Steppenwolf and the Chicago theater community play the race card

Steppenwolf and the Chicago theater community play the race card
Chicago Tribune photo

Sun-Times critic, Hedy Weiss wrote a tepid review of Pass Over, a play at the Steppenwolf Theater. Ms. Weiss is being accused of racism, bigotry, and using words that hurt people or a specific group of people.

Steppenwolf Theater responded with a broadside against Ms. Weiss.

"We denounce the viewpoints expressed in some of these reviews as they fail to acknowledge the very systemic racism that 'Pass Over' addresses directly. Particularly egregious are the comments from Sun-Times critic Hedy Weiss, whose critical contribution has, once again, revealed a deep-seated bigotry and a painful lack of understanding of this country’s historic racism. Her contribution is actively working against the kind of theater we are striving to be," Steppenwolf artistic director Anna D. Shapiro and executive director David Schmitz said in a statement e-mailed to the Tribune."

There is the ubiquitous online petition circulating. The petition demands theaters stop giving Weiss free tickets because "she is not willing to work with us to create a positive environment." It garnered over 3500 signatures as of this writing.

The petition is by the Chicago Theater Accountability Coalition. Their intent is to scrap criticism of any language they do not like. Translation: Any language that is not a glowing review of theater works.

It is obvious from the theater community backlash, they will only tolerate raving reviews for Pass Over and similar plays. Negative criticism is bigotry and racism.

Calling people racist, bigots, and homophobes, and other pejoratives garner publicity. It makes people stand up, listen, and take action. No proof of the accusation is needed. The accusation is enough.

Dealing the race card from the bottom of the deck is a propaganda tactic. No one dares challenge the accusers, lest they are called out for their own racism, privilege, and bigotry. The accusations stand unchallenged.

The accused cannot win. That is the whole point of the race card tactic. You either cave in, give the accusers what they want or you stay mute and let the accusations stand. You lose either way.

There is another aspect of this imbroglio. An aspect being ignored. We could call it the Chicago Way. The Board of Trustees Executive Committee of Steppenwolf Theater is a Who's Who' of Chicago movers, shakers, and powerbrokers. People no one, even the news media, wants to irritate.

Steppenwolf has clout.

Hedy Weiss is no racist, bigot, or homophobe. She is a critic. She is an honest critic. If people or specific people involved in theater cannot take honest criticism, they should keep washing dishes, waiting tables, and passing Unicorn frappuccinos.

If they do not like her language, too bad. This is the real world. There are no safe spaces. Grow up. Put on the big boy or big girl pants. Life is not fair, why should critics be?

Criticism is not designed to protect sensitive feelings. Criticism is not supposed to be fair and equitable. Criticism is part and parcel of free speech, expression, and the press. The same freedoms artists and performers profit from. It is part of the cherished marketplace of ideas.

Sometimes criticism is raw and brutally honest. If you cannot take criticism, you should not be an artist or performer. The critic writes for the consumer, not the provider. That is the one thing the race and other hustlers purposely ignore.

Criticism is supposed to let readers know how good, bad, or mediocre art is. It is designed to get people to part with money or spend it on something better. It is also designed to make artists create better work or improve current work. Make them better artists.

Hedy Weis gave an honest review. Is honesty racism? Is it bigotry?

According to some in the theater world, editors should screen critics pieces to remove any harmful language. Talk about a chilling effect. What will these groups ask for next? Should they vet and approve criticism before it is published? Should they write their own glowing reviews for publication?

The terms racism, bigotry, and the like have zero meaning today. They are tossed around for every reason imaginable. The words and words like them are so diluted they have no impact. People no longer know what racism or bigotry is. That is the point of the propaganda tactic. Propagandists know people will believe what they do not know.

Calling Hedy Weiss a racist and bigot is a gross smear and cheap shot. It is detestable and dishonest.

Add to that the vitriolic smear campaign by the social media lynch mobs.  Aside from being called a racist, homophobe, and bigot, Ms. Weiss has been the victim of ageism, sexism, Anti-Semitism, and threats. All this from mild mannered people demanding tolerance, diversity, positive environments, and non-offensive language.

Can you spell, h-y-p-o-c-r-i-s-y? Can you smell the stench of hypocrisy?

Performance artists and theater executives took the lowest road to insult a consummate professional. They used the big lie of racism and bigotry in an attempt to take down a powerful woman in the world of performance criticism.

What is worse, unthinking people, thousands of them, believe the propaganda put out by Steppenwolf, the Chicago Theater Accountability Coalition, and others.

Propaganda works. The big lie is believed. It is unfortunate so many people fall for it.

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