Posted by Bruce Miller
No matter what show Theatre IV chooses to produce, some parents and teachers are going to be offended. I don’t mean one or two. I mean 25 to 50. Every year, a growing number of those who are offended insist that their personal viewpoint is “moral” and that those with differing viewpoints are “immoral.” With the assurance of those who know they are right, they insist that their perspective is the only one that matters.
I’ve been in my job 34 years. It didn’t used to be this way. Adults used to be more open-minded and accepting of diversity. They viewed each show as a whole. If they loved nine tenths of it, they focused on that and went away happy. They never called me and demanded their money back because of the tenth they didn’t like.
They never were astonished that the public was not forewarned about this “objectionable” content or that. They never had the arrogance to demand that all future productions be rewritten to suit their personal perspectives. “And I know it’s against the law to rewrite,” I was told yesterday by a teacher, “but it’s time Judo-Christians (sic) took a stand and stood up for what’s right.”
In the old days, if adults objected to one particular aspect of a show, they seized the opportunity to talk with the children in their care about their personal beliefs and preferences. They made teachable moments out of content they considered to be non-desirable. They didn’t assume or expect the world to be in sync with each of their personal feelings and beliefs. They accepted that it was their responsibility to discuss issues with children.
They chose not to try to “protect” their children from any and all “objectionable” content. Instead, they felt good knowing they were with their child, and talking with their child, as the child encountered such content in the world.
From 1975 until about 1995, I rarely if ever heard complaints from parents about content and language. And the shows we did then were no different from the shows we do now.
In the mid- to late-90s, we entered into the current “just say ‘no’,” “I’m mad as heck and I’m not going to take it anymore,” “zero tolerance” period. Nowadays, most of the angry letters, emails, phone calls etc I receive come from parents and teachers in their 20s, 30s and maybe early 40s.
As a general rule, adults born before 1970 remain open-minded and eager to expose children to the world. But there’s a vocal, frequently angry minority of younger adults born after 1970 who seem to believe and insist that the entire world should fall in line with their personal perspective. They don’t care what anyone else believes. They don’t want to discuss values with children; they want to force their values on the world before allowing their child to enter into it.
They object to Winnie the Pooh because A. A. Milne “doesn’t make it clear enough that Mr. and Mrs. Rabbit are married.” They object to Treasure Island because “no one warned us that there would be all those pirates and rum.” They object to Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Sideways Stories from Wayside School and The Wizard of Oz because they “celebrate satanic forces.” They object to The Best Christmas Pageant Ever because the minister uses the word “sexy” when describing the subject matter preferred by some of the older Herdman children. "How am I supposed to explain ‘sexy’ to my eight year old?!” one mother asked me.
They object to the euphemisms that the father in A Christmas Story uses as a substitute for vulgar language. They are livid when Peter Pan (written in 1904) uses the word “ass” even though he's clearly referring to a jackass or donkey. And they are beside themselves with righteous rage when in Annie (written in 1977) Daddy Warbucks and President Roosevelt's cabinet members use the words “damn” and “hell” a handful of times when discussing the Great Depression.
The most recent objection I received, and this from a student who was writing with her class under the direction of an offended teacher, mentioned the pain caused by Annie herself singing that she liked to imagine her parents collecting things “like ashtrays and art.” "Why," I was asked, "did you have to use the word ashtray?"
I guess I’m old fashioned. I believe it would be unwise for me or anyone to rewrite classics like Annie and Peter Pan to be in step with a vocal minority. I think it’s regrettable that teachers encourage children to write to nonprofit leaders and ask them to knowingly break the law. I think in an age when Christian conservative icons like President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney openly used words far more vulgar than “damn” and “hell” in the Oval Office and on the floor of the U. S. Congress, it’s actually helpful to see Annie and afterwards talk with children about language and the pressures placed on adults in power.
Regarding adults in Annie using the words “damn” and “hell” a dozen times (I think it's 10 "damns" and two "hells"): “It is immoral,” I’m told, “for you to expose my children to this terrible behavior.” Not a single one of these adults has mentioned any discomfort with their children being exposed to the behavior of the character Rooster, who alludes to the fact that he’s going to take Annie away and dispatch her with a knife. That behavior, apparently, fails to meet the “terrible” threshold of saying “damn” and “hell.”
Anyway, I’m whining. We try our hardest to offer positive, uplifting experiences to children, families and schools. It depresses me that an increasing number of adults would prefer to see us not do Annie at all than see us abide by the law and present Annie, an American classic, the way it was written.