By Mike Canavan.
I don’t know about you, but every time I pick up a paper, listen to the radio, or turn on the television, there is somebody being offended over something. It never ceases to amaze. I’m not sure whether the entire world today has become softer, more sensitive, or downright too bloody thin- skinned for its own good.
With the advent and proliferation of un-social media, the keyboard zealots have taken on a force of their own, ever seeking out something to be offended by.
Now you might say I’m being insensitive. You might also say I could do with a touch of “PC” “#METOO” and the “#RESIST” movement medicine to improve my social skills and drag myself kicking and screaming into the 21st century. You may be right. However, I strongly doubt it.
Whilst listening to the radio in my car recently, I heard a story that astonished me. I couldn’t believe it! Just to prove I wasn’t hearing things, when I returned to my office I went hunting and located the offending piece, but more of this a little later.
Victimhood abounds; it’s everywhere. By victimhood, I mean a tendency to point fingers to avoid self-responsibility and, ultimately, refute our own power. And while there are oppressive social and cultural forces that are hard to deny, we need to get real. We need to take responsibility for choosing to play the victim as an excuse not to claim our full power.
The victim mindset is stagnant and heavy. It keeps us paralysed, small, and inadequate. It makes us believe that we are at the mercy of circumstances beyond our capacity to change. Most of all, it allows us only a small number of possible reactions to life situations. Deceptively, this victim response can look like strength or soldiering through a difficult time—when, in reality, it’s just a coping mechanism to numb our pain. Victimhood robs us of our true power, which is our ability to feel everything and use it as fuel.
Critics of our culture of victimhood are often attacked as abusers themselves, perpetuating a culture of harm and assault. Frequently, the response of that embattled critic is to assert that they are a victim as well. Men criticised as sexist for challenging radical feminism defend themselves as victims of reverse sexism, people criticised as being unsympathetic proclaim their own history of victimisation. In courts, it is common, even, de rigueur for felons to proclaim that their history of victimisation contributed to their harmful, illegal actions. In our culture of victimhood, victims can be excused for victimising others, taking away the rights, freedoms and autonomy of others in service to their victimisation.
Why would people loudly and publicly proclaim themselves as victims? Perhaps a better question, based upon the level of secondary gain, attention, protection and support received by these people, is why wouldn’t they? With all of the attention on the issue, why are we surprised when people are exaggerating or downright lying about victimisation? Of course, when we attach benefits to identification as a victim, we will hear from more victims, both real and exaggerated.
Trans performers hope the criticism about the casting of actor Hugh Sheridan in a now postponed production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch will mark a significant change in the way the entertainment industry treats gender queer performers.
But the show’s creators, cisgender performer John Cameron Mitchell and writer Stephen Trask, have hit back, saying the lead character Hedwig is not trans and the role does not need to be played by a trans person.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch was to be one of the headline acts at this year’s Sydney Festival, playing at the Enmore Theatre in January. Sheridan was to star as the titular character in the musical about a young man who has a botched sex change operation in order to get married and then goes on the road as a rock star.
But the show’s producers released a statement on Tuesday saying they had made the “difficult” decision to postpone the show in order to reconsider their casting “in light of recent community conversations and concerns.
“We wish to assure the Trans and LGBTQIA+ community that the issues raised are respected and taken very seriously,” the producers said.
In a statement on Wednesday, Mitchell and Task said they did not believe Hedwig was best described as trans and the role should be “open to anyone who can tackle it and, more importantly, anyone who needs it.”
“The character does go on a gender journey, but it is sparked by a coerced, non-consensual surgery. A young fem gay boy is bullied into a gender assignment by his boyfriend and his government in order to preserve the sacred binarchy,” the statement said.
“Though we’ve always been so pleased to hear trans folks find resonance in the character’s journey to find his/herself, it’s really through drag and performance that Hedwig does so, creating a persona that is ‘more than a woman or a man’ and making ‘something beautiful and new’ out of trauma. Drag is a mask available to all and that’s why anyone should be able to play Hedwig.”
Drag is a mask available to all and that’s why anyone should be able to play Hedwig.
Following the casting announcement last week, trans and non-binary performers, and supporters, had sent an open letter to the show’s producers, David M. Hawkins and Sydney Festival, criticising them for casting a cisgender man in a transgender role. Sheridan has not yet publicly commented. In October, he was praised by some fans on social media for revealing that despite having had relationships with men and women over many years, he was unable to find a “label” that he felt “fits me”.
The postponement comes as debates about diverse representation and appropriation reverberate across the arts, including in publishing where there has been intense scrutiny about the ethics of writing about experiences that are not your own.
Daya Czepanski, a non-binary performer, said the decision to cast a non-trans actor as Hedwig was disappointing.
“I have been told as a trans actor … you are a great actor but there aren’t the roles for you right now, people aren’t ready to see you on the stage and screen,” Czepanski said.
“To be told that for years, for some people for decades, and then have a company tell a story with a genderqueer narrative and chose to put a cisgender actor as the lead, it throws it back in the face of talented trans actors we have in this country.”
Czepanski, who was was one of the drivers behind the letter to the producers, applauded the decision to postpone the production and to open a dialogue with the community but said the conversation should have taken place from the start.
“It is all very well to react to things once they have happened, but we don’t just want to react, we want change from the start and have diverse actors in the room from the start so that these decisions don’t get made in a void,” Czepanski said.
Theatre director Claudia Barrie said producers and directors needed to make more effort to ensure performers from minority communities were chosen to act in those roles on stage.
“You have to look at the BIPOC and queer communities, these are people living in a minority who have been persecuted and alienated and abused and silenced for generations,” Barrie said.
“They are there to work, they have the talent, there is no excuse for them not to be playing those roles. It is up to the producers to make the effort and put the resources to find someone who is accurately represented in that role and if you cannot find someone then don’t do that show.”
Barrie said she had previously engaged advisors to ensure she found suitable actors for minority roles and to ensure those roles were represented appropriately in the production.
“I could look back through my career and know there’s mistakes I have made but I want to keep learning, I want to be educated and do everything I can to ensure minority groups are accurately represented,” she said.
Craig Donnell, who has produced Charlie and the Chocolate Factor and Saturday Night Fever in Australia, said commercial producers had a “great capacity to educate, to reflect and to create comfort”.
“I don’t back away from the fact that I am a commercial producer and therefore I will strongly look at the commercial benefits of a production … because, at the end of the day, if we don’t sell enough tickets the show closes and that benefits no one,” he said.
“There are those who would say commercial producers are only doing it for the cash and don’t care about the art or the messaging. I don’t think that is a fair statement: there are producers who care about the message that productions bring.”
Donnell said the decision to postpone Hedwig and the Angry Inch when the industry was on the cusp of reopening was particularly difficult to watch but he was glad the conversation about representation was taking place.
“What I am hearing with Hedwig, with BIPoC actors, is that it is about consultation, it is about being seen and being heard and being respected,” he said.
“[This conversation] changes the way we want to look at things, to ask what can we do and how can we be more inclusive at a time when there isn’t the same number of shows, and theatres aren’t freely open.”
Things could not get more absurd. It’s a bloody play, they are actors. An actor is a person who portrays a character in a performance. The actor performs “in the flesh” in the traditional medium of the theatre or in modern media such as film, radio, and television. The analogous Greek term is ὑποκριτής (hupokritḗs), literally means “one who answers”. The actor’s interpretation of their role — the art of acting — pertains to the role played, whether based on a real person or fictional character. Is this not the gift they bring to the craft? Is this not what we celebrate and adore them for?
The following actors have played characters with disabilities and or life challenges, all have won Oscars for their performances. Dustin Hoffman played Raymond Babbitt in “Rain Man” (Autistic Savant),Daniel Day-Lewis Christy Brown in “My Left Foot” (Cerebral Palsy), Cliff Robertson Charly Gordon in “Charly” (Mentally Retarded), Al Pacino Frank Slade in “Scent of a Woman” (Blind), Tom Hanks title character in “Forrest Gump” (Simple Man with Low IQ) ,Jack Nicholson Melvin Udall from “As Good As It Gets” (Obsessive/Compulsive), John Wayne The Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit” (Blind in one eye), Jamie Foxx Ray Charles in “Ray” (Blind), Fredric March Al Stephenson in “The Best Years of Our Lives” (PTSD) and Colin Firth King George VI in “The King’s Speech” (Stuttering). Should they return the ultimate accolade in their craft the Oscar? Or did they more importantly bring understanding and empathy to the very role that they played. Did their performance in hence our understanding and appreciation of those who face difficulties living and working in our world today.
We have enough problems in our world at the moment without focusing on this nonsense and looking for things that might offend. It is this writers view that they should be lauded for opening the window of understanding on those that are different to ourselves and those that criticise should grow up and find something really important to focus the woke energy on.