While the spotlight in recent years has been on censorship from the student left, real and increasing threats are coming from the rightby Jemimah Steinfeld / December 18, 2019 / Leave a comment
Scottish playwright Jo Clifford is no stranger to controversy. Her play, The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven, casts Jesus as a trans woman, and first aired at Glasgow’s Tron in 2009 to a reception of applause—and protest. But there is controversy, and then there is outright danger. The same play was on tour in Brazil until recently, when a smoke bomb was thrown into the performance space and armed police invaded the theatre. Brazil has become a country where it is dangerous to perform, especially if your show does not tick the boxes set out by the new right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro, who has pushed for local art to focus on “Brazilian heroes.”
The incident warns of a new threat sweeping the world right now: the censorship of the arts. A special report in the latest Index on Censorship magazine published this week shows a rising hostile climate towards the arts, even in robust democracies. Artists from around the world, including Germany, Poland, Brazil, and the UK spoke of the increasing threats to their artistic freedom as a result of an emboldened right. Perhaps most startling was the frequency of attacks in the field. Index went out expecting to find just a few examples. Instead, the list was endless.
A threat from the right
While the spotlight in recent years has been on censorship from the student left, with concerns about the rise of safe spaces, trigger warnings and no-platforming, real and increasing threats are coming from the right. They are taking away our liberties—and liberal arts.
“We are on the front line of a culture war that will only deepen and strengthen as the ecological and financial crisis worsens and the right feel more fearfully they are losing their grip on power,” said The Gospel According to Jesus playwright Clifford. She added that even in Scotland, her play can ruffle feathers. Last Christmas there was a run at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre. An online petition demanding the play be banned, she tells me, attracted a whopping 24,674 signatures.
Germany is particularly feeling the heat. The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has gone from newcomer on the political scene in 2013 to being the largest opposition party in the Bundestag today. They are eyeing up seats in parliament—and in the theatre. Marc Jongen, commonly regarded to be…