FREE SPEECH:THE AUSTRALIAN REALITY
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.
“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.