Political life sometimes has an inevitable circularity. Contemporary liberalism would have made more sense in the time of prohibitionists, or the Victorian Era. It shares with them its deep-seated hatred of fun.
Sex, naughty words, and outrageous behavior all have their place, and can all be quite enjoyable. Being a zealous devotee of intersectionality? Not so fun. If H.L. Mencken, the “Joyous Libertarian,” were around today, he might offer that today’s left is unnerved by the same anxiety that disturbed the Puritans so many years ago: “The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”
And so, in fine prudish fashion, one Brandeis alumnus named Ayelet Schrek has stomped her feet until Brandeis University cancelled a planned theater performance. The play, titled "Buyer Beware," is the story of a student who finds an old Lenny Bruce stand-up routine, and sets out to stage a similar show. Schrek managed to get it canceled on the grounds that it is racist, able-ist, and perhaps some additional heretofore unknown "-ist" to be named later.
"Buyer Beware" was penned by Brandeis alumnus and Tinsel Town éminence grise Michael Weller, best known for writing the screenplays for Hair and the Oscar-nominated "Ragtime." In another age, students might have said thank you to Weller.
And the play ought to be uncontroversial. As Brandeis’s student paper points out, the university itself has described Bruce thusly: “Free-speech pioneer. Satirist. Cultural Icon.”
Yet, the play is getting a far more hostile response from people who don't even seem aware of its precise content. Schrek actually said that she hasn't read Weller’s script: “I trust the people who told me about it. I don’t need to read the actual language to know what it is about.”
You see, even without reading the script Schrek knows, as all activists know (everything), that Weller’s work “positions a white man as the brave protagonist and a black man (and BLM) as the over-reacting, violent antagonist.” Therefore: No good.
Michael Weller said he wrote the play as a means of posing the question “[i]f Lenny Bruce came to life right now, for one day, and he was booked for a gig on campus. How would the administration react?”
I think we just got our answer, didn't we? The administration would do exactly what they did with Weller’s play — cancel it. They’d disinvite Lenny Bruce, just like what happened to Bill Maher. They’d turn over their administrative power to petulant, sour, spoiled brats so that Bruce wouldn’t even bother with performing at a university in the first place, as Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock have both vowed not to do.
Or maybe the students would stage their own play. You know, something light and fun, like a play about lesbian activists wearing tampon earrings à la Melissa Harris-Perry, battering an effigy of an anthropomorphic phallus with a sign hung around its neck that reads, "I Am Oppression."
But fear not, First Amendment fans. The Brandeis student paper reports that “[r]ather than put on a performance of ‘Buyer Beware,’ the School of Creative Arts will offer a course in the spring ‘devoted to the challenging issues Michael [Weller]’s work evokes.’”
So, a superstar playwright gets shut out of Brandeis by some fun-hating harpy who hasn’t even bothered to read his script, and the whole student body is rewarded with a seminar on political correctness.
Where’s Lenny Bruce when you need him?
Alex Grass is the Religion and Law correspondent for The Media Project.
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