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Can We Criticize A Play If We Haven’t Seen It?

May 29, 2014 Frontpage No Comments

By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK

One might think I would feel uncomfortable when hit with the charge that it is out of bounds for me to criticize Catholic colleges that sponsor performances of The Vagina Monologues when I have not seen the play. It seems a reasonable criticism, on first hearing. How do I know that the play is not making important and moral points; that it is not teeming with “redeeming social value”?
I have always found this argument to be specious; a ploy meant to silence critics of the film or book in question. Come on: No one lives by such a rubric. There is a role for common sense in this matter. Feminists would not feel compelled to sit through an X-rated movie that sensationalizes rape before speaking out against it. A plot summary would be enough to persuade them to take a stand. Blacks would not feel obliged to read from cover to cover a book that depicts black women slaves as lusting for their plantation masters; a review by a reputable source would suffice for them to call for a boycott of the work.
Every establishment media outlet in the country would jump on the bandwagon to condemn a movie financed by Arab oil money that depicted Nazi storm troopers as handsome and vigorous young men rescuing Germany from Jewish Marxists and pornographers. They would not have to wait for the first screening. An overview of the plot — comparable to what I have read about The Vagina Monologues — would be sufficient to earn their censure.
There are times, it is true, when it gets complicated. I would wager that most readers of this column would be able to come up with a half-dozen or more favorite books and movies that contain objectionable material, perhaps violent or sexually explicit scenes. These books and movies are favorites because we make the judgment that there is something about the work in question — perhaps its overall message, artistic quality, or the performances of the actors — that outweighs the sexual explicitness, violence, or off-color language.
Off the top of my head, I would offer The Godfather as an example. The merits of this film, in my opinion, more than make up for its coarse elements. In fact, the violent scenes strike me as necessary to the plot, and the explicit sex scenes as insufficiently vulgar for me to recommend that adult family members and friends not see the film.
I have read nothing about The Vagina Monologues to convince me that I should put it in the same category as The Godfather. I have no intention of going to see it. That said, I was pleased to get an e-mail from D.M.V., a retired physician from Minnesota. He has read the book; his reaction to it confirms the opinion I have formed from reading reviews and plot summaries.
D.M.V. writes that he sent four sons and two daughters to Catholic colleges. He notes that he “could not avoid a little discomfort” when he learned The Vagina Monologues was being presented on various Catholic campuses. “I knew nothing about The Vagina Monologues,” he writes, and “I presumed it was just part of the further progression of creeping secularization at these institutions.” But as its performance became an annual affair at numerous Catholic colleges around the country, “I thought I should know more. So I bought the book.
“I tried to keep an open mind. Who could object to the purported objective of the monologues: to expose the past atrocities to women and to ‘end the violence against women and girls’? I read the book twice and I am not convinced that it would have any effect on those real problems. Unless one accepts that a distortion of human sexuality and the glamorization of aberrant sexual behavior are helpful in that regard. There might be some true stories revealed in the monologues, but the extended sordid litanies used to embellish them do not add any dignity to the discussion. The animalistic lesbian behavior detailed in these pages does nothing to restore dignity to women. It seems more consistent with violence between women. Is this better than violence perpetrated by men against women?
“Eve Ensler, the author of The Vagina Monologues, assures us the play has been a great success. I’m not sure what success means to her. She seems to have made a lot of money from the play, if that is her yardstick. But so does some pornography.”
DMV notes that Ensler and others of like mind, such as Gloria Steinem, are proud of their feminist credentials, even though feminist ideology has contributed “to the destruction of families, promiscuous sex, increased single parenthood, poverty for women and children, and a fertile environment for abuse of women and children.
“There is one important monologue that has been left out of the play: the one on venereal disease. When I began medical practice in Minnesota, gonorrhea was rare and syphilis was unheard of. Things changed after the advent of ‘the pill.’ Gonorrhea became more common and I made the diagnosis of syphilitic chancre on the vaginal labia of two patients. Venereal warts became common and parents were advised to have their teenage daughters immunized to prevent genital herpes. I believe Minnesota reported there were 19,000 cases of sexually transmitted diseases last year, and that is just one small state.
“The ‘art’ of The Vagina Monologues escapes me. It will do little to end the abuse of women. That evil will only be eliminated by the recognition that it is an intrinsic evil and incompatible with the Judeo-Christian values that are mocked and held in contempt in The Vagina Monologues.”

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