The Playgoer: Warnings

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Warnings

I second George Hunka's recommendation of English playwright David Edgar's playful rant against pre-show "warnings" (smoking, gun shots, etc.).

Lots of funny incidents. But also a serious point with other applications:

But behind all warnings - whether about content or sensation - lie presumptions that go beyond health and safety into more contestable areas of consumer protection. Chiefly, the assumption that seeing a film or a play is like eating a meal, in which you must have sight of the ingredients before sitting down to eat; that, above all else, the audience should be protected from surprise.

His conclusion?
Yes, of course, draw attention to effects that might have harmful medical consequences. But retain the impetus that led an American theatre director, wearied of warnings, to post a notice promising (or threatening) that: "Something May Happen".

Personally, my favorite these days appears on before lots of TV and on DVD boxes: "This film may contain language."

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

In the past few days I've read many lj posts on warnings (for fan fiction), but this fits right in. I agree 100 per cent with David Edgar. Thanks for posting this.

veradee

John Branch said...

That audiences don't want to be surprised seems to be the case for mainstream movies too (as I suggested in a comment on George Hunka's post, before I read Edgar's article)--look at the way movie trailers tend to give you a number of plot points so you know ahead of time what kind of story you'll be getting. The same thing also applies to movie sequels, and at least partly to book series that bring back the same character(s). Not to mention most TV series. Some of this is new, some of it isn't.

My point, I guess, is that all these things are signs of a consumer culture, a society in which most people want to know what they're buying ahead of time. It's certainly worth complaining about, for the sake of allowing us to see the circumstances we live in more clearly. But it seems shortsighted to act as though theater ought somehow to be above this phenomenon, or not even to notice it in other areas of our culture.