(en) Cut! at the Edinburgh Festival

Lyn Gerry (redlyn@loop.com)
Mon, 18 Aug 1997 18:45:42 +0000

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------- Forwarded Message Follows ------- Date: Mon, 18 Aug 1997 10:47:07 -0700 (PDT) From: MichaelP <papadop@peak.org> Subject: Cut! at the Edinburgh Festival

@@ Art, literature, film and theatre have always come under fire from puritans and misanthropes who decree that some ideas are unfit for public consumption. These attempts to censor have rightfully been met by the accused with a robust defence of their right to free speech and freedom of expression. However it is unusual for such attempts to censor to be posed as an assault on the right of the audience to make up its own mind.

Last year Robert Mapplethorpe's 'Rosie', a portrait of a girl child wearing no knickers, was withdrawn from a London exhibition. It was said to be too risky to be included in a retrospective of the artist's work. The supposed risk was that it might attract the attention of paedophiles. Sickeningly, this cast all viewers as voyeurs. After all, who knows which one of us wandering round the gallery is the paedophile? It also turned the image itself into a dirty and dangerous thing.

When the withdrawal of the picture was reported, it was not as an act of censorship but as an act of child protection. After campaigning from Childline founder Esther Rantzen, the decision to censor was framed not as a moral question of taste and decency but as a common sense need to protect the safety of vulnerable children. It was widely reported that the controversial exhibition had gone ahead uncensored because although 'Rosie' was cast out in shame, an image of one man fisting another was allowed to hang.

In this instance, the artist was no longer alive to justify himself. But even the insistence by Rosie herself (by this time a woman) that Mapplethorpe's picture was both innocent and beautiful was not enough to quell the self-appointed representatives of public safety. It is difficult to remember the last time an 'offending' artist, writer, producer or curator stood their ground when the wails of 'it's offensive' or 'that goes beyond the pale' were provoked by a piece of work.

The Royal Academy faced just such accusations recently when it included a portrait of Myra Hindley constructed from child-like hand prints in its summer exhibition. Demands for the painting's withdrawal came from children's safety group Kidscape, a Labour MP, the mother of one of the Moors victims and even Hindley herself. The artist, Marcus Harvey, did not leap to defend his work and others in the art world remained silent. To begin with the Royal Academy was admirably uncompromising, but within a week it began to bend under pressure from the 'victims' advocates'.

Time and again the artist is brought under unbearable pressure to get on their knees and utter the mantra 'it was not my intention to cause offence, I apologise for any I may have caused to the victims'. Even in the world of advertising there is a creeping reticence about provoking desires. As reported in the news recently, car adverts that place too much emphasis on the ability to drive at speed are condemned by the advertising and broadcasting watchdogs as socially irresponsible.

Adverts for cigarettes and alcohol cannot show the pleasures of either for fear of the vulnerable consumer losing control of their appetite. Our real experiences of alcohol tell us that it can be relaxing, it can make us feel sexy, it can loosen our inhibitions and lubricate social situations, but the rules say that all of these qualities are too dangerous to be represented when the product is being sold to us. We all deal with the reality of alcohol yet we are thought by the advertising watchdogs to be incapable of seeing this reality reflected in advertising.

It may appear callous to say that the artist should feel no obligation to protect the sensibilities of others, but creativity is the antithesis of playing safe. At the heart of any idea that goes beyond existing boundaries and defies taboos is the potential to make us feel uncomfortable. It is only by dislodging the old and the familiar that new ideas make their mark on the world. If those at the forefront of developing new ideas shy away from causing offence, we run the risk that innovation and imagination will become bounded by fear.

The notion of the individual as the passive and vulnerable consumer of all that he surveys is not confined to the 'monkey say, monkey do' theories of the relationship between screen violence or pornography and the behaviour of those who view it. The cult of over-protectiveness is often more sophisticated in its formulation. We talk of 'vulnerable' people who might be more likely to get carried away with powerful ideas. We talk of the need to protect children and to address the growing 'culture of violence' or the 'me-culture'. When the most insistent voices are those of people who take as their starting point the need to protect either the few or the many, the result can only be a climate of intolerance and restriction.

It is generally acknowledged that the child that is deprived of experiences or of the opportunity to make decisions for itself cannot become a fully independent adult. Yet in the name of protection we are in danger of allowing our experiences to be limited by a climate which says that ideas should not be allowed if they may offend, are inappropriate, or have unsafe consequences. From the tobacco ad on the billboard to the painting in the gallery, from the violent-looking computer game advert to the daring scene in a Hollywood movie, the call to cut is becoming more insistent and more insulting to adults everywhere.

Cut! is a unique event at the Fringe. It will be a day of interaction between performers, artists, journalists, media professionals and punters with the aim of evaluating the impact on cultural freedom of the pressure to cut.

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