The Playgoer: The Right to Offend and be Offended

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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Right to Offend and be Offended

"No one has the right to live without being shocked.  No one has the right to spend their life without being offended.  Nobody has to read this book.  Nobody has to pick it up. nobody has to open it .   And if they open it and read it, they don't have to like it.  And if you read it and you dislike it, you don't have to remain silent about it.  You can write to me. You can complain about it. You can write to the publisher. You can write to the papers. You can write your own book. You can do all those things. But there your rights stop.  Nobody has to right to stop me writing this book. Nobody has to the right to stop it being published, or sold, or bought, or read."

-Philip Pullman, when challenged by an offended Christian about his latest novel The Good Man Jesus and the Soundrel Christ.

I'm glad he put it that way.  Freedom from abuse--yes.  Freedom from offense--no.  From Mohammed cartoons to flag-burning, from Corpus Christi to Rachel Corrie, beware those who deliberately confuse the two.

The ability to distinguish between "offensive" words or art on the one hand and actual physical violence and intimidation on the other is indeed a nonnegotiable clause in social contract of a free society.  The right to not have yourself, your religion, or yo mama merely spoken badly not in the constitution.


Scott Walters said...

Indeed, but that right cuts both ways. Artists have to accept that audience members have the right to express their offense, which includes the right to picket, the right to lobby congressmen regarding funding, and the right to leave a theatre during a show.

Unknown said...

This is out of left field a little bit but take a look at Michael Billington's article about Enron's closing. I found it insulting to all American audiences.

Geraldine said...

In one of the voice classes I play piano for, the same kind of topic came about, as to decide how far a singer could act the text of the song if it involved anything that could potentially be PG13.
The classical world is quite conservative and in a concert setting, audiences are not always ready to see a full out character come out of a singer.
I personally think that if the text calls for it, the the singer must go for it, and the audience will have to deal with their reactions from it, whatever they are.