Regular readers of Inside the Mind of Davy D know about the fractious relationship I have with William Shakespeare. As time has progressed I have learned to appreciate him a little more. The love deepened in October 2017 when it was revealed students at Cambridge University were having to be given warnings, alerting them some of his works, like Titus Adronicus and The Comedy Of Errors, could be upsetting; the warnings given to help protect student’s mental health. You can read contrasting reports from these links at The Guardian and Daily Mail.
Maybe I missed a trick, but wouldn’t someone have noticed, and discussed at length, the content of Shakespeare’s poetry and plays over the past 400 years. Cambridge University defended the action saying it wasn’t a general University policy, but it was down to the discretion of individual lecturers as to whether warnings were issued to students.
This is just one example of an over protection culture taking hold in the UK and every day is beginning to feel like the 1st of April. Watch any TV channel and you will see telephone numbers for helplines at the end of programmes for anything liable to offend any human sensibility. Although they have merit, are things becoming overprotective to the point where the realities of life are being hidden or at least distorted?
As a writer this has an impact. Working a path through this culture of over protection can restrict the writer’s freedom of expression, which in turn affects the writing and poetry. For example, a few weeks ago I was working on a piece of poetry reflecting something I experienced in my time as a Police Officer. Throughout the drafting process the questions of, Will this word or graphic description offend anyone? What if someone has had this kind of experience? Do I need to place a warning or alert at the start of the poem? played on my mind. In the end the poetry was so safe it was hardly worth the effort, as the emotion had bled out of it.
I am not talking here about poetry or writing which is offensive or hurtful to any group or individual, there are laws in both civil and criminal statutes taking care of those issues. I am focusing more on words which accurately portray and reflect the world we live in, and our opinions in how we navigate through it. I think most poets and writers are mindful of the effect their words will have with specific audiences and self-censor to a point, but sometimes hearing a view or opinion taking us out of our comfort zone can lead to more informed conversations.
As a poet and writer, what are your thoughts on writing in a culture of over protection? Maybe this is something relevant only to the UK and you live in a country where freedom of expression is exactly that. Or, is it the opposite where in the words of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington you, “publish and be damned.”