<Trigger warning: contains descriptions of violence and murder.>
I recently saw a one-act play. It was part of a number of one-act plays being showcased in an afternoon. I took a last minute invite into the theatre. Then came the terror.
This particular play told the story of three little girls who’d all been murdered by a depraved man. We witnessed (with fabulously effective lighting and sound effects) his stalking, snatching and killing. The girls relayed to us how they felt–the fear, the intuition, the terror. And we learned what he did to them after he’d killed them.
Even as I write this, my heart pounds, my hands sweat and I feel like vomiting. This was how I felt in the theatre. I desperately wanted to flee but felt trapped. I blocked my ears but could not block out the sounds. I closed my eyes but it made no difference.
At the end of the play, a woman a few seats down from me leapt to her feet and fled. I followed. We made our way out of the curtains and exit doors and burst into the sunshine, stared at each other in horror and burst into tears.
‘That was horrendous!’ I gasped.
‘I don’t want that in my consciousness. I don’t want to hear that. I don’t want to see that,’ she cried. And therein lies the problem: what you’ve seen you cannot un-see; and what you’ve heard you cannot un-hear.
‘Neither do I. I have a four-year-old,’ I said. ‘Was there some kind of rating on that?’
We both fumbled for the program. No, there was no rating or advice about viewing. There had been young teens in that audience (maybe twelve or thirteen). The synopsis gave nothing to indicate the sheer viciousness of what we were to be subjected to.
Assault. That’s what it was. A random attack on our psyche–serious mental and emotional disturbance from out of nowhere.
Obviously I am an artist and I champion the rights of artists to make provocative work. So be it. Make what you like. But what you don’t have the right to do is inflict something so clearly designed to instigate serious affliction on someone else without some kind of warning.
Sometimes a work of art will take us to dark places for the explicit purpose of showing us movement in a story–from dark to light, from despair to redemption, from grief to love. There is a purpose to that darkness. But darkness that is that sophisticated (and it was cleverly written, sure, and it was expertly executed by the production team, certainly) and has no light, not a single shift, not a ray of hope, is just immature, thoughtless exploitation of our most precious resource: our own sensitivity to each other’s pain.
And lest you feel I might be a lightweight when it comes to things like this (which, hand on my heart, I confess I am), I think only someone who lacks a human spirit or consciousness would be unaffected by hearing how this man dismembered these girls and buried their little kneecaps under the staircase of their mothers’ home.
It is not okay.
I feel graphically assaulted, viscerally wounded and I will not bury my distress under the collective artists’ cop-out catch cry of ‘it’s art, you can’t censor it, it’s meant to provoke!’
You might be an artist. But you are a human being first and foremost and your first responsibility is to your fellow humans. Always.
Be the light in the darkness; don’t BE the darkness.
Produce what you like. But make sure you give us choice.