FREE SPEECH: THE AUSTRALIAN REALITY and the ‘COME HECKLE CHRIST’ CONTROVERSY

FREE SPEECH:THE AUSTRALIAN REALITY

CHC

Below and for the record is copy of an opinion piece from a published author (myself) that didn’t get  acknowledged or accepted by the Adelaide Advertiser. 

The  Advertiser is Adelaide’s main paper and it  has covered an ongoing controversy round the city’s  Fringe Festival comedy act, Come Heckle Christ, to which the op-ed is relevant in an original, ‘inconvenient truth’ way.  Despite protests and appeals to organizers of the Festival (which runs from Feb 14th to March 16th) and to the  South Australian government, the show has not been cancelled …on the basis of “free speech”. Even  Adelaide’s Anglican bishop, despite condemning the show as blasphemous, has opined it should probably still go ahead in the interests of free speech. But should it?

Within the limits of the required 500 words, the burden of the apparently too hot to handle op-ed is that “free speech” is very limited as regards the arts and still more religion in Australia and beyond today. It is so in such a way that it becomes illegitimate, even hypocritical in existing conditions to be admitted to any rights based argument. The free speech principle is simply being exploited and manipulated by some artists and media to suit their undeclared agendas while they pull wool over the public’s eyes.

I wrote:

“While people continue to argue and protest the case of Come Heckle Christ at the Fringe Festival, at the risk of seeming a bit like Dylan Farrow speaking against  celebrity, as a published author I feel compelled to tell the ironic truth about “free speech” here and elsewhere that defenders of Josh Ladgrove imagine they’re supporting. The reality is there exists unacceptable levels of hidden pre-censorship which artists themselves often help operate. Some examples:

Nearly twenty five years ago I had a poetic drama performed on the ABC. In order also to broadcast some poems of mine the ABC needed them published and said to tell publishers they recommended that. No house in Australia would oblige, nor in England where Shakespeare actor Dorothy Tutin appealed for my work – critic and poet Kathleen Raine opined I had the gifts of a Coleridge. After a long history of refusal for poetry I finally stopped writing any for over twenty years when a leading Australian poet refused me for Penguin New Poets because, while speculating I must have studied the classics for years (I hadn’t) to achieve such musicality, they could not permit publication of such supposedly “archaic” words as ‘conduct’ and ‘bestow’. This was for secular work and loosely gay themed too. Who then protested? But if four letter words and profanities like Ladgrove’s You-Tube Jesus Christmas message were concerned, expect Australian artists would protest for them.

Last year I suddenly wrote some poetry again. One piece called The Hell Passage: Inferno Cantos for Today attempted some Dante update. It was actually commended by Howard Storm of My Descent into Death who claims an inferno experience. Storm felt the material was superior to what he considers the rubbish too often written about hell today and had memorable lines. However, being Irish and Australian, when I wrote to Poetry Ireland hoping to be read and possibly promoted, I received no reply. I hadn’t notably expected one. As a doctor of religious studies I know about the arts community and religion.

Today free speech about Christ is a huge problem. I wrote a book which an editor of a leading international house described as “ground breaking, fascinating and publishable”. Necessarily so as if true – the proof level for what’s claimed is overwhelming – I have the true birth data for Christ and more. The book was recommended to another major house deemed better suited to edit and promote such unique material, but they first lost the proposal then three months later just declared the material “wouldn’t fit our list”. Positive material on Christ rarely fits. I’ve known insulting reception from some houses and agents like “Oh, not that subject (i.e. Jesus) again”.  Australia’s Roy Williams of God Actually told me he went through about 30 houses to be accepted on religion. I no longer offer religion to Australian houses as I know the response.

So go ahead Adelaide. Support Ladgrove and kid Australia you’re serving the freedoms you’re in fact contributing to suppress.”

For reasons of space, this op-ed didn’t include facts like the way, not long after I emigrated to Australia I attended an Australian Society of Authors’ seminar in which one speaker warned us never even to write about Christ or we likely wouldn’t get published short of being some TV bishop, famous evangelist or noted professor of divinity since basically publishing is now pushing sceptical or gnostic treatments of Jesus.

Little has changed in the last two decades.  I am weary of the walls of censorship that rear up in every direction aided by the too often mean-minded, discriminatory arts community which is anything but open in the way people imagine because it’s the idea sold to them. The Good, the Beautiful and the True are not what those who influence  us especially deal in, and this must  now be admitted. It must be so even at the price some think we shouldn’t pay of drawing attention to shows like Ladgrove’s and increasing the attention drawn to them. If such persons want notoriety, let them have it. But the rights of Truth (with a modicum of respect for people’s views) must still be protested…..

And as regards Truth, I don’t happen to consider Ladgrove looks particularly Christ-like. What Jesus looked like is a subject in itself. I have recently written about it at the following address and the reflections and discoveries are worth pondering.

http://wp.me/p2v96G-lH

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5 thoughts on “FREE SPEECH: THE AUSTRALIAN REALITY and the ‘COME HECKLE CHRIST’ CONTROVERSY

  1. Thank you, Rollan for if not for you, then the Christians here in the US (including myself) would not know of the true state of affairs (decline in this case) of what is going on in the world in regards to Christians since the mainstream media has a blackout on us.

    PS: love the new background theme!

  2. While I do want to be sympathetic to your frustration at lack of support in your chosen area of interest and expression I do think the the Advertiser was somewhat justified in not publishing your op-ed. My reason for that is this article really seem to compare the right of free speech (the right of Josh to produce and perform a work that he is financing) with the rights of private speech (ie the rights of publishers to select works to publish at their own financial risk). If you were to compare the controversy surrounding Come Heckle Jesus with you being disallowed from performing a privately organised reading of your works, or some kind of external bar from allowing you to self publish, then the argument would be relevant in that it did impinge upon your right to free expression in a public forum. Instead your rejections seem to be a list of private organisations refusing to take a risk on investing in your work. Josh personally funded his performances, registered with the festival and paid for his own promotional materials. You could do exactly the same thing to do performed readings of your works at the festival yourself, if you chose to. In that situation I would absolutely defend your right to speak publicly on your chosen area of interest if their was outcry from any area that suggested you should not be allowed to perform.

    With regards to the arts community being mean spirited, I would say that has not been my personal experience. I would say that the arts community can often be a bit self interested, with so many artists in various fields working hard to desperately gain the attention of the general public and trying to turn their passions into commercially viable enterprises, they often focus on their own projects and need for success at the expense of supporting others. So often artists are forced to be more than just the performer/painter/author/musician/etc that they desperately want to be. They have to be promoter and agent and producer and publicist and manager and perform any number of other roles in the pursuit of their career. Often it isn’t talent that can lead to success, but determination, the ability to multi-task and sheer luck that garner a performer accolades and/or commercial success. If you are finding the community to be unsupportive I would urge you to pursue your field your own way. Publish an e-book, market it yourself to the general public in ways you think you will reach audiences who will appreciate your work. Make your work too popular and interesting to say no to. Don’t blame publishing houses for not accepting your work, make your work too financially viable to be rejected. Until then, just keep making your art. The business side of the arts, and actual art are constantly in conflict and I think the current statistics suggest approx. 0.8% of artists are able to “work” full time in their chosen field and earn a livable income.

    On the aside note regarding his appearance, most educated people are aware of the latest theories on that subject, taking into account ethnicity and contemporary appearance for Jesus’s lifetime and geographical areas. However these are (relatively speaking) somewhat new ideas. Josh, in at least 2 interviews I saw, did clarify and state that it was the classical image of Jesus from paintings that he was emulating.

    Normally I wouldn’t have commented on a blog post like this but you did go to the effort of bringing it to my attention on Twitter so I thought I should reply. I wish you the best of luck with your future work.

    1. Thanks you for taking the time and trouble to reply and for your best wishes, but I feel you have rather missed the points made with your emphasis upon mainly the economics of publishing and a sort of free market principle as against the very real pre-censorship and hypocrisy by individuals, not companies, that I attempt to address within a short space.

      You are so assured that being freely heard in society and being published is just a matter of normal competition, personal effort and luck you even felt the Advertiser may have been justified to ignore me as being off merely subject, something I can’t agree with an accept. Indeed among other things I might even say, having lived in France I’m used to the idea writers as people with ideas get heard if need be before others – a writer’s ideas can even have regular front page position on Le Monde. Jonathan whoever he was who ignored me at the Advertiser can’t be complimented for generosity to anyone with a few problems who is writing about a highly topical issue of general interest. And don’t let’s forget we are dealing with the rights of “free speech” in relation to what for many is blasphemy – and could merit lynching or death if done on Buddha or Mohammed. Of course we don’t approve that, but there’s still such a thing as being polite and having some respect for people’s views. So don’t let’s talk as though this is all a level playing field and Ladgrove’s case is a claiming rights like anyone else on any subject.

      However…..to your main ideas. Where you misread me is this. I did mention that a prominent editor of a leading house had said my material on Christ was fascinating and was material for the publishing. No question of economic restrictions or limited audiences such as you would imagine. I can’t go into all this story, but I don’t accept the integrity of those to whom the material was passed on who lost, then refused the same recommended material. One is NOT up against just the exigencies of houses but individual person’s opinions and agendas. I have even been reliably informed, for example, that even just to have certain opinions of alchemy would have one refused at a certain house that publishes religion and philosophy because of the owner’s involvement with certain alchemical groups.

      My article also mentioned that at a Society of Authors seminar I learned a regular writer should not write on Christ because of the barriers to publication on the subject given the non or anti Christian critical direction publishers wanted to go. That’s no good enough. This is a pre-censorship by bosses, editors, persons – it is was never suggested it was a matter of audience and economics but specific agendas and such has been my experience.

      If you don’t find it mean that a leading person in poetry here refuses me a voice in a major poetry outlet not for economic reasons but because I use words like ‘conduct’ and ‘bestow’ which are too “archaic”, then that’s your opinion. I am however prepared to call it sneaky because it’s guaranteed that same person would never dare justify their prejudice, possibly petty jealousy at the talent in me they admitted, before the greater Australian public. Again it’s all nicely hidden in the dark where it can’t be protested. If I am recommended for publication by the likes of a top Shakespeare actor who used to award poetry prizes, then that really should be good enough for anyone. It should be possible to be published and have the kind of publicity that publication usually guarantees as opposed to having recourse to self publication with all the effort and personal expenditure that involves. Yes it can be done but everyone knows, certainly the Society of Authors would tell you, that authors and artists are rarely good promoters, PR is a subject in itself. So I insist there are elements of discrimination that hamper authentic free speech perhaps especially in religion.

  3. I am not involved in the literary and publishing world, so I can’t speak as to practices and prejudices in that field. I’m involved, as Josh is, in the world of live performance and spoken word. This includes theatre, stand-up comedy, improvisation and story telling. So maybe that is were you find yourself in a community with such different experiences. I have found the arts community to be accepting of most subject matters provided it is delivered honestly, without vilification of others, and in a way that is original and provokes thought.

    You touched on the subject of blasphemy and if we are honest this is largely where the controversy surrounding Come Heckle Jesus actually stems from. This is also where I am going to have trouble seeing things from your perspective as I’m an atheist. From my point of view I do try to respect the beliefs of others but I also expect others to respect my right to not have beliefs. In that sense I would never enter a church or mosque or synagogue nor any other place of worship and try to force my beliefs on other people. In that same vein, if I were to one day chose to perform an anti-religious spoken word piece in a private secular location, where people have chosen to knowingly attend to hear me speak on that subject, I would expect that place and space to be respected also. I don’t object to people advertising and promoting bible study groups or Sunday schools, why should an atheistic gathering be judged on any different terms? You mentioned that the reaction against the performance would have been different if it had been targeted at another religion. This is probably true but would be all the more objectionable for the severity of the reaction and I would still have supported Josh’s decision to perform a piece if he felt he had something to say on that subject.

    On the subject of personal discrimination by heads of publishing houses my only comment would be to keep looking for other avenues of distribution. I must admit that if these claims were made by a person of minority race saying that the publisher had told them they weren’t looking for any works that weren’t by western Caucasians I would be outraged on their behalf. So perhaps I did dismiss your claims of discrimination too easily. That said, surely you can find publishers who have a like-minded interest and will publish for christian readers. It may not be an ideal start, but at least it would be a launching point from which you can create a platform to prove the other publishers from the past wrong.

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