Free Speech and Censorship

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Re: Free Speech and Censorship

Post by kath on Sat Mar 07, 2015 11:44 pm

I'd also like some more detail on specifically what your opinion on the topic is, JP, and what the thinking around it is. I'd also be interested in how you would have handled it, if you were the administrator of the NYYS and you had holocaust survivor patrons complaining about Horst Wessel in the piece. I assume you have a coherent and well-thought-out answer* and I'm curious as to what it is.

*regardless of whether or not I agree with it, which I don't know right now because I don't know what it is.
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Re: Free Speech and Censorship

Post by JP McBride on Sat Mar 07, 2015 11:51 pm

nearly_takuan wrote:I'm only finding it difficult to figure out what exactly your argument consists of, besides a moral position (which I'm sincerely interested in hearing more about) and a semantic disagreement that has nothing to do with it.

I think that they should have updated the playbill to address the audience complaints, and allow time for any audience members who do not wish to hear the Horst Wessel quotation time to leave before the performance begins.

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Re: Free Speech and Censorship

Post by LadyLuck on Sun Mar 08, 2015 1:17 am

the only reason Playboy TV can get away with what they show is because they're not standard channels, and you only pay for them in blocks (at least on DirecTV), nor are they premium movie channels like HBO, Cinemax, Starz and Showtime because those require and additional subscription.

So my boyfriend actually works at DTV, and specifically does development work on adult channel control. For channels with softcore stuff like Cinemax and HBO, the offending programs must be placed during "after hours", and the program descriptions are blanked out. However, channels that show ANY hardcore material (ie Playboy) are blanked out completely - your box will pretend the Playboy channel doesn't exist if you don't have the correct parental settings. An interesting side effect of this is that it encourages such channels to just put all hardcore porno 24/7; after all, if even one show gets you the most restrictive settings, might as well go all-in amirite?

But yes. My boyfriend works to bring porno to the masses. LEAVE YOUR THANK YOU CARDS IN THE BOX AT THE DOOR.

EDIT: Consulted with my boyfriend, he had a comment on the Comedy Central thing. Apparently they only do bleeps in stuff during daytime time slots. For shows originally aired during the day, they regularly have uncut versions on their website, as late night re-runs, or video on demand. Also, shows that originally air at night (ie South Park), when re-run during the day, they are much more censored then the original version. Apparently it is simply to assure the original airing fits a certain rating category. He thinks there might be FCC regs on what ratings categories can be put in certain time-slot ranges. That's why the late-night shows/re-runs are all uncut.

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Re: Free Speech and Censorship

Post by kath on Sun Mar 08, 2015 2:11 am

JP McBride wrote:
I think that they should have updated the playbill to address the audience complaints, and allow time for any audience members who do not wish to hear the Horst Wessel quotation time to leave before the performance begins.

Would you be willing to go into more detail about the reasons you think pulling it was morally wrong in this context?
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Re: Free Speech and Censorship

Post by Guest on Sun Mar 08, 2015 3:02 am

LadyLuck wrote:
So my boyfriend actually works at DTV, and specifically does development work on adult channel control. For channels with softcore stuff like Cinemax and HBO, the offending programs must be placed during "after hours", and the program descriptions are blanked out. However, channels that show ANY hardcore material (ie Playboy) are blanked out completely - your box will pretend the Playboy channel doesn't exist if you don't have the correct parental settings. An interesting side effect of this is that it encourages such channels to just put all hardcore porno 24/7; after all, if even one show gets you the most restrictive settings, might as well go all-in amirite?

But yes. My boyfriend works to bring porno to the masses. LEAVE YOUR THANK YOU CARDS IN THE BOX AT THE DOOR.

See, that's what I thought! I knew they aired their dirty stuff after 10pm. Especially since on the West Coast, the programming was three hours ahead of schedule and that was how I learned about timezones: through Cinemax softcore porn and DirecTV's screwed up timeslots on the west coast. Razz

LadyLuck wrote:
EDIT: Consulted with my boyfriend, he had a comment on the Comedy Central thing. Apparently they only do bleeps in stuff during daytime time slots. For shows originally aired during the day, they regularly have uncut versions on their website, as late night re-runs, or video on demand. Also, shows that originally air at night (ie South Park), when re-run during the day, they are much more censored then the original version. Apparently it is simply to assure the original airing fits a certain rating category. He thinks there might be FCC regs on what ratings categories can be put in certain time-slot ranges. That's why the late-night shows/re-runs are all uncut.

Also what I thought. Even if it's cable, they still gotta abide by SOME regulations.

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Re: Free Speech and Censorship

Post by kath on Sun Mar 08, 2015 3:17 am

JP McBride wrote:
UristMcBunny wrote:I don't think (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, Prajna) that the point was to argue this is an example of creepy behaviour.  But that the point was to indicate an example of the sort of behaviour people are referring to when they talk about creeper's doubling down on their bad choices and blaming others for them.  Basically, this sort of doubling-down and refusing to meet others halfway, refusing to apologise and shifting blame, is not behaviour exclusive to creepers.  All sorts of shitty people engage in it for all sorts of reasons.  But this does feel like a very illustrative example of the behaviour in general, which makes it useful.

It's not clear why anything he did was any worse than Andres Serrano making Piss Christ, or Salman Rushdie writing The Satanic Verses.

(full thread at: http://nerdlounge.canadian-forum.com/t513-how-to-not-own-up-to-your-actions)

So I think there was a bit of discussion in the other thread that I think fits better here .... So I'm moving my giant post over here.

i don't think the cases are comparable. I will detail why.

Firstly, the people showing Serrano and publishing Rushdie had all the information easily to hand. They decided to show / publish work that might be controversial. Particularly in Serrano's case, but I think also in Rushdie's. All the people involved are adults, and they are all sort of making decisions on the same level and in a context where being well-versed in what's going on is the price of admission to publishing it or showing it, and all the people involved at all are adults making informed decisions. Neither Rushdie nor Serrano were cagey about what they were doing (as far as I know). They made well-informed artistic decisions, and they will both talk about them. Both of them were totally intentionally pushing buttons, they're not going to be surprised when it works and they offend people. That doesn't make it OK to incite others to kill the person whose art you disagree with, and I don't think it makes it OK to prevent people who do want to share that message from sharing it (particularly as neither is inciting violence). But it's also not OK, in my opinion, to compel people to present work. Even if they are nationally-funded. You might criticize them for it or join the organization to reform it from the inside so it better represents views you think are underrepresented, but I don't think many artists are advocating for organizations being required to show specific works. The NYYS apparently did not have all of that info.

Both Rushdie and Serrano also experienced criticism for their work. Having people say they didn't agree with them was not the censorship they experienced. They responded to it. Many people will have not agreed with their works. And many organizations would choose not to show it, and no one's saying that all organizations must be willing to show all artwork, or all publishers must be willing to publish all books. Then, choosing not to accept an artistic submission because you think the art is bad / ineffective would be unethical all the time. There is plenty of art that might be trying to say something interesting and is just failing miserably, and plenty of art than an organization will look at and say "that's sexist, I'm not going to show that work" (for example - or something that puts forward other ideas you disagree with, whatever side of the spectrum they are from). (Or the jury of artists making the decisions will decide that).

There's also a big difference in the group that is actually being punched at. I think Tarm was (hopefully) trying to crticize nationalism and totalitarianism in general. No problem with that, totally valid artistic to make in any medium, whatever my personal opinion on nationalism and totalitarianism. But the people that he actually offended? The people the nazis were murdering in their millions. So instead of successfully making an artistic statement about nationalism that people could understand and have any chance to engage with, he just punched down. He apparently  was trying (I hope?) to crticize nationalism and totalitarianism, but because he did not make clear commentary, he didn't do that. That he put no effort into clarifying his artistic intent up front - especially since the program probably did have something about the composition and the artistic ideas behind it ALREADY, since this is supposed to be a new composition by a fancy new composer so you do things like write statements about your artistic intent for that - which makes me doubt that he had considered that artistic choice very well. I think he was just trying to make people mad, and he may not have cared who. If it was actually some sort of commentary on Jewish nationalism ... I don't think he did a very good job of making that the actual focus of the resulting conversation. So his artistic choice to shock people didn't work at all, therefore he made some unsuccessful art, and I don't think artistic organizations should be compelled to show work that is failing at its artistic goals (/failing at having anything substantive to say, and instead heckling victims of genocide because oh ho ho people so sensitive or something). Now, I don't think Tarm's work should be censored by a government, but I do think people should be able to say they don't like it and don't want to perform it / have it performed in their space because they think the message is problematic (as I discussed above). And if you want to send the NYYS a letter explaining your view that they should have continued to play it, you should go for it.

Serrano and Rushdie, in contrast, are very intentionally trying to shock people with a particular worldview that is privileged in the context where they faced censorship. Tarm is decidedly not doing that. If he was trying to, he has failed. He is punching down, even though it might be due to figurative tone-deafness rather than intention. That doesn't mean people have to support his poor artistic choices. (And yes, poorly executing them makes them poor).

Additionally, I don't think any organization asked to present Serrano or Rushdie's work are required to. I would not require a muslim bookstore to do a book study about it or stock Rushdie's work. I don't think it is right to make it unavailable by law, but I don't think people who do find it offensive should be required to present it. I don't think any contemporary art gallery should have to show Serrano's work. I don't think it's OK to vandalize his work in places that do choose to show it, or to make abusive phone calls or send abusive or threatening letters to those places. I do think it's find to send a letter saying you thought it was offensive and didn't appreciate it though. If a gallery was like "OK, we don't want to show it after all, we're pulling it," I would be entitled to my opinion that it was a bad decision / wrong / ridiculous, but I don't think I could compel them to re-install it.

You get to decide if work you're involved with is worth making people mad over. Rushdie and Serrano would say yes, and so would people showing their work. The NYYS made a different decision about Tarm's work.

(I have a story about a piece of art that was supposed to go one way and instead also ended up being SUPER creepy and I think it was totally the fault of bad conceptual work on the [female] artist's part. I think it should have been cut off earlier by the prof, but it wasn't. I can give this example as another contrast case, if people are interested. Also is it super funny I am procrastinating working on my wearable art piece to write this post?)


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Re: Free Speech and Censorship

Post by Wondering on Sun Mar 08, 2015 3:27 am

The Mikey wrote:
LadyLuck wrote:
So my boyfriend actually works at DTV, and specifically does development work on adult channel control. For channels with softcore stuff like Cinemax and HBO, the offending programs must be placed during "after hours", and the program descriptions are blanked out. However, channels that show ANY hardcore material (ie Playboy) are blanked out completely - your box will pretend the Playboy channel doesn't exist if you don't have the correct parental settings. An interesting side effect of this is that it encourages such channels to just put all hardcore porno 24/7; after all, if even one show gets you the most restrictive settings, might as well go all-in amirite?

But yes. My boyfriend works to bring porno to the masses. LEAVE YOUR THANK YOU CARDS IN THE BOX AT THE DOOR.

See, that's what I thought! I knew they aired their dirty stuff after 10pm. Especially since on the West Coast, the programming was three hours ahead of schedule and that was how I learned about timezones: through Cinemax softcore porn and DirecTV's screwed up timeslots on the west coast. Razz

LadyLuck wrote:
EDIT: Consulted with my boyfriend, he had a comment on the Comedy Central thing. Apparently they only do bleeps in stuff during daytime time slots. For shows originally aired during the day, they regularly have uncut versions on their website, as late night re-runs, or video on demand. Also, shows that originally air at night (ie South Park), when re-run during the day, they are much more censored then the original version. Apparently it is simply to assure the original airing fits a certain rating category. He thinks there might be FCC regs on what ratings categories can be put in certain time-slot ranges. That's why the late-night shows/re-runs are all uncut.

Also what I thought. Even if it's cable, they still gotta abide by SOME regulations.

Ah, right. I forgot about the premium vs standard cable distinction.

The one that confuses me is PBS. That's broadcast, but they seem to show stuff on some of their shows that other broadcast channels don't (or can't?).

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Re: Free Speech and Censorship

Post by JP McBride on Sun Mar 08, 2015 4:45 am

kath wrote:
JP McBride wrote:
I think that they should have updated the playbill to address the audience complaints, and allow time for any audience members who do not wish to hear the Horst Wessel quotation time to leave before the performance begins.

Would you be willing to go into more detail about the reasons you think pulling it was morally wrong in this context?

Suppression of artistic expression promotes ignorance, not tolerance. I consider the controversy to be as much caused by the musical illiteracy of the people in charge of the NYYS as any artistic choice on the part of the composer. It's not deception to refuse to hand out Cliff Notes.

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Re: Free Speech and Censorship

Post by kath on Sun Mar 08, 2015 4:58 am

JP McBride wrote:
kath wrote:
JP McBride wrote:
I think that they should have updated the playbill to address the audience complaints, and allow time for any audience members who do not wish to hear the Horst Wessel quotation time to leave before the performance begins.

Would you be willing to go into more detail about the reasons you think pulling it was morally wrong in this context?

Suppression of artistic expression promotes ignorance, not tolerance. I consider the controversy to be as much caused by the musical illiteracy of the people in charge of the NYYS as any artistic choice on the part of the composer. It's not deception to refuse to hand out Cliff Notes.

So I went into quite a bit more detail about my feelings about artistic expression and freedom to show / not show other people's work, how I felt about Tarm's execution of his eventually-articulated artistic project, etc, in my post above (which I ported over from the other thread because I thought it was more on topic here). Does your post that I've quoted cover any points that might raise? I don't want to respond as if it does if that's not the case.
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Re: Free Speech and Censorship

Post by Guest on Sun Mar 08, 2015 5:03 am

The only comment I can make on this as someone who has no US dog in this race, I would be disappointed if a similar censor / disassociation / refusal to air was applied to Irish partisan songs (of both loyalist and republican side). I can assure you that these songs hit Irish people as hard as a Nazi anthem would hit anyone that suffered their regime.

I typically follow the logic that denying the past is a bad idea, including the propaganda created in the past to fuel the terrors of the past. The guy putting the music on in this case being a shithead is it's own issue of a man jumping straight to the defensive and in a less than respectful way. Deciding to pull musical piece is not something I would attribute less to censorship, however, and strikes me more as a "we received a complaint! INITIATING ASS-COVERING MODE." Disappointing, but ultimately a business decision rather than a decision that was actually made in the interest of anyone but the group performing the piece.

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Re: Free Speech and Censorship

Post by kath on Sun Mar 08, 2015 5:41 am

MapWater wrote:The only comment I can make on this as someone who has no US dog in this race, I would be disappointed if a similar censor / disassociation / refusal to air was applied to Irish partisan songs (of both loyalist and republican side). I can assure you that these songs hit Irish people as hard as a Nazi anthem would hit anyone that suffered their regime.

I typically follow the logic that denying the past is a bad idea, including the propaganda created in the past to fuel the terrors of the past. The guy putting the music on in this case being a shithead is it's own issue of a man jumping straight to the defensive and in a less than respectful way. Deciding to pull musical piece is not something I would attribute less to censorship, however, and strikes me more as a "we received a complaint! INITIATING ASS-COVERING MODE." Disappointing, but ultimately a business decision rather than a decision that was actually made in the interest of anyone but the group performing the piece.

What do you mean by "a similar censor / disassociation / refusal to air was applied to Irish partisan songs (of both loyalist and republican side)." - a single organization deciding not to do that? I also don't think this is likely to happen quite this way in that context. In this case, the NYYS can't be said to be a part of the nationalist milieu being quoted directly. In the example you gave, it's likely that the people playing the song and hearing the song and maybe composing it would by and large be Irish, or very closely tied to Irish identities. In this case, there's no particular expectation that that's the case.

I also think that the Troubles are difficult to compare to the holocaust, so it's hard to compare responses to those things. I do think it would be possible to make work that uses songs from either side that is extremely insensitive and offensive. The thing is, this is happening in the US, and his commentary may be about US nationalism, but the objection to his use of the work is not about whether he's criticizing contemporary national fervor. If that IS what it's about, it's bringing another group who experienced mass genocide into the conversation without saying why that's important to the artistic statement.

To respond more generally:

I do think the fact that the NYYS being composed of youth is pertinent. The performers are doing this as part of their higher-level music studies. They NYYS said that if they had been informed of the political themes of the work beforehand, they could use it as a teaching opportunity and had the discussion with their students, the actual people performing and thereby endorsing the piece. And, they're people who can't be like "well whatever, I'm out" as easily - that would probably not go over well with the NYYS. I'm sure if they NYYS knew, they could have allowed students who didn't want to play to sit it out, but they didn't - and I describe below why I don't think that's an indication of "musical illiteracy".

Here's the NYYS's statement about it: http://www.nyyouthsymphony.org/news/2015/nyys-statement-removal-commissioned-orchestral-work, for context on how they see what they did.

I'm also not sure that the idea that we could really expect that they would know the tune as Horst Wessel. They lyrics are pretty hardcore Nazi propaganda, ad it doesn't seem like it's something that would be played just for historical significance in general. So I would be unsurprised if it's not something one would have much cause to hear as a muscian. Additionally, apparently the tune isn't particularly unique. It's credited to Horst Wessel, because that was the Nazi party line and dissension would not have been brooked by the Nazi party, but it may have come from some past popular songs and might read (since one wouldn't have heard it in context) as "viennese folksong" to someone who is, in general, familiar with classical music, but hasn't gone seeking out Nazi propaganda songs in particular (or had to listen to the musical proclivities of someone seeking out Nazi propaganda songs). So I don't think the claim that them not knowing where the musical quote was from indicates their musical illiteracy stands up to scrutiny. Thus, why they were frustrated that he hadn't told them. Same with the title of the song -  the phrase "march to oblivion" in English is used in a lot of contexts.

Basically, someone who was apparently a survivor of the holocaust went to a performance of the NYYS and, totally out of the blue, hears a song used to incite people to kill them. They complain, totally reasonably. The NYYS had no idea that was going on, they want no part of bringing those memories back totally randomly, they pull it. I do not consider that unethical at all. It also doesn't mean the piece shouldn't be performed - it should just be performed by people who know what's going on, and people who are going to hear it should be given a heads up that they will.


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Re: Free Speech and Censorship

Post by Guest on Sun Mar 08, 2015 6:23 am

MapWater wrote:Deciding to pull musical piece is something I would attribute less to censorship, however, and strikes me more as a "we received a complaint! INITIATING ASS-COVERING MODE."

Err, fixed this and remove removed the not. Because what I meant was essentially this:

kath wrote:Basically, someone who was apparently a survivor of the holocaust went to a performance of the NYYS and, totally out of the blue, hears a song used to incite people to kill them. They complain, totally reasonably. The NYYS had no idea that was going on, they want no part of bringing those memories back totally randomly, they pull it. I do not consider that unethical at all. It also doesn't mean the piece shouldn't be performed - it should just be performed by people who know what's going on, and people who are going to hear it should be given a heads up that they will.

With the only added element being disappointment that it was simply dropped instead of, well, the mistake being acknowledged by the man who commissioned it and the NYSS. But, honestly, if they choose to drop it then that's that really. Even if I doubt dropping it came from a place of kindness directed to the person who complained as opposed to ass covering.

As for comparing the Troubles (and the hundreds of years of subjugation that preceded them) to the holocaust, my focus is less about the particulars of either and more about the potency of the related art that caused / came from both. Also, you'd be surprised what junked up young tossers with no connection to the Irish will do with those tunes. But, fair call, it's far more likely for a poignant Irish tune to be played by Irish tied folk.

...Did I ever tell anyone about the time I went to an award show put on by the Melbournian chapter of the Sinn Féin? *shudders*

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Re: Free Speech and Censorship

Post by Guest on Sun Mar 08, 2015 6:25 am

JP McBride wrote:
Suppression of artistic expression promotes ignorance, not tolerance. I consider the controversy to be as much caused by the musical illiteracy of the people in charge of the NYYS as any artistic choice on the part of the composer. It's not deception to refuse to hand out Cliff Notes.

No, I don't think the NYYS is necessarily musically illiterate. If anything I'm willing to bet that they probably hadn't done any research because they probably guessed this was an original composition added to the fact that they didn't get a notice beforehand that this composition would contain Nazi music for historical and cultural reasons.

MapWater wrote:
I typically follow the logic that denying the past is a bad idea, including the propaganda created in the past to fuel the terrors of the past. The guy putting the music on in this case being a shithead is it's own issue of a man jumping straight to the defensive and in a less than respectful way. Deciding to pull musical piece is not something I would attribute less to censorship, however, and strikes me more as a "we received a complaint! INITIATING ASS-COVERING MODE." Disappointing, but ultimately a business decision rather than a decision that was actually made in the interest of anyone but the group performing the piece.

That's what I'm guessing for the most part too.

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Re: Free Speech and Censorship

Post by UristMcBunny on Sun Mar 08, 2015 8:13 am

Now see, if we're going to argue about the NYYS encouraging musical illiteracy by declining to publish the piece, then this still fails.

Because part of being historically and artistically literate is context. When people visit Germany and are given a tour of a POW camp, there is a massive amount of context given - they have a guide who discusses the history, explains what the buildings were used for, gives numbers and figures and dates, and generally ensures everyone understands what they are looking at.

That isn't what happened here. An artist inserted part of a Nazi musical piece into his work without telling anyone and, when asked about it and given the chance to offer context, utterly refused to do so on multiple occasions, throwing up the frankly incredibly pretentious and self-absorbed argument that his art should "speak for itself". Is that deception? No. But it doesn't need to be deception for it to be a shitty thing to do.

If I paid an artist to paint a mural on my garden wall and came back to find they'd covered it in swastikas, and then refused to explain their actions, that mural would only remain on my wall as long as it took me to go to the DIY shop to pick up a bucket of paint. That's not censorship, and that's not unethical.

I would argue that it's not exactly ethical to put disturbing material in your work and present it to a completely unsuspecting audience.

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Re: Free Speech and Censorship

Post by reboot on Sun Mar 08, 2015 10:58 am

UristMcBunny wrote:.....

That isn't what happened here.  An artist inserted part of a Nazi musical piece into his work without telling anyone and, when asked about it and given the chance to offer context, utterly refused to do so on multiple occasions, throwing up the frankly incredibly pretentious and self-absorbed argument that his art should "speak for itself".  ....

I kind of wished someone had said, " If it spoke for itself, we would not be having this conversation."


If I paid an artist to paint a mural on my garden wall and came back to find they'd covered it in swastikas, and then refused to explain their actions, that mural would only remain on my wall as long as it took me to go to the DIY shop to pick up a bucket of paint. That's not censorship, and that's not unethical....

This analogy is very apt because he was being paid to conduct which creates an obligation on his part to explain the work if his employers might have issues with it. This is not him conducting his work for the sake of conducting and for art. It is a business transaction

EDIT: I am also someone who would recognize Horst Wessel because my German teacher in junior high school had us learn that an Deutschland Über Alles (?!?!!) which resulted in my relatives nearly kicking the shit out of me until I explained we learned it for class (and they explained WHAT I was singing). I would seriously side eye a Ukrainian using those motifs especially with the history of UPA's collaboration in ethnic cleansing and the Holocaust


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Re: Free Speech and Censorship

Post by kath on Sun Mar 08, 2015 11:59 am

MapWater wrote:
With the only added element being disappointment that it was simply dropped instead of, well, the mistake being acknowledged by the man who commissioned it and the NYSS. But, honestly, if they choose to drop it then that's that really. Even if I doubt dropping it came from a place of kindness directed to the person who complained as opposed to ass covering.

I'm not sure why you have the impression that it was simply a move to cover their butts and not kindness to / empathy for the person who complained, although I agree, it focuses more on the fact that their members (who are 12-22) were essentially tricked into playing a piece that appears to have Nazi sympathies.  They tried to check with Tarm about what he meant, before and after the piece was premiered, and he refused to explain, so they were like "well we don't want to just keep playing something that might be glorifying the Nazi party" so they cut it. I'm not sure how it's supporting free speech to say people should keep performing something that may have a message they find morally reprehensible.

Additionally, there's no "man who commissioned it". The NYYS commissioned it. Who are you talking about there? The composer? The conductor? Tarm says that students recognized the theme and asked him about it, but we have no idea if the conductor knew (he didn't comment to the New York Times) or how the musicians -> conductor -> NYYS administration communication channels should have worked and where the composer fits in there.

MapWater wrote:
As for comparing the Troubles (and the hundreds of years of subjugation that preceded them) to the holocaust, my focus is less about the particulars of either and more about the potency of the related art that caused / came from both. Also, you'd be surprised what junked up young tossers with no connection to the Irish will do with those tunes. But, fair call, it's far more likely for a poignant Irish tune to be played by Irish tied folk.

And it seems like a "junked up young tossers with no [known] connection to the" holocaust doing something with those tunes is exactly what happened here. That was my point. If the same thing did happen with an Irish loyalist tune and the NYYS was like "we have no idea what we're supporting by playing this piece, now that we know what piece it is, so we're out," my opinion that they made a totally reasonable choice would remain the same.
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Re: Free Speech and Censorship

Post by JP McBride on Sun Mar 08, 2015 5:46 pm

kath wrote:So I went into quite a bit more detail about my feelings about artistic expression and freedom to show / not show other people's work, how I felt about Tarm's execution of his eventually-articulated artistic project, etc, in my post above (which I ported over from the other thread because I thought it was more on topic here). Does your post that I've quoted cover any points that might raise? I don't want to respond as if it does if that's not the case.

Have you read the score? Have you listened to a performance? If not, how on earth do you expect to be able to judge how well it's been executed?

kath wrote:I do think the fact that the NYYS being composed of youth is pertinent. The performers are doing this as part of their higher-level music studies. They NYYS said that if they had been informed of the political themes of the work beforehand, they could use it as a teaching opportunity and had the discussion with their students, the actual people performing and thereby endorsing the piece. And, they're people who can't be like "well whatever, I'm out" as easily - that would probably not go over well with the NYYS. I'm sure if they NYYS knew, they could have allowed students who didn't want to play to sit it out, but they didn't - and I describe below why I don't think that's an indication of "musical illiteracy".

Everything is a teaching opportunity, in this case, it's a lesson about the sensibilities of the types of people who wield institutional power.

UristMcBunny wrote:That isn't what happened here.  An artist inserted part of a Nazi musical piece into his work without telling anyone and, when asked about it and given the chance to offer context, utterly refused to do so on multiple occasions, throwing up the frankly incredibly pretentious and self-absorbed argument that his art should "speak for itself".  Is that deception?  No.  But it doesn't need to be deception for it to be a shitty thing to do.

They knew he was 21 when they commissioned him.

reboot wrote:I would seriously side eye a Ukrainian using those motifs especially with the history of UPA's collaboration in ethnic cleansing and the Holocaust

Estonian-American, not that we should be judging his character based on his ethnic origins.

...

A critic from the New York Times has weighed in on the composition itself:

Lest there be a similar misunderstanding that “Marsh u Nebuttya” is sympathetic to Nazism, I examined a copy of the score. The “Horst Wessel” passage, which comes a bit more than halfway through the work, begins with quiet bassoons, instructed to play “dark and marchlike.” The musical quotation is punctuated by eerie slides and tumbling scales in the higher winds and by sardonic blasts in the brasses — a Shostakovich-esque touch — as the orchestra rises to scary fury.

It is difficult to tell from a score the full effect music will have in performance. But it is simply impossible, as it is in the “Leningrad” Symphony, that someone could hear Mr. Tarm’s sour take on “Horst Wessel” as a neutral or sympathetic presentation of this material. Obviously the melody may lead listeners to think of the Nazi period — that is its point. It is not the role of an arts institution to spare audiences from history that might upset them. Quite the contrary.

Sounds like the quotation was used in a tasteful and respectful fashion.

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Re: Free Speech and Censorship

Post by UristMcBunny on Sun Mar 08, 2015 7:05 pm

They knew he was 21 when they commissioned him.

Yes, they did indeed know he was an adult who, presumably, is then perfectly capable of sucking it up and either acting like an adult or facing the adult consequences of failing to. How does his age have any impact at all on this?

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Re: Free Speech and Censorship

Post by LadyLuck on Sun Mar 08, 2015 7:35 pm

how on earth do you expect to be able to judge how well it's been executed?

Easy. The score was meant to communicate a point. That point was not successfully communicated to the audience; in fact the audience walked away thinking their might have been a different (and highly offensive) point to the work instead. When a communication breakdown occurs, responsibility is always shared between both the person sending the message and the person receiving it. This composer's behavior has unambiguously shown that he does not understand this fact, or wishes to disregard it when it is inconvenient to him. That's what the problem is.

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Re: Free Speech and Censorship

Post by reboot on Sun Mar 08, 2015 7:44 pm

JP McBride wrote:....

reboot wrote:I would seriously side eye a Ukrainian using those motifs especially with the history of UPA's collaboration in ethnic cleansing and the Holocaust

Estonian-American, not that we should be judging his character based on his ethnic origins.

......

Actually yeah, as a Pole who lost 163 relatives because they were Polish Communists and Nationalists during WW2, I feel a strong sense of judgment on people that play with Nazi or Soviet themes. There is a reason my mom was born in Polonezkoy, Turkey, not Warsaw and it had to do with people hunting them after 1938 because my grandfather was a trade unionist for the copper miners

Estonia also has a not so hot history of ethnic cleansing and Nazi supporting movements, so still a side eye.
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Re: Free Speech and Censorship

Post by kath on Sun Mar 08, 2015 8:16 pm

*headdesk* I just LOST AN ENTIRE POST that I really don't have time to recreate because I clicked MODIFY when a preview of my post was shown!!!

JP McBride wrote:Have you read the score? Have you listened to a performance? If not, how on earth do you expect to be able to judge how well it's been executed?
I can talk about how his discussion around it was executed, which is a part of the overall execution of the work. In the post I was talking about, I did not make any discussions about how the quotation worked musically.

JP McBride wrote:Everything is a teaching opportunity, in this case, it's a lesson about the sensibilities of the types of people who wield institutional power.
This is a nice zinger, but it actually doesn't address what that part of my post was about, which is that the impression given by at least one of the NYT articles is that Tarm was unwilling to talk about what he was doing with the work, making it impossible for the musicians to determine whether they were comfortable playing it. That interferes with their own freedom of speech - freedom to choose what they're saying with the music they play. If you're interested in substantive discussion of the issue and communicating your stance so that other people can engage with it, this isn't really giving me much to work with. You don't need to, I guess, it's totally up to you. But it's not very effective at communicating your stance and makes it difficult to avoid making extrapolations from your words to try to figure out what your stance - which you've mentioned having - is.

JP McBride wrote:They knew he was 21 when they commissioned him.
So the only way I can see to interpret this in context is that being 21 makes it reasonable to expect people to be pretentious and cagey, which I can't imagine is something you're particularly attached to asserting (though I could be wrong). I don't understand what the purpose of saying that is and I would welcome an elaboration if there's something else to it.

JP McBride wrote:
A critic from the New York Times has weighed in on the composition itself:

Lest there be a similar misunderstanding that “Marsh u Nebuttya” is sympathetic to Nazism, I examined a copy of the score. The “Horst Wessel” passage, which comes a bit more than halfway through the work, begins with quiet bassoons, instructed to play “dark and marchlike.” The musical quotation is punctuated by eerie slides and tumbling scales in the higher winds and by sardonic blasts in the brasses — a Shostakovich-esque touch — as the orchestra rises to scary fury.

It is difficult to tell from a score the full effect music will have in performance. But it is simply impossible, as it is in the “Leningrad” Symphony, that someone could hear Mr. Tarm’s sour take on “Horst Wessel” as a neutral or sympathetic presentation of this material. Obviously the melody may lead listeners to think of the Nazi period — that is its point. It is not the role of an arts institution to spare audiences from history that might upset them. Quite the contrary.

Sounds like the quotation was used in a tasteful and respectful fashion.

Yep, that sounds like it probably was. Sucks that we can't listen to it for ourselves - but I think as he's stated that it's dedicated to victims of oppressive regimes, it will be performed elsewhere, and hopefully recorded, and then we could.

An apparent problem with discussing this case specifically is that it's really 100% he-said, she-said. It's certainly possible that the NYYS administration is completely misrepresenting what actually happened - the conductor and performers knew exactly what was going on with the quotation and the meaning behind the work, presumably admin was not actually paying attention in this case, and then freaked out after one complaint (and some people are apparently questioning the veracity of the complaint) and had never even tried to talk to Tarm about what he meant ... then that's some serious misrepresentation of the situation, and it means that censorship wouldn't be the only issue in the organization.

Note that all of the commentary that seems to be contradictory to the first NYT story is stuff I've googled: http://slippedisc.com/2015/03/the-composer-who-got-cancelled-at-carnegie-hall/, not the content of this thread.  

So, to articulate my feelings on this without reference to this example, which seems pretty convoluted at this point:

- people presenting a work - performers and people who make decisions about what's being presented - have the right, as part of their own freedom of speech, to choose not to present work that they find objectionable, whatever my opinion about the actual objectionable nature of the content, or think their decision not to show it was bad or misguided. I have the right to tell them I strongly disagree (but not to threaten them or damage their property).

JP, one of the implications of the stance you stated has seemed to be that, for example, I* would be acting unethically if I asked someone to write a poem for me to orate, and they wrote me a poem that I found objectionable, and I decided not to perform it. Is that the case? Can I ask your opinion on these variations as well?
- the content is saying something that I find highly morally reprehensible
- I have misunderstood the content - I found it objectionable, but it's not trying to make the point I thought it was.
- I am a very famous orator who can make or break the careers of poets
- I'm programming a poetry festival and I decide not to program work that is promoting problematic views
- I don't think the work is necessarily objectionable, but I do find it to be executed badly and don't perform (or program it for my festival) because I do not think it meets quality standards**.

*I'm just using "I" to make this sentence less confusing.  I tried making it less personal and the sentence got insane.

**Obviously, it would always be possible for me to say I programmed it because I thought it was bad art and I've actually made that decision because I find it objectionable. And I could be doing that knowingly, or not.
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Re: Free Speech and Censorship

Post by JP McBride on Sun Mar 08, 2015 10:18 pm

kath wrote:If you're interested in substantive discussion of the issue and communicating your stance so that other people can engage with it, this isn't really giving me much to work with. You don't need to, I guess, it's totally up to you. But it's not very effective at communicating your stance and makes it difficult to avoid making extrapolations from your words to try to figure out what your stance - which you've mentioned having - is.

I think what the NYYS did was censorship, and from the limited evidence I've seen, I think they were wrong to do it. I think that they should have updated the playbill to address the audience complaints, and allow time for any audience members who do not wish to hear the Horst Wessel quotation time to leave before the performance begins. Suppression of artistic expression promotes ignorance, not tolerance. I consider the controversy to be as much caused by the musical illiteracy of the people in charge of the NYYS as any artistic choice on the part of the composer. It's not deception to refuse to hand out Cliff Notes.

I don't get why people have such an animus towards this composer, or why everyone is so eager to trust the judgement of people who are willing to pull a piece after a single, anonymous complaint.

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Re: Free Speech and Censorship

Post by Guest on Sun Mar 08, 2015 11:49 pm

kath wrote:I'm not sure why you have the impression that it was simply a move to cover their butts and not kindness to / empathy for the person who complained, although I agree, it focuses more on the fact that their members (who are 12-22) were essentially tricked into playing a piece that appears to have Nazi sympathies.  They tried to check with Tarm about what he meant, before and after the piece was premiered, and he refused to explain, so they were like "well we don't want to just keep playing something that might be glorifying the Nazi party" so they cut it. I'm not sure how it's supporting free speech to say people should keep performing something that may have a message they find morally reprehensible.

Because, as a collective, even the most forward thinking and kind groups (whether businesses, musical groups, volunteer groups etc.) will prioritise escaping these possibly powder keg-like problems unscathed over giving a shit about the complaint itself. But I'm not one to give the benefit of the doubt in situations like this so I'm biased.

kath wrote:Additionally, there's no "man who commissioned it". The NYYS commissioned it. Who are you talking about there? The composer? The conductor? Tarm says that students recognized the theme and asked him about it, but we have no idea if the conductor knew (he didn't comment to the New York Times) or how the musicians -> conductor -> NYYS administration communication channels should have worked and where the composer fits in there.

Whoops, my apologies. I wrote all my posts (save for this one) backstage at a folk festival on my phone and got confused.

kath wrote:And it seems like a "junked up young tossers with no [known] connection to the" holocaust doing something with those tunes is exactly what happened here. That was my point. If the same thing did happen with an Irish loyalist tune and the NYYS was like "we have no idea what we're supporting by playing this piece, now that we know what piece it is, so we're out," my opinion that they made a totally reasonable choice would remain the same.

After sleeping on it and reading this thread again, yeah, I realise that now, so I agree with you.

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Re: Free Speech and Censorship

Post by kath on Mon Mar 09, 2015 12:10 am

JP McBride wrote:
kath wrote:If you're interested in substantive discussion of the issue and communicating your stance so that other people can engage with it, this isn't really giving me much to work with. You don't need to, I guess, it's totally up to you. But it's not very effective at communicating your stance and makes it difficult to avoid making extrapolations from your words to try to figure out what your stance - which you've mentioned having - is.

I think what the NYYS did was censorship, and from the limited evidence I've seen, I think they were wrong to do it. I think that they should have updated the playbill to address the audience complaints, and allow time for any audience members who do not wish to hear the Horst Wessel quotation time to leave before the performance begins. Suppression of artistic expression promotes ignorance, not tolerance. I consider the controversy to be as much caused by the musical illiteracy of the people in charge of the NYYS as any artistic choice on the part of the composer. It's not deception to refuse to hand out Cliff Notes.

I don't get why people have such an animus towards this composer, or why everyone is so eager to trust the judgement of people who are willing to pull a piece after a single, anonymous complaint.

Sorry for being unclear - I actually meant your general stance on what constitutes unethical censorship. You did indeed already state this opinion earlier in the thread, and I've given you my opinion on it already.

I'd be super interested in continuing the general discussion on free speech and what constitutes unethical censorship on the part of organizations which present work; I asked a hypothetical question at the end of my post to get a better idea about your stance on that in general. If you want to talk about that, I'd love to continue. And maybe others will want to continue the conversation of this case.
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Re: Free Speech and Censorship

Post by Caffeinated on Mon Mar 09, 2015 2:02 pm

I've been reading this thread with interest. One thing that occurs to me as I read it (and other conversations like it about free speech, freedom of artistic expression, censorship, etc) is that the conclusions that people come to are going to vary based on what the highest value they're attempting to uphold is. If your core value is that you should have no limitations on your freedom of expression, then you're always going to come down on the side of free speech and criticize any kind of censorship. But the thing to remember is that freedom of expression is not the only possible core value.

For example, in the case of the NYYS, I looked up their mission statement and core values on their website:
Mission
To educate and inspire young musicians through exceptional ensemble training and performance opportunities.

Core Values
We value the excellence of our teaching and mentoring.
We encourage personal development, creativity, self-discipline, and working well with others.
No one is to be excluded on the basis of ability to pay.
We aspire to a culture of fairness and mutual respect.
We expect a strong commitment from all members of the NYYS community –musicians, teachers, staff, and Trustees.
We value the special relationship between our musicians and their audiences.
We strive to be an inclusive organization reflecting the diversity of, and actively reaching out to, the greater New York metropolitan community.
We value performances in prominent venues.

Notice that there is nothing at all in there about free expression. That's just not their raison d'etre. They're about training young musicians. They're also about diversity and community and a special relationship with their audience. Given all those as core values, I think it makes perfect sense that they would refuse to perform a piece that could be construed as pro-Nazi, especially given that their audience is likely to have actual Holocaust survivors.

So I think one could say they've engaged in censorship, in the very broad sense of the term, but I disagree with JP McBride's assessment that this censorship was unethical. I think it was in line with their stated values and mission.

I think if we were talking about the [hypothetical] Freedom of Expression and Anti-Censorship Symphony, then it would be fair to say that refusing to play the piece was unethical, because it would be going against their own ethics. But it's not unethical to value something else more highly than freedom of expression.
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