Sunday, March 17, 2013

There's A Place For Us

"Most Fabulous Story Ever Told"  has certainly stimulated "discussion"

A High School announces a play, adults are insulted, controversy rages: letters to the editor, editorials, the ACLU -- via Bill Newman -- enters the fray, and before the curtain rises folks form picket lines holding signs championing both side of the issue.

Sound familiar?

Well if you're from Amherst, the PC capital of the Happy Valley, all too familiar.  But what I find fascinating is the Amherst Regional High School principal in 1999, Scott Goldman, allowed "West Side Story" to be cancelled because of "racial stereotyping."   Really.

Yes, for the first and only time in history a production of "West Side Story" was censored.  In overly enlightened Amherst, of all places.  Although a few years later it went on without controversy at a high school in nearby Holyoke, which has a much higher Hispanic population.  

Whereas only five years later Amherst became the only high school in the nation to allow teenaged girls to perform "The Vagina Monologues."

But now 14 years later Mr. Goldman, principal of Pioneer Valley Performing Arts charter school, stands firm defending "The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told."  I wish he had shown that kind of backbone 14 years ago.

Why is it okay to censor art as "sensitivity" to perceived racism but not to protect against perceived blasphemy?

What high school kid does not like to tweak adults, create controversy, and garner their 15 minutes of fame early in life?  

Of course "art" should stimulate discussion and challenge the status quo, but sometimes it seems high schools pick their plays simply for the side benefit of free advertising brought on by all the controversy.

A generation from now "The Vagina Monologues" and "The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told" will be long forgotten.  "West Side Story" however, will still be dancing up a storm. 


Dr. Ed said...

Part 1:

Heaven forbid people take off their ideological blinders long enough to even understand that they actually agree with the message they want to shout down or otherwise censor.

It's like the janitor go got into trouble reading Notre Dame Vs. The Klan with no one bothering to realize (until FIRE pointed it out) that the book's topic is accurately described in its subtitle: "How the 'Fighting Irish' DEFEATED the Klan." (Emphasis added.)

I consider this a sign of not just immaturity but insecurity -- people aren't secure enough in the legitimacy of their values to tolerate any evaluation let alone criticism of them -- kinda like how people like Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon were back in the 1950's.

And because people don't understand things like the Klan, because people don't understand how a nation of civilized and basically decent people could perpetrate the Holocaust on what had been their fiends & neighbors, because people don't neither read things like the Nuremberg Laws nor understand the origins of the term "lynching" (which isn't what most people think it is) -- because people don't know anything ABOUT groups like the Klan and Nazis, they don't know any of the WHY such groups are bad (I argue "evil"), and thus don't understand WHY they are bad.

It is like the UM honors student who once proudly told me (instructor) that she was opposed to private ownership of guns. I asked her "why" -- and her response was to emphasis that she had given the correct answer -- "but I am opposed to them."

"I know you are opposed to guns", I responded, adding "but WHY are you?"

It was the look of a deer frozen in your headlights. No one had ever asked her that before.

Now I am not going to humiliate a student, and with one with one evil glare to her classmates, made it quite clear that they'd better not try. And we all quietly waited.

She eventually said "guns are yuckky."

This was not a stupid kid, and she'd graduated from one of the "good" suburban Boston school systems that Amherst likes to compare itself to -- and this was the best she could do in defense of what likely was one of her strongest held beliefs.

This is what I mean by ideological blinders.

Dr. Ed said...

Part 2:

If I am not mistaken, West Side Story is about two people of different races/cultures/religions who realize that as individuals they have more in common with each other (i.e. their love) than they don't.

If you consider race to be a social construct -- and it is -- then WSS, like Romeo & Juliet several centuries earlier, is a powerful message against not just racism but the concept of race itself.

The point understood in Shakespeare's time but missed today is that in the small environment of that place and time, the Capulets & Montagues were essentially different races. Anyone remember the genocide in Rhwanda where "race" was determined not by the color of ones skin but the shape of ones nose -- and that very much was a racial genocide -- which is my point about race being a social construct.

I forget if it is Orthello or Merchant of Venice but one of them has the "if you prick me, do I not bleed?" and a powerful statement against racism -- that we all bleed red blood.

And I have personally meet a Black woman (from the South) who argues that Huck Finn should be taught in High School and that it should be taught with the racial slurs left in. What she finds reprehensible is the use of the "N-word" amongst the Black community -- she argues that it is a hateful term regardless of who uses it and that it should be condemned.

Of course, the other problem with West Side Story is that it is a strong message of individualism -- and the left can't tolerate individualism...

Hence "groupthink" -- i.e. The Vagina Monologues is preferred.

Anonymous said...

Amherst has no backbone and it hasn't since I moved here 14 years ago. They are a nationally known, and laughed at on a regular basis. Think how many times you tell people outside of town that you live in Amherst and they roll their eyes or pose such comments like "how do you deal with the BS". Everyone here loves to tout how it's the land of acceptance, yeah right just as long as you are an ultra-liberal and agree with everything they believe in. It's always amuses everyone at dinner parties when I share "The life and times of Amherst" everything from the salamander crossings to the vaginal mono-laughs LOL! Any stand up comedian could make a fortune off the material this town creates. Keep up the terrible work Amherst!

Walter Graff said...

ʇsɹǝɥɯɐ is a disgraceful town with no spine and ideological values that go against everything this country represents. Funny how ignorant such supposedly educated people really are. New motto, "the passive aggressive place to live where avoiding any form of expression or action makes for a great place that can proudly say it never excludes, marginalizes, or insults certain groups of people but damn does everyone laugh at us."

Tom Porter said...

I could join in about Amherst and its intolerance for diversity of political opinion, but that's another post not this one, and besides I love the old hometown nonetheless. Yes, we are a laughingstock, but at least they spell our name correctly.

In the case of PVPA and the new production, I'll plan to see it the same day I go to Book of Mormon - that 'cold day in Hell.' From the description, the manifesto, and the posturing of the administration, it seems like self-conscious acting-out. But if others want to see it, they should. A friend whom I know from a committed, observant Jewish household told me today her family had seen the play and liked it. And the kids at that school know how to stage a play - so God bless 'em.

As for ARHS and West Side Story, it's a shame that those students got used so baldly, and never got to perform that spectacular production. Not one of our finest moments, Amherst,

...but we made O'Reilly!

Larry Kelley said...

O'Reilly was gearing up to cover the "West Side Story" sacrilege but the controversy peaked too quickly.

In fact I did not even get to write a monthly column on it for the Amherst Bulletin because by the time my rotation was up my editor said it was "old news."

NBC Today Show (back when they were at their peak) did cover it with a live 7 minute segment.

And at the First Amendment Rally I orchestrated on the Amherst town common there were more reporters (print, radio, TV) than spectators.

So five years later when I emailed O'Reilly a press release with the lead: "The only high school in history to cancel a production of "West Side Story" is about to become the only high school in the nation to allow young girls to perform the R rated "Vagina Monologues".

Well, they jumped on it pretty quickly. Twice.

Dr. Ed said...

I am struck by the differences in response to "Piss Christ" and "Draw Mohammed" -- how one can intentionally offend member of one faith but not members of the other.

CAMERA is reporting on the massacre (if not genocide) of Christians in Egypt -- in the context of that reality, how different is this play from one celebrating Hitler and the rest of the National Socialists?

A few years back, a few sophomoric youths in Lewiston (ME) thought it would be cute to roll a severed pig's head into the local mosque. They didn't do any physical damage to the mosque, e.g. didn't break or damage anything, but they really upset the members of that religious community.

This is a free country and Scott Goldman and the rest of those schmucks are free to be as insensitive as they want to be, and I'm free to call them schmucks and a**h***s for being such.

But I ask: what exactly is the difference between intentionally offending Christians and doing likewise to Muslims or Jews? I'm sure there is some nasty anti-Semitic play out there somewhere, would people have the same reaction were that the play being performed?

Wig & Pen said...

Leaving aside what one may think of Scott Goldman's abrasiveness, one possiblity is that he learned a thing or two from the West Side Story debacle, which brought Amherst national ridicule. More selfishly cast, Scott couldn't have devised a more pesonally redemptive stroke thatn the current opportnity.

TCC said...

Tom Porter, I think the issues here are also age appropriateness and exploitation ... i.e. using minors (and taxpayers monies) to advance an ideological, anti-Christian agenda.

BTW: When did wholesome become such a dirty word for these arty types?

Dr. Ed said...

I agree with Izzy -- and still want to know when we are going to see the play that offends Islam...

TCC said...

Fox News coverage of the controversy

Dr. Ed said...

What's next -- a recitation of The Satanic Verses?

Do these children even understand what the Biblical passages that they are mocking even mean? Of course not -- I doubt they have ever even read them.

"Bible bad" -- that's all they need to know, and likely all they ever were taught...

Want controversy? How about a play based on the premise that the woman's place is in the home and that she should be "barefoot & pregnant", subservient to her husband. It wouldn't be hard to write something like that -- nor to find teenaged boys who would dearly love an excuse to shout the most vile and crude obscenities in public. (Wait! I just plagiarized the Vagina Monologues....)

I have no doubt that if there were a play involving public defecation, there would both be some teenagers who thought that this was great, and some art critics who defended the artistic nature of this.

So, seriously, why not a public reading of The Satanic Verses?