Thursday, 26 June 2014

Terroristic Transgressions in Art & Literature

Warning the public before cultural consumption of film, literature & theatre
LAST year this Northern Voices' Blog produced a major rumpus over a question we asked about a warning issued by young man about a scene towards the end of the Spanish Civil War film 'Libertarias' in which a nun is raped by a 'Moro', one of General Franco's mercenary soldiers from Morocco.  This was perhaps of more consequence because it was being shown as a radical film at a Manchester Film Co-operative gathering in a Salford pub, and I think we pointed out at the time this was a Spanish film in which the significance of the rape to Spanish viewers was that it is who is doing the raping and to who, that is important.  One reason is the deep fear of the 'Moro' in Spanish and Catalan culture, and the implied blasphemy (for which the Spaniards are famous) of a scene in which an 'islamico' forces himself onto a Christian nun.  The everyday Spanish language is full of rich blaspheming utterances which are used on a regular basis and the ironic idea of a 'Moro' acting as an instrument of Franco Fascism whose goal was to defend Christianity, would not be lost on most Spaniards as it appeared to be on the more shallow members of the English audience in Salford.  
So a scene that in the Spanish mind may produce one set of excited responses in almost the finale of the film when the 'Moro' rapes the Christian nun, became in a Salford pub last year something that required a special health or trigger warning so that the comfort of Anglo-Saxon lefties in the audience brought up in a welfare state may not be disturbed  or offended by the content of the film in which the Spanish people went through the jaws of hell.   The whole idea of this film was to inflict transgressions on the audience so that they would understand what it's like to suffer in wartime.  To indulge in warnings is merely to blunt the impact of the film.
Why do the squeamish Anglo-Saxon peoples require these kind of health warnings in films like 'Liberterias' about what are perceived to be disturbing scenes in films, or theatre or even literature?  
This question is now even more relevant, because this year colleges across the USA are wrestling with student requests for explicit alerts that the material they are about to read or see in the classroom that might upset them, or as some students assert, cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of rape or in war veterans.  
The International New York Times journalist Jennifer Medina writes: 
'These trigger warnings, which have their roots in feminist thought, have gained the most traction at the University of Califonia, Santa Barbara, where the student government called for them.  But there have been similar requests from students at Oberlin College, Rutgers University, the University of Michigan, George Washington University and others.'   

Some academics have challenged these fragility claims arguing that being provocative is part of their job.  They say that 'trigger warnings' suggest 'a certain fragility of mind that higher learning is meant to challenge not embrace.'   

Some of the literature being suggested for these 'trigger warnings' are Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice' (contains anti-Semitism), Virginia Woolf's 'Mrs. Dalloway' (addresses suicide), and 'The Great Gatsby' for its scenes that reference gory, abusive and misogynistic violence.   

There is something profoundly sterile in all this seeking to be protected from the unpleasant.  Perhaps the spread of this poisonous attitude seeking to comfort the reader or student is responsible for the lack of any really talented literature being produced in England these days.  Bertolt Brecht wrote in his essay 'Three Cheers for Shaw' that Bernard Shaw is a terrorist and that his brand of terrorism is that  'he uses an extraordinary weapon, that of humour'.  And Brecht adds:
'Shaw's terrorism consists in this:  that he claims a right for every man to act in all circumstances with decency, logic and humour, and sees it as his duty to do so even when it creates opposition.' 

Furthermore Brecht writes: 
'He (Shaw) gives the theatre as much fun as it can stand.  Strictly speaking what makes people go to the theatre is nothing but stuff that acts as a vast incubus to the quite real business which really interests the dramatist and constitutes the true value of his plays.  The logic must be such that he can bury them beneath the most wanton transgressions, and it is the transgressions that people most want to have.'   

It may have been true once that film and theatregoers wanted 'transgressions', but not now it seems among the righteous non-blasphemers of the anarchist-left and beyond..  Whereas once the likes of Brecht, Shaw, Orwell, and other writers may have been wallowing in transgressions today we have the triumph of the bumpkins and the shallow minded on what is represented as the progressive left. 

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