Aida versus Political Correctness

Last week the papers ran yet another story that makes me fear for the future of this country. A student production of Aida has been cancelled due to charges of “cultural appropriation’, as the leading roles were likely to be played by white actors.

The production was not to be the original, by Verdi, but by Elton John, a long time campaigner for good causes especially those related to LGBT matters and Tim Rice. The show is about a forbidden love affair between an Egyptian guard and Aida, a captured Nubian princess. This is a show that has delighted audiences around the world, has been translated into 15 languages so at the very least these protesters are flying in the face of popular culture.  Have any Egyptians or Nubians – princesses or otherwise – protested about this incredibly well known musical? It seems not. So these students at Bristol are setting themselves up as moral guardians for their peers and depriving their fellow students of some training in musical theatre, and many others of what would probably have been a pleasant night out.

“Cultural appropriation” seems to be a complaint that is highly selective. Was there any outcry when the wonderful Maxine Peake played Hamlet? Will it now become necessary for Romeo and Juliet to be played only by young Italians? For Macbeth to be only a Scot? For Swan Lake to have a cast entirely made up of Swans? And where will they find someone to play Father Christmas or Tinkerbell or the Seven Dwarves? Will we have to throw out all the fairy tales?

As Janet Street Porter writes Saturday’s i paper:

The whole notion of “Cultural appropriation” is ludicrous. It started with black students in the US moaning about white people wearing dreadlocks, as if a hairstyle can only belong to one ethnic group. The Rolling Stones have just announced they are releasing a new album on 2 December consisting of cover versions of songs originally recorded by legendary bluesmen such as Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter.

For half a century this bunch of white men have made millions of pounds playing the music of poverty-stricken black artists, and who’s complaining? If that’s not cultural appropriation, I’m a taco. Will the students of Bristol University ban Stones tracks from their parties?

The great thing about art in its many forms – and of science – is that it is a neutral space where people from all cultures, all walks of life can come together. Objecting to popular culture just makes these Bristol students look ignorant.The arts is one of the few areas where Britain still hits above its weight, so if this attitude takes off, it could seriously damage our economy too.

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