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Author Topic: QUESTION: Free Speech vs An Audience's Rights  (Read 13495 times)

puroshaggy

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QUESTION: Free Speech vs An Audience's Rights
« on: September 23, 2013, 06:35:50 PM »
There has been much talk here, in this forum, at Nats, in my community, I imagine in others, about the dividing line between Free Speech and Respecting the Audience.

I was wondering what direction PSI members in general feel the community should move?  Specifically, is the idea of Free Speech no longer relevant to slam? Is the community more interested in creating a safe environment where certain words and  topics are off limits? Or are we willing to accept the risks and inherent dangers that come with having a space that truly respects Free Speech?

PuroSlam, the San Antonio venue which I have been running since 1999, clearly comes down on one side of this fence.  I am sincerely interested in where others stand and why?

Thanks to all who respond.

« Last Edit: September 26, 2013, 02:12:11 PM by hsampson »

puroshaggy

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Re: QUESTION: Free Speech vs An Audience Rights
« Reply #1 on: September 23, 2013, 06:51:52 PM »
Sorry for the typo in the Subject- AN AUDIENCE'S RIGHTS!

suziqsmith

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Re: QUESTION: Free Speech vs An Audience Rights
« Reply #2 on: September 23, 2013, 09:24:27 PM »
Don't they co-exist?  Poets have free speech, the audience has the right to respond, yes?

puroshaggy

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Re: QUESTION: Free Speech vs An Audience Rights
« Reply #3 on: September 23, 2013, 09:46:00 PM »
Theoretically, yes.

At this past Nationals, however, our team was told- by audience members, fellow poets, and a Bout Manager- that we should NOT have said the words we said in two different poems.  Now I am not defending the quality or content of the poems (one used  the word 'bitch' in referring to a dog- a juvenile joke at best, not much more than that at worst) and a poem about teenage parents and dead babies, which is intentionally so disturbing that it is meant to be funny, in a sick dark way.  Low scores and boos? We are used  to those.  No problem.

The problem was  that for the first time ever, we were told "Do Not Read Those Poems Again- Bad!" We felt bullied and were essentially told to censor ourselves.

This kind of "Let's Censor Certain Words and Create a Safer Environment" movement is spreading, and while I have never experienced it in Texas, I have heard from other poets (Seattle, New York) that this more supportive movement, eliminating certain offensive language, is occurring regularly.  And I am speaking about SLAMS only- competitions. Not open mics or side readings affiliated with slams.

Maybe our experience was a freak occurrence and that would be great.  It does not seem to be the case from what I am hearing however and I was hoping to hear others views and experiences.

suziqsmith

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Re: QUESTION: Free Speech vs An Audience Rights
« Reply #4 on: September 23, 2013, 10:48:31 PM »
The problem was  that for the first time ever, we were told "Do Not Read Those Poems Again- Bad!"

I guess I'm just seeing that as an extension of audience reaction.

karen_g

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Re: QUESTION: Free Speech vs An Audience Rights
« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2013, 11:00:28 AM »
The problem was  that for the first time ever, we were told "Do Not Read Those Poems Again- Bad!"

I guess I'm just seeing that as an extension of audience reaction.

Exactly.

Also, as artists, we should be open to revision and suggestions for revision as well as criticism. I will defend anyone's right to free speech. However, if it's offensive,it's my right to free speech as a fellow audience member and poet to register suggestions or how the poem may have been a good idea poorly executed.By engaging in this form, we have a rare opportunity, too, to engage with people all across a spectrum of experiences from which to draw inspiration and feedback.

Part of the reason why we do this is for immediate reaction and audience response. If you want the random judge's opinion, what did they have to say? Did it reflect what conversations happened or not? Ultimately, it's anyone's right to listen to their peers or not as well. With slam, if you don't want to, there are judges who also create a base line. Also, how did the non-poets respond or react? (I know for one of the poems, a bunch of college students unaffiliated with slam, walked out).


nerak_g

puroshaggy

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Re: QUESTION: Free Speech vs An Audience Rights
« Reply #6 on: September 24, 2013, 02:30:12 PM »
Again, I am not concerned about Honest Audience Reaction.  The disturbing part of the experience was that two of my poets were specifically told by several people, including a Bout Manager and two poets who have been in the scene for years, that they should NOT have said what they said (the word "bitch" and the poem about dead babies).  I am not defending nor interested in discussing the quality of these poems.  The poets have thick skins and can defend their own work.

The issue at hand is that we were told during the bout, after the bout, and throughout Nats weekend by multiple groups of people that we should NOT say the things we said.

That is the discussion I want to have: How do people feel about encouraging self-censorship?  Is this happening in other communities? Or was this a rare occurrence?

And if some speech is off limits, who determines what is off limits?

jesster

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Re: QUESTION: Free Speech vs An Audience Rights
« Reply #7 on: September 24, 2013, 03:30:13 PM »
I am a big proponent of free speech. I think that unless there is some content restriction, you should say whatever you want.

I'm also a big fan of being ready to defend your speech. The audience, other poets, your grandma has every right to call you out for something you said. That's their free speech.

Now, you may get advice from folks who are also interested in progressing the art and not letting a poetry slam get a bad rep for anyone with a microphone to shout unpleasant shit at them. After all, slam was created to reach out, not to be insular and get pretentious. The audience reaction, scores, etc let you know if that's something they like. Unfortunately, so does walking out of a venue and telling their friends they saw a shit show.

When it comes right down to it, do what you want and say what you want. Our constitution covers it, and so does our own Code of Conduct to a certain extent (just be a good sport!). But by the same token if you want the respect of your audience and peers, you need to listen, adjust, and still own your own voice.

But remember, free speech is not a free pass. Don't expect high fives and free drinks just because you said a poem, not all art earns respect.

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. " - Voltaire

-Jesse

AmyD

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Re: QUESTION: Free Speech vs An Audience Rights
« Reply #8 on: September 24, 2013, 10:10:57 PM »
I'm with Jesse. What did you accomplish by offending the audience?

puroshaggy

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Re: QUESTION: Free Speech vs An Audience Rights
« Reply #9 on: September 25, 2013, 01:36:42 AM »
Again, the question is not about Offending the Audience.

The question specifically I would like addressed is whether venues, slammasters, poets, are encouraging the censoring of certain words or ideas.

The sense we got in Boston was that yes, the stuff said in our poems would not have been allowed in certain venues- slam venues.  Was that hyperbole?  Is this really happening?

Is there a Free Speech Code of Conduct being pursued in this community?

jesster

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Re: QUESTION: Free Speech vs An Audience Rights
« Reply #10 on: September 25, 2013, 11:01:28 AM »
Again, the question is not about Offending the Audience.

The question specifically I would like addressed is whether venues, slammasters, poets, are encouraging the censoring of certain words or ideas.

The sense we got in Boston was that yes, the stuff said in our poems would not have been allowed in certain venues- slam venues.  Was that hyperbole?  Is this really happening?

Is there a Free Speech Code of Conduct being pursued in this community?

Again, there will always be people pushing the art in a certain direction. If you're asking if it's ok to say "bitch" then you are going to have a varied response, probably mostly on the, "please don't say that" or "you can't say that". Some folks might want to "have a conversation" that mostly consists of talking at you.

But when folks say "that would never fly on stage at my venue" most are saying "your ass would get booed off stage and you probably wouldn't make a lot of friends." I've never kicked a poet out of my venue for something said on stage, but I have kicked out audience members for crazy shit said from the audience. And conversations have certainly happened, most of the time with the poet not realizing someone was offended and opting to change material or not do certain poems. And we do say "free speech/hate free", so if we have something up that sounds like blatant hate speech, we will definitely have some more intense talks.

It's your right not to listen to them, just like it's their right not like it when you choose words they view as offensive. But if ENOUGH people find it offensive, maybe it's time to take a hard look at why you use that word and if it's really that necessary. There will always be morality police and folks speaking out when some genuinely fucked up shit happens on stage. Being part of a community is dealing with offensive people, sensitive people, and all the colors in between.

You really have two avenues to take (well, three, but let's just say getting out of slam is simply not an acceptable option)

1) Fuck em. Everyone has an opinion, it doesn't mean you have to listen to them. Just ride on the high of the folks that are in your corner and love your work. You can't please everyone. Hopefully you pleased someone.
2) Listen and Change. Recognize that there will be words or concepts that might not be great ideas, or might be offensive in ways you just never thought of. I watched a crazy poem with a poet playing both halves of his character's psyche, stating that being crippled was a fate worse than death, while sitting next to two friends with disabilities. That poet probably thought it was super creative and powerful and never once considered how hurtful this was. Maybe, just maybe, there's something to this criticism.

-Jesse

karen_g

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Re: QUESTION: Free Speech vs An Audience Rights
« Reply #11 on: September 25, 2013, 11:32:55 AM »
Again, the question is not about Offending the Audience.

The question specifically I would like addressed is whether venues, slammasters, poets, are encouraging the censoring of certain words or ideas.

The sense we got in Boston was that yes, the stuff said in our poems would not have been allowed in certain venues- slam venues.  Was that hyperbole?  Is this really happening?

Is there a Free Speech Code of Conduct being pursued in this community?


I am truly blessed to be part of a diverse scene including older people, people of color,people with access issues/illnesses visible and not so visible, etc. e let everyone go on and on.We have heard poems from 6 year olds and featured poets who were over 90.All are welcome. Some mics around town are on-purpose kinda segregated so people can have their own spaces (religious/"clean" mics,women, queer, etc), but usually even there, all are welcome in the door.
We have a weekly mic in town, and I have to tell you, we get the most curious folks there.Sometimes, literally, a homeless person walking up from the sidewalk (the stage faces half outdoor patio) who just wants to share a moment.At least a couple of times a month, (and last week included), there's someone who just goes off the gross tip or we all have looks of "where is this going?"---someone off the rails.
My favorite was a guy called the Mysterious Poet and I loved him for how "bad" he was---he basically used the open mic as a vehicle to roll around on the ground and yell and scream.
This is the environment Atlanta poets come from. We embrace the weird, we really do. Keeps things unpredictable & lively. However, most of the regulars make no bones about whether or not they liked something or found it offensive or problematic, sometimes during the piece. We like to keep it real. We try to create rooms where you can say any damn thing you please no matter if you are novice-never-before-read-out-loud to I have-been-doing-this-since-before-your-mama-was-born. Very few times have we thrown people out or yanked them off-stage, and usually, it's because they're going on for more than ten minutes on a drunken verbal rampage, or they're yelling and being disruptive while people are onstage.
I think this is what most scenes strive for and what I've seen from traveling around the country.
 
nerak_g

bryan.r

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Re: QUESTION: Free Speech vs An Audience's Rights
« Reply #12 on: September 26, 2013, 10:41:03 PM »
Shaggy -

I think the key thing here is that your poets did their poems. They were not removed from the stage or barred from competing. They were not disqualified. No censorship occurred. People saying that you shouldn't do a poem is not the same as being censored.
Bryan Roessel

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Rockland County, NY

Dominiquechristina

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Re: QUESTION: Free Speech vs An Audience's Rights
« Reply #13 on: September 27, 2013, 12:08:06 AM »
Well, since I was one of the people who came up to your squad after your bout I will weigh in a bit to say, I believe in free speech but those who seek to hide behind it, say some shit that fractures a room or damages a person or group of people should understand that free speech is not a right afforded only to those on stage but also those who are positioned as listeners. And in the SLAM community the audience is not merely listeners but also a *participants* so you can't expect them/us/ME to sit there and swallow that bullshit you talkin 'bout and not come talk to you about it after. That is me exercising *my* right to free speech. So how do you want it? You do indeed get to say whatever you want to say, as long as you understand that so too do we. And I thought the conversations I saw and/or participated in were instructive and important. I didn't see any bullying. I saw folks saying: "That shit you did offended me and here's why." In the hood we say, "Don't start nothin and it won't be nothin." I think that's my stance here.
Dominique Christina, MA, M.Ed

Dominiquechristina

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Re: QUESTION: Free Speech vs An Audience's Rights
« Reply #14 on: September 27, 2013, 12:49:11 AM »
also, as an addendum, one of the poets on the team came up to me the next day and thanked me for the criticism. he said he was put off in the moment but when he had a chance to reflect, he saw what was problematic and wanted to acknowledge/address it. i don't see anything wrong with *that*.  ;) the poems that were done were problematic (IMO) for a number of reasons. the subject matters were not handled responsibly or deftly. there was no real discernible deliberation with respect to content or the language used. and i am a foul mouthed mufucka so i don't rattle when i hear profanity. that's not the issue. the issue is that those poems caused harm. i mean, i could get up and do a poem called "Hitler Did it Right" and there would no question about how that is harmful. If i did a poem called "What's the Big Deal About Callin Black People the Niggers" there would be PROBLEMS with that and you would get checked for reading such a poem. but on the subject of violence against women, linguistic and literal violence, it is so interesting to watch people become confused about what the big deal is. nowwwww we gotta have a free speech discussion?! for real? naw homie. i've read too many bell hooks books for *that* shit.
Dominique Christina, MA, M.Ed