The reaction to a Danish theatre’s proposal to stage a play about the manifesto of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Brievik would appear to insinuate that artists should wait in the wings while politicians, the media and public opinion decide when and how the event should be commented upon.
Christian Lollike, the artistic director of Café Teatret who will direct the play, made the announcement in the middle of January and it was quickly reported and condemned by both the Danish and international media, and met by varying degrees of disdain and outrage from not only the politicians, but also the relatives of those murdered by Brievik.
But how is it that the media and politicians have the right to comment, but the artists don’t? Should they simply wait until everyone else decides when it’s polite, appropriate and convenient to comment on world events?
The critique seems to be based on three main points: firstly that the play will support Brievik, secondly that the events are too recent to be made the subject of a play, and thirdly that ‘Art’ has no right to comment.
Regarding the first point, nothing could be further from the truth. Lollike is respected within the industry for his talent, guts and good judgment. Everything he says about his proposal points to artwork that would in no way condone the actions of Brievik.
“We certainly do not want to create a voice for Anders Brievik,” he told Politiken. “Quite the contrary. The performance is a subjective, critical artistic treatment, which intends to explore the mindset of which Anders Brievik is far from alone in sharing.”
If this is correct, where is the objection? If one were to listen to the media, art simply has no right to comment on such a subject. But surely, it is valuable to examine as fully as possible such a situation, even if only to ascertain that it might relate to others and to be the more identifiable. To deny freedom of expression to Lollike is to deny that freedom to art.
To suggest that it is an inappropriate subject for art is to leave the media as the only public purveyor of moral information and opinion. Art must wait until the media has driven public opinion and deems the events no longer ‘fresh’ – in short, no longer newsworthy. Or, to be more blunt, when it ceases to sell.
As I write this on February 6, one of the main articles in the Danish newspaper Politiken concerned Breivik. The article, which was one of the most read on their website, was complete with a ‘leaked’ photograph of Brievik in military style police uniform standing in court, smiling, and giving a Nazi-style salute. I doubt if the article would have been so popular if a ban on images of Brievik had prevented the publication of the photograph.
If such a ban were generally observed by the media, backed by politicians and the public, the views of Brievik would get little newspaper or television coverage. But that, you will object, amounts to censorship! So where then is the line to be drawn between the newsworthy and the morbidly curious? Do we slow down for a road accident in order to avoid another or to have a good look?
For me the antipathy towards Lollike is indicative of a societal trend in Denmark veering ever closer to the viewpoint of a free market economy where art, if it is not a commodity, is a threat. As a commodity it may be worshipped, idolised and invested in. As a threat, as when it is critical or political, it is to be actively disenfranchised and ridiculed, so as to undermine the political claims it makes.
The righteous anger of the relatives is understandable; one does not argue with anyone who has lost a child. But the hypocritical anger of the media and politicians is self-seeking. The media indulges in a flow of airbrushed images and fact-less conjecture that is mindless at best and conniving at worst. It is significant that the politicians most vocal in the attack on Lollike are those closest to the right-wing views of Brievik. Can it be that they are afraid of being identified with him? There is a dangerous consequence of the propagation of fear, and the negative promotion of separatism and racial division.
One might not like the idea of a play, but to attack Lollike’s right to make it is to attack art and demote it to being a mere aesthetic cultural backdrop.
Drawing provided courtesy of Cæcilie Parfelt Vengberg (www.vindfang.blogspot.com).