When I was a junior in high school, I played Ko-Ko in the Gilbert and Sullivan Club’s production of “The Mikado.” The head of the music department directed, a Jewish teacher named Mr. Einsig. He had the staging notes for all of the Gilbert and Sullivan works from the director who had gained great acclaim from his work with the Boston Light Opera Company, and I must admit, I cribbed many of that director’s ideas myself, through Mr. Einsig.One effective staging concept was for the encores to “The Flowers That Bloom in the Spring.” Each one was performed as a different ethnic parody, with Ko-Ko singing translated lyrics. It began with Japanese, of course, then French, a Brooklyn dialect, and the biggest hoot of them all, German. I performed it, in my kimono, with an over-the-top Hitler imitation, complete with mustache, ending with an emphatic “Heil” gesture.
It brought down the house. Ten years later, at Georgetown University Law Center, I played Ko-Ko again, did the same Hitler parody again, and brought down the house again. Nobody complained. My late father, crippled for life in the fight against Hitler, detected nothing wrong with the routine. He also loved “Hogan’s Heroes,” with the show’s reluctant, inept, heiling Nazis, and the other Heil-filled spoofs of Hitler by Chaplin, Mel Brooks, and even the Three Stooges.
Now here is what happened to a private school teacher: read the whole, awful thing here. The short version: he was gesturing while explaining something in class, and noticed that his arm was raised Nazi-style, and said, “Heil Hitler,” jokingly. There was no question whether he was serious or not: everyone knew he was joking, and why he was joking. He even stopped and explained to the class that Once Upon A Time, in less enlightened eras, it was considered amusing to mock Hitler and the Nazis.
Ben Frisch, the teacher, a practicing Quaker whose father was Jewish and who had two great-grandmothers killed at Auschwitz, was fired by the private school anyway. The school principal who fired him explained his reason to the New York Times magazine by saying, “One of our pledges is to make all of our students feel safe. And that is something that I take very, very seriously.”
Says the Times reporter in part in reaction to this:
“That no one has accused Frisch of being an anti-Semite was beside the point: His invocation of the Nazi salute in a classroom full of high school students, regardless of his intentions, was enough to end his career. On today’s campus, words and symbols can be seen as a form of violence; to many people, engaging in a public debate about the nuances of their power is to tolerate their use…The dynamics of the classroom are changing. These changes are partly specific to the hothouse environment of the campus in 2018. But they also connect to something much bigger. High schools have become genuinely unsafe: The “Heil Hitler” salute happened on the very same day as the Parkland massacre. And beyond the confines of the campus, a crude, violent bigotry that had long seemed part of the distant past has suddenly resurfaced, with neo-Nazis literally marching in the streets….
Meanwhile, the ex-teacher, like Gallileo or Winston Smith, tells the writer of the above that he now knows he was wrong. Big Brother, in other words, was right.
But he was not wrong, just as the various individuals who have been punished for using the word “nigger” to discuss racism are not wrong. They and others are the victims of creeping totalitarianism and anti-speech indoctrination from the Left…and this is coming from the Left. Political correctness was always a form of enforced ideological thought-control, a way to make certain points of view and beliefs, many of them conventional and benign, some of them more arguable and dubious, essentially mandatory under threat of social retribution. The entire theory and practice is sinister, designating both words and the thoughts they relate to “taboo,” while using fear, retaliation, and a dictatorship of favored groups and their members to enforce a process of extreme self-censorship.
One can take some solace in the fact that the majority of Frisch’s colleagues and the students at the school felt that his punishment was excessive and unjust. One can be encouraged that on blogger Ann Althouse’s commentary on the story, the vast, vast majority are critical of the school and the rationalizations it employed to punish innocent speech. Don’t be fooled. The New York Times allows a reporter to write utter nonsense like “High schools have become genuinely unsafe: The “Heil Hitler” salute happened on the very same day as the Parkland massacre.” That’s the emerging anti-speech and free thought cultural consensus the Left…and it is the Left…is pushing society toward.
That might be the most irresponsible statement I have read this year. No, a joke in a classroom, no matter what it is about, does not make a single student “unsafe.” Even a genuinely firing-worthy joke in a classroom, or anywhere, does not involve “safety,” which implies physical danger. No, in this country, with its core values, we cannot, shall not and must not attempt to constrict speech by conflating words with weapons, and being made uncomfortable with being harmed.
No, high schools have NOT become unsafe: that is the factually false, statistically unsupportable Big Lie being perpetuated by the anti-Second Amendment activists and the untrustworthy news media. (Using the Nazi propaganda technique of the Big Lie is truly dangerous, unlike Mel Brooks mocking Nazis.) The fact that Frisch made his Hitler reference the same day as the Parkland shooting has absolutely no correlation, relevance or significance. Finally, the Parkland shooter, Nicholas Cruz, used bullets to express his hatred of the school and its students. He did not make a joke mocking the Third Reich. To compare the harm inflicted by his guns and the “Gotcha!” political correctness offense that made some indoctrinated young fool feel “unsafe” is obscene. I think that’s a fair word.
I wouldn’t dare use old Mr. Einsig’s staging of “The Flowers that Bloom in the Spring” today, and I’m a pretty fearless director: I staged “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in Arlington Virginia with every “nigger” in the script intact. Not because there is anything actually wrong with spoofing Hitler, but because the gag wouldn’t work: the Left’s speech bullying and intimidation has made it impossible to get the majority of any audience to laugh at it. Thus I have been censored effectively, by being forced into fearful prior restraint. What this means is ominous: the freedom to speak and think is being taken away in slivers, and the entire concept of what the United States of America means is being eroded and undermined as a direct consequence.
That President Trump used a derogatory term to describe Third World nations and “animals” to describe violent illegal immigrant gang members became weeks-long debates on cable news, and yet Trump’s verbal indiscretions involved no genuine harm to anyone at all. The harm is allowing a mounting cultural rot to settle comfortably in our nation and the values of its citizens, so people like me will be afraid to make a politically incorrect joke, people like Ben Frisch will confess wrongdoing for employing a “taboo” however innocently, and the next generation will reach adulthood with an extensive and ever-expanding catalogue of banned words, phrases, gestures, ideas, political positions and beliefs.
That’s real danger and real harm.