Editorial | Using art to understand madness

Staging a play about Anders B Breivik keeps our attention firmly on someone we’d like to forget, but shouldn’t

October 18th, 2012 10:53 am| by admin
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

Fortunately for history, madmen tend to be vain. Out of a need to leave behind a legacy, people like Hitler, America’s Unabomber, mass murder Anders Behring Breivik and many of the world’s other great troublemakers have penned long-winded tirades that form the blueprints to their actions.

The question that inevitably faces those left to contemplate their deeds is whether it does more damage to draw attention to a delusional and incoherent work than it does to just forget it entirely.

There are those that believe that with Breivik behind bars his story has come to a close, and for them the best thing to do is shred his 1,500-page document. It’s easy to understand why they’d be repulsed at the prospect of a play based solely on his hatred. But, it’s hard to imagine how a performance at a 50-seat Copenhagen theatre can do more to spread his message further than it already has.


Critics of the play are right to argue that we shouldn’t be giving Breivik a platform to spread his message. Unfortunately, he’s already duped us into giving him the biggest stage imaginable, first by attracting hordes of journalists in the immediate aftermath of his terrorist acts, and then by ensuring that his trial became a media frenzy of global proportions.  

Just as it is wrong to ban ‘Mein Kampf’ out of fear that it will lead people down the path to Nazism, so too would it be wrong to say that staging ‘Manifesto 2038’ somehow condones Breivik’s actions. His work already exists; those truly seeking to justify Breivik’s actions won’t shy away from referring to it for guidance. The rest of us shouldn’t shy away from trying to understand what his motivation was.

The question of whether to stage the play would be easier if men like Anders Behring Breivik were lightning strikes – impossible to predict, impossible to defend against. But in the eyes of director Christian Lollike they aren’t, and for him the existence of the manifesto proves that. The question for him isn’t so much whether we should be allowing Breivik’s words to be turned into a play, as much as how we can prevent them from being used by someone else as a blueprint for a similar act of evil.