Tag Archives: censorship

Odds and sods: September 2016

Okay, this is going to be a shorter list than usual, maybe because everyone has a breather after the Edinburgh Fringe. But that’s okay because I have a shedload of reviews to catch up on myself, so the sooner I can zip through this, the better.

Stuff that happened in September:

As I said, limited theatre stuff, but a couple of things elsewhere in the arts world that grabbed my interest. Starting with the theatre stuff …

Alphabetti Theatre

Typewriter at Alphabetti TheatreThis could have been Setepmber’s big news in the north-east, and not in a good way. Happily, something that could have been a disaster now looks to be swiftly averted.

It was a “Save Alphabetti Theatre” crowdfunder that came out of nowhere. In spite of a very successful first 18 months, it was announced out of the blue (well, nearly out of the blue – the fact that the event at which is was announced was called a “fundraiser” was an early hint) that Alphabetti was facing closure if it didn’t get more money. A Kickstarter fund was launched with a £2,500 target, but luckily for Alphabetti, they’ve earned themselves a lot of supporters, because they raised £6,300 (and, interestingly, a lot of backers come from outside the north-east). Together with a whip-round at the original fundraiser that made it £7,100. The Kickstater was only one part of the fund-raising, and the overall target was more like £10,000. It’s not a hard and fast figure – this doesn’t mean that £9,999 means closure but £10,001 means Alphabetti forver – but that’s roughly what they need to clear their debts. But with organisations up and down the country wanting to chip in – another sign of how good a job Alphabetti’s done building its reputation – it looks like this target will be reached. Continue reading

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How to cope with being offended – a handy guide

Lionel Shriver

Lionel Shriver. Completely unrelated to this questionnaire. Especially Q10.

One of things that makes the Edinburgh Fringe so successful, especially the comedy, is the convention that anything goes. Television comedy often shies away from more cutting edge stuff, fearful of all the complaints they’ll get. At the fringe, you get the chance to see something bolder. However, one side-effect of this anything-goes mentality is that you might take exception to something somebody says. This happens on television too, but it’s more likely to happen in the fringe environment. Which begs the question – how can you possibly cope with someone offending you this way?

Painful though it is for some people to contemplate, the Fringe organisers are dominated by people who cannot, or will not, instruct people to not say anything that might upset someone’s delicate sensibilities. But fear not. Inspired by this wonderful flowchart by the legendary John Robertson of The Dark Room fame (and adapted with his kind permission), this extended list of questions should cover any situation that may arise in any kind of comedy, be it stand-up, sitcom, satire or any other form you can imagine.

(And, okay, this list doesn’t cover every situation and shouldn’t be taken 100% literally, but you get the idea. I suspect the people who’d benefit the most from this list are the people who are most likely to miss the point, but I can try.)

No prizes for spotting the references to real events. I may well add to this list as future incidents arise, but this will do for now. Are you ready, here we go …

(UPDATE: I’ve expanded the list in light of recent events. I suspect I may be doing this quite a lot.)

Q1: Are you offended?

No: Get on with your life.
Yes: Go to Q2.

Q2: Do you know why you’re offended?

No: Get on with your life.
Yes: Go to Q3. Continue reading

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Why I don’t believe Penguin’s side of the story

Righty-ho. This is something I’ve been working on and off for about two months, and I’ve kept having to defer this as more urgent news, reviews and previews took precedence. As you will see, it’s taken quite a bit of work going back finding primary sources, scrutinising them, and then writing about what I found. But here it is at last: a follow-up to “On the Ladybird vs Elia spat” that I wrote back in January, concerning the needless row between an independent author and Penguin Random House over a parody of the Ladybird books, and subsequent arguments over who stole whose idea. At the time, I tried to avoid coming off the fence too strongly, because I wanted to make to point that it’s good to build on each other’s ideas, and – oddly enough –  I tried to suggest it was time to put the dispute behind them. But here’s where it ends. This is where I take sides and lay into Penguin.

Teal Deer sign

Warning! Very long post ahead!

The reason I’m compelled to take sides is the attitude from a small but vocal number of people taking the line that Penguin is entirely blameless and it’s completely Miriam Elia’s fault. What’s more, the comments were a mixture of rude, aggressive, patronising, and – I suspect – attempts to intimidate people like me into deleting anything that might make Penguin look bad. So I had to go back and double-check the web pages where I got originally got my information from. And from there, I checked the primary sources cited. I thought I might come to some middle-of-the-road conclusion – perhaps Penguin merely mishandled things and allowed a misunderstanding to get out of hand, but I guessed wrongly. The evidence I’ve found overwhelmingly backs what Elia and others have been saying all along, and the claims made for Penguin stand up very poorly.

One important thing to say first is that this post does not cover every single point made in defence of Penguin – I could say more about this, but I want to concentrate on the big whoppers. Even so, this is going to be a long one, because sweeping statements are short and easy to make, and long and laborious to debunk. But read this you should, because this is quite possibly a large corporation abusing its position to try to silence artists they don’t like with legal threats they aren’t entitled to make. And that is something everyone in the arts world should worry about. Continue reading

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On the Ladybird vs Elia spat

Page from "How it works: the Husband" on the left; page from "We go to the gallery" on the right.

FIGHT!!!

This is my first two articles I wrote in the aftermath of the high-publicised row between Miriam Elia and Penguin Random House, when I still thought it was possible to calm down the hostilities. For the more up-to-date article following the online nastiness I got from Penguin supporters that prompted me to completely side against them, see Why I don’t believe Penguin’s side of the story.

COMMENT: The success story of the grown-up Ladybird books is overshadowed by an artist they took legal action against. Here’s why it’s time to make peace.

Over Christmas, a lot of you will have given or received any or all of the eight “Ladybird Books for grown-ups”. Just in case you’re one of the people who’s not heard of this, it was a brilliantly simple idea, sanctioned by Ladybird themselves, of writing new descriptions to illustrations from the classic children’s series Ladybird. Out goes the story from Tiptoes the Mischievous Kitten, and it goes a tip from the Ladybird Guide to Dating as to how this woman pictured has been so busy running her online macaroon business she realises one day she’s forgotten to get married and sleeps on a torn mattress in the attic. This is largely the creation of Joel Morris and Jason Hazely, two writers who regularly contribute to Charlie Brooker’s wipes.

And this would be a lovely success story were it not for the allegations of plagiarism and legal shenanigans. The issue is that the year before, a small-time artist called Miriam Elia produced her own parody of a Ladybird book. That time, it was a parody of Peter and Jane where Mummy takes them to a modern art gallery; and it eviscerates the crap passed off as modern art, and also eviscerates the bollocks praise that people like Mummy lavish on the aforementioned crap. To the credit of many modern art galleries, they took this in good humour and some of them even stock the book. But Penguin, Publisher of Ladybird, claimed copyright, came to a settlement with Miriam Elia that involved pulping most of the books, and it wasn’t until this year – when the laws on copyright changed and parody was accepted as “fair use” of copyright material – that the books were reprinted. Continue reading

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Kate Smurthwaite is no champion of free speech

Kate SmurthwaiteCOMMENT: It was wrong to call for Kate Smurthwaite’s gig at Goldsmith’s to be cancelled – but there’s little evidence that Smurthwaite’s own attitude to free speech is any better.

I know I’ve just done a comment post on freedom of speech, but since I decided I was going to write about David Greig’s “Welcome” to the “Fringe” scheme (punctuation mine), another show that’s the subject of censorship came to my attention. It’s Kate Smurthwaite’s The Wrong Sort of Feminist, and this all relates to a stupid incident earlier this year when a gig of hers was cancelled following a feminist protest to have her no platformed. Whether this feminist protest was actually behind the cancellation is a bit a puzzle – Goldsmith’s comedy society claims it was mainly down to poor ticket sales – but Smurthwaite has nonetheless chosen to wear this as a badge of honour and theme her 2015 Edinburgh Fringe show around it.

Frankie Boyle: I think ultimately, you come across as not only being hypocritical, but incompetent and mendacious. Good luck with that. Kate Smuthwaite: aww you sweet man, you knew I wanted a quote for my flyer! ((hugs))

FIGHT! (Full spat here.)

I would probably have taken no notice of this had I not been given one of her flyers. I found her level of self-promotion a little irksome (okay, Edinburgh Fringe publicity has to be self-promotional, but this was a tad too narcissistic for my liking), but that’s not the problem. The problem I really had was the way she used a recent Twitter spat with Frankie Boyle on her flyers, as if a derogatory tweet from him is a second badge of honour. That’s gone one step too far over the hypocrisy line.

The issue is that Smurthwaite’s proudly-publicised nemesis Frankie Boyle has himself been the recent target of a censorship campaign, this one a group who demanded that he be dropped from Féile, a popular comedy festival in West Belfast. And the two cases seem to have a lot in common. Both comedians are controversial and outspoken individuals. Both comedians have said things in the past that have made enemies. And both protests allegedly came from people who had no intention of going to these events but nonetheless wanted to stop other people seeing it. Continue reading

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Welcome to the fringe? Pull the other one!

Demonstration outside Underbelly

COMMENT: There’s nothing wrong with supporting Palestinian artists coming to the Edinburgh Fringe. But don’t be fooled by this talk of “free Israeli voices”.

One theme that has kept cropping up in this year’s Edinburgh Fringe is censorship. The University of Edinburgh has just held an event called “Theatre Censorship Now“, and Underbelly has programmed a series of plays Walking the Tightrope to discuss this very issue. I think we can safely assume that this is entirely in response to the protests that led to the cancellation of an Israeli play last year, because arts subsidies from the Israeli government is all sinister propaganda to make wars look good which is why all the UK artists nobly stuck by their principles and refused all money from the UK government. Possibly. I have already said what I think about the boycott, and what I think about the demonstrators demanding the boycott, and if you haven’t read those articles all you can probably guess how contemptuous my opinion is.

However, one supporter of the anti-Israel boycott I am taking seriously is playwright David Greig. When most of the supporters of this boycott were making excuses for the murderers of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, David Greig condemned it. When most of the demonstrators’ behaviour ranged from nastiness to borderline anti-Semitism, David Greig did at least attempt to say that wasn’t the tactics he liked to see. Now, a cynical interpretation is that David Greig is simply happy to allow other people to do the dirty work for him, but I prefer to take things in good faith where possible. So I am going to assume that David Greig’s own response to this event, his “Welcome to the Fringe” idea, is a genuine attempt to do some good and doesn’t have a hidden agenda. Continue reading

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It’s time for zero tolerance to censorship through violence

Mohammed in Charlie Hebdo

Lots of people want this banned

COMMENT: Maybe Charlie Hebdo has racist content, maybe it doesn’t. Either way, responsibility for the massacre must be shared by the people who pandered to the kind of censorship preached by the killers.

So, just when I thought the attacks on freedom of speech couldn’t get any worse, they did. This time last year it was death threats against a politician who spoke out against censoring drawing of the prophet Mohammed. Then it was a hate campaign against a group of Israeli actors for coming to the fringe with the wrong nationality. Then it was threats of mass murder over a film that lampooned the leader of North Korea. And now, it’s actual mass murder, once again over some drawing of Mohammed.

Let us be in no doubt as to what happened on Tuesday. It was not just an attack on twelve innocent people. It was a fundamental attack on freedom of speech, a right we too often take for granted. On the murders themselves, there has been overwhelming condemnation across the world; that is the least that can be expected. But on the attacks on freedom of speech, I am sorry to say that’s a different matter. Collectively, we are not properly defending free speech from harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence. The blame for the murders lies first and foremost with the murderers, but after than, we have some serious questions to ask about our own responsibility in this.

First thing’s first: some people say it was pandering to censorship led to the attacks. I won’t make that claim, because we don’t know. To anyone with a shred of humanity, Al-Qaeda is a baffling ideology. They are not defenders of Muslims, unless you think that deliberately killing masses of innocent Muslims Iraqis in order to provoke sectarian violence with a death toll hundreds of thousands counts as defending Muslims, which I don’t. But they do, and with a moral justification that incomprehensible, God knows what else they were thinking. What we do know, however, is that Al Qaeda affiliates run a highly organised propaganda campaign of fear, so it’s a fair bet they’re happy to silence outspoken voices if they can. And that’s where we come in. Our message, time and time again, is that you can silence dissidents and get away with it. Our message is that when it comes to political and religious censorship, harassment works. And intimidation works. And violence works. Continue reading

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