Encore Theatre Magazine
:: Friday, January 07, 2005 ::
Religion vs. The Theatre: Round Two
The BBC has reportedly received 45,000 complaints about its plans to screen Jerry Springer - The Opera this Saturday at 10.00 on BBC2. They have to be resisted.
In our commentary on the Behzti scandal, we remarked that the cancellation of the Birmingham Rep show could be understood in several ways, one of which is one of the first shots in a US-style culture war. This orchestrated attack on the Jerry Springer screening is another. The opera is hugely irreligious and very disrespectful and good thing too; the moment where Christ sings humbly - "Actually I am a bit gay" - will provide great entertainment for anyone angered by the anachronistic authority that the church is allowed to wield over our lives.
The main orchestrators of the complaints, Mediawatch (the renamed National Viewers and Listeners Association, obviously determined to cover up their connection with the loathed and ridiculed Mary Whitehouse) and various churchmen, have urged their members and parishioners to protest by email, letter and in person. The spokesmen for the complainants who have managed to get onto the media all admit that they haven't seen the show. This cannot be borne. No one has any right to criticize any work of art that they haven't seen. Everyone knows that art can only be experienced at first hand - there is no substitute for that and no understanding of that work of art can be gained by any other method.
The ignorance of these critics is clear in their much-repeated claim that there are 8000 swear words in the show. Work it out. The show runs at 120 minutes. That's 7200 seconds. Having seen the show, I can reassure them that there is not more than one swear word every second. It seems that what they've done is that when the chorus of 27 sing "what the fuck, what the fuck, what the fucky fucking fuck" they count that not as 5 swear-words, but 135. That they resort these crude distortions says little for the integrity of their argument.
That said, if a programme were made that lasted two hours and included 8000 swear-words, one a second, it might be very good. You can all try to imagine your own songspiel events or sound poems that could use this starting point. The point is that no one can judge whether it's any good or not without seeing it. It might seem as if you can form a judgment about something based on its contents. Sure, you can form a judgment, but it won't be accurate and it will have no validity. If I tell you about a show that involves sexual violence, pornography, drug abuse, and a threat to puncture someone's eyeball with a knife, you might form the opinion that this is a British play of the mid-90s. In fact, I'm talking about Oklahoma! and I don't know anyone who's been offended by the level of sex and violence in that.
This is not just a television matter. Miranda Suit, from Mediawatch, began her comments on the BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning with these words: "It's bad enough in the theatre but ..." Absolutely. Let's be under no illusion. The BBC's a big target and if they yield to these complaints the theatre will have to follow. The letter from Mediawatch ends with this unbelievable suggestion: "There must be other West End productions that would be more enjoyable and appreciated by a far greater number of licence-fee payers? Why not, for example, screen a seasonal pantomime, with well-known and liked television and radio personalities, currently showing at provincial theatres across the country?" Seriously, that's the world they want for us. They have to be resisted.
The complainants say they will be offended by it. I am offended by the BBC's output every day. This morning, Catherine Pepinster's 'Thought For The Day' included a rank piece of anti-abortion rhetoric, masquerading as legitimate comment on Mike Leigh's Vera Drake. I find this deeply offensive, but I don't object to the BBC broadcasting the opinion. (I do find it bizarre that 'thoughts for the day' are held to be most appropriately religious ones, but that's a different matter.) I do find it deeply, deeply offensive that religious people should try to determine what I can or cannot see. I find it offensive that my television and radio cannot reflect and explore life as it is and might be because it could offend a few people with medieval beliefs about the world.
They think they are the heart of this country. They are not the heart of this country but they are trying to take over anyway as their Evangelical cousins have done in the US. They have to be resisted.
- UPDATES 22.1.2005
- Apparently the Christian Institute are calling for a judicial review to find whether the BBC 'discriminated against Christians by showing Jerry Springer - The Opera'. It would be rather fun if the results of this review were that the BBC were contractually obliged to offend all other major religious beliefs.
- A prayer group, Christian Voice, are trying to bring a private prosecution against the BBC for showing JSTO. They'll find it hard since none of them appear to have seen it: their description of the show is filled with inaccuracies; apparently the show portrays Jesus as a 'coprophiliac sexual deviant' - which is a lovely idea, Christian Voice, even if it isn't what happened in JSTO. Keep those ideas coming though, you're flying! This 'bringing a private prosecution', when you read more closely, turns out to be 'having a meeting with their lawyers'. Which is not quite the same thing.
- There's a brilliant analysis of these protests at the excellent Bloggerheads site.