What Fresh Hell Is This?

March 18, 2006

With Religion and no brains

An eleventh century blind Syrian poet named Abul'-Ala' al-Ma'arri wrote:
The inhabitants of the earth are of two sorts:
Those with brains, but no religion,
And those with religion, but no brains.
And I normally think the lines a bit (ok more than a bit) unfair as he distiction between those with brains and those with religion is too harshly drawn.

However, every now and then I stumble across something that makes at least ponder whether our blind poet was onto something.

Read. It's from last February.
When Wendy DeVore, the drama teacher at Fulton High here, staged the musical "Grease," about high school students in the 1950's, she carefully changed the script to avoid causing offense in this small town.

She softened the language, substituting slang for profanity in places. Instead of smoking "weed," the teenagers duck out for a cigarette. She rated the production PG-13, advising parents it was not suitable for small children.

But a month after the performances in November, three letters arrived on the desk of Mark Enderle, Fulton's superintendent of schools. Although the letters did not say so, the three writers were members of a small group linked by e-mail, all members of the same congregation, Callaway Christian Church.
Those three members of the Calloway Christian Church must be very proud of themselves. They stomped their feet and got their way. Who cares about free speech? Who cares about free thought? We have to protect the children!

But now here's what they call the ironical part.
Dr. Enderle watched a video of the play, ultimately agreeing that "Grease" was unsuitable for the high school, despite his having approved it beforehand, without looking at the script. Hoping to avoid similar complaints in the future, he decided to ban the scheduled spring play, "The Crucible" by Arthur Miller.

"That was me in my worst Joe McCarthy moment, to some," Dr. Enderle said.
Do you think he understood his own joke? That cancelling The Crucible would be a Joseph McCarthy moment? In a letter to the editor Enderle tries to explain himself:
My decision was made in an attempt to help our students prepare for their spring production absent any residual criticism and attention that may have resulted from the problems experienced with the fall production. It should be clarified that no community group or members had contacted me in an effort to halt production of “The Crucible.” My decision was intended to be entirely preventative in nature.
Isn't that the scary part? No community group contacted him about The Crucible but he banned it rescheduled it anyway to avoid any future controversy - from the local Christian community, no doubt. Now why would a conservative Christian community object to a play that uses the 17th century witch trials as a metaphor for the McCarthy anti-communist scare tactics of a half century ago?

And guess how many of the three protesters actually saw the play?

Mark Miller, a 26-year-old graduate student, said he was moved to complain after getting an e-mail message about the show from Terra Guittar, a member of his church. Her description of the pajama party scene offended him, he wrote, adding that one character should have worn a more modest nightgown. Mr. Miller did not see the play.
And then there's this:
Dr. Enderle said he did not base his decision to cancel "The Crucible," which was first reported by The Fulton Sun, a daily, just on the three complaints and the video. He also asked 10 people he knew whether the play crossed a line. All but one, he recalled, said yes.
And this:
Others learned"The Crucible" was off limits through an internal school district newsletter. In it, Dr. Enderle said he dropped the play after seeing this summary on the Web: "17th century Salem woman accuses an ex-lover's wife of witchery in an adaptation of the Arthur Miller play."
Did he even read the play? Between the lines, it doesn't look like it. But something about the line struck me as odd: were they performing the play or an adaptation of the play? Out of curiousity, I googled the quotation. And first on the list is this. Did he really base this whole thing on one sentence from the Internet Movie Database?

Here's some background commentary that will become important in a minute:
"Grease" and "The Crucible" are hardly unfamiliar; they are standard fare on the high school drama circuit, the second-most-frequently-performed musical and drama on school stages, according to the Educational Theater Association, a nonprofit group. The most performed now are "Seussical" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
Ms DeVore chose a Midsummer Night's Dream as a replacement for The Crucible.

Here's how the Times piece ends:
For the moment, Dr. Enderle acknowledged, the controversy has shrunk the boundaries of what is acceptable for the community. He added that "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was "not a totally vanilla play."

But asked if the high school might put on another Shakespeare classic about young people in love, "Romeo and Juliet," he hesitated.

"Given the historical context of the play," the superintendent said, "it would be difficult to say that's something we would not perform."
So high school students shouldn't see "Romeo and Juliet" either?

That was back in February.

Take a look at what's happened recently:
A central Missouri high school drama teacher whose spring play was canceled after complaints about tawdry content in one of her previous productions will resign rather than face a possible firing.
But after a handful of Callaway Christian Church members complained about scenes in the fall musical "Grease" that showed teens smoking, drinking and kissing, Superintendent Mark Enderle told DeVore to find a more family-friendly substitute.

DeVore chose Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," a classic romantic comedy with its own dicey subject matter, including suicide, rape and losing one's virginity.
Uh-oh, just like "Romeo and Juliet" there's trouble in "Midsummer Night's Dream." Better fire the director.

Lord what fools these mortals be! - A Midsummer Night's Dream (III, ii, 115)

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