New Jersey’s Cherry Hill School District announced last week that the planned Spring student production of the 1998 Broadway musical “Ragtime” would continue to be rehearsed and would proceed, despite the complaints of some parents. However, student actors would not use “nigger” and other racially-charged terms in the original script. They would be changed or eliminated, the District said.
A spokeswoman for the district, said at the time that officials had already been discussing the possibility of censoring the Cherry Hill High School East production when the Cherry Hill African American Civic Association and the NAACP offered their remedies: censorship, political correctness, and bye-bye free expression and thought. Of course this was their reaction. It is simple-minded, but typical of left-wing political correctness tyranny. It doesn’t matter what ideas are being conveyed, certain words cannot be used to convey them. Whenever possible, the heavy boot of government should crush the non-conforming expression. Also “of course,” lily-livered school administrators initially offered no opposition. Duck the controversy, and the real issues be damned. After all, it’s just a high school musical.
Unfortunately, there was the little issue of licensing agreements. “Ragtime” is a work of art, not that the NAACP cares, and artists have a right to control how their work is performed, even in Cherry Hill. The contract under which the school was allowed to produce the show specifies that the script and songs must be performed as written, no exceptions.
The National Coalition Against Censorship, the Dramatists Guild of America, and Arts Integrity Initiative wrote a smart letter urging the school officials “to reconsider and reverse [the] decision to censor “Ragtime”:
“Ragtime’s” use of racial slurs is an historically accurate and necessary aspect of a play that explores race relations in the early 1900s. Ragtime helps minors understand the brutalities of racism and the anger that has historically accumulated, partly through the use of racially offensive language. In contrast, censorship of such language ignores historical reality and presents a falsified, whitewashed view of race relations. Censoring the play will only perpetuate ignorance of our past. While we empathize with concerns about the emotionally disturbing effects of hearing or uttering racial slurs, we believe such concerns are to be resolved through educational means, not by censoring a renowned text. In our experience, similar concerns… have best been confronted through dialogue rather than censorship.”
Then the students, who had been rehearsing the show since before Christmas (no, real high school performers can’t prepare an elaborate show of professional quality in a few days, as “Glee” would have us believe), created a petition on Change.Org: Continue reading