June 8: Theatre’s latest “cancellation”

Mark ShentonInclude in homepage slide?, Thought of the day2 Comments

There seems to be no limit — or sense of perspective — to Twitter’s calls for summary judgement and execution



It was brought to my attention that my argument was flawed in defending a performer whose 10-year-old impression of another performer had come to light.

I had understood this performance as being a tribute of impersonation, one performer to another, at a charity event. In fact, it has been received as offensive to that performer and other people of colour. I now understand this perspective, and realise that it is not for me, as a white person of privilege, to seek to adjudicate what is and isn’t offensive to others.

I would like to thank Trevor Dion Nicholas and Cedric Neal for drawing attention to my error, and also other performers who reached out to me publicly or responded to Trevor and Cedric, with their concerns.

I will seek to use this as a learning opportunity, to realise that actions have consequences and what I saw as a tribute was nothing of the sort. I have always sought to promote diversity in the theatre and in my teaching, and I’m very sorry if on this occasion I failed to do so by not accepting the point of view of the people directly affected.

Mark Shenton

Friday June 11, 2021

2 Comments on “June 8: Theatre’s latest “cancellation””

  1. Valda

    Just don’t go ON Twitter! Ignore it! It’s not necessary to a fulfilled and happy life. Just be kind to one another.

  2. Chicory

    During the American Revolution, the British made up an insulting song about Americans. Americans were such stupid louts, the song went, that they would pick up a dirty feather from the ground, put it in their hat and call it high fashion. Only the word for stupid lout at the time was “doodle” and the word for high fashion was “macaroni”. Yes the song was Yankee Doodle. Instead of being insulted, the Americans adopted it and used it as their marching song to show the British that they could laugh at themselves and it would take more than that to insult them.

    Americans became known throughout the world as a group with good humor who could laugh at themselves. Not so anymore. Instead we have become very sensitive group.

    I have heard Sutton’s version of the song and it is clearly not meant to ridicule. In fact, Sutton is making fun of herself. She tries to sing it in the style of a black singer but she simply can not do it. It is like a person who tries to sing like an opera singer and can’t. It sounds funny because the person trying is inept. It is like Elmer Fudd singing “Kill the Rabbit” to Wagner’s music. If Jennifer Holiday took offense, I think it is more of an issue with Jennifer than with Sutton. There was no meanness in Sutton’s singing. And being able to laugh at yourself as Sutton and the Americans did is very liberating.

    But let’s consider a situation where words are said that are meant to be mean. When I was a child I was sometimes called a negative racial name, with an intention that was clearly mean. It upset me, but my mother told me, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” I thought about that and understood it to mean that I had to make myself be upset by the name for it to hurt me. So I stopped being upset by it and even laughed at it. Sometimes my laughter would break down the hostility and I would end up being good friends with the guy who called me the name. Kids can be easy that way. It is harder for adults.

    Now I know what you are thinking. Racisism so ingraned in the society that it goes unnoticed by “people of privalige,” but is hurtful to the people who are on the other end of it.

    Now hear what I am saying. It is only that way if the people on the other end want it to be that way. They are the ones who control the effect the words have, and that is a very powerful position to be in.

    If you go around cancelling people because they said something that upset you, it only creates more hostility, no matter how many forced appologies you get. It also makes you seem like a weakling.

    Now someone is probably going to try to say I am in favor of offensive speach, but that is not true and they would be missing the point.

    Can’t we all lighten up a bit, realize we have cultural differences and try to get along?

    Racism goes both ways. There quite a few black racists out there too.

    During the American Revolution the British made up a song that characterized Americans a stupid uneducated people. They were such doodles that they would pick up a feather from the ground, stick it in their hat and call it high fashion, or to use the term of that day “macaroni.” Yes that song was called Yankee Doodle. The Americans took that song and made it their marching song and just laughed at the whole thing.
    In those days Americans were known to be able to take a joke and laugh at themselves. That no longer seems to be the case. Now we are ever so sensitive. I have seen the video and it is wonderful. The fact that Sutton could sing it was amazing because it is a difficult song. The fact that she is very obviously not black makes it seem funny, not because it is ridicule, but because she is making fun of herself. The original singer can obviously sing it much better than Sutton, and it is clear that Sutton knows that.
    If Jennifer Holiday took offense, that is a shame but it is really Jennifer’s problem not Sutton’s. I saw no meanness in the way Sutton did it.

    When I was a child I was upset when someone called me names. My mother told me “Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.” I thought about that and realized that a name can only hurt you if you want it to.

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