Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Bound to be a HURL class project soon 

At Washington State University, university funds used to purchase tickets for students to attend a play and heckle it. FIRE reports that it was quite an exercise.
It then allowed the hecklers to repeatedly disrupt the musical through shouts and threats of violence. Washington State�s president later defended the hecklers� behavior as a �responsible� exercise of free speech.

�Students have a right to leave a play, protest outside of the theater, and condemn a play in the newspaper. But they do not have the right to obstruct and censor other students� protected expression,� remarked David French, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which has intervened on Lee�s behalf. �Washington State�s defense of this vigilante censorship will encourage students to unlawfully silence others whenever they feel offended.�
The president of the university, Lane Rawlins, argues that a provocative play like this one, Passion of the Musical by student playwright Chris Lee constitutes a public forum and therefore heckling was a free speech right.
Interestingly, the same office that bankrolled the hecklers at Passion of the Musical sponsored Washington State�s 2005 production of The Vagina Monologues. Washington State also played host in April to Tales of the Lost Formicans, in which a cast member simulated masturbating into the American flag. Washington State called that play �a whimsical look at the idiosyncrasies of human interaction� and promoted it via a university press release.
Sounds like a job for Testaclese.

Chris Lee says he is going for a South Park or Dave Chapelle kind of humor, and the show sounds pretty much like, well, a student trying to sound like SP or Chapelle. It's inelegant humor. But we're not defending the musical's qualities as much as criticizing the use of campus funds to disrupt a student's attempt to learn how to write plays. Erin O'Connor, noting the story, makes the right point.
There is a difference between choosing not to witness or endorse expression one finds personally offensive and choosing to try to prevent others from witnessing, endorsing, or expressing it. This distinction has, for the moment anyway, been lost at Washington State.