All signs point to a chill - a very weird one
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
(See below for a further comment by Michael Healey)
(See below for a further comment by Michael Healey)
The news is not good and for all the wrong reasons. We are NOT being pounded on by Harper's conservatives except in the usual sleazy ways. But the effect is the same: we are submitting like archetypal sissy liberals, hearts a-bleeding, eyes a-tearing.
I know this all sounds brutal and over the top but I have just lived through nearly two weeks of rhetorical give and take with people on all sides of the censorship issue. Except it's not the censorship issue; it's the flinch-before-they-hit-us issue. It is another set of cases where good-thinking people should be doing something - mobilizing - and where there will be a lot of really, really good talk and writing and nothing will get done because - dammit! - it's really, really scary out there right now.
1) A right-winger (insert name of any CP pol or Quebecor/Sun hysteric here) spouts off about state-subsidized porn. Yes, indeed, Radio-Canada - through its online service tou.tv - is showing a satire about the porn industry - Hard - which, itself, is humorously soft core. Even the Heritage minister James Moore (quickly becoming the left's favourite boogie-man) sermonizes. (He did it in a beautifully sleazy way, too. The Toronto Sun has him saying, "This programming cannot be defended", and then, "Having now seen the show in question…") (Boldface added…) Radio-Canada flinches and reprograms and now Hard cannot be seen on demand except after midnight.
2) Michael Healey writes Proud, presents it to Richard Rose, artistic director of Tarragon, and is told it will not be programmed into the next season because, Healey says, it could subject the company to legal problems from the Prime Minister (who is featured in the play). All this despite an eleven year relationship between the playwright and company (which Healey parts from, quite publicly). It's not censorship…per se. It's Flinchfest at the Tarragon.
I do not blame the powers at Rad-Can, nor Rose for backing off. What I blame them for - and blame everyone in the cultural community for - is the subsequent silence. Outside of Facebook, I am not seeing discussions about why we flinch, think we have to flinch and might flinch in the future. Or, better, how we can stop flinching. The closest we've come is right here on this site in Brad Fraser's open letter to Rose, Steve Galluccio's open letter and Mr. Fraser's brilliantly considered essay on the whole business.
But as Brad and I have noticed, with some dismay, is the very few comments following these articles despite both his letter and essay being the most popular articles at The Charlebois Post - Canada...ever. Brad and I have had some great discussions with dozens of people in and out of theatre…on Facebook. I have invited all of them (pro and con) to go public. I have invited Mr. Rose directly (twice!).
Death by flinching.
Here is a boil on the body theatrical that needs lancing and it is just going to grow and grow over the next three-four years to the point where the Tories need do nothing at all to keep us all "in line". We'll do that job all by ourselves. And then, yes, we'll get five more years of the Tories come the next election.
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One of the people who participated in Facebook discussions was playwright Michael Healey. I asked his permission to include the following comment:
To reiterate a few points: the theatre's liability, as described to me by Richard, would be the loss of revenue from a theatre shut for 6 weeks. They couldn't be sued out of existence. My understanding is that the theatre's fed funding comes from the Can Council, which is arms-length and transparent (Heritage is neither), so their risk there is minimal. In my opinion, Richard gains nothing at all by responding publicly to the controversy. First, because there's no good that comes out of having your season choices second-guessed in public, and second, because what's he going to say? That he chose the theatre's security over one of its playwrights? That just stirs the pot, and his goal is to put this behind him as quickly as possible. The real issue here -- forget Tarragon, forget Richard -- is this: no one would have had a moment's hesitation if I'd written a play with Paul Martin as the central character. This is about the atmosphere created by this gvt's high-handed approach to dissent of any kind. And one of the tactics they use is isolation -- teach one dissenter a lesson, and it makes the others hesitate. Let's not use that shitty tactic, isolation, on the Tarragon. If I wind up self-producing, I will want as many co-producers as possible, and wouldn't it be great if Tarragon was on that list?
Listen to an episode of The Current with Healey, Moore and a representative from PACT. Listen carefully. The PACT rep speaks as if she's just wandered into a minefield and Moore subsequently treats her as an ally and Anna Maria Tremonti is treated by the minister like she is everything that is wrong at the Ceeb (read: on the left).