Thoughts on a controversy

By now, I’m sure just about all of you have heard of the covfefe, I mean, kerfuffle over the latest production by the Public Theater for NYC’s Shakespeare in the Park.

A Julius Caesar with a Caesar who bears a striking–and Calpurnia’s crotch-grabbing–resemblance to the 45th President.

I was asked by a friend yesterday what I thought.

So here goes…

There is no law against provocative and offensive art. Period. And there never should be.

However, when a sponsor pulls funding because of what they feel is offensive, that is NOT censorship. The sponsor has no “authority” over the creation or dissemination of said offensive art. They are not the government, so this is not even close to a First Amendment issue. I have no problem with boycotts, or sponsors pulling funding. Since I think it’s a good tool to use against works/ideologies I don’t like, I can’t rightly take that away from someone who doesn’t like what I like, can I? No.

That being said, let that sponsor funding (and consumer outrage) be consistent. And by that I mean this:

One of the funding-pulling sponsors (who will remain nameless as not to give them any publicity) cited their rationale for their action this week as the Public Theater’s “artistic and creative direction [having] crossed the line on the standards of good taste,” I would presume on the grounds of the killing of a sitting President. OK. I can understand that action. But their action this week is not consistent with past funding. In 2012, in the midst not only of Obama’s time in office, but in the midst of that year’s primary election season, the well-respected Guthrie Theater and the Acting Company Theatre mounted a modern-dress production of — you guessed it — Julius Caesar. With its African-American Caesar and “Occupy Rome” iconography, there can be little doubt who this Caesar was representing. Guess who sponsored that tour? And continued their sponsorship of The Acting Company Theatre the following year? Yes. That same funding-puller.

So, I’m good with you pulling funding. Just pull it (or not) in the same manner, no matter whom is offended.

From all accounts, this year’s Shakespeare in the Park production is not very good. Ham-handed, over-wrought. And yet, even what looks to be a mess on the stage carries with it the message of the play on the page: that assassination, while it may achieve short-term goals, is not a good thing for the country in the long run. Does anyone really think Rome is better off at the end of the play than it is at the beginning? If so, I’m thinking you may very well be in the tiny minority on this one. But that–this very important point regarding the themes of the play itself–is lost on both the fist-pumping angry on the right, and the hand-wringing self-righteous outraged on the left. Read the play. Understand that it’s not nearly as cut-and-dried (no pun intended) as one might think. Understand nuance.

And lighten the hell up.

So that’s my take. Tomorrow, back to Cymbeline.

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