“Our intent in cancelling the production was to prevent further harm to members of our community who already feel marginalized. However, the decision to cancel the play has been interpreted by some as a form of censorship on the part of the College. Censorship is anathema to the core values of Washington College, and this was never our intent.”
—-Kurt Landgraf, president of Washington College in Maryland, in his letter to the campus regarding the decision to cancel a student production of Larry Shue’s 1980 farce “The Foreigner.”
Got that? “Censorship? What censorship? Oh, you mean that thing when we stopped a play from being performed? You call that censorship?”
Yes, the president of an institution of higher learning is really and truly saying in print that administrators cancelled the production of a play, as in “prevented it from being seen,” because of concerns over the content of said play, and the need to protect some students from seeing it, hearing it, or knowing it was being seen and heard by others, yet did not intend this to constitute censorship, which it was by definition.
I’ll publish the whole weaselly, embarrassing letter at the end of the post, because otherwise you might not believe it.
I have seen “The Foreigner.” It’s not a classic by any means, but there is nothing controversial about it, and nothing that would legitimately “trigger” anyone with the sense God gave a trout. Deciding that “The Foreigner” needs to be censored makes as much sense as blocking a production of “Arsenic and Old Lace.”
The comedy opened Off-Broadway in 1984 and won two Obie Awards and two Outer Critics Circle Awards as Best New American Play and Best Off-Broadway Production. Since then it has been a staple of regional theaters, community theaters, colleges and high schools. A very short version of the plot: Two Englishmen visiting a fishing lodge in rural Georgia foil the plot of an evil local Klansman to take over the lodge and use it as a KKK headquarters. The hero, Charlie Baker, pulls this off in part by pretending to be a non-English speaker and talking gibberish, as well as pretend language like ” Klaatu barada nikto” from the classic film “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Because people think he can’t understand them, they openly discuss their various plots and schemes in his presence.
Such a self-indictment for stupidity, dishonesty or, in the alternative, lack of language proficiency from the head of a college raises a legitimate question of the worth of a diploma earned by any student unfortunate enough to go there. I wouldn’t want to hire anyone whose education was entrusted to such incompetents. There ought to be a class action against the school by students and graduates for rendering their credentials worthless.
Of the many comments on the various posts about this across the web, this one, from Instapundit, is probably my favorite:
So now students are “triggered” when they are portrayed as winning because they are too delicate to deal with the image of groups they disagree with? …Apparently the only thing that won’t trigger future leaders of tomorrow (let that sink in) are images, stories, speakers, etc., that fall totally in line with their own thinking. Talk about “delicate”.
The world they envision will never exist. Even if all their wildest dreams come true there will still be strife and, egads!, disagreement in the world. They need to learn to deal with it.
I do find it depressing that so many commenters are unfamiliar with the play, but theater literacy is one of the most rapidly deteriorating aspects of cultural literacy.
Below is poor Kurt’s letter. Let me also flag the second most remarkable statement in it:
“To that end, we are currently discussing how we can best present the story and message of this play in a way that enables the campus community to have a productive, thoughtful conversation.”
The best way to present the story and message of any play is to present the play as the author intended it to be presented. This isn’t rocket science, and “The Foreigner” isn’t “King Lear.”
Dear Campus Community,
Last Friday, we announced a decision to cancel two scheduled public performances of “The Foreigner.” This play—written in the 1980s and frequently produced at educational and professional institutions across the country—centers on a group of people who feel “othered” by society in various ways, including premarital pregnancy, neurological differences, and age. Over the course of the play, these individuals build a community together through listening, learning and, humor, but their bond is threatened by the xenophobic anger and self-proclaimed entitlement of two other characters. In the climax of the play, the community of disenfranchised protagonists rises up to easily defeat the bigoted antagonists (who reveal themselves as members of the KKK). It is through the portrayal and defeat of these villainous characters that the play conveys its message about the evils of xenophobia, the dangers of “othering,” and the importance of empathy.
We made the decision to cancel the performances after listening to members of our campus community who told us that they were deeply hurt and affronted by the existence and portrayal of characters associated with the KKK—even though these characters are clearly portrayed as villains and are easily vanquished by the play’s protagonists. Our intent in cancelling the production was to prevent further harm to members of our community who already feel marginalized. However, the decision to cancel the play has been interpreted by some as a form of censorship on the part of the College. Censorship is anathema to the core values of Washington College, and this was never our intent.
It is our job, as a liberal arts institution, to create a space where difficult issues can be faced head-on and thoughtfully discussed. The production and subsequent cancellation of this play have raised important questions about how we, as an institution, choose, contextualize, and discuss potentially controversial material—on our stages, in our classrooms, and beyond. To that end, we are currently discussing how we can best present the story and message of this play in a way that enables the campus community to have a productive, thoughtful conversation. We will work with all of the relevant student groups, staff, faculty, alumni, and Board of Visitors and Governors to determine the best way to accomplish this and to find the most constructive path forward.
President Kurt Landgraf