Friday, 3 March 2017

A chance to know

Some further thoughts on Germaine Greer's visit to Brighton tomorrow. Let's look at the perennial and unresolved 'freedom of speech' question.

So far as I broadly understand it, Germaine Greer is in the same position as anybody else who speaks to a paying audience on private premises. She is therefore entitled to air any opinion she likes, so long as her words don't slander anyone, nor cause a breach of the peace. Her words might not be universally pleasant to hear, but that on its own wouldn't justify the entry and intervention of the police. I gather there were serious proposals to 'no-platform' the lady, so that she wouldn't even get the chance to speak. These have been unsuccessful - rightly, I think: let her be heard. I'd rather the message be out in the open, and not spread by some secret, underground means. This liberality also upholds the benefits of freedom of speech for everyone else.

Alternative tactics to silence her can now be expected, such as merciless heckling at tomorrow's lecture.

Out of curiosity - no more - I tried yesterday to book a seat for this lecture. I wanted for one thing to see whether it was a sellout. I couldn't carry the transaction through, so presumably every seat has indeed gone.

A packed house, then. Germaine Greer must be hoping that most of the seats have been booked by feminist women highly sympathetic to her message. But surely a dense block of seats will also have been booked by her various detractors. A block booking is the only sensible way to thwart the security staff, and resist effective retaliation from the pro-Greer part of the audience. Good old safety in numbers. Individual hecklers dotted around here and there would stand no chance; but a small crowd is a different matter. Given enough people, given sufficiently slow cooperation when asked to leave, and the event will be killed.

Had I actually been able to get a ticket, I would have been able to observe whatever took place. I had in mind seat Q20 in the stalls, off to one side at the back, but with a good view and an easy exit if things turned ugly. But it was one of a pair of seats left, and the webpage told me it was against house rules for anyone to book a seat if it left the one next to it empty (and therefore less likely to be filled). As an experiment, I tried booking another position that didn't offend that rule - one I wouldn't have actually taken up if bookable, because there wasn't the same chance of easy retreat. But that seat had gone. I then noticed the colour-coding that indicated whether any seats at all were still available. None. So I gave up.

Rather a pity. It's been years and years since I've attended an event where serious heckling, or slow clapping, or some other disturbance, might be likely. I wasn't much interested in whatever GG had to say, but I did want to witness the actions and responses of the audience - they might be worth attention and study. What kind of people had attended as supporters? What were they saying? What about the protesters? What would they do? I think there is a lot of glib talk about what 'protesting' involves. It was never anything I did in the past. I have no experience here. But I could have seen it first hand. It would have been a good opportunity to educate myself.

Perhaps it's just as well it was impossible to buy a seat. I'd have been chided for wanting to see a circus - wanting to enjoy whatever oral brawling might have gone on.

Still, I would at least have gained first-hand knowledge of what these feminist events actually involve, and I would have understood what pulls people in to listen to Germaine Greer. I do like to know. I want to see and hear for myself, and not just take things on trust.

2 comments:

  1. In the 70's she was still sane and famous for her feminist book, The Female Eunuch. I had a copy being somewhat interested in female emancipation from the patriarchal society, as if that is ever going to happen!

    I took the chance to go to an Edinburgh festival opening of the Dinnner Party by Judy Chicago where she was to officiate and speak. She was sane back then...

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  2. I'm rather relieved now that there were no tickets to be had. I'd have listened carefully and without prejudice, but I wouldn't have enjoyed myself, and the enthusiasm of (most of) the audience might have been oppressive.

    Quite apart from having to spend a small fortune parking.

    Lucy

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