An extremely odd and disconcerting story was reported in the Guardian this week, regarding a National Youth Theatre play that has abruptly cancelled, just two weeks before its opening night. There are fears that ‘Homegrown’ was pulled due to the sensitive subject matter: young people drawn to ISIS. I spoke to the Huffington Post about the issues raised for English PEN: Continue reading “Quoted in the Huffington Post discussing 'Homegrown'”
Flags are symbols, full of historical meaning. Just ask Emily Thornberry. Following the despicable shootings in Charleston, South Carolina last week, there has been renewed debate over the Confederate Flag, the banner under which the secessionist Southern states fought the American Civil War. Some people claim that the flag is simply a symbol of Southern culture and ‘heritage’— that flying that flag is merely an expression of an independent, libertarian spirit. But that is disingenuous. The Confederate cause was explicitly racist, about fighting for the right to subjugate black people. Ta-Nehisi Coate catalogues the unequivocal words of those men who rallied their fellows to the ideology of white supremacy, and argues “Take Down The Confederate Flag—Now“. The recent discussion has unearthed this article by Christopher Hitches from 2008, where he excorates the former Governor of Arkansas and (at the time) Presidential Candidate Mick Huckabee for lauding those who would fly the Confederate flag. A “straightforward racist appeal” for votes, Hitchens called it. On a more positive note, watch this wonderful TED Talk, done in the style of a radio show, by Roman Mars (my favourite podcaster). His show, 99% Invisible, is all about design, and the talk is about the importance of flag design.
Roman outlines the principles of good flag design, draws attention to some good city flags, some bad city flags, and some truly terrible city flags. He also explains why we should care.
A well-designed flag could be seen as an indicator of how a cityconsiders all of its design systems:its public transit,its parks, its signage.It might seem frivolous, but it’s not. .. Often when city leaders say,“We have more important things to do than worry about a city flag,”my response is,“If you had a great city flag,you would have a banner for people to rally underto face those more important things.”
In my essay for the Sunday Herald I made the case for the necessity of the swearing and offensive chatter that makes up much of the dialogue in Black Watch:
They are working class, inarticulate and insecure boys with no prospects other than the army. And when these men speak, they swear. It is integral to their vernacular. To sanitize their words would be to silence them.
Unfortunately the constraints of the page forbade me from elaborating on this point…. but luckily, I have a blog. The swearing of the enlisted men is also important because of the contrast it presents with the officer class, and the politicians who have sent Scottish soldiers into harm’s way for centuries. The show has a marvellous musical number where Lord Elgin, in full highland dress and regalia, prances around the stage, beckoning the young men to sign-up: “hurrah, hurrah!” He speaks the Queen’s English, and he is as mendacious as they come (“did I mention it would be all over by Christmas” he says as he sends the soldiers off to Flanders in 1914). In this context, the Fifer accents of the soldiers are a necessity. Homogenising the language would be an act of class warfare. To my mind, the final genius of Black Watch lies in the juxtaposition between the coarse language and the stunning physical theatre. One reason why Steven Hoggett’s choreography is so powerful is because the precise and often tender movements emerge from characters who have been f-ing and c-ing just moments before. The combination jars the audience and is compelling, and it is the rude words that tee-up this possibility.
A headteacher in Kirriemuir has caused controversy by banner her pupils from studying Black Watch, the National Theatre of Scotland production that I worked on in 2006. What with this history, couple with the free speech work I do for English PEN, this is perhaps the perfect issue for me to write on. Over the weekend, The Sunday Herald published my essay setting the issue in its context. Free speech controversies are like solar flares. They burn hot and bright. Right now, it is Angus that is feeling the heat. Last week, the Sunday Herald reported that one headteacher in Kirriemuir had pulled Black Watch off the Highers syllabus because it is “offensive”. Parents are angry at the decision, and have demanded an explanation. Continue reading “Defending 'Black Watch' and free speech in the classroom”