I write a column or many for an American website. One of the articles I used to write included a man we got to call the Mango Mussolini. Donald J Trump, for it was he gave people a new reason to be stupid. He emboldened huge numbers of people who were challenged by Velcro. I gave up the argument and said openly and publicly, you can’t argue with stupid.
Well, you can’t.
I don’t mean that people who have a lower IQ than I fail to see my genius or that I would behave badly to those cognitively less able than myself. That is not what I am saying but people who have the intelligence but choose not to use it? Instead of being able to walk, talk and chew gum at the same time they stick their heads in Dr. Google or Professor Facebook and tell me to go and do my own research when theirs is at best monosyllabic, and mono focussed.
And then Rare Earth Mettle comes along.
I read about this a few months ago and still when it hit the essay topic stage for commentators, I was still sitting with my jaw dropped.
So here is the deal.
The Royal Court have a brand new play. Much excitement ensues as it is a collaboration. Just think loads of people available to proofread and consider the impact of every decision.
It is prescient and timely and they have, as a villain, an evil billionaire. Topical at least, perhaps at an early stage they might have thought of sending him into space? This villain is intent upon world domination – aren’t they all? I mean as long as they don’t give the villain an unusually stereotypical name which would draw the wrong sort of attention, what could possibly go wrong? I mean in a new play where so many have an opportunity to make comment and contribute the intellectual sensitivity of a swathe of creative types, how could anyone get it close to being wrong? Bomb proof surely? Bulletproof at least?
So, they name their villain…
Even I, a Presbyterian Scot, who had never knowingly met anyone Jewish until I went to University, can see the issue.
At least they did not give him an intellectually challenged butler who had the name Fingal O’Potatohead.
You can make fun of these things and I can hold my hand up and say that on at least one occasion I was called out for a review where I was insensitive in my ethnic description of an actor playing a character. I swiftly apologised and altered what caused offence, losing none of my point or argument. I was happy to do so. After all, the reference was hardly the equivalent of misnaming a principal character in a play.
Journalist Kate Malby was at the forefront of exposing the whole affair and her exposition included the fact that a young Jewish director had pointed out the issue in a workshop with the show’s director and had been ignored. There was also a warning from a dialect coach – this time in written form – that went unheeded.
I have been to Yad Vashem*. It was a salutary experience. It does not matter how many Jewish friends I have or how many I could call them close to me. They are not my anti-prejudice blanket. My mother and father were bigots and racists that appalled me when I was growing up and still do today. I found their attitudes, given that my father had fought in World War II, difficult to process. They have been teaching examples for my own children of how we should recognise our past and improve.
My major concern is that theatre can often be guilty of finding an issue, writing a musical about it and feeling all the better for it, but reflecting the mirror away from itself rather than reflect on its own practices. Theatre needs to be more than a mirror to reality we ought to role model change and show how things can creatively be done properly rather than just set up others as examples to be exposed.
According to Maltby, Jewish theatre makers are seeing a rise in antisemitism. When such an obvious trailblazer like the Royal Court think they can get away with it, and their flesh tinges with a mango like embarrassment, you can see where it may all lead…
*Do your own research… Google it!