Friday, October 17, 2014

Discussing "The Death of Klinghoffer" or Stepping in It

John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer at the Met
Getting involved in the current debate about the John Adams opera The Death of Klinghoffer (“With New “Death of Klinghoffer,” Furor Only Grows,” NYT 10/14/14)  is like intentionally stepping in dog shit. However, particularly if you haven’t seen the opera, you may be tempted to step in it— even if you're wearing sneakers with crenellated soles. Or perhaps you didn’t see where you were going. But join the crowd. From journalistic accounts it's apparent the opera has elicited passions for and against by many of who have never seen it. “Many protestors, who want the Met to cancel ‘Klinghoffer,’ have never seen the opera,” the Times remarked about the naysayers. But who ever said seeing a work of art is a qualification for making a judgment about it? One thing that can be said is that the venom of many of the opponents who have unleashed torrents of threats is reminiscent of the reaction the cartoons of Mohammad in the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten produced among those who felt that certain people and ideas are too sacrosanct to be represented with anything short of a beatific halo, if they’re allowed to be represented at all. This phenomenon might be called "dictatorship of the victimized" and it creates the kind of strange bedfellows you also find among militant feminist and fundamentalist Christians who both oppose the idea that pornography constitutes free expression. All of this is fairly familiar. Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses produced a fatwa against the writer and the respected scholar Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History has been banned in India. When Portnoy’s Complaint came out there was an outcry that the portrayal of a Jewish character who masturbated into a piece of liver created a negative view of Jews. How many of those original critics of Portnoy actually read the book? They probably would have said they didn’t need to read such filth to make a judgment. They already know what it’s about. They got the idea. Sound familiar?

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