A Deeper Dive Into The Western Washington University “No Exit” Protest

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Guest Post by Rick Jones

[Before I turn the floor over to Rick, also known here as “Curmie,” a couple of comments are in order. I had hoped that the post yesterday about the Western Washington University student protest over the decision to produce “No Exit,” the 1944 existential drama by Jean-Paul Sartre, would generate commentary from Rick, for several reasons. First, he is one of my favorite bloggers on his own, the proprietor of Curmudgeon Central, which has a new post up right now regarding the George Floyd incident one year mark. More relevant to our topic right here and now, Rick is a distinguished college professor, drama teacher and stage director, who has special insight into university students and live theater. As he reveals in the article to come, he also is better qualified to discuss “No Exit” than I; indeed, he has now convinced me to give the work another chance, since it has been decades since I read or saw it.

I also was thrilled to receive this submission from Rick because I feel very strongly that live theater is imperiled in the U.S. I know most readers here do not share my dedication to theater; few Americans do, and fewer all the time. But I have lived a double life (as a character in Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Inspector Hound” adds “At least!”), spending  as much of my passions and energies on theater as any other pursuit from high school until to five years ago, when I ended the 20-year run of my small, maverick, professional theater company. My timing was excellent, because the panic-driven lockdown has killed many of The American Century Theater’s competitors here in the D.C. area, maybe most of them, and a year of using Zoom and streaming services has undoubtedly convinced many one time audience members that live theater isn’t worth the time, inconvenience or expense. In the same period, toxic political correctness, political obsession and woke fanaticism has grown exponentially, and these were existential threats to theater already.

The “No Exit” controversy is a symptom of a very serious threat to live performance art, which has been a force for uniting societies and enlightening the public for centuries. We need it more than ever now. A lot is at stake. JM]

***

My department has produced “No Exit”(which, by the way, I like a lot more than you do, Jack) twice in the last decade.  The first of these was directed by a talented and intelligent female student (an ardent feminist, by the way) who went on to earn a Master’s from a prestigious university overseas.  And we also did an online-only production last fall, directed by a colleague who’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, with a PhD in Theatre from arguably the best doctoral program in the country.  Oh, did I mention that she’s a lesbian? 

And, of course, the sense of isolation in the play was a major reason the play was chosen: because we all have a greater understanding of that phenomenon now than even the most creative thinkers could have managed a year earlier.  Moreover, please forgive me if I think that perhaps my colleague, who has published and taught courses on Queer Theatre, might have a more sophisticated understanding of the concepts at play in that particular theoretical framework than would a gaggle of pretentiously woke undergrads.

I am apparently lucky not to be at WWU.  When I announced my show for this spring as Jean Genet’s “The Maids”and described the two central characters as “would-be murderers who engage in sado-masochistic lesbian incest,” it generated interest on the part of most of our best actresses; if there was any dissent—from either very liberal students or a very conservative larger community—I never heard about it.  (Side note: although it wasn’t produced until later, “The Maids” was chosen and announced prior to”No Exit” which was a late substitution for a play we were unable to do.  I wouldn’t have chosen to do two existential French dramas from the 1940s in the same season, but that’s what we ended up with.)

But revenons à nos moutons.  When I started this response, I intended to go point by point through the students’ commentary, but that got really long, as virtually everything they say is nonsense.  So: a few general points:

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Ethics Half-Hero: Western Washington University

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When it comes to colleges and universities standing up to political correctness and woke demands for intellectual non-diversity, half-heroes are still better than the norm. The norm is abject cowardice and the ethical integrity of a sea sponge.

At Western Washington University, theater students attempted to cancel the Theater Department’s fall production of “No Exit,” the 1944 existential drama by Jean-Paul Sartre. (Full disclosure: I would rather be cursed to organize a thousand sock drawers than watch or read that play again.)

A letter of protest from students echoed many of the rationalizations for censorship and political cleansing of the arts that have metastasized into serious threats to intellectual freedom and creative liberty across the nation. Not to keep you in unnecessary suspense, the school did not cave to the student demands, nor grovel an apology for daring to arouse their ire, as most colleges (and high schools) would do today. “No Exit” will still be produced in the Fall. The school still only gets a half-hero rating for its verdict of no exit from “No Exit,” however, because it has agreed to provide “trigger warnings” for audience members.

As to the latter: Yecchh. By capitulating to this degree, the school has allowed the camel’s nose of faux ideological trauma into the metaphorical tent of the arts. Art, especially performance art, is intended to provoke strong reactions by introducing new and unexpected experiences and ideas into the unique dynamic of an audience. Someone who is so emotionally (read “politically programmed to be..) fragile that they have to be warned so they can avoid uncomfortable, jarring or, more frightening yet to crypto-totalitarians, non-conforming ideas should avoid the theater, like a tone deaf man who only appreciates commercial jingles should avoid the opera. By pandering to this part of the student demands, the school has abandoned a crucial principle without which theater cannot survive.

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Ethics Dunces: 500 Former “Jeopardy!” Contestants, Except “Dunces” Doesn’t Nearly Describe How Truly Despicable They Are…Or Dangerous [Updated And Corrected]

Ethics observations on the unbelievably idiotic Kelly Donohue “Jeopardy” controversy….

If you, like, have a life or don’t live on the web, you may have missed this story, which means you might still live in a place dominated by sane people. I’m almost hesitant to spoil your delusion…

Last week, Kelly Donohue, a 35-year-old state bank examiner from Winthrop, Massachusetts, fulfilled the Nerd’s Dream of appearing appear on “Jeopardy!” Somehow, the silly, naive man still thought there were safe places in the media where one was not at risk of becoming a victim of the vicious, left-wing outrage machine, which nourishes itself on the metaphorical splattered blood of those they destroy, just to demonstrate it can.

Kelly decided to celebrate each of his three wins by making hand gestures to mark them. (Jeez, man…) The gestures after his his first and second wins—you know, one finger, then two fingers?—were deemed acceptible, but when he made the symbol above signifying his third victory, some people set out to destroy his life. A reasonable response, don’t you think? An online letter supposedly signed by more than 500 former “Jeopardy!” contestants—nobody’s checked if they all are— called the symbol “offensive” and a “racist dog whistle.”

“What I can say is that it’s pretty well known that that particular gesture has become associated with white power,” said Emily Kelly, a contestant in 2012 who signed the letter.

Emily is an asshole, but then, they all are, whether they were ever on “Jeopardy” or not.

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Ethics Verdicts: The Georgetown Law Professor’s Comments Were Careless But Not “Reprehensible,” And The Law Center Dean’s Statement Implying Her Comments Showed “Systemic Racism” Is Reprehensible…And False

This, I would remind you, is why the emphasis of the first Ethics Alarms post on this mess involving my former employer and alma mater was that GULC adjunct professor Sandra Sellers was culpable for the inevitable results of her unintentionally public candor for incompetently broadcasting her private observations over an online conferencing platform. I predicted that she was a goner once the school’s black student organization saw a grandstanding opportunity (and if it wrecks a lawyer’s reputation and career–so what? After all, she’s just another racist white bitch…), and I was right, in part because I know what the Law Center has become in recent years.

I also predicted a groveling apology from Sellers rather than the ringing defense of her observations that might have been helpful in both clarifying her comments and exposing the Law Center’s spectacular embrace of Rationalization #64, “It Isn’t What It is.” Poor, weak, technologically inept–but not wrong!–Sellers sent the Washington Post a copy of her grovel, which could have been drafted by a computer. She apologized for the “hurtful and misdirected remarks,” carefully chosen words indeed. Her remarks were “misdirected” because they were intended only for another professor, not the universe, and they were “hurtful” because they created a student relations crisis for Georgetown—which it has thoroughly botched. Sellers also said in the letter

“I would never do anything to intentionally hurt my students or Georgetown Law and wish I could take back my words. Regardless of my intent, I have done irreparable harm and I am truly sorry for this.”

Well, I give her some credit for declining to say that she didn’t mean what she said, or that what she said was untrue. Some. In essence she apologized for what I had written was the problem with her statement: it was careless to let it be witnessed by people who would—mostly deliberately— misinterpret it. Her carefully composed non-apology was clever, but it doesn’t help. The school’s statement, through GULC second-in-command Dean Trainor, was despicable—unfair and cowardly. It called the episode indicative of “structural issues of racism” (Translation: Sellers is a racist) and “explicit and implicit bias.”

Yes, a dean of a major law school declared on behalf of that law school that accurate observations involving student education are racist, presumably because they don’t advance a convenient but false progressive narrative. He also suspended the law professor Sellers was talking to because he didn’t meet his “bystander responsibility” and confront her over her non-racist statement as if it were racist.

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Introducing The “Technologically Inept Adjunct Professor With Politically Incorrect Opinions Principle”

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This Georgetown Law Center adjunct professor is going to be fired, shunned, cancelled and otherwise ruined professionally and personally, and she has no excuses whatsoever.

The Ethics Alarms “Naked Teacher Principle” holds that ” a secondary school teacher or administrator (or other role model for children) who allows pictures of himself or herself to be widely publicized, as on the web, showing the teacher naked or engaging in sexually provocative poses, cannot complain when he or she is dismissed by the school as a result.” This does not mean that such a teacher necessarily should be dismissed, but that the teacher has no basis for claiming to be a victim. The conduct was foolish and irresponsible, and the repercussions predictable.

The newly minted “Technologically Inept Adjunct Professor With Politically Incorrect Opinions Principle” is based on similar calculations. As certain anti-woke statements and positions are getting people fired or canceled daily, with any diversion from the current racial spoils and “diversity” narrative being tarred as “racist,” for a professor at a law school, especially one as tainted by Leftist bias as Georgetown, to express such views over any form of electronic communications is almost grounds for involuntary commitment. Careless and reckless people shouldn’t teach law students. It doesn’t matter whether the statement involved expressed a valid and defensible observation: if it involves a tenet of woke cant and isn’t supportive, then the statement is an invitation to be cancelled. First Amendment? Doesn’t matter. Academic freedom? Irrelevant. Fairness? The Golden Rule? “There but for the grace of God…”? Risible.The third rail is known and recognizable, and you deliberately jumped on it assuming it wasn’t live?

Don’t come whining to me.

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Straining To Smear Merrick Garland, The National Review And Conservative Lawyer Ed Whelan Beclown Themselves…

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TUESDAY, MARCH 16, 2010 – The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’ production of “The Fantasticks”. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

…because they don’t know what the hell they are talking about.

I, on the other hand, do.

Whelan, who is usually much better than this, writes in “Yes, Merrick Garland Found ‘Hilarious’ a Song About ‘Rapes for Sale’,

Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland, as a college student, wrote a review of the musical The Fantasticks in which he labeled “hilarious” a song that (in his words) “provides a shopping list of rapes for sale (e.g. ‘the military rape—it’s done with drums and a great brass band.’).” But the Breitbart account turns out to be accurate. (Here is Garland’s article from the Harvard Crimson’s archives.) I have no interest in defending Garland’s observation from his college days nearly fifty years ago,* but I will try to put it in some context. What a theatrical performance can make amusing is often difficult to fathom in the abstract, as Mel Brooks’s “The Producers,” involving a musical comedy about Hitler, demonstrates. I will note that “The Fantasticks” (according to this Wikipedia entry) ran, on and off Broadway, for 42 years (from 1960 to 2002), “making it the world’s longest-running musical.” So it would seem that many folks shared Garland’s enjoyment of the song. Not surprisingly, controversy arose at some point over the “rape” lyrics, leading lyricist Tom Jones to revise them—to eliminate the word “rape.”

It is hard for me to tamp down my contempt for Whelan’s piece, but I’ll try.

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Ethics Quote Of The Month: New York Times Columnist Ross Douthat

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“It was mildly creepy to hear that the custodians of Theodor Geisel’s estate, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, consulted with a ‘panel of experts’ and decided to cease publishing six Seuss titles because they ‘portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.’ But it was much creepier that so few people notionally in the free-expression business, so few liberal journalists and critics, seemed troubled by the move.”

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, one of the paper’s three token conservatives (or perhaps “non-knee-jerk Democrats” is more accurate), in his column, “Do Liberals Care if Books Disappear?”

The question is a rhetorical one. Douthat knows the answer, and so do regular Ethics Alarms readers: “Only if the books that disappear are those they agree with.” Though the column focuses on the Dr. Seuss metaphorical book-burning, Douthat properly interprets what it signifies. Of course, he is appropriately late to the party, for it was obvious well before “If I Ran the Zoo” was under attack that the totalitarian-tending Democrats and their progressive supporters and allies were in favor of “good” censorship. Never mind—Americans rushed to their mailboxes to vote an anti-free speech regime into power anyway.

Better late than never for Ross, I guess. Here are some highlights (but read his whole piece):

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As The NYT Charles M. Blow Desperately Searches For A Topic Worthy Of His Brilliance Now That He Can’t Attack Donald Trump In Every Column, And Settles On A Cartoon Skunk…

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Of course Charles M. Blow quickly jumped on the “Cancel Dr. Seuss” bandwagon. I’m sure he was ticked off that he didn’t think of it first. The really woke publications have to include a race-baiter niche (or several) on their staffs, and Blow occupies that prime slot at the New York Times. Blow is an anti-white bigot in general, but he’s versatile: for the four years in which the Times enabled his virulent Trump Derangement, Blow proved he was also adept in pushing almost all of the anti-Trump Big Lies, not only the one that asserts that he is a racist. His columns were like crack for Trump-Haters. For everyone else, they were, like Blow himself, staggeringly repetitious, predicable, pompous, and boring.

Now, with Trump only intermittently in the news, Blow has a problem, being addicted to anti-Trump crack himself, and he’s clearly foundering. In his anti-Seuss screed—if you’re white like Theodore Geisel, Blow will presume you’re a racist (incidentally, he begins his columns by writing, “As a child, I was led to believe that Blackness was inferior.” That’s odd: I wasn’t!)—he also attacked Warner Bros. cartoon character Pepé Le Pew for contributing to “rape culture,” which is hilarious wokism self-parody.

Pepé Le Pew is one of the lesser Warner Brothers animated stars, an amorous French skunk whose cartoons consisted of a single gag: an incurable romantic obsessed with the pursuit of amorous conquests, Pepé kept mistaking cats and other creatures as female skunks (they somehow got white stripes painted on them in various accidents, hence the species misidentification), whereupon he would aggressively woo them, including hugging and kissing them without their consent.

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Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss! You’re Cancelled, You Racist.

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Today is Dr. Theodore Geisel’s birthday. Better known to the world as Dr. Seuss, the author and illustrator of such classic children’s books as “The Cat in the Hat,” “Horton Hears A Who,” and my personal favorite, “Fox in Socks” because it drives my wife crazy, was born this day in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1904. Geisel, who used his middle name and his mother’s maiden name as his nom de plume, wrote 48 books (even some for adults). His work has now sold over 200 million copies and been translated into multiple languages. His style of verse and illustrating have been imitated and parodied countless times. Jesse Jackson even read “Green Eggs and Ham” on Saturday Night Live.

Nobody ever thought of Dr. Seuss books as “racist” until recent fads, events , cancel culture and The Great Stupid washed over the land. Well, OK, not “nobody.” Ethics Alarms had a post about the Seuss Museum in Springfield cutting a piece out of a Dr. Seuss mural because three prominent children’s authors who had been invited to attend the Children’s Literature Festival at the Museum threatened to boycott the event on the theory that the mural, painted to replicate a scene from Dr. Seuss’s first book “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,”  was, they claimed, offensive. It had, said one of the grandstanding hysterics, a “jarring image” of a man with slanted eyes and a coolie’s hat using chopsticks to eat rice, because, apparently, Chinese people never wore such hats, don’t use chopsticks and hate rice. I wrote, while awarding the museum an Ethics Dunce designation (I’m thinking about adding a “Weenie of the Week”…what do you think?):

There is nothing racially jarring about Geisel’s painting of a “Chinaman” except to someone already looking for offense. Dr. Seuss’ drawings can be fairly termed cartoons. The definition of a cartoon is “a simple drawing showing the features of its subjects in a humorously exaggerated way.”  What are these juvenile children book authors asserting…that all cartoons are racially insensitive? That only cartoon of non-whites are offensive?…Normal Americans, meanwhile, understand the cartoon art form, recognize that features are exaggerated, and thus do not take drawings like those by Dr. Seuss (or Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons) as literal or malicious.

Well, silly me. I thought this was just a one-off moment of woke insanity: I have since learned that the Woke never sleep. In the post, I referenced “The Simpsons” and the fact that nobody had called for the elimination of Apu. Apu has since been cancelled as “racially insensitive.” The show also decreed that white voice actors can no longer portray black characters, so Dr. Hibbard has a new sound. Presumably “The Simpsons” will eventually seek a low IQ hick to voice “Cletis the Slack-Jawed Yokel” and a socially awkward MIT PhD. to do the voice of Prof. Frink.

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George Washington’s Birthday Ethics Warm-Up, 2/22/21: Happy Birthday, George! We’re Sorry Your Country Has Become Populated With So Many Ignorant, Ungrateful Fools…

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If there is any American whose birthday should be a national holiday, it is George Washington, born this day in 1732 in Westmoreland County, Virginia, the first of six children of Augustine and Mary Ball Washington. If I have to tell you the reasons he was “the essential man” in American history, well, I guess you’re the product of our current public school system, a recent college graduate, a Democrat, a Black Lives Matter enthusiast, or something. There is no rational excuse for every American, yes, even African-Americans, to not be grateful for this day. Martin Luther King is now the only individual to have a national holiday dedicated to his honor, while Washington’s memory was dumped into a hodge-podge of lesser figures including Franklin Pierce, William Henry Harrison and now, Donald Trump. King is worthy of his day, but to honor King over Washington is as good an example of “putting the cart before the horse” as one could find. Shame on us. True, George is not lacking honors, with the capital city named for him, a towering monument, cities and towns in many states, Mt. Rushmore, and his image on both the most-used bill and coin. Nonetheless he earned all of it, and this date should be a holiday.

On The Ethics Alarms home page, you will see to your right a link to the list of ethical habits some historians believe made Washington the remarkably trustworthy and ethical man he was, ultimately leading his fellow Founders to choose him, and not one the many more brilliant, learned and accomplished among them, to take on the crucial challenge of creating the American Presidency. Directed to do so by his father, young Washington copied out by hand and committed to memory a list called “110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.”  It was  based on a document compiled by French Jesuits in 1595; neither the authors nor the English translator and adapter are known today. The elder Washington was following the teachings of Aristotle—another Dead White Man whom most Americans alive today couldn’t tell you Jack S-word about— who held that principles and values began as being externally imposed by authority (morals) and eventually became internalized as character. As I wrote when I first posted them here,

The theory certainly worked with George Washington. Those ethics alarms installed by his father stayed in working order throughout his life. It was said that Washington was known to quote the rules when appropriate, and never forgot them. They did not teach him to be a gifted leader he became, but they helped to make him a trustworthy one.

Would that readers would access that list more often. And politicians. And lawyers. And educators…

1. How ignorant and ungrateful? THIS ignorant and ungrateful

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