I’m Being Cancelled! has become a much bigger project than I anticipated. I’m finding it difficult to get Gaming Democracy up and running (I recently got a rejection from AHRC for network funding and am now waiting for news from BA/Leverhulme – fingers crossed!) so am putting my energy into writing a book proposal to Palgrave. The monograph will be for a new series on theatre and censorship.
So it was back to the Live Art Archive in Bristol a couple of weeks ago to follow up on my earlier research at the NT Archive into DV8’s shows To Be Straight With You and Can We Talk About This. The reviews for the latter were pretty favourable from the rightwing press for the latter, but journalists like Quentin Letts and Charles Murray couldn’t resist lacing every compliment with a ‘finally, liberals get why Islam is wrong’ tone. Letts also managed to smuggle in some typical gripes about the British cultural institutions being hostile to Christians and conservatives.
The irony of a rightwing writer being made to feel welcome by a dance company who were reviled in the eighties and nineties by conservative politicians and journalists is instructive for how gay rights were becoming absorbed into a heternormative narrative of what count as ‘British values’ in the early 2010s.
Further work is needed to research the social effects the legalisation of gay marriage had in this period. In retrospect it feels like a consensus formed that Britain had reached the limits of tolerance. Equality would be achieved when we all acted the same; that expressions of sexual identity had to be ‘straightened’ to be accepted and assimilated into the mainstream; that otherness was incompatible with liberalism.
Can We Talk About This? paints Islam and Muslims as the other that cannot be tolerated within the rubric of liberal equality. Multiculturalism is presented as a system that upholds hierarchies of oppression with racism and Islamaphobia at the apex, beneath which sexism and homophobia are subordinate. The argument only really works if we assume hatred of women and LGBTQ people is confined to minority communities – a ‘them’ who can be safely distinguished from ‘us’, the liberals, the tolerant, the real British people.
I’ve started thinking of censorship as an absence of otherness within discourse: That proscribing one person or group as the other who are separate and different to me and those like me excludes them from the discursive fields that make subjects present, visible and relatable. Diana Taylor defines knowledge as a verb not a noun for it’s emergence and production through social relations, not a thing out there in the world to be grasped. Following this logic, freedom – the freedom to be offensive – is not an absolute state or discrete object to be cited when performing free speech. It is practiced as the representation of the silenced, cancelled, censored subject.
I’ve just discovered Sara Ahmed’s outstanding blog feministkilljoys. The refrain to call oneself cancelled whilst standing on a public platform, she writes, is a ‘performative contradiction’ and a ‘mechanism of power’. What power was DV8 and Lloyd Newson exercising by claiming Islam as the other in a liberal society? What power is bestowed on those who cite gay rights as proof of civilisational superiority? How does theatre allow that power to be demonstrated, and what are it’s reiterative discursive effects when is practiced as performance?