Steve Bannon—the racist, Darth Vader-worshipping, ferociously anti-Muslim opportunist whom President Trump has accidentally made one of the most powerful people on the planet—is being scrutinized as the cause behind Trump’s disastrous first two weeks in office. Yesterday, The New York Times reported that Trump was not even fully briefed on the fact that he had placed Bannon on the National Security Council, a position normally held by generals and kept entirely free of politics. He was the mastermind behind the botched rollout of the Muslim Ban, and he’s reportedly already drafted many more additional executive orders that he wants Donald Trump to give a cursory glance to before signing. The scrutiny on Bannon is well-deserved, in other words; he is the most trusted advisor to our easily swayed, know-nothing president.
Bannon’s rich past has already been picked over amply since his emergence last year: He has alternately served as chief race-baiter at Breitbart, documentarian filmmaker, and sometime Hollywood fringe figure who made millions off of Seinfeld. Today, however, we turn our eyes upon his abortive attempt to create a rap musical based on Shakespeare’s Coriolanus.
As The Daily Beast originally reported in August, and as The Independent has resurfaced today, Bannon once attempted to create a film called The Thing I Am, a rap-filled Bard redux based on the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The painful pull-quotes from The Daily Beast’s original article are many. Here’s one:
Coriolanus’s Menenius Agrippa, a senator of Rome, is recast as “Agrippa, ‘Mack Daddy’ of South Central, an ORIGINAL GANGSTA (O.G.) upper-echelon Blood.”
Here is another, courtesy of his writing partner Julie Jones:
“Steve [then] added stuff—all the ‘dudes’ are him,” Jones recalled. “It’s not strictly rap. It’s more Shakespeare in rap [music].”
Word, dude! Here is a tasteful quote from the script:
“South Central is the belly, you, niggas, its mutinous members; look on and you’ll see that the benefits which you receive proceed… from them to you. In no way from your sorry black asses,” Agrippa retorts.
In the interview, Bannon’s old writing partner says he wasn’t racist at all—citing at least one (1) black friend—and indeed, the invitation to the staged reading of The Thing I Am evokes some of the very issues his administration seems opposed to.
“Coriolanus, the adaptation, will shed light on the continuing subversive effects of racial abuse going back centuries—from the mines of Apartheid in South Africa, [to] slavery, prejudice and brutality, to gang cultures and the growing disregard for the disadvantaged in society today,” the invitation continues. “It will show how the culture of greed, elitism, discrimination and inhumanity repeats itself today in a self-defeating replay of atrocities…”
It has an earnest, appropriative attitude toward hip-hop; the flier itself boasts of blending “two seemingly disparate genres—street rap and Elizabethan drama.” It all evokes the tolerant “I’ll try a little rapping, but not too much” attitude of Mr. Show’s classic sketch “Rap: The Musical”:
Would Bannon’s attempt to evoke the Los Angeles riots via rapping achieve the same fusion between verse and narrative Prince Paul did on his epochal A Prince Among Thieves? Or would it, perhaps more likely, sound more like Saved By The Bell’s “Snow White And The Seven Dorks”?
It’s hard to say for sure, but the released quotes are enough to know: It would be bad. Bannon’s a horrifying figure, and if we can skewer his past (as we have Kellyanne Conway’s stint as a stand-up comedian or Sean Spicer’s history of being a shitty Twitter egg), we should. But let’s not think any of it is inconsequential. We see in these early moments the seeds of the very qualities that they’ve shown now that they’re in power; power merely italicizes Conway’s feckless showmanship or Spicer’s barely simmering rage. And in The Thing I Am, we see Bannon as an ambitious, confused intellectual, woefully out of touch and merely deigning to descend to the plight of the people he perceives as lesser than him. As funny as the pull-quotes are about Bannon’s shitty rap opera, this too appears in The Daily Beast piece:
“He would always look down on poor people of any color. At one point, he told me that only people who own property should vote.”
He is the most powerful person in the country. Failed artists can do terrible things.