It’s interesting to see how art has been affected by 9/11. A national tragedy like that will undoubtedly have a profound influence on performers, musicians, comedians, writers, etc. Some have looked within themselves and some have raged at the outside. It’s been over a decade since that awful day when the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were smashed by hijacked airplanes and a fourth plane was crashed into a Pennsylvania field. Since then, much has happened as a result, including two protracted wars, a highly divisive political atmosphere, curbing of civil liberties, an erosion of civil rights for many detained. It’s an exhaustive and sometimes depressing list.
In light of all this, it’s fascinating to watch Reno: Rebel without a Pause. A concert film by feminist performance artist, Reno, it was filmed in December, just a few months after 9/11. Most will remember the United States was still fragile and vulnerable, licking its collective wounds and trying to cobble together a semblance of normalcy.
With all this in mind, the film is a cathartic expression of grief, fear and outrage. Because of her political and social philosophy, Reno targets the Right and George W. Bush a lot throughout the show. Remembering just how jingoistic even the most fervent liberals were during those terrible months, it’s impressive that Reno doesn’t fall into the fear disguised as faux patriotism.
Her delivery is often loud and aggressive. Because of the subject matter, it often becomes quite emotional, but never saccharine or lachrymose. At one point, she plays a particularly awful version of “God Bless America” by Celine Dion and deconstructs the tune hilariously, while simultaneously bringing her audience members (and herself) to tears.
Reno comes off as big-hearted, flawed, tough and vulnerable. She takes the audience through her morning on 9/11, describing the sense of panic she and her neighbors felt, that was soon replaced by a sense of urgency and a need to be useful. She also laments the Islamophobia that came out of 9/11, recounting how she and her friends dashed to their neighborhood convenience store to patrol it in case of potential hate crimes. She also examines the renewed sense of patriotism and unity that she and her fellow New Yorkers felt soon after 9/11. It’s all very heartfelt, but she has a healthy sense of cyncism that allows for these moments of emotion, without indulging in sappiness.
Reno: Rebel without a Pause isn’t for everyone: conservatives in particular will bristle at some of her anti-Bush jokes as well as her peircing questions about the rise of xenophobia, racism and military jingoism in the face of a national tragedy. She makes light of people wrapping their ideology in the flag, but there is a serious undercurrent of fear in her words: she’s afraid that as the United States continues to graple with terrorism, our country’s leaders will allow for some of our most basic values, such as fairness, human rights and equality, to become comprimised if not obliterated. This show was performed over 10 years ago – it would be interesting to see what would Reno say now if she wrote a sequel.