What do they know of theatre who only theatre know?
Friday, 6 May 2011
Tony Kushner and the bigot
Blogger George Hunka has alerted me to the case of playwright Tony Kushner, who was recently awarded a honorary degree by CUNY (City University of New York). Then the voice of a single trustee member — the thoroughly revolting bigot Jeffrey S Wiesenfeld — resulted in this award being vetoed. According to him, Kushner is anti-Israeli and therefore undeserving. As Hunka explains, this sorry little story attests to the gross abundance of power in the hands of academic trustees in the USA, any one of whom can abuse their position with complete impunity. Wiesenfeld is entitled to his bigoted views about the sanctity of the state of Israel, but the views he attributes to Kushner (which were derived from unreliable internet websites and not from any study of his plays) are, according to the playwright, simply untrue. Kushner also condemned the other board members: “Far more dismaying than Mr Weisenfeld’s diatribe is the silence of the other eleven board members. Did any of you feel that your responsibilities as trustees of an august institution of higher learning included even briefly discussing the appropriateness of Mr Weisenfeld’s using a public board meeting as a platform for deriding the political opinions of someone with whom he disagrees? Did none of you feel any responsibility towards me, whose name was before you, and hence available as a target for Mr. Weisenfeld’s slander, entirely because I’d been nominated for an honor by the faculty and administration of one of your colleges?” Good points all. It seems that the CUNY trustees have distinguished themselves by a truly irritating show of ignorance, indifference and bad faith. What swine! But, alas, the use of this insult just ends up slandering pigs. It seems that the concept of academic freedom in an institution such as CUNY is destined to take a back seat to the sickening idiocy of one trustee. And one who, as a former FBI intelligence (ha!) officer, has had a lot of past form in the war of ideas. Any chance of removing the vile Weisenfeld from his post?
Aleks Sierz is author of In-Yer-Face Theatre: British Drama Today (Faber, 2001), The Theatre of Martin Crimp (Methuen Drama, 2006), John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger (Continuum, 2008), Rewriting the Nation: British Theatre Today (Methuen Drama, 2011) and Modern British Playwriting: The 1990s (Methuen Drama, 2012). He is editor of The Methuen Drama Book of 21st Century British Plays (2010) and co-editor (with Martin Middeke and Peter Paul Schnierer) of The Methuen Drama Guide to Contemporary British Playwrights (2011). He is a member of the UK Critics' Circle and a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts. A journalist, broadcaster and theatre critic at large, he is also Senior Research Fellow at Rose Bruford College and teaches postwar British theatre at the London branch of Boston University.