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Exploitative economics

'Paradise Flooded': Vienna stages biting parable on economic disillusionment

As Hurricane Irma hit Florida, a biting drama made its premier at Vienna’s Burg (Court) Theater in the first in a climate-trilogy by the Austrian dramatist Thomas Köck. 'Paradise Flooded' pulled no punches.

Vienna's Burg Theater on Saturday staged its premier of Köck's parable depicting climate-change and migration as modern results of exploitative economics, paradoxically as Hurricane Irma prompted mass evacuations from Florida.

Paradise Flooded on show in the Theater's second Akademie (Academy) auditorium, begins with Europe's 19th century rubber colonialism, set in South America in 1869 among indigenous Brazilians who end up exploited.

It culminates in a middle class West European automobile workshop of modern times, whose crisis, according to Köck, exemplifies economic thinking gone haywire.

"Where does this form of interest-driven economics in which we find ourselves, this completely confused perception of our present-day, which alone no one can decipher, come from? Köck asked his interviewer on German public radio Saturday.

His play, set to modern music with choir, was premiered at Germany's Ruhr Festival in 2016 with Köck being awarded the Kleist promotional prize for young dramatists.

From 19th century rubber to modern tires

In the second phase of Paradise Flooded the workshop's bankrupt proprietor and tire handler becomes demented, and imagines tires stacked as towers.

His daughter, a dancer struggling on precarious earnings and worried about her future, seizes the opportunity to sell the family house, thinking the cash windfall will give her a slice of freedom.

According to Köck's societal analysis outlined in the theater's program notes, neo-liberalism is a modern expression of exploitative colonial thinking of the 19th century.

Thomas Köck Schriftsteller, Dramatiker (Imago/Winfried Mausolf)

Köck sees parallels in climate change and neo-liberalism

Exploitation but in a different form

"From now on amid the financial crisis, the individual exploits himself," according to the program notes with the Burg Theater production directed by Robert Borgmann.

It postulates that the presumed present-day "paradise" is also one over-flooded by thinking residing in concepts such as material products, "human resources," and memory based on "open-source databases.” 

Köck told Deutschlandradio Kultur (dradio) radio Saturday that the dancer, epitomized how strongly "culture is dependent on capital.”

"Who, conversely, can attribute evil to her; when she says, she wants to pursue her profession and develop her potential” by selling the house, Köck said, referring to the strictures of individualistic economic thinking.

Humanism 'smokescreen'

Humanism had been but a smokescreen for imperialist European expansionism, Köck asserted.

Interviewed by the Wiener Zeitung newspaper, Köck said his task as playwright had been to examine the relationship between nature and culture.

"Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution mankind has interfered massively in the Earth’s geological and atmospheric processes; our trash lies already in the sediments of the Earth. How did this come about? What impacts will this have? What does it mean for us? he asked.

'New utopias' sought

Asked by Deutschlandradio Kultur if he saw answers to political trends, Köck said it was vital as a dramatist to ask "why people behave, how they behave,” and "name problems" and deduce new utopias, "new possibilities."

Widely propagated claims that "there are no alternatives” amounted to the "worst vocabulary" and a grim expression of global exploitation, Köck told Deutschlandradio Kultur.

Reviewing Saturday’s performance, the German public radio station said Köck's drama drew a "common thread from early capitalism up the present-day neo-liberalism – with all of its destructiveness."

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