Ralph R. Reiland: Tolerable intolerance on campus
Continuing in the tradition of George Orwell's seemingly contradictory “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery” and “Ignorance is Strength” slogans in his book “1984,” the ironically named “Freedom of Expression” policy at Middle Georgia State University, covering its five campuses, declares that “the University has designated ‘Free Expression Areas' on each campus, and these areas are the only areas that may be used for expression.”
Such activity is limited on the Macon main campus to one grassy section “between the Education Building and the Library.”
In a recent column, Samantha Harris of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education points to two recent censorship cases in which college theater departments “canceled productions after students objected to the content of the plays.”
In October, she reports, “the theater department at Brandeis University ... canceled a planned fall production of a play based on the comedy of Lenny Bruce by acclaimed playwright and Brandeis alum Michael Weller. The play, which centers around the efforts of a fictional Brandeis student to perform a Lenny-Bruce-inspired comedy routine on a modern-day campus, was meant to be a provocative exploration of how Bruce's works might be received on campus today.” Brandeis now says the play is postponed until spring, not canceled.
One student leading opposition to the play explained his position, a superb example of political correctness and the evolution of a newfangled tolerable intolerance. “The issue we all have with it is that (Weller) is an older, straight gendered, able-bodied and white man. It isn't his place to be stirring the pot,” said Andrew Childs, a member of the “play selection committee.”
Being a member of the tribe Childs described — older, straight, able-bodied, white and male — I am, in his bigoted opinion, automatically in the wrong and forbidden from stirring any pots. Still, I'll discard the muzzle and ask two questions.
Given Childs' efforts to quash Wellers' work because of his age and birth characteristics — straight, white, male, able-bodied, old — is Childs saying that societal microphones, stages and presses should be reserved for those who are non-straight, “of color,” female, “differently abled” and young?
And didn't the Third Reich's propaganda ministries prevent performances of symphonies by Jewish composers, ban the works of authors, filmmakers and playwrights based on group prejudices, and dispatch storm troopers to halt stage performances and silence comedians?
In Illinois, the theater department at Knox College canceled a production of Bertolt Brecht's “The Good Person of Szechwan, reports Harris, after students objected that “white students would be cast in roles that might otherwise have been played by students of color.” Said the editorial board of The Knox Student: “The theatre department is a very white department — like many departments at Knox — and it needs to acknowledge that they are coming from a place of privilege and prejudice.”
Being white, in short, is synonymous with guilt? That's not racism?
Ralph R. Reiland is associate professor of economics emeritus at Robert Morris University and a local restaurateur (firstname.lastname@example.org).