Students call for George Bernard Shaw to be canceled at RADA; Restoration drama also faces the axe

Today appears to be Get Off My Lawn Day, for there are multiple acts of cancellation underway. I call them to your attention. Not that any of us can do anything about this, for, as I’ve said, wokeness is a one-way ratchet—at least for now. Nobody dares oppose these unhinged intitiatives for fear of being called a racist, and so the demands lumber over rationality like a big, dumb juggernaut.

According to the article below in the Torygraph—and echoed in the Daily Fail—the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) is undergoing a woke housecleaning, involving the cancellation of George Bernard Shaw, a call for changes in how English is used, and a call for halting the production of Restoration comedies. In general, the students are trying to “decolonise the curriculum” and enact “root and branch structural reform to end institutional racism at RADA.” (RADA has already admitted that it’s structurally racist.)

Click on the screenshot to read the Torygraph piece. It’s largely the same as the Daily Fail piece. (If the Torygraph is paywalled, make a judicious inquiry.)

First, the cancellation of Shaw (Torygraph‘s emphasis):

Students at RADA have said George Bernard Shaw’s name should be removed from its theatre over his support of eugenics.

The call is included in an anti-racism action plan that also says received pronunciation should be “de-centred” from the curriculum. The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art should also consider dropping the performance of Restoration comedies due to their association with empire, the plan says.

“Master and servant” exercises should no longer be included in improvisation classes because they are racially insensitive, according to the recommendations, while singing lessons should be overhauled because the composers studied “are almost entirely white men”.

RADA, based in London, has promised to take action on the plan after admitting earlier in the summer that the drama school “has been and currently is institutionally racist”. It said it recognised the need for “urgent and fundamental learning and change”.

The anti-racism action plan was drawn up by RADA’s student body in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.

It says “RADA celebrates historical figures who embraced racist ideologies” and calls for the renaming of the George Bernard Shaw Theatre, saying: “This man spoke in support of eugenics and fascism.”

Shaw, the acclaimed playwright and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, was one of the early members of RADA’s council, joining in 1911.

Since his death in 1950, one third of royalties have gone to the school, making him one of its most important benefactors. Royalties from his work, including Pygmalion and its musical adaptation, My Fair Lady, contributed £78,000 to the institution in 2019-20. But the bequest ends this year, when the 70-year copyright term expires.

Towards the end of his life, he developed a keen interest in eugenics, writing: “The only fundamental and possible socialism is the socialisation of the selective breeding of man.” Other figures of the time, including HG Wells and Bertrand Russell, shared his interest.

In 1935, Shaw voiced praise for Hitler and also expressed admiration for Stalin and Mussolini.

Note that Shaw’s interest in eugenics, however extensive, had absolutely no influence in the UK, as the UK never enacted any eugenics legislation. Nor was it influential in the U.S.: I’ve never seen Shaw quoted as an authority supporting American immigration-restriction or forced-sterilization laws. After all, Shaw wasn’t a scientist, but a playwright.

Ending the use of Received Pronounciation (I’m not sure what this will mean for drama):

The action plan says RADA “currently glorifies and makes apologies for problematic historical figures and systems of oppression”. It asks that the institution removes “all paintings, sculptures, pictures and room names that celebrate racist figures”.

It also urges teachers and other members of staff to “actively investigate how their personal practice is West-centric and imperialistic”.

The encouragement of the use of received pronunciation (RP) “is given precedence over all other speech systems in the training”, the document says, and is “often mandatory when playing characters who are royal”. It adds: “Every member of RADA’s voice department is white, and most voice tutors’ default speech system is RP.”

The plan recommends actively encouraging students to use their own accents, particularly when playing royalty, and to “de-centre RP in the voice curriculum”.

And ending Restoration comedies (the Fail says that the “action plan” calls for their cessation):

Students on the BA Acting course read texts including “Look Back In Anger” for their “contemporary scene” study. The plan says such texts “do not reflect our contemporary society or the diverse make-up or student cohorts who study them” and are “Western-centric, without any acknowledgement of a global cultural context”.

Meanwhile, BAME students are said to have struggled with Restoration comedies given that most characters in them “were figureheads of the empire”. The plan says: “Restoration is a particularly conservative form (very white, very period).”

Too white! Too period! There goes most of Shakespeare (and Shaw to boot, as well as a lot of other plays), and I wonder why The Bard didn’t take it in the neck as well. I suppose that’s coming, despite Othello. Anyway, I don’t have the spoons to criticize this nonsense, and I don’t need to. Either you see this as arrant and excessive Wokeness, or you think purging the history of theater to make it conform to 21st-century morality is a good thing to do.

 

h/t: Ben

47 Comments

  1. merilee
    Posted September 13, 2020 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Insanity, and inanity besides.

  2. Posted September 13, 2020 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    I’m sure Shaw would have something witty to say about all this. Shame he’s not here to say it.

    I’ve been waiting for the Bard to get attacked. And men writing about women. Adieu, Kate and Molly and Candy.

  3. Posted September 13, 2020 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    What I really don’t get is why the administrators of these organizations first listen and then capitulate to this Red Guard mob? Are we the public to stand up against this mob only after each of the targeted authorities have abdicated their responsibilities to those they represent yet pay only obsequious attention to and absolute collaboration with this totalitarianism, knowing full well nothing given up now will ever be payment enough? Why is there so little authoritative and principled resistance from those in the front lines of these organizations and in the best tactical position to do so? I really don’t get it. Is moral and ethical cowardice now a mandatory requirement for administrative invertebrate leadership? In far too many cases, it would seem so.

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted September 13, 2020 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      If they won’t grow a pair, I fear the rest of us might have to do so instead. We might start by asking why RADA haven’t got anything better to do in the current Covid-generated artistic crisis than signal their virtue in this way. If this is the best they can do, we might have to have another look at their generous tax-based funding.

  4. rickflick
    Posted September 13, 2020 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    For efficiency, they should probably cancel anyone who was born before the US civil right’s movement. Then challenge their legacy minders to justify readmission to the human race.

  5. Posted September 13, 2020 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    WTF. I’m embarrassed to be English at the moment. At one extreme, Boris Johnson and his cronies want us to celebrate our Imperialist past, and don’t forget that “we won the war”. At the other extreme, Wokeness wants us to forget ALL of our history,as it’s not “inclusive” and is too “west-centric”. Of course it’s west-centric. From 10 000 years ago, as Britain was recolonised after the Ice Age, until perhaps Cabot’s 1497 voyage to the coast of North America under the commission of Henry VII of England, the West was what we knew best. We need to acknowledge ALL of our past, good and bad, and move forward to a future that includes everyone. Why do neither the Left nor the Right seem to understand this!

  6. Posted September 13, 2020 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    One of the great features of culture is theatre, the Greek idea that you can imagine what it is like to be another person & from another group. This is what RADA students are supposed to personify.
    That’s what the Greeks got, & the Jews of Judaism never did. The OT only ever praises the other for what he did for the nation of Israel. The Greek dramatists imagined sympathetically what it was like to be a person presented with moral dilemmas, whether they were Theban, Persian or whatever else.
    These RADA students should be Athens, are actually Jerusalem, & will end up as Sparta.

  7. Posted September 13, 2020 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    It’s an interesting debate. It is unfair to hold the past greats accountable to current standards. At the same time, condoning a support for eugenics is difficult.

    • Adam M.
      Posted September 14, 2020 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      If you ignore the means used to achieve it, isn’t eugenics a good thing by definition? It is the improvement of our genomes. We know that there are many genetic diseases and disorders lurking in our genomes, ranging from mild problems such as poor eyesight to a guaranteed life of suffering leading to an untimely death. If we eliminated genetic diseases that caused suffering, wouldn’t that be good? If we were all a little smarter and healthier, wouldn’t that be good?

      Now, obviously attempting to achieve eugenics via forced sterilization is evil, but is that to say there are no moral means of engineering improvements to our genomes? Surely the widespread use of genetic testing for severe genetic diseases during pregnancy is a form of eugenics. Would you say genetic testing is evil?

      No evidence was presented here that George Bernard Shaw supported evil means of achieving eugenics. For all I know, he only supported the general idea of improving the human genome.

  8. Oliver S.
    Posted September 13, 2020 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    By the way, “David Hume has now been ‘cancelled’ at the University of Edinburgh”:

    https://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2020/09/david-hume-has-now-been-cancelled-at-the-university-of-edinburgh.html

  9. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 13, 2020 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak think? 🙂

    • merilee
      Posted September 13, 2020 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      Would love to hear Hitch, who spoke in such a beautiful RP, would have to say about this.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted September 13, 2020 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

        Those Hitchens brothers were/are nothing if not plummy.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted September 13, 2020 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

          Like a lotta Yanks, I’m a sucker for a posh Brit accent. Those toffs always have me with their first “not at all” — the nasal fricative “n” ramping up into the three short, rounded vowels, separated by the two percussive “t”s, each pronounced as crisply and distinctly as though struck by a symphony timpanist.

          The way we Yanks say the phrase, OTOH, it comes out like the name of an over-the-counter sleep aid: “Noddedal.”

        • Posted September 13, 2020 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

          ‘Plummy’, in British English, is more than a description of an accent. It has class-based connotations of a rather aristocratic and reactionary type: Malcolm Muggeridge and Margot from ‘the Good Life’ are examples.
          C. Hitchens would have cavilled at your weak-kneedness for his diction. He once lamented as snobbish the Americans’ deference to America’s Greeks. The glint in his eye may have betrayed a prideful irony.
          Plumminess reminds me of his observation about WASPs. That term is more a designation of ideas held, rather than a definite social stratum. He pointed out to the Catholic William F. Buckley, himself that most of his acquaintance thought of WFB as a WASP but didn’t include George Wallace in the category. That was before pointing out that the ‘W’ was redundant: ASPs!

          • Posted September 13, 2020 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

            Certainly CH found American Anglophilia simpering and silly. But he embraced his own class background and education, including his pronunciation and diction–it was his, how could he not? As for Muggeridge, yes, he became tiresome, but he was also a heroic journalist who fearlessly exposed a little thing that became known as the Terror Famine. As CH said of the part played by his father (a naval officer reactionary whom CH referred to as “the Commander”) in the sinking of the Sharnhorst, “a better day’s work than I’ve ever done.”

            • Posted September 13, 2020 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

              Yes, Orwell had a lot of time for Muggeridge in MM’s early days, so that is good enough for me. But his pompous attempted demolition of Palin & Cleese when ‘Life of Brian’ came out was excruciating, as he sat next to the demonstrably closeted Bishop of Southwark doing a Larry Grayson impression and fiddling suggestively with a cross nearly as big as the original.
              It looks like the end of the 60s, the last gasp of deference, & MM was its unwitting grave-digger, a serious man, whose conversion looks to have to have turned him from Juvenal into Augustine. Now MM was an ASP.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted September 13, 2020 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

            ‘Plummy’, in British English, is more than a description of an accent. It has class-based connotations of a rather aristocratic and reactionary type …

            Guess that’s why I once heard the Hitch describe his brother’s accent (which seems indistinguishable from his own) as “plummy”; Peter certainly fits the “reactionary” role.

            I readily confess that this brand of Anglophilia is a shameful weakness. But that’s the way watching those imported upper-middlebrow Brit television shows (and WFB’s “Firing Line”) on PBS as a youngster will warp a fellow.

            • merilee
              Posted September 13, 2020 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

              I’m kinda partial to U.S. RP as well, sort of modern Walter Cronkite, although it is interesting how one can immediately recognize a 50s announcer’s voice. Kamala Harris has a nice way of speaking; Pete Buttigieg, as well, though a lot is about what they are saying. Obama was great, too. Trump, otoh, is whiningly nauseating.

  10. nellwhiteside
    Posted September 13, 2020 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    It looks as though the woke are trying to reduce everything to the lowest common denominator.

    English theatre without Received Pronunciation would be like strawberries without the cream and sugar.

  11. jezgrove
    Posted September 13, 2020 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    “I suppose that’s coming, despite Othello” – a white guy writing about a black (oops, “Black”) character and making him a murderer should have seen the cancellation coming, I daresay… And presumably David Bowie will bea non-person sometime soon: https://www.muhistory.com/from-the-archive-2-mu-response-to-david-bowies-nazi-salute/

    • Posted September 14, 2020 at 3:08 am | Permalink

      Actually worse than that. The naive Othello was manipulated into murdering Desdemona and destroying himself by an evil white person (at least I assume Iago was white).

  12. bascule
    Posted September 13, 2020 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    For the past 100 years or so the royal family have spoken RP, it being how they were brought up, along with many other people.
    If I were tasked with the job of impersonating such individuals, I might choose to also speak with RP. I think it’s called, you know…
    acting.

    • eric
      Posted September 14, 2020 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, that’s what gets me; I thought the whole point of acting was to learn how to seem and behave differently than yourself. To be able to pass as someone who thinks differently from you, believes differently from you, talks differently from you, etc. To pretend to be the villain, or the fool, or the

      If these students don’t want to play non-woke characters, or speak differently than themselves, etc., then why go to an acting school? Do they think theater companies and movie makers are going to pay them to just stand there and be their woke selves?

  13. C.
    Posted September 13, 2020 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    If his name is bad and his works are bad then his money is bad. It would be nice to see his estate find a legal way to redirect his royalties to a more worthy recipient. Or, maybe the woke should start their own drama schools and run them however they please. They could have their own universities, companies, housing, tv and radio, in-houses police force, i mean, why not? They already have their own (kangaroo) courts.

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted September 13, 2020 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      And they can pay for them all from out of their own resources, withoutd relying on the taxpayers they so obviously despise. Let’s see how long that lasts.

  14. Posted September 13, 2020 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    As if I matter, and I accept that I don’t…

    Although I don’t agree with their reasoning entirely, I don’t mind some restructuring and renaming from time to time just for the sake of updating an old campus. The writings and plays and building names from People Long Dead gets kind of old and dull, don’t you think? Why not just do some renaming and putting on some new plays in order to make these places seem more current and relatable?

    I doubt they’ll be naming any buildings after The Spice Girls any time soon, but surely there are some people who deserve their time in an architectural piece.

  15. davelenny
    Posted September 13, 2020 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    The genuinely woke would refuse to attend a Royal Academy.

    Shamefully unaware of Shaw’s support for eugenics, more than five decades ago I read and enjoyed His Arms and the Man. Obviously, my enjoyment was problematic.

  16. Jon Gallant
    Posted September 13, 2020 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    The Royal Academy of Music will undoubtedly be next. After all, J.S. Bach never filed a
    Diversity Statement, and the musical staff notation used everywhere today was invented by Guido d’Arezzo, a dead white man who lived in colonialist western Europe.

    What strikes me about these black comedies (is that phrase still permitted?) at RADA or at Edinburgh U. (with its outcry over police
    misbehavior in Minneapolis) is the diffusion of American fads to the east side of the Atlantic. This stuff is clearly homologous to the way Blues, Country Music, jeans, US movie styles, etc. etc. are all prized world-wide. We can surely expect demonstrations with posters of George Floyd in Turku, Finland, and Associate Deans of Diversity and Equity to start springing up in Ulan Bator.

  17. DrBrydon
    Posted September 13, 2020 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    But if they stop performing Western drama, then they would have to perform non-Western drama. Wouldn’t that be cultural appropriation. Problematic!

  18. Oliver S.
    Posted September 13, 2020 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    What we now experience is a radical Kulturkampf (culture struggle) against European or Western culture (art, philosophy—especially the Enlightenment era—, and science), which is regarded by the Critical Social Justice warriors as one historical “white supremacist” movement that needs to be “dismantled”.

  19. BJ
    Posted September 13, 2020 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    “The plan says such texts ‘do not reflect our contemporary society or the diverse make-up or student cohorts who study them’…”

    At this point, how can this stuff not remind people of places like the USSR and China (especially under Mao, but just to a lesser extent today), where only art that toed the line of the government’s political ideology was allowed? That’s what these activists are demanding: the only art that should be allowed is art that we approve. We alone should have the power to approve this art, and it must conform to our political ideology. (Oh, and approval can be rescinded at any time, based on whims, changes in our views, and/or discovery of comments or actions that we find offensive)”

  20. pablo
    Posted September 13, 2020 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Shakespeare is next. He portrayed an African man as murderous and rejecting black women to marry a white woman therefore reinforcing western beauty standards.

  21. chris moffatt
    Posted September 13, 2020 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Since the british empire wasn’t a thing at the time of restoration comedy (1660 – 1710), and didn’t really become one until after the loss of the american colonies, I fail to see a connection. I suppose it indicates that the modern student-activist has as small a grasp of history as of critical thought. We are doomed. If there had, in fact, been an empire it is safe to say the restoration playwrights would have mercilessly lampooned it

    As for “look back in anger” it was specifically about the angst of post-war british life at a time before mass immigration so small wonder the very small cast is composed only of native british characters. It is culturally interesting as an example of the “kitchen sink” school of domestic drama concentrating on the squalor of life in post-war britain which became popular as a reaction to the artificiality of earlier drama. It all didn’t survive the swinging sixties…

    • jezgrove
      Posted September 13, 2020 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

      Yup, and the sixties saw an increase in the genuine representation of British regional accents in theatrical and film productions, too. I remember seeing a 1940s (?) film starring one of the supposed greats of British acting playing a role set in Newcastle and his attempt at the accent was absolutely atrocious. (I recall it as being John Gielgud, but if so I can’t identify the film.) Back in the day, British actors had to learn to erase their own speech patterns and replace them with RP, but later the ability to reproduce regional accents became highly prized, (In US terms, think Dick van Dyke as a cockney chimney sweep in Mary Poppins versus Meryl Streep.)

      • chris moffatt
        Posted September 13, 2020 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

        Ah Meryl Streep. In the realm of character voicing what can ever top her performance as Florence Foster Jenkins singing ‘Die Hoelle rache’? or her Julia Child? DVD on the other hand….

  22. Posted September 13, 2020 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    Depressing.

  23. Posted September 13, 2020 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Ignorant little peasants. They will be crap actors unable to act. Anyway, who needs actors when there will be no theatres? Actors are a luxury…

    • merilee
      Posted September 13, 2020 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

      Looxury??

    • eric
      Posted September 14, 2020 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

      They will be crap actors unable to act.

      What? How could not learning different methods of speech while refusing to learn traditional plays and characters lead to bad actors?
      /s

  24. Lee
    Posted September 13, 2020 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    “Either you see this as arrant and excessive Wokeness, or you think purging the history of theater to make it conform to 21st-century morality is a good thing to do.”

    I certainly hope this insanity doesn’t come to define morality in the 21st century. It is on a very shaky foundation, with none of the coherent reasoning that defines the philosophy of ethics as articulated by scholars like Joel Feinberg (the harm principle) and John Stuart Mill (the utility principle). The Woke crowd demands to be believed without argument and without evidence. Being asked “Why should we believe you?” is anathema to them. I trust that eventually sensible people will cease to be intimidated by them, and instead ashamed of them. Impermanence is part of the nature of fads and fashions, and wokeness is most definitely a fad.

  25. Posted September 14, 2020 at 4:41 am | Permalink

    More silliness from the kids. They’ll regret this someday … I hope.

    No sense of history whatsoever. It’s all about THEM.

  26. KD
    Posted September 14, 2020 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Britain hasn’t had this much fun since the English Civil War. Embrace your inner Taliban!

  27. Kevin
    Posted September 14, 2020 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Eugenics wasn’t the same “evil” word in the 1920’s and 1930’s as it is now. Modern contraception/abortion methods constitute “eugenics” and fit with the quote given above:
    ““The only fundamental and possible socialism is the socialisation of the selective breeding of man.”

    “Eugenics” was then often seen as a way of improving peoples future conditions of life: e.g. moving out of poverty by having fewer children.

    In the eighties I did some historical work on Marie Stopes and her history relating to her UK birth control clinics. This would have come under the umbrella term of eugenics at the time. She found herself in court concerning the right to even inform women about birth control.

    Shaw was a Fabian socialist (a current still thriving in the UK) and is often seen as sympathetic to women’s issues and social fairness especially in his writings: the accusation concerning support of Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini in 1935 would have to be more specific, rather than by blanket guilt by association


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