What The Hell, Washington College?
My next blog post was supposed to be about “Investigation into the Velazquez Shooting,” the process of writing it and how it changes the process of developing a character to write in this format. Unfortunately, events in the news have gotten in the way.
I’m not talking about the impeachment hearings, which I hope you’re following. I’m talking about something that happened at my old alma mater, Washington College. The Chestertown Spy tells the story here with a much more thorough commentary here, but the short version is that a campus production of The Foreigner, which was the senior project for a drama major, was cancelled by the school administration because it has one or more Klansmen in it as comic bad guys.
I have mixed feelings even writing about this. I’m well aware of the existence of what Zack Beauchamp called the “student panic industrial complex” which exists largely because many, many people in the media need examples (real or fictitious) of liberals acting like petty bullies within their cultural sphere of influence to balance out the numerous true accounts of conservatives acting like not-even-competent Mafiosi within their much larger political sphere of influence. But… this happened and it needs to be called out.
And it doesn’t even sound like there were any protests or anything against the production of The Foreigner. It sounds like the school administration took one look at the content warning and decided to cancel the show in the middle of dress rehearsals just on the off chance that someone, somewhere, might be traumatized. According to WC President Kurt Landgraf’s own statement, “We made the decision to cancel the performances after listening to members of our campus community who told us that they were deeply hurt and affronted by the existence and portrayal of characters associated with the KKK—even though these characters are clearly portrayed as villains and are easily vanquished by the play’s protagonists.”
By all appearances, Landgraf intended this to be a defense of the decision, not a cruel mockery of it. Apparently no one thought to suggest that those people who were “deeply hurt and affronted by the existence and portrayal of characters associated with the KKK” simply not go to see the play in which said characters existed and were portrayed. They just shut it down.
If so, things have gone way downhill from when I was on campus. I had a small role in a play, Cinders, which already mentioned the sexual abuse of minors, and to add to that our director decided to have large multicolored papier-maché penises come up through the floor at a key moment. (In our defense, this was the ‘90s. Dear God, was it ever the ‘90s.) The Drama Department also performed Angels in America, Death and the Maiden, Equus (full-frontal nudity and all), “Shrew” (a mashup of The Taming of the Shrew with Karen Finley monologues—to repeat, it was the ‘90s), Strindberg’s A Dream Play (which had no controversial content but traumatized me because it was so long, boring and dreary) and something called Orgasmo Adulto Escapes from the Zoo. (Did I mention it was the ‘90s?)
Yes, this concerns me. Not only am I a WC graduate, my own writings have included scenes with racist characters and discussions of anti-Semitism. Some of my characters have even used the n-word. I don’t feel like offering a lengthy defense of this. The links are there. You can damn well read them yourself and make up your own mind whose side I’m on. It’s not like clicking the links will make me any money, if you're worried about that.
Bottom line — if you have a problem with racism, sexism, etc., join the club. If you have a problem with attempting to depict these things, you have a problem with me.