them would win gold medals.

The shooting galleries in Chicago and other major cities leave hundreds dead each year. Most shooters and victims are black, or Hispanic, but only the local news gives coverage. There are no statements from the president. No FBI or Justice Department investigative task forces are sent from Washington. I have yet to hear a credible explanation for this.

It is the same when a child disappears. A white child, especially a female, gets a lot of attention, a black child, no matter the gender, not so much. Isn’t this a form of racism?

One more question that adds to the absurdity: Why is so little attention paid to African-Americans who have overcome difficult circumstances to become responsible citizens and committed husbands and fathers? Possible answer: It doesn’t play into the media’s stereotypical portrayal of the black man as a frightening, threatening, menace to society. Blacks who loot stores make for more dramatic pictures than those who are law-abiding. (To their great credit, Brown’s parents have repeatedly called for calm in Ferguson, to little avail.)

Don’t the major media have a bias of their own in these matters? It’s all so absurd.

• Cal Thomas’ latest book is “What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America” is available in bookstores now. Readers may email Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribune.com.

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