What about Free Speech?

I’ve just returned from China where a colleague in Hefei had his final exam censored. The school contended that the readings on the exam were “too dark” and they objected a reading where a character exclaims “Oh, my God!” since there should be no religion in a class.

Now in the Land of the Free, I’ve read in the Chicago Tribune (link to the article) that several theaters in Chicago have jumped on Steppenwolf Theater’s to stop giving Sun Times critic Hedi Weiss free tickets since they disagree with her review of one of their plays. The play in question, Pass Over, evidently ends with dialog calling policemen murderers. Weiss’ review takes issue with this ideology. You can read her review here. Weiss is a perceptive, rational critic and in no way does the review sound like the work of a “deep-seated bigot.” I’m saddened by how easily some in the theater world here have furthered the name calling and called her racist and sexist.

Should the newspapers hire additional critics from a variety of backgrounds? Sounds like a good idea.

Should public debate descend into vicious name calling? I hope we can agree it shouldn’t.

I applaud The Goodman Theater and The Chicago Reader, who have both stepped up to defend the principle of free speech. It’s sad that theaters, which benefit from our Freedom of Speech condemn a critic who disagrees with a playwright. I plan to write to Steppenwolf about how disappointing their response to a review, which pointed out both the strengths and weaknesses of one of their productions. I can’t see continuing to attend Steppenwolf after the horrid production I fled last summer and now this unfair criticism of a critic.

This response by the theaters reminds me of the college students who whine when they have to read or discuss ideas that they don’t support.

A friend believes we’re facing an American version of the Chinese Cultural Revolution where thoughts were policed. What do you think?


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