Radical Theatrics

Put-Ons, Politics, and the Sixties

Craig J. Peariso

  • Published: 2014. Paperback August 2016
  • Subject Listing: History; Politics
  • Bibliographic information: 245 pp., 18 illus, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

From burning draft cards to staging nude protests, much left-wing political activism in 1960s America was distinguished by deliberate outrageousness. This theatrical activism, aimed at the mass media and practiced by Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies, the Black Panthers, and the Gay Activists Alliance, among others, is often dismissed as naive and out of touch, or criticized for tactics condemned as silly and off-putting to the general public.

In Radical Theatrics, however, Craig Peariso argues that these over-the-top antics were far more than just the spontaneous actions of a self-indulgent radical impulse. Instead, he shows, they were well-considered aesthetic and political responses to a jaded cultural climate in which an unreflective "tolerance" masked an unwillingness to engage with challenging ideas. Through innovative analysis that links political protest to the art of contemporaries such as Andy Warhol, Peariso reveals how the "put-on" - the signature activist performance of the radical left - ended up becoming a valuable American political practice, one that continues to influence contemporary radical movements such as Occupy Wall Street.
Craig J. Peariso is assistant professor of art history at Boise State University.

"Admirably lucid . . . a significant challenge to much scholarship on this crucial decade."
-T. V. Reed, author of The Art of Protest: Culture and Activism from the Civil Rights Movement to the Streets of Seattle

"An important piece of intellectual history, art history synthesis, or reinterpretation of aspects of 1960s politicized performance. Peariso's argument is fresh and original."
-Bradford Martin, author of Theater Is in the Street: Politics and Performance in Sixties America


Introduction Stereotypes, Opposition, and "the Sixties"
1. Monkey Theater
2. "Watch Out for Pigs in Queen's Clothing": Camp and the Image of Radical Sexuality
3. "Erect . . . Strong . . . Resilient and Firm": Eldridge Cleaver and the Performance of "Black" Liberation


"Craig J. Peariso's work challenges traditional narratives regarding some of North America's most significant political iconoclasts of the 1960s."
-Max Shulman, TDR: The Drama Review

"Radical Theatrics is a thought-provoking book that should educate and trouble anyone desperate to change the world and confused about what to do when those efforts stall."
-Jeremy Varon, Journal of American History

"This intriguing book presents a revisionist revaluation of the more problematic radical edges of political performance art in the United States of the mid-to-late 1960s. . . . Peariso has successfully shown that awkward decade was up for it in many compelling ways. . . . [Radical Theatrics] launches a sophisticatedly argued call for newly creating politico-aesthetic styles of 'anti-representational' performance."
-Baz Kershaw, Studies in Theatre and Performance

"Peariso's study of 'failed' sixties radicalism is an important contribution to our growing understanding of the complexities of radicalism in the postmodern, where performance is everywhere and manifold."
-Alan Filewod, Labour / Le Travail