Be it her longstanding court battle with the National Endowment for the Arts or her fondness for melted chocolate as a medium of artistic expression, performance artist and writer Karen Finley has always found a way to be transgressive. So it may come as no surprise that Finley believes the war in Iraq can be reduced to a psychosexual disorder of Oedipal proportions.
In her new book George & Martha Finley couples George Bush with Martha Stewart in an imaginary love affair between an infantile President and a domineering homemaker. Throw in the parallel to Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and you begin to understand Finley’s preoccupation with sexuality, psychology and gender roles.
What inspired you to create a satire that couples George W. Bush with Martha Stewart?
I was interested at first in doing a musical on the Bush Administration, but when I was working on the musical, Martha Stewart was so much in the news and I became fascinated by America’s preoccupation with her. And I couldn’t understand how Bush was going to be re-elected. So I put those two together in a relationship, and that was my interest, to really show America’s engagement with these people.
Now that George is midway through his second term and Martha is perhaps more popular than ever, how do you look back on the outcome?
I look at it as tragic. What I’m trying to do here is take an analytic approach and look at his pathology as the reason for our fascination. I think that I try to explore his reasons for going to war and his failures as a human being. I also think that his pathology is based on his desires of patricide. I feel that he wants to get rid of his own father. Bush’s sister died of leukemia when he was very young and his father was not around…When children came to the door and asked him to play, he would tell them, “I’m sorry, but my sister died. I have to take care of my mother.” I feel that he resents his father to a degree that’s Oedipal and that he has disguised his own desire of getting rid of his father with his desire to get rid of Saddam Hussein. I could never understand why he was so fixed on tying Saddam to 9/11. I think he is replacing his wish to get rid of his father with Saddam’s wish to get rid of his father. He’s not protecting this country. He’s actually destroying America with his death wish for his father. He’s the evildoer. He’s the man with the weapons of mass destruction. His psychology is so simple.
What is Martha’s psychology?
Martha is hyper-domestic. Her interest in hyper-domesticity is to be a hyper-mother, to be a better mother than her own…. I think all of us somehow identify with that, but she feels she should be punished for that wish, so it’s Oedipal as well… Our fascination with George is more with his pathology, that he isn’t as good as his father. He’s a mirror image, but just not as capable. That’s what people relate to. They’ve been writing about it since the ancients. Greek dramas have been written about it.
George & Martha had a brief theatrical run in 2004, in which you played the Martha character. Was it difficult to perform such an intense yet insidious psychosexual relationship? Did audiences react the way you expected?