Rick Jones brought these sorry tales to my attention, and they are perfectly suited to an Ethics Quiz.
Your challenge: Explain which of the censors in these two incidents was more unethical.
Censor A: The mayor of Carrollton, Georgia, Wayne Garner, who ruled last week that a city-funded professional production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show was not suited for a community production. The city council had contracted with a theater group of actors, singers, dancers, musicians and crew, and had committed $2,500 of taxpayer funds in up-front production costs to prepare for four performances in October. The mayor’s spokesperson said that the production was going to contain racy choreography,despite the fact that it was supposed to be a “PG show.”
How a counter-culture musical specifically about gender bending, kinky sex and transvestites was supposed to be “PG” is anybody’s guess.
Censor B: Thomas Fleming, Superintendent of Schools in the Richland School District in western Pennsylvania. He prompted District officials to veto the high school’s choice of the classic 1950s Broadway musical Kismet as a 2012 production, because it suddenly occurred to him that the characters in the play, which takes place in old Baghdad, are Muslims.
I can honestly say, having seen the musical many times on stage and the movie version many more, that what the religious preferences of the “Arabian Nights”-style characters never occurred to me, any more than I ponder what church Curly goes to in Oklahoma!, when he isn’t singing about corn and elephants’ eyes.
Rick, on his blog, gives the nod to Fleming, but Rick is choosing the biggest idiot, and surely Fleming wins that distinction in a walk. Now Muslims aren’t even welcome on stage—even when they are singing elevator music like “This is My Beloved” and “Baubles, Bangles, Bright Shiny Beads”? Even when Kismet is about as Middle Eastern as “The Mikado” is Japanese, which is to say, not at all? Will Fleming ban Fiddler on the Roof because all those Jews are potentially controversial while the Palestinian controversy rages? Did the Catholic Church child molestation scandal make The Sound of Music too hot to handle?
Yes, Fleming’s an idiot, all right, but not a particularly unethical one. The result of his decision, dinging Kismet, is not an abuse of his office, and he could have justified rejecting the show on legitimate grounds: it’s boring.
The winner of the Most Unethical Musical Censor has to be Censor A, Mayor Gardner. There were good reasons not to hire a company to do The Rocky Horror Picture Show in a small Southern town, because it’s a raunchy musical that is calculated to offend people; in fact, I don’t know what the City Council was smoking when they chose it. If the mayor was going to object, however, the time to do it was when the show was being considered. He was lazy. He didn’t know the show, and didn’t check it out. He didn’t have to wait until the show was rehearsed to know it was going to be risqué, because the show is risqué. He didn’t do his due diligence, and now, after many people have put work and resources into the production, he suddenly pays attention and says, “Hey! You can’t do a show like that here! It’s about sex!” Other variations from an alternate Mayor Gardner in parallel universes where different shows were chosen…
• “Hey! You can’t do Sweeney Todd here! It’s violent!”
• “Hey! You can’t do Les Miserables here! It’s French!”
• “Hey! You can’t do The Producers here! It has Hitler in it!”
Not only is Gardner injecting his own personal tastes into a decision made by others; he is doing so unconscionably late, causing unnecessary damage. His actions were irresponsible and unfair. He was more unethical than Fleming.
Superintendent Fleming can take solace in the fact that he is the bigger idiot, though.