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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: May ::
Re: PC and Productions
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0361.  Thursday, 4 May 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Christine Gilmore <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 3 May 1995 09:54:52 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0356 Re: PC and Productions
 
(2)     From:   Terrence Ross <
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        Date:   Wed, 3 May 1995 15:10:26 -0400
        Subj:   PC Merchant and Shrew
 
(3)     From:   Daniel Vitkus <DVITKUS@EGAUCACS>
        Date:   Thursday,  4 May 1995 11:09 +0200
        Subj:   RE: SHK 6.0351  Re: PC and Productions
 
(4)     From:   David Schalkwyk <
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        Date:   Thursday, 4 May 1995 11:56:57 SAST-2
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0356  Re: PC and Productions
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Christine Gilmore <
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Date:           Wednesday, 3 May 1995 09:54:52 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 6.0356 Re: PC and Productions
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0356 Re: PC and Productions
 
In reference to Kezia Sproat's comment on the etymology of the term
"politically correct," Constance Relihan wrote on 1 May 1995:
 
"Hmmmm.... When I was an undergrad. at the University of Illinois from
1978-82,we used to refer to people as "pc" if they were sympathetic to
alternativelifestyles, leftist causes, vegetarianism, recycling, etc. It was
only someyears later that I became aware that the term could be used
pejoratively to describe members of the left."
 
I think I have to agree with Constance Relihan on the popular use of "pc" in
the dark ages, my college years in 1976-1981, as a positive term. However, we
might use "not very pc" as a term of self-reprobation, which recognized that we
were not performing up to snuff vis-a-vis recycling, enlightened attitudes,
etc.  Yet, one could say that the term was redefined as a negative term in the
late 80s, early 90s, thus reinvented, as a critique of the very thing it stood
for:  a more responsible and enlightened way of living.  This new way of living
now is defined as a straitjacket.
 
I really hate the widespread use of the term when it used only to sneer; but I
do think it has a place as a self-critical move or gesture.  For example, I
think it would be intellectually dishonest to play Taming of the Shrew
straight, that is, without recognizing that people no longer want to laugh at
such behaviors.  Therefore, it is imperative that the director make an attempt
to recognize this.  The interpretation is not fixed by political correctness;
however, recognition that playing it straight, whatever that means, is a
less-satisfying posture to an audience these days can prevent directorial
suicide.
 
One last point, I think an audience will reject a performance (or film) that
reinvents the characters according to a perceived pc stricture (I think of a
film called something like the Ballad of Little Joe[?], in which Joe was a
woman, the most enlightened, and the first to accept Chinese rail workers as
humans).  Sometimes giving the people what they want is simply not what
Shakespeare's about!  Sorry to go on so long, thanks, cg.
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terrence Ross <
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Date:           Wed, 3 May 1995 15:10:26 -0400
Subject:        PC Merchant and Shrew
 
The discussions about how to make MoV and Shrew safe for today's tender
sensibilities remind me of the recent thread about Tate's happy ending for King
Lear.  Different plays upset different ages.  If we can't stand seeing Kate
tamed, then we may as well stick to Cole Porter's version, which has so many
wonderful songs.  As for Shylock, surely his "Hath not a Jew eyes" speech is a
monstrous justification for the murder of Antonio, rather than being "the most
eloquent anti-racist statement," as Kezia Sproat describes it.
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Daniel Vitkus <DVITKUS@EGAUCACS>
Date:           Thursday,  4 May 1995 11:09 +0200
Subject: 6.0351  Re: PC and Productions
Comment:        RE: SHK 6.0351  Re: PC and Productions
 
The term "politically correct" was first widely used by Marxists, not by
opponents of feminism.  The Bolsheviks then other communist groups, during the
years following the Russian Revolution, wrangled over what would define a
"correct" party line.  This included a definition of politically correct art
and culture, usually along the lines of social(ist) realism or what was called
"proletcult."  Under Stalin, proletkult allegedly sought to create a purely
proletarian culture free of bourgeois influences (thus, the Futurists' slogan,
"Burn Raphael").  In the West, conservatives and opponents of progressive
politics pointed to Stalinist oppression and dogmatism and then
indiscriminately accused leftists in the West of displaying the same kind of
dogmatism.  Thus, the term "politically correct" was appropriated in the West
during the Cold War "to discredit...others who may urge change," including
left-leaning intellectuals and artists in Europe and N. America.  Despite what
Jean Godby may have said, the term "p.c." was not "invented" to attack
feminism, but its Cold War usage has recently been revived by opponents of
progressive politics in the West.
 
Daniel Vitkus
The American University in Cairo
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Schalkwyk <
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Date:           Thursday, 4 May 1995 11:56:57 SAST-2
Subject: 6.0356  Re: PC and Productions
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0356  Re: PC and Productions
 
The discussion about how best to produce The Taming of the Shrew seems to
assume that either 1) one produces the play as it is, thereby almost certainly
offending large sections of a modern audience, or 2) one adapts the action on
stage or bowdlerizes the text in order to "please", or at least not to disturb
a politically sensitive modern audience.
 
Are these the only alternatives?  The play is an historical text which, in a
complex way to be sure, exemplifies particular conceptions of the relationships
between men and men, women and women, and men and women (these are all
imbricated in fairly complex ways in TS) which, while being historically
specific, have certainly not been outgrown or abandoned in late twentieth
century western society.  Why the unwillingness to "offend"?  In Apartheid
South Africa some of the most repressive forms of censorship were exercised in
the name of the right of particular groups not to be "offended" by certain
sorts of ideas or kinds of art.
 
The desire for self-censorship of the kind proposed in the discussion so far
seems to me to make a fundamental mistake about the kind of "offense" that the
last act of TS provokes.  To chose either of the proposed alternatives, viz. to
go ahead with the offensive bits or to downplay or eradicate them altogether is
to deny the audience a critical perspective in terms of which the offensiveness
can be seen as the product of an set of historical conditions that are still
present certain forms in modern society. That is to say, a production can
surely create the conditions for critical distance from which an audience may
recognize offensiveness in the scene, but not feel either personally affronted
by it or the need to censor such offensiveness.  The play may be valuable
precisely *because* of such "offensiveness", and either alternative of
rendering it more palatable or encouraging an enraged personal response would
thus diminish both the historical and contemporary value of the play precisely
to a modern audience.
 
My own approach to the staging of TS would follow Orgel's notion of comedy as a
"collective fantasy" arising from a clash between dominant and emergent
conceptions of marriage.  The important point is to enable the audience to
engage critically with that fantasy, inviting them (both men and women) to
measure their own conscious or unconscious participation in it.  This will mean
encouraging them to ask questions about both the attractiveness and the
repulsiveness of elements of the play.  Either to clean the play up, to render
it inoffensive, or to provoke offense as an uncritical gut response, is simply
to deny the audience the opportunity of such critical questioning, which
involves seeing the way in which what it operates in their own lives and
society.
 
How one puts this into practice is another matter.  I haven't given this much
thought, but it strikes me that the notions of fantasy and critical distance
are both contained in the Sly scenes, which represent a marvelously
meta-theatrical, self-conscious reflection on the ideological power of theatre
itself to impose one's fantasies upon others, something that TS itself perhaps
enacts.  One can also draw attention to the palpable absurdities of Kate's
final speech, which invites an unflattering comparison between the "ideal"
husband as lord and the idle, irresponsible boy's club to whom she addresses
the remarks, without having to signal them with a knowing wink. The point is
registered, whether she knows it or not.  In this sense all literature reads
itself against its own grain (again, whether the author knows it or not).  To
remove this tension in the name of political correctness is to obliterate its
politics.
 
David Schalkwyk
 

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