Cabaret, and the New Taboos


11 May 2006, 2.39 CET

Niall Crowley, writing in Spiked, 9 February 2006:

. . .

Imagine a cabaret club called Sound & Smoke today. The reason the name was originally chosen is because a noisy and often aggressive audience was seen as crucial for good cabaret. Rioting was almost obligatory for any self-respecting audience in the Weimar clubs. Smoking was part of the ambiance of the cabaret. Bertolt Brecht was a regular at Berlin clubs and wrote about an ‘epic smoke theatre’. He also appreciated a noisy audience, and described the cabaret as a place where ‘people might come casually, not hushed in awe’.

The owners of a new Sound & Smoke would certainly be branded as irresponsible for encouraging antisocial and unhealthy behaviour and they would probably be forced to change the name. If they served food then there would be no smoking. If the growing obsession with etiquette continues, there would be no noise allowed from the audience – except if the disturbance came from babies and children, because it would probably have to be ‘family friendly’ under the new changes to the licensing laws. It goes without saying that picking on the audience, starting arguments and causing ‘offence’ are out, as are raising issues of ‘faith’ and ‘race’. If that’s not enough there’s Health and Safety, Disability Access, Social Inclusion and Diversity policies to contend with.

Unlike the clubs of the Weimar Republic, at least they needn’t fear attack or censorship for lampooning state institutions or for opposing wars. They would be far more likely to get into trouble if they failed to reflect the ‘diversity’ of the community around them. A club like this, along with performers and artists who are prepared to seek out controversy, are exactly what satire needs at the moment.

The new taboos are serious issues that affect us all and won’t go away by making jokes. But if satire is to survive it needs to address these taboos. Satirists need to revive the spirit of the Weimar artists and performers. We need people to stick their heads above the parapet and not be afraid of controversy, ridicule or causing offence.

Mocking George Bush or the war on terror might get you a polite round of applause, it might even win you an Oscar, but don’t kid yourself you are being informative or radical. We’ve heard it all before.”

(via spiked-online)