I have written in defence of Twitter before (here, if you’re interested), but the Opera North/Lee Hall fiasco today reveals something that’s bad about such an instant medium. Twitter encourages knee-jerk responses which are often misinformed and always unhelpful. These then get re-tweeted, and the outrage grows. Very few people bother to gather all the facts and read the offending article/comments/statement before weighing in with an opinion or a damning critique. Twitter has been full of criticism this morning for Opera North, a Facebook group has been set up in defence of Hall, and the vitriol being directed at Opera North is growing.
Let me make it very clear: I would never defend either censorship or homophobia, but it seems to me that neither of these things has actually been perpetrated by Opera North. Lee Hall wrote a piece in the Guardian this morning claiming that the community opera he’s working on has been cancelled over references to an adult character’s sexuality because he has reached “an impasse” with the school which is providing 300 children to perform in the opera. I would personally argue that schools have an active duty to teach children about homosexuality and thus begin to cut down on homophobia, bullying and the pejorative use of the word “gay”. Furthermore, to remove all 300 children two weeks before the performance was due to happen is unnecessarily disruptive, and must be incredibly frustrating for both Hall and Opera North, who have both invested time and, in the case of Opera North, money, in the project.
However, I fail to see how the school’s apparently small-minded decision is Opera North’s fault. Its statement says that it tried to reach a compromise which all parties were happy with, in order that the performance might go ahead. I admire Hall for sticking to his guns, and understand his anger that Opera North did not offer him unconditional support. The statement could certainly have been worded more strongly, and could have categorically stated that Opera North has no problem with the libretto and would like the school to reconsider. But, Opera North obviously has a lot invested in its relationship with the local community, and to dismiss or criticise the school’s decision outright could do it a lot of damage in the long run. This was an arse-covering decision, not a homophobic one.
If there is blame to be apportioned, surely we should be laying at the door of the school and the local authority who decided that it was “inappropriate” to mention then some men “prefer lads to lasses” in front of four-year-olds. Surely, this is the bigger issue? That a school, an educational establishment, feels that it cannot let its pupils be in an environment where an adult talks about being gay? As Thomas Hescott rather eloquently puts it, the school should view it as talking about equality, not sex. Sexuality and sex are different, and the school should have the wit to recognise this.
In short, Opera North has not “banned” Hall’s opera. It has been put in an impossible position as mediator between two sides who have reached an “impasse” and the school no longer wishes to discuss it. I don’t see how Opera North is supposed to magic a new cast of 300 schoolchildren out of thin air, especially as the previous cast had been rehearsing for months. It’s an unpleasant and tricky situation, but slinging muck at Opera North only muddies the waters and draws attention away from the real issue: why shouldn’t children “as young as four” learn that some boys like boys, some girls like girls, and some people like both? This is what we should be outraged about.