Thursday, 26 March 2015

Debate on censorship at Ralph Thoresby School

The two teams. In the middle - Paul Thomas

Sheila Chapman writes:
The tricky subject of censorship in art was tackled at Ralph Thoresby school tonight. The motion was ‘Artistic expression should never be censored’ and two teams from the school respectively supported and opposed the motion.

It was interesting to see the rules of debate ( explained most carefully by the Chair, Paul Thomas from Leeds Salon) applied to the proceedings because they enabled each side to expound their reasoning without either unduly dominating proceedings (all the presentations were time limited) or being interrupted by the other side.

Some of the arguments in favour of the motion were:
‘You cannot keep things in the dark – people have to make their decisions about issues with full information.’
‘Who are the censors? Do they have an agenda?’
‘You cannot police censorship’

Some of the arguments against the motion were:
‘There are standards of morality and decency. The right to offend cannot override the right not to be offended.’
‘Who is creating art? – often white, straight men coming from privilege – they don’t risk much’.
‘The world is not safe and art cannot ignore this.’
‘Much of life is censored – e.g you don’t swear in front of a toddler. We self-censor all the time. Why should art be different?’

After careful questioning of the teams the judges retired to make their decision and during this interval Trio Literati performed Censored!  - a wonderfully  interactive dramatic exposition of censorship through the ages.

On their return the judges complimented the two teams  and judged that the motion be carried! The audience agreed!

It was great to see the topic being examined through both debate and dramatic performance – each genre brought its own strengths and we, the audience, benefitted greatly.

Comments from young people involved:

I enjoyed the session and liked debating even though I was put on the spot.

An excellent discussion and an excellent performance!

 It was really wonderful to see two teams debating. That’s made me think about the censorship in art. And the performance by Trio literati is AMAZING! Thank you for this opportunity.

Organiser comments:

A debate on the nature of censorship in art was enhanced by a special customised performance by Trio Lit of the show they had performed for LitFest a couple of weeks earlier.

I thought that it was a really nice little event last night and I would certainly like to continue working to raise the profile of these kind of events. “  said teacher Thomas Stubbs of a collaboration between Headingley LitFest, the Leeds Salon and Ralph Thoresby school. 

Just a quick note to say the debate and performance all went off as planned -- in the end we did the entertainment while the judges were out of the room, making the decision, so the audience had that nice element of suspense to add a spark to their attention. They seemed to really enjoy Censored! and even became an enthusiastic crowd shouting at the end (Weavers Out!)…   He (the teacher who organised it) was brilliant -- a great good thing all round, for positive input and unflagging energy!”  Jane Oakshott, one third of Trio Lit.

“Though having a teacher on each side meant that there was too little of the pupils really – though they both did well and showed their potential as debaters, and the teachers were also able to set a good example of debating. But it should also still add to the knowledge and experience of those who took part and those in the audience towards the future – and I hope you’ll take part again in the qualifying rounds for next year’s Festival school debating competition.” Paul Thomas, Leeds Salon organiser

A quote and a poem from Censored! performance:
“Assassination is the extreme form of censorship” from The Shewing Up of Blanco Posnet  by George Bernard Shaw, 1911
           Atrocities, by Siegfried Sassoon

?       Did Sassoon’s publisher reject this version in 1917 because it was not up to Sassoon’s usual standard, or because he thought the content was subversive for wartime?

           Original version, written 1917

           You bragged how once your men in savage mood

           Butchered some Saxon prisoners. That was good.

           I trust you felt no pity when they stood

           Patient and cowed and scared as prisoners should.

           How did you kill them? Speak and don't be shy.

           You know I love to hear how Germans die.

           Downstairs in dugouts "Kamarad" they cry

           And squeal like stoats when bombs begin to fly.

           I'm proud of you. Perhaps you'll feel as brave

           Alone in no-man's-land where none can save

           Or shield you from the horror of the night.

           There's blood upon your hands - go out and fight.

           I hope those Huns will haunt you with their screams

           And make you gulp their blood in ghoulish dreams.

           You're good at murder. Tell me, can you fight?

    Revised version, pub 1983 in The War Poems ed.Rupert Hart-Davies

You told me, in your drunken-boasting mood,

How once you butchered prisoners. That was good!

I'm sure you felt no pity while they stood

Patient and cowed and scared, as prisoners should.

How did you do them in? Come, don't be shy:

You know I love to hear how Germans die,

Downstairs in dug-outs. "Camerad!" they cry;

Then squeal like stoats when bombs begin to fly.

And you? I know your record. You went sick

When orders looked unwholesome: then, with trick

And lie, you wangled home. And here you are,

Still talking big and boozing in a bar.

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