Zayd Dohrn is a screenwriter and playwright with an MFA from NYU, currently teaching in an MFA program in Writing for the Stage and Screen at Northwestern University. His new play, Muckrakers, first produced in 2013, tells the story of Mira, a young female activist, who brings home famous political hacker and journalist, Stephen, to stay a night. Mira picks Stephen’s brain through the night and it becomes clear that Mira and Stephen feel very differently about the right to privacy in the modern world. By the end of the night, Mira outs a huge secret Stephen has by broadcasting it live on her laptop, and the play leaves us before we can see the political turmoil that ensues afterward.
This play was an extremely quick read, a one-act, but was enticing and interesting to read. I usually avoid books and shows that center on politics, as real-life politics gets me heated enough on its own, but Muckrakers kept me hooked with it’s true to life characters and a colliding of two different worlds through Stephen and Mira.
When thinking about this play, one might need to pause at the title and recall: what is a muckraker? There are two different connotations in which we can look at the term, muckraker. And because of the nature of this play, it’s important that we do look at them! Mira is American and Stephen is British, so we consider both the American and British connotation of the word. The American connotation states that a muckraker is a reform-minded journalist who attacks government leaders as corrupt, almost a type of investigative journalist who uses publication as a way to enforce change. The British connotation is a little more derogatory and often used to describe journalists involved in gossip and celebrity rumor.
This very accurately describes our two characters, although Stephen is a little more politically involved than celebrity gossip. Mira roots all her arguments in the writings of a Frenchman named Michel de Montaigne. She says that his writing, the Essays (written in 1580), were about visibility and that people should act the same privately as they would publically, which eliminates the need for privacy and having the public eye always watching would hold people to a higher standard.
I found this topic and wording VERY reminiscent of Emma Watson’s new movie, The Circle. Some words, such as transparent, visibility, and complete openness, are exact in both the movie and Dohrn’s play. However, Muckrakers was much more engaging and interesting and truthful to me than The Circle was. In a time as politically charged as today is, this play was a thoughtful scene, forcing you to ask yourself whether total transparency for the greater good was realistic and plausible, and the ending– a heartbreaking and wonderful ending– begs to question the consequences of having such transparency.
MIRA: Mm. But it’s really about visibility. About how– people should act the same in public as in their private lives– expose themselves, in their most intimate moments. To publicize their behavior. Because only with other people watching are we reminded of our better selves. Held to a higher standard. And this was written four hundred years ago! So it’s not “my generation.” Montaigne says a good man should build his home out of glass. Make it totally transparent.
Quote from Tom Hank’s character in The Circle:
Knowing is good. But knowing everything is better.