The Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs was packed for Monday night’s Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival screening of “Requiem for an American Dream,” a feature-length arrangement of interviews with the 87-year-old linguist and leftist intellectual Noam Chomsky.
Donald Rumsfeld, whom Chomsky has often critiqued for his role in the Iraq War, famously described “known knowns and unknown knowns.” The question for audience members at Monday night’s screening and Q and A was one of “known Noams” and “unknown Noams.” The known: the general contours of Mr. Chomsky’s political perspective, his long history of activism and academics, and his deep and wide-ranging style of verbal footnoting. The unknown: how the conversation would unfold between him and the audience on Martha’s Vineyard, an Island that would seem to crystalize many of Mr. Chomsky’s points about income inequality and elitism in America.
After the hourlong film, where Noam Chomsky’s voice boomed through the Campground alongside clips of his younger self — debating William F. Buckley, organizing against war in Vietnam — MVFF director Thomas Bena led Mr. Chomsky onstage for a brief conversation and to field questions from the audience.
In such a heated election-year horserace, on an Island that went for Bernie Sanders in the primary, there could be little doubt about about one line of questioning. “We’ve got an elephant in the room,” one audience member said to Mr. Chomsky. “We’ve got an election in November, between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton” — “and Jill Stein!” “and Bernie Sanders!” shouted audience members — “which will do the most to advance your principles?”
After expressing his ambivalence about both candidates, Mr. Chomsky went on to discuss his view on elections: “I think the election every four years should only take about 10 minutes,” he said, expressing disgust at how drawn-out American presidential elections are.
A young woman near the back rose and asked, “As a student attending a private college in America, a very expensive one at that … how do we make higher education more affordable?”
“By doing it,” replied Mr. Chomsky. “I went to college in 1945, and it was basically free. Tuition was a hundred dollars, and you could get a scholarship.”
After fielding a few last questions, Mr. Bena helped Mr. Chomsky into the audience to chat briefly with admirers, and the crowd slowly trickled out into the dark Campground.