Dog Meets God, Art Meets Life.

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recent post on the GCC Facebook page was pointed out to me, and frankly, I’m a little surprised at the slight ‘controversy’ surrounding it. What’s the story? Jump the cut for more.

The Genesee Centre of the Arts recently announced their Fall 2012 Events Calendar. One of the plays mentioned is Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, which claims itself to be an ” unauthorized parody similar to characters from the popular comic strip “Peanuts.”” Now, it  should be noted that this discussion and the ‘controversy’ surrounding it have since been resolved, but I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the nature of the discussion – and what some of the societal implications of art are.

As a person who grew up watching the variety of the Peanuts media out there (yes, that includes the Charlie Brown Christmas Special), I find the topic of the play to be rather interesting. Just how would Charlie Brown and his friends cope with trials of adolescence?

Even if you removed the modern day aspects of teenage life from the play you’d be hard pressed to deny that things have radically changed for young adults in the past, oh, couple of decades or so. I get the impression that people seem to forget that teenagers, as we see them today, are a relatively new thing for humanity – but I digress. Point is, teenagers and young adults have always had their own culture, slang, problems and lifestyles.

This does, unfortunately, include topics like sexual activity, and the use of drugs and alcohol.

Now, make no mistake, and I want to make this very clear before I continue – I’m by no means condoning the use of drugs, nor am I encouraging teens to indulge themselves in either that, drinking, or sex. But the reality is that many teens do engage in this kind of behaviour – either through peer pressure, stress, or pure experimentation/curiosity – and I don’t think it’s a topic to be shied away from. The play is using Peanuts characters for the sake of exposing these topics to the audience, and this is not inherently a bad idea.

Some of the comments on the Facebook page talk about tarnishing the Peanuts name for the sake of art. I must have missed a memo – since when did we shift the focus of art to not expression or exploration, but the avoidance of hurting people’s feelings?

I understand where the people behind the comments are coming from. I understand that something from their childhood is being used in a way that makes them uncomfortable, and I understand their anger. But there is no sanctity of life, no piece of our humanity that isn’t touched by other people’s interpretations, thoughts, and dreams. Art, especially contemporary art, has been borrowing, stretching, reusing and repurposing beloved pop culture (or at least bits of it) for decades now.

No topic should be taboo for discussion or interpretation, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us. The more we can  engage in civilized, intelligent conversation about exactly why something disturbs us, the closer we can get to a more complete understanding of whatever that thing is – and what our own biases are.

And what really surprises me is that people are questioning the value of the play based on the playwrights interpretations of what these characters might have done as teenagers. The play hasn’t even had its first show yet. Without having seen anything, it’s more than a bit unreasonable to jump the gun and assume the play has no value. It’s the idea of the play that is getting people in a tizzy, not the play itself, and that’s a judgment call we can’t make until the play is actually, y’know – released.

Besides which, it’s a social commentary. The playwright is very deliberately choosing to use these characters for a reason. Taking something we love and using that as a means to expose people to some of the crueler aspects of life is something that artists do. It’s a very clear allegory for what is happening to teenagers today. Perhaps if more people could look at life from a teens perspective (and not just dismiss them because of their age), we just might have a chance at reaching out and understanding them.

Norm Gayford, the director of the play and Professor of English at GCC, had this to say about the play:

“Theatre is not only meant to be entertaining; it is meant to inspire deep thought, to make social commentary, to question the status quo… …The mission of a college theatre program involves producing a diversity of plays for different audiences, to challenge our students, to move them past their comfort zone and thus to deepen their skills through a growing experience with different theatrical genres. Drama and tragedy are clearly an important aspect to their theater degree.”

To ignore the aspects of life because they are cruel, uneasy to discuss, or difficult to face is to ignore part of what makes us human. And, frankly? You don’t have the right not to be offended by something. We’re all offended by something. It may behoove you to turn the mirror on yourself and ask why, exactly, you’re offended.

The first showing of the play is Thursday, 25 October, at 7:30 pm. I hope the play is a resounding success.

Break a leg, theatre crew.

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