It appears that the movement against “micro aggressions” and “cultural appropriation” has now targeted opera. In an act of artistic cowardice, the theater at the University of Bristol has cancelled the performance of Aida after students declared that the entire production was a cultural appropriation. It turns out that Giuseppe Verdi was culturally (and operatically) appropriating in 1871 and continues to do so with every performance of this classic opera.
The depiction of ancient Egyptians in costume was apparently enough. However, most of us would have expected the Music Theatre Bristol (MTB) to issue an instructive statement about respect of classic works and artistic expression. Instead it caved to the mob and silenced the performers and artists. The theater explained that “This show that was voted in by our members has since caused controversy in terms of racial diversity. It is a great shame that we have had to cancel this show as, of course, we would not want to cause offence in any way, and that was certainly never our intention. Our intention was to tell this story, one which surely is better heard than not performed at all.”
I have written columns and blogs through the years about the disturbing trend on U.S. campuses toward free speech regulation and controls. In the name of diversities and tolerance, college administrators and professors are enforcing greater and greater controls on speech –declaring certain views or terms to be forms of racism or more commonly “microaggressions.” Now protesters are seeking to declare classics as microaggressions and a university has again folded in the face of the mob.
We have seen students rise in protest over what they believe is “cultural appropriation” in schools offering yoga or students wearing dreadlocks or serving Mexican food. Recently students at Oberlin even fought to stop the school from offering students sushi as “cultural appropriation.” We have even seen the mispronouncing of names deemed microaggressions. We are losing the important lesson that in a pluralistic society you need to be prepared to hear opposing views and overcome slights that come your way. Ideally you develop an appreciation that some insults are not intended and to develop a thicker skin in dealing with people from different cultures or perspectives. Instead, we seem to be plunging our educational institutions into the dangerous waters of speech regulation and sanctions.