The University of Minnesota’s plan to present a production of Dario Fo’s “The Pope and the Witch,” which presents the pontiff in, well, a less-than-favorable, drug-addicted state, has attracted Catholic protests. William Donohue asked the University to acknowledge the presentation as offensive, and accused the University of a double standard, suggesting that they wouldn’t stage comparable commentary about Islam. The University has hosted events critical of Islam, but Donohue makes a sure point here. “Provocative” theatre almost invariably concerns imaginary threats. The Director of the production at Minnesota explained:
“I chose this play because it is political. It takes a stand on issues in the forefront of our daily lives.”
Well, perhaps. In upper-brow modern western cultural output, the “political” threats confronted are almost invariably safe ones – heroin-addicted popes are far more modish targets than heroin-addicted mullahs, however greater a threat the latter (hooked or not) pose to modern society. Knights of Columbus are very infrequent suicide bombers as of late. As Roger Kimball wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal on the Deutsche Oper’s cancellation of Idomeneo, for fears of a negative Muslim response:
Our avant-gardist artistic establishment preens itself on being “transgressive,” “challenging,” “provocative,” etc. But it prefers to exercise its anti-bourgeois animus within the coddled purlieus of bourgeois security. It has discovered that there is a big difference between exhibiting photographs of Christ on the cross in a bottle of urine or Madonna having herself “crucified” on her current concert tour and poking fun at Muhammad. The former earns you the delicious obloquy of the Catholic establishment while shoring up your credentials as a brave artistic and moral pioneer. The latter sends murderous hordes into the streets looking for something, or someone, to destroy.
The U.S., fortunately, has not seen Muslim riots, and art can be created in Minnesota without fear of harm. Staging the Satanic Verses, say, as a Bollywood Musical could get you killed elsewhere – as Idomeneo backers feared. Even here, free of threats to life, when it comes to selecting a topic in University theatres, persons find it far easier to take a stand on someone like Benedict than someone like him.