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You Might Be Offended But That Doesn't Mean I'm Wrong
The silly dustup with the humorless polyamorist Amy Gahran reminded me of something: how often, these days, Americans of various stripes appear to have no sense of humor. For example, I got fired from two papers -- The Ithaca Journal and the St. Cloud Caller Times -- for this line:

Where you go wrong is thinking sex is special. It isn’t. Monkeys have it, and not because somebody gave them flowers and expensive jewelry.

I try not to get fired unnecessarily, but at the same time, I write freely and refuse to be silenced by the humorless. If I think a line or a headline is fair I'll run with it. Meanwhile, I make plenty of fun of myself (especially for the ADHD: Memory of a sand-flea. Mind like a steel sieve.) I even ran with the nasty crack from the polyamorists (have yet to encounter a ruder, meaner bunch of commenters on my site) about how I look like a man. The truth is, since the nastiest ones are all posting anonymously, I obviously have much bigger balls than they do.

A pity Europe, on the other hand, is buckling left and right. To be fair, I don't deal with death threats, only the prospect of lining up for dinner with the homeless guys on the Santa Monica palisades.

Here's Daniel Barenboim on the canceled performance of Mozart's "Idomeneo" in Germany. The performance was canceled to buckle to as-of-yet-unheard Muslim protests -- over elements in it which, in Barenboim's words, "could offend people who are in fact not even required to see it."

Yes, there are all these Muslims, immigrants (stupidly accepted in droves) in Europe, who are suddenly controlling what is and isn't heard in a concert hall by virtue of the violence of some of their religion. No, not all Muslims, but far too many, with far too few "moderates" unzipping their lips to protest. (Is that offensive? Sorry, I couldn't give a shit.)

Barenboim writes:

It is the duty of a government to protect its citizens from the threat of violence and terrorism. But is it the duty of a theater to protect its audience from artistic expressions that might be interpreted as offensive?

The link between artistic expression and the associations it evokes is not unlike the link between substance and perception. Much too often we alter the substance to suit its perception. There is, of course, no way to determine the associations evoked by art, because it is an individual's prerogative.

In music the difference between content and perception is provided by the printed page. In theater or opera, where there is no score for the stage direction, it is the exclusive responsibility of the director.

The very essence of the role of theater in society is its ability to remain in constant dialogue with reality regardless of its impact on real events. This form of dialogue is neither a sign of courage nor of cowardice, but must come of the inner necessity of an individual or an institution to express itself.

Limiting one's freedom of expression as a response to fear is as ineffective as imposing one's point of view through military force.

Art is neither moral nor immoral, neither edifying nor offensive; it is our reaction to it that makes it one or the other in our minds.

Shades of Albert Ellis from Barenboim! Very impressive. He continues:

Our society sees controversy more and more as a negative attribute, yet difference of opinion and the difference between content and the perception of it lie at the very essence of creativity.

If content can be manipulated, perception can be doubly so. By censoring ourselves artistically out of fear of insulting a certain group of people we not only limit rather than enlarge human thought in general but in fact insult the intelligence of a large group of Muslims and deprive them of the opportunity to demonstrate their maturity of thought.

This is the exact opposite of dialogue and a consequence of the inability to discern between the many different points of view existent in the vast Muslim world.

Posted by aalkon at October 3, 2006 10:15 AM

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Where you go wrong is thinking sex is special. It isn’t. Monkeys have it, and not because somebody gave them flowers and expensive jewelry.

On the one hand, I wish most women I encountered had this attitude. Most have had it a fair bit, but no longer wish to give it up except to "the one."

on the other hand, sex IS freakin' special if you never, ever get it. Especially when it seems like everyone else is.

Posted by: LYT at October 4, 2006 4:22 AM

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