Addendum: Censorship no excuse (nor is a system)

My previous post (Censorship no excuse for misogyny) has generated some robust discussion on the issue of whether Melbourne International Comedy Festival can be held in any way accountable for including Jim Jefferies' misogynist show on their bill.

I'm proud, but not so proud that I can't admit when I'm wrong or erred in my thinking. Now that the righteous rage has settled (a little), I must concede a mistake or two and see that I should explain more fully why sticking to an ethical policy or principle  doesn't exonerate people's responsibility to take action when action is called for. So, here goes...

It has been pointed out that in my righteous rage I got Damien Hodgkinson's title wrong - he's the Executive Director, not Festival Director.  I've duly made the amendment in the previous post and apologise for any stress that piece of misinformation caused - not that it makes one bit of difference to my argument.

Also, Jefferies is in no way financially supported by MICF. The only people making money out of his show is Jefferies and the venue hosting him (who also deserve a good shellacking). All MICF received was Jefferies $500 registration fee - which I still argue MICF didn't have to accept, but more about that below.

I've also been reminded by several good folk that the Melbourne International Comedy Festival is an "open access event". What this means is that anyone - no matter their age, race, gender, experience - can register to perform. It's a fantastic system for a festival like MICF and I fully support it because it's this registration system that keeps festival content fresh, provides opportunity to new talent and embraces diversity, which is so important (I'd say almost sacred) in our patriarchal Western culture.

What I like most about open access events  (which in Australia include Adelaide and Melbourne Fringe) is the challenge they offer to punters like myself who experience being pushed out of their comfort zone as a form of entertainment. I've attended many festival events that push my thinking out of the box, poke fun at politically correct sacred cows, and have made me feel uncomfortable. This is the purpose open access serves. It provides a space for questioning and for voices not normally heard because they've been curated out of mainstream culture.

However (you knew that was coming didn't you?) - open access is just a system. It has been created by people to serve the purposes I've outlined above. But, like all systems, it's not perfect. By its very nature it can allow harmful things  to penetrate into an event and undermine the very principles it's trying to foster - tolerance, diversity, alternative ideas. What Jefferies is doing has got nothing to do with any of these values. Ultimately his show, based on centuries old biases and discrimination, is a form of bullying.  It's not comedy. And the imperfect system of open access has allowed this aberration to exist in Melbourne International Comedy Festival's billing.

MICF have repeatedly defended themselves on this issue by telling us their open access policy prevents them from censoring the performer's shows. Herein lies the problem. Sticking to a policy in the face of the harm it perpetrates does not exonerate people from doing the right thing. This is what governments and corporations do when things go horribly wrong - they helplessly throw their hands in the air and blame the system they created for allowing the harm to happen, as though they have no authority over the system. MICF created the system, they control it, it doesn't control them. 99% of the time, the system works as it should, but when it doesn't, it is absolutely the responsibility of those in charge to step in and do something about it.

It's not MICF's fault Jefferies is a prick. But in spite of their efforts to discourage him, they accepted his registration fee and listed him on the MICF bill. Yes, he had to find his own venue - and the ethics of that venue owner is also under serious question here - but you can't tell me the Festival organisers couldn't have made an out-of-the-box executive decision and handed Jefferies back his registration fee on ethical grounds. A one off appropriate response. An exception to the rules. 

Open access or not, there was an opportunity for MICF to step outside of their policy box and make a stand. But they put the principles of their open access policy and not censoring performers over and above their stand against violence against women. One ethical principle (censorship & open access) doesn't cancel out the responsibility an individual has to another, potentially more important, principle (equality, human rights, anti-violence).

A system is not an excuse. Profit is not an excuse. Censorship is not an excuse. And what lies behind these excuses - fear of standing up, ignorance of the harm, limited thinking - is why 31 women have died as a result of domestic violence in Australia so far this year

Bad shit happens when good people do nothing.

So step out, stand up, take a risk and say NO to #ViolenceAgainstWomen.



I didn't see the show but if it was as you say would completely agree with your stance as I have also objected to films depicting the same kinds of violence. What I don't get is when the audience stay in their seats and remain silent.

KateBelle.X's picture

Me too Jan. I don't get why people wouldn't just walk out on him. Just goes to show, misogyny is still alive and kicking in Australian culture. I doubt he'd get away with it in Europe. There would have been outrage - or more of it. Thanks for your comment.

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