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January 28, 1969 - Image 4

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1969-01-28

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of

life:

4

in censorship
The theatre made absurd

By JIM HECK
ONLY TWO DAYS have passed, and this week
has already gone wrong.
The situation caused by Sunday's production
of Dionysus in 69 is an absurdity. Granted, we
are now dealing with an issue of greater signifi-
cance than nudity alone - the freedom of ex-
pression. Nevertheless,, the focus is on nude
bodies.
It seems ludricrous, philosophically, to try to
justify a ban on nudity. It seems even more per-
plexing to attempt to understand why laws for-
bid nudity. To argue that "indecent exposure"
causes disorder; that nude people promote pro-
miscuity is a tenuous argument: one never ade-
quately tested and based on dubious Hobbesian
assumptions. The real problem of nudity be-
comes a moral one and, obviously, morals vary
from community to community. Recent Supreme
Court decisions have upheld this as a valid point
of law. The morals of a university community
would seem to allow for artistic expression in its
freest form. It is tragic that the views of Ann
Arbor's conservative city fathers should be forc-
ed upon the University for they severely restrict
the opportunity for artistic expression in this
"community t within a community."
FURTHERMORE, THAT ACTION was taken
against "Dionysus" and not against the Living
Theatre is absurd. When the Living Theatre ap-
peared here, a dozen nude bodies ran in the union
fov more than three hours within the view of
omnipresent policement. Nothing happened.
It is equally absurd that UAC officers were not
honest or informed about the circumstances sur-
rounding the play. Either knowingly or unwit-
tingly. UAC president Dan McCreath told the
two governing bodies of UAC-who eventually
sanctioned the play-that it was normally not
performed in the nude. This piece of misinforma-
tion secured the play's production here.
Most absurd, however, are charges that t h e
Daily's "sensationalism" caused the controversy.
Sensationalism may be able to exploit an issue,
even one not worthy of discussion. However, the
events that have followed clearly show the issue
is not one created sensational by journalistic
manuevering alone. In this case the publicity
developed an issue because the issue, itself, was
high flammable.
THE PUBLICITY CAUSED immediate polari-
zation. That polarization delineated the prob-
lem.
An issue of major relevance has emerged. But
the situation must not be judged in a context of
art;' it is political. Dionysus in 69 no longer will
be a play but a tool used to gauge the temper of
the Ann Arbor community.
And if the artists are successful in their defense,
"Dionysus" may, like Ulysses, prove a precedent-
setting case for free expression in the theatre.
Director Richard Schechner agrees the issue is
whether freedom of expression is valid in society
today. And - everyone from the ACLU's Lawrence
Michigan Daily
Photographs

Berlin to the student who stripped during a news
conference at the union are committing them-
selves on behalf of freedot, not Dionysus.
In a way it is sad that an art work such as
Dionysus in 69 once was, must sacrifice some
of its integrity to become a political tool. But it
would be even more unfortunate were this tool
unable to succeed in accomplishing its end.
A'happening
gone to. battle
By HENRY GRIX
PROBABLY, down deep, the Performance Group
is prouder of Sunday's production of Dionysus
in 69 than it has been of most of its performances
lately.
"We want to, like, have it happen," William
Finley, the group's Dionysus said of the impending
legal hassle as he huddled in the basement of
Canterbury House early yesterday morning with
a handful of cast members and about 50 hangers-
on.
The "happening" happened here at the conven-
ience of the group and to the woe of University
Activities Center officers. In an earnest and pro-
fessed effort "to bring culture to Ann Arbor," the
Creative Arts Festival's committee invited a group
whose devotion to serious artistic endeavor ex-
ceeded their own. Richard Schechner's stated in-
tention was to prove that culture can exist "west
of the Hudson River and east of San Francisco."
But Schechner chose Ann Arbor for cultural
warfare and the performance was artistic stra-
tagem. "You have to pick your battles," Schech-.
ner explains.
THE WHOLE tragedy of UAC and the Perform-
ance Group is'the clumsiness of both in the face
of adversity. Floundering in misunderstandings
and confusions from the first, neither group has
displayed the competence to endure a legal battle.
UAC has managed to steer clear of a legal battle;
next year, the actors mnay follow suit.
Schechner conceives of the whole event in stri-
dent, dramatic terms. "Euripides psyched out the
Ann Arbor police over 2500 years ago. The play
was about what was happening," he said ex-
uberantly at the Canterbury House meeting.
HOWEVER, WHEN it came to actually con-
fronting the law, Schechner fribbled. He con-
ceived of a new fad to market sweatshirts imn-
printed with photographs of one's own "private
parts" prohibited from public display by Michigan
statute 28.567 (1).
Gesturing, thinking in bold, broad terms, the
director plots how to out-act the police. And he
made Mary Barkey laugh. She pleaded guilty to
end the Cinema Guild Flaming Creatures case
about a year ago. Sunday night she had recalled
how the legal machinery had virtually conspired
against her case and how protest bad become use-
less.
One only hopes that by a year from now the
Dionysus case will not have encountered a similar
fate.

2ioysusemn, and 'LP
The paradox of obscenity,

ONE OF THE best passages of Kurt Von-
negut's God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
describes Senator Rosewater's bout with
pornography. The Hoosier Republican
had introduced legislation which de-
fined obscenity as "any picture or phono-
graph record or any written matter call-
ing attention to reproductive organs,
bodily discharges, or bodily hair." The
Rosewater Law, as it was called upon
enactment, provided penalties of up to
$50,000 and ten years in prison, "with-
out hope cif parole."
Later, cooing over his triumph, the
Senator boasted "other people say, 'Oh,
how can you recognize it, how can you
tell is from art and all that?' I've written
the key into law! The difference between
pornography and art is bodily hair!"
, No law journal article, however care-
fully researched, could better capture the
a b s u r d i t y of attempting to define
the obscene. Objective standards for
obscenity are inherently unattainable,
and the existing legal criteria are am-
biguous and ludicrously unfair.
UNDER SUPREME COURT standards, a
work of literature must be judged by
the impression it conveys in its entirety
rather than by selected passages. To be
obscene, its dominant theme must ap-
peal to the prurient interests and totally
lack redeeming social value. ,t
The problem with these criteria is in
applying them. Prurient interest thresh-
holds, and ideas of redeeming social
value, vary widely from man to man. And
the problem is not solved by appealing
to "contempory community standards."
For there are no collective standards,
only myriad individual ones.
Since the evidence linking artistic,
expression with conduct injurious to oth-
ers is inconclusive, no utilitarian argu-
ment can be made for legislating any ob-
scenity standards. Insdeed, the le'g a 1
proviso which in spirit comes closest to
covering obscenity situations is the First
Amendment's protection of free speech,
even speech of which the majority dis-
approves.
THE MEMBERS of the Performance
Group who put on Dionysus in 69
Sunday night are charged not with ob-
scenity but with indecent exposure. This
charge allows the prosecution to consider
the nude scenes as is'olated incidents
rather than integral parts of the entire
play. The defense will undoubtedly argue
that the verdict should be decided by
applying the Supreme Court's criteria for

of Dionysus, would like to' see the case go
to the Supreme Court.
So would we. Not because we would
like to see the Court's standards for ob-
scenity extended to the theatre, but be-
cause we would like to see them com-
pletely abolished. No play imaginable is
better conceived to underscore the ab-
surdity of obscenity standards than
Dionysus. Taken as a whole, it manifest-
ly does not appeal to prurient interests
and has clear social value. Few plays
could be more explicit yet continue to
attract audiences.
Thy play thus is a paradox. It clears
the Court's obscenity criteria while de-
picting action which only a few years ago
would everywhere have been considered
obscene. While it is unlikely that t h e
Court will ever overthrow all obscenity
statutes, only a case like Dionysus could
ever drag it logically to that brink.
()F THOSE WHO have played unfortun-
ate roles in this affair,. University
President Robben W., Fleming is espec-
ially culpable." Certainly no one would
denyhis contention that "theUniversity
is not a sanctuary," and "therefore the
law applies on campus as well as in the
community."
Yet surely Fleming would agree that
whether the law applies at all in this case
must be determined in the courts. And
the University, by. a consideration of
its own best interests, should be assisting
the arrested players in their litigation.
Until the notion of contemporary
community standards is finally deleted
from the statute books, the University
must insist that it is a separate com-
munity, not subject to the standards of
any other community.
To stifle experimentation is to destroy
learning. A class of students had been as-
signed to view Flaming Creatures two
years ago. Admittedly both Dionysus and
Flaming C eatures were open to the pub-
lic, but the audiences were composed
overwhelmingly of students and faculty.
IF ACADEMIC freedom is at stake, so
are future artistic experiments spon-
sored by student groups. Motion pictures
as explicit as Flaming Creatures have
run at local commercial houses without
police interference. Plays havinghn u d e
scenes have been performed. The au-.
thorities seem to pick weak opponents
-student groups like Cinema Guild and
University Activities Center and obscure
off-Off-Broadway companies like the
Performance Group. Perhaps clear Uni-
versity determination to intercede on
behalf of pushovers would deter police

4i

Apollo v. Dionysus: Plastic America's trial

By DAVID DUBOFF
WHEN THE CAST of Dionysus in 69 leaves today, they
will be leaving us- with an ultimatum: either the
students on this campus can let the issue die, as we
permitted the Flaming Creatures issue to die two years
ago, or we can use the police censorship that occurred
to educate ourselves about the realities of this community.
Director Richard Schechner makes the point-and,
in. view of the sensationalism that the performance has
received around the state; it is a point that cannot be
too heavily stressed-that the central issue is not the
simple question of nakedness, but of freedom of expres-
sion.
The court case will have to be fought on first amend-
ment grounds, demanding the right to use nudity as a
means of artistic expression. Indeed, if the case can be
fought and won on these grounds, a significant legal
precedent will have been established in the area of
public censorship.
BUT, IF WE LEARNED anything from the Flaming
Creatures case, it is that the basic question underlying
censorship will not-and cannot-be brought out in

court: that is, questions of artistic integrity, of the right
6f the artist to be free from fear of police harassment,
of the right of anyone-artist and agitator-to express
a political position without fear of restraint.
As I sat in court Monday morning, remembering the
last time I was in that same courtroom on charges of
tresspassing in the County Bldg., it struck me that this
case is an example of political repression in its clearest
form.
Art and politics go hand in hand: the struggle to
maximize human creativity and self-expression is a
political struggle. The sickness of our society lies in its
inability to tolerate free expression because it leads to
breakdown of "order" and "discipline."
WHAT'S SO BEAUTIFUL about this case is that it
points up so clearly the dehumanization of American
values. By what stretch of the imagination can exposure
of one's "private parts" be considered "indecent?" Can
a society that denies the basic principles of human
decency everyday through the use of tanks, bombs, na-
palm and other weapons, the sole purposes of which are
to destroy human life, possibly claim to be concerned

with "decency?" It would seem that the "indecent ex-
posure" committed in this case was the exposure of the
"guardians of the public trust" as the most flagrant
violators of that trust.
The PerformancejGroup is talking about a different
kind of decency-decency arising from artistic integrity,
from the importance for a human being to do and say
what he must. The sensationalism in the press, which
has concentrated almost solely on the question of "taste"
in the performance, has failed to recognize the important
place played by that need for integrity.
NORMAN O. BROWN, in "Life Against Death,"
writes about Western Man's cumulative repression, guilt
and aggression that places violence above life. He con-
trasts Apollo. "the god of form, of plastic form in art,
of rational form in thought, of civilized form in life" with
Dionysus ". . . not life kept at a distance and seen
through a veil but life complete and immediate . . . The
Dionysian is no longer an artist, he has become a work
of art."
It is plastic America, "civilized" America, that is really
on trial in this case.

4
p

Letters to the Editor

Responsibility
THE FOLLOWING statement
was issued yesterday by Rich-
ard Schechner, director of the
Performance Group.
"We were distressed and anger-
ed by seeing the picture which The
Daily printed in its extra edition.
The picture, as the editors know,
does not reflect the true perform-
ance; it violates an agreement
made between the Performance

Daily. Daily, policy does not
permit them to enter into such
agreements.
Krasny's last hurrah
To the Editor:
I SINCERELY applaud the ac-
tions of Police Chief Krasny
and his force of Ann Arbor police-
men Sunday night. Their raid on
the performance of Dionysus in
69 clearly went a long way in up-
holding the moral standards of

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