Out of fear of misinterpretation and parental upset over the offensive nature of the symbol, a school superintendent in Orangetown, New York made the executive decision to remove all swastikas from the school’s production of the award-winning musical The Producers—an act that has many people are calling foul due to the irony of the situation.
After four parents complained about the “offensive” imagery in Mel Brooks’ Nazi send-up, South Orangetown Superintendent Bob Pritchard responded by requiring the removal of all swastikas from the set. “There is no context in a public high school where a swastika is appropriate,” he told CBS2. “The optic, the visual, to me was very disturbing. I considered it to be an obscenity like any obscenity.”
Clearly misunderstanding the usage of the symbol as a satirical vehicle in the comedy about two theater producers who embark on a get-rich-quick scheme of duping people into investing in the worst possible, and deliberately offensive, Broadway production, this is another instance of a knee-jerk reaction by a school to appease a minority of parents without fully considering the situation first.
Sadly this seems to have become a trend in the educational system. Earlier this year, CBLDF joined the National Coalition Against Censorship after Enfield High School in Connecticut cancelled a production of the rock opera American Idiot after a few parents complained about the mature nature of the content. In the past few years the plays And Tango Makes Three and Spamalot were also censored in their respective communities after a few parents complained about the content.
Much like in those other situations, the community isn’t staying silent about the absurdity of the situation in Orangetown. Tyler Lowe, a Jewish student at the school, noted that the play is a satire and is “not supposed to be taken seriously.” Orangetown resident Lenora Mesibov added that she thinks Mel Brooks would be “honored that the controversy is going on,” but at the same time “disappointed by the censorship.”
The play, which wrapped up production last week, may have sadly become another victim to rash decision-making, but we can use the ironic situation as opportunity to demonstrate the ridiculousness of schools simply bending to the sensitive dispositions of a small few. “Sorry: You don’t censor a work of art because a few people don’t get it,” wrote the New York Post about the situation. “If you must, post one of those silly ‘trigger warnings.’”
Help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work in 2015 by visiting the Rewards Zone, making a donation, or becoming a member of CBLDF!
Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!