colleges

The Beast That Devours Itself

Identity politics and deplatforming in college theater.

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|||Thomas Kelemen/Dreamstime.com
Thomas Kelemen/Dreamstime.com

Beast Thing should have warmed the hearts of progressive students. It is a play written by a black playwright for a largely black cast that aims to critique whiteness and create a space for black performers. Yet in mid-November, the Williams College Theatre Department felt compelled to cancel the production of this play following student complaints that minority actors were valued a "token" for their race, that white students would feel uncomfortable, and that violent and upsetting imagery in the play would be unsettling. Although the cast included a relatively high percentage of students of color, the director believed that students also objected on grounds that the cast was still too white.

The Williams cancellation is not an isolated incident in the world of college theatre. Last year, Knox College cancelled a production of Bertolt Brecht's The Good Person of Szechwan on grounds of its perceived portrayal of Asians and insufficient representation of minorities in the cast. (It is unclear whether the censors at Knox recalled that Brecht's works once fed the flames of Nazi book burnings.) Brandeis University, which bears the name of one of America's greatest defenders of the First Amendment, censored a play about Lenny Bruce, a comedian prosecuted for obscenity, on the same charges of racial insensitivity that "deplatformed" Brecht.

In the case of Beast Thing, the professor who organized the show, Misha Chowdhury, is a self-described "queer Bengali," and in the lament to the Williams College community that he posted online, he noted that "formidable queer women of color" were his mentors. It is hard not to feel sorry for Chowdhury, but he and Beast Thing were doomed from the start by the culture of Williams College and the same identity politics that he embraces.

Credentials like "queer Bengali" and "formidable queer women of color" are no protection in the fierce jungle of identity power struggles. The extensive trigger warnings that accompanied the promotion for the play likewise failed to reassure the campus community. The dominant culture at Williams felt that the play "would disturb and harm audience members—students of color, in particular." In turn, the actors "express[ed] fear of being called out or canceled by their peers if they were to participate in this production." Thus, a "Black playwright and a Black video designer and Black actor [were asked] to revise their project … because it would cause harm to Black audience members." The Williams community, in the words of the director, "policed what people of color are allowed to do and make and say." The real beast in this saga was identity politics, and its lust to find and devour offenders is insatiable.

At Williams, the culture of finding offense prevails even over the minority voices that it purports to protect. Last year, Zachary Wood, then a senior at Williams and president of Uncomfortable Learning, a student organization that brings controversial speakers to campus, was criticized intensely for inviting John Derbyshire to speak. Derbyshire is surely a dislikable racist, but the reaction to the invitation was also shocking. Wood is an African American, and he assuredly did not identify with the speaker's views. His was an attempt to promote a critical dialogue with a speaker that he vehemently opposed. But this did not stop students from calling him "a sellout" and "anti-black," and it did not stop Williams College from canceling the event.

Poor Prof. Chowdhury wanted through the production of Beast Thing to push "back against that internal and external censorship, which artists of color are constantly navigating" since they "are asked to speak for their entire community." He wanted to give minority students an opportunity to step out of their day-to-day roles so that they could lose themselves in their character and create a work of art. But when the levers of power are built around group identity and competing claims of victimhood, an individual voice is a disposable distraction.

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  1. largely black cast that aims to critique whiteness

    While I don’t have any strong opinions about the “deplatforming” of this play, I think it should be noted that this is kind of openly racist.

    1. Exactly. But the Left only views racism as being white vs. minority, but the white race can be demonized all the please now… Complete and total hypocrisy! I just consider it the next installment of “The Left Ruins Everything”…

      1. The color of one’s skin dictates innate behaviors which can be interpreted as inherently bad and therefore are fair to criticize.

        I’m good with it.

        1. It is a fact that progressives at the turn of the century believed in innate racial characteristics as well. It’s why they were such fans of sterilization, forced or otherwise. For a way of thinking that claims to be very forward thinking, they sure don’t change very often. Hell, I think conservatism has changed more in the last 100 years than progressiveness has.

          1. I think Michael Malice says it best, that modern conservatism is slow motion progressivism. Minds keep changing but for conservatives its more thoughtful, steady, and controlled.

            Which is why conservatives are much happier overall. Self control.

      2. It’s Cultural Marxism: The OPPRESSORS are straight White Christian Males for the most part & the OPPRESSED are women, blacks, Hispanics, LGBTQX, Asians, Muslims, etc….

    2. Next you’ll say that Williams wouldn’t allow a play version of Birth of a Nation.

    3. Oh, come on. You cannot be racist AGAINST whites. The wokest people have said as much.

    4. What is perhaps even more bizarre that it was deemed to somehow hurt black people when it’s a critique of whiteness.

      Have we come full circle yet?

      1. Just circles? Triangles are people too!!

        1. Well, ok, triangles are in but no rhombus allowed.

          1. Shapist!

            1. Excuse me, I’m shape-fluid. Stop denying my existence!

              Or maybe I’m just actually a fluid…hmmmm.

    5. You can’t be the victim of racism if you’re the majority group in power. If 3 black guys beat you half to death while called you cracker and white trash that is just a beat down, not a hate crime, because you can’t be racist towards a white person in the USA.

      1. What? Racism is bullying someone because of their race, not because of who’s in power.

        1. How droll. Meanwhile, back in the real world, you can only be racist against protected classes. And whitey ain’t on the list.

  2. I remember one theory about the medieval plagues, why the first one or two were so devastating (1/3 population dead) and succeeding ones less so: the plagues were too successful and killed too many carriers.

    Thus it will be with the SJWs. They are destroying themselves and leaving too few behind to carry on.

    Such a shame.

    1. They do seem to be eating their own. If the modern college campus is their model of what society should be, I see a shooting war in the offing.

  3. This, I think, is hilarious. We have now reached the point where hyper-progressivism is beginning to self-destruct. Maybe the adults should intervene and pull the various factions away from their slapping matches, and get them back on a more effective collective trajectory…

    Or just make another batch of popcorn.

    1. Communism didn’t self-destruct when they started dragging communists in front of firing squads, it just got meaner and scarier.

    2. Please… it’s “open-handed combat.”

    3. Popcorn With butter.

      Please.

  4. “It is a play written by a black playwright for a largely black cast that aims to critique whiteness and create a space for black performers. ”

    The definition of racism; value people based primarily or solely based on the color of their skin.

    1. Physicist keep wondering about the nature of dark energy, yet all the space is being created right under their noses in their own universities.

      1. Physicists are limited by logic and reason. They wouldn’t know what to do with the “studies” departments in their universities.

        1. I’m pretty sure they have an equation for that: e=mc^2.

          Just sayin’….

        2. I’m pretty sure they do – and it’s be very accommodating and non-critical or lose your job.

    2. You can’t be racist if you are a minority.

      1. That’s like saying you can’t be an idiot if you are a minority.

        1. Idiocy is a social construct. I, for one, choose to identify as highly intelligent.

  5. Brandeis University, which bears the name of one of America’s greatest defenders of the First Amendment, censored a play about Lenny Bruce

    Man, if that’s not like rain on your wedding day, I don’t know what is.

    1. In this day and age, they may still be the greatest defenders of the 1st amendment.

    2. A free ride when you’ve already paid. I’m talking about you VRE.

  6. that minority actors were valued a “token” for their race, that white students would feel uncomfortable, and that violent and upsetting imagery in the play would be unsettling

    So they put on Othello instead.

  7. let’s cancel a play so we feel important.

  8. So, now I can call social justice warriors ouroboros or…is that cultural appropriation?

    *rim shot*

  9. create a space for black performers.

    Would someone *kindly* explain this expression? Is a stage called a “space” now?

    1. Battlespace.

    2. “All the world’s a space. We are but players in a vacuum. It sucks”

    3. Space is just newspeak for platform, or opportunity.

      It’s akin to starting a conversation… Creating synergy, becoming an ally, etc

  10. The Poe Horizon; we will be there any day now.

  11. Oye, times have changed, I remember when my high school principal almost censored portions of our production of Prelude to a Kiss, before the drama teacher threatened to quit if we didn’t perform the play as written. Now, it’s performed in Dubai, but might not be allowed at Columbia University. (Minutes 19 to 20-something are not exactly safe for work, because it objectifies women.)

  12. “In turn, the actors ‘express[ed] fear of being called out or canceled by their peers if they were to participate in this production.'”

    Cancelled by their peers? Is “cancelled” anything like “liquidated?”

    1. Unpersoned

  13. This is truly pathetic. I used to wonder how stalinist systems managed to take hold over such a large percentage of the population. I wonder no more. It is exactly by these means. Things that are deemed counterrevolutionary are banned. Things that are insufficiently ‘for the worker’ are held suspect. It is truly disturbing.

  14. “Derbyshire is surely a dislikable racist, but the reaction to the invitation was also shocking.”

    Derbyshire is such a racist that he is in a biracial marriage.

    1. I think it’d be hard to argue that he’s not racist, at least in regards to Black people, as he is not at all shy about.

  15. The dominant culture at Williams felt that the play “would disturb and harm audience members — students of color, in particular.”

    How the hell does a play “harm” people?

    1. I remember, back in the day, when being shocked and/or disturbed by a play was a desirable thing. Drama wasn’t _supposed_ to be comfortable. Art was _supposed_ to be provocative.

      Silly me for wanting art which question my beliefs. I guess we all have to stick with pigment-challenged bread.

    2. Fears of gun playing breaking out?

  16. They are so hypersensitive they won’t even allow the mention of the names of their enemies. Sound of Music canceled because there are Nazis in it (the bad guys). Springtime for Hitler canceled because it mentions hitler. They complained that Dunkirk did not have any minorities (there were none to speak of in England in 1943). They want movies about Vikings to be racially diverse. The Vagina Monologs canceled because it mentions vaginas and does not include women with penis’. They have completely lost the plot.

    1. Women with penises?

      Were the penises in question inside their vaginas?

    2. One of the more ludicrous examples of color-based casting that completely washes over history is the casting of Adrian Lester, a black actor, in the role of John Randolph (ambassador for the court of Queen Elizabeth). Of course Randolph was white (as was England generally at that time). So why did the director cast him as black? Because there is this history of casting whites to play people of color, you see, so she is just evening the score. Really. She said that. “Woke” is just a nice way to say “dishonest”, I suppose.

  17. Beast Thing should have warmed the hearts of progressive students.

    Do you not understand their sole purpose in life is to complain about everything while doing no actual work on anything?

  18. The idea that SJWs are out to protect people of color and other “marginalized groups” is transparently false. The only thing they care about is SJW politics and feelings. If people of color get in the way of that they are crushed just as ruthlessly as white people.

    Another really obvious example is when they claim that people need to “listen to women and people of color.” But as soon as any woman or person of color disagrees with SJW politics they find a way to dismiss them.

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  20. It is hard not to feel sorry for Chowdhury

    Yes, somehow, I manage.

  21. Derbyshire is surely a dislikable racist

    I find him quite likable.

  22. I went to a fairly conservative university. The theater department was putting on a version of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”. The administration was deeply offended and told them to pull the play or change the name. They succumbed to the pressure and produced new material promoting their play as “The Best Little Whorehouse in Utah”.

  23. The ultimate irony to all this SJW nonsense, deciding what is or is not offensive to others, is that the “others” do not get to speak for themselves and, when they do (as with Zachary Wood) they are pilloried if what they say or do does not comport with the SJW’s notion of what is and is not acceptable for them to say or do. Which of course makes all this the worst sort of racism, because it parades as being “woke” while all the while it fosters, maintains and promotes the ideology that black (or any other non-white) people are incapable of thinking and speaking for themselves.

    1. Good comment. I think sometimes SJW activists should just slip on a red arm band and don a Mao cap. Then more people would recognize who they are: speech enforcers, and deadly at that.

  24. The same phenomenon – self-consumption – characterizes government as well. Shutdown loses civil servants’ loyalty, while Congress cannot even assure they are paid.

    Political roots of identity politics on campus and immigration politics in DC are quite different, but I imagine other similarities might become apparent. General desire for power is a key element in both cases, of course.

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