Several years ago I was able to see a performance of a play by Peter Shaffer called Lettice and Lovage (1988). I was reminded of it again today thinking of poor Thomas Kinkade, who was arrested for DUI. What strikes me about the play is its reminder of where we are as a society. It doesn’t excerpt well, but here are a few snippets.
Lettice Douffet, a tour guide for Britain’s Preservation Trust and one of the two protagonists in the comedy, complains that now “we live in a country that wants only the Mere. Mere Guides. Mere People. Mere Events!” We live among people with no concept of greatness—or courage.
We have greater technologies than our forebears, but we have paid a price. The color and drama, the sense of purpose, is leaching out; what remains is too often gray as concrete. Later in the play, Lotte Schoen, the other protagonist and the personnel director of the Trust, tells her that “There’s no one left now with any spunk at all.”
Lettice responds: “Just the Mere! The Mere People. They’re all who remain.”
Shaffer saw this playing out not least in architecture, which was going through a horrible period (British brutalism, they call it). Lotte tells of looking at a new modern monstrosity of a building in London: “It was nearly finished: a great dead weight of Not Trying. Not Trying and Not Caring!”
As the play ends, Lotte joins Lettice as an enemy of the Mere, who offers “Enlargement for shrunken souls—Enlivenment for dying spirits—Enlightenment for dim, prosaic eyes.”
The ideologues and marketers and politicians of the modern world would narrow us to consumers or victims or cube dwellers—or just animals. Who can be surprised at the results; boredom and high rates of suicide. Surely there is more than this. Mere survival is not enough for the human spirit. But pushing for anything more requires creativity, imagination, and vision—and the courage to stand up for them.
And that is the real tragedy, for me, of someone like Thomas Kinkade, who could offer something larger, but instead offers mere sentiment. Certainly beauty takes work, but nothing less can overcome the mere.