Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bread and Censorship: Making Radical Theatre Uncontroversial for Wikipedia

Mark Stoneman drew my attention to a CNet article on the sheer number of edits conducted on the Wikipedia article on Sarah Palin not just on the day of her unveiling as a vice-presidential candidate, but in the hours leading up to her announcement.

This caused me to return to a journal entry I had written in May of this year regarding the politically motivated rewrites of the Wikipedia article on Bread and Puppet Theatre founder, Peter Schumann ("When Wikipedia Renders One an Un-Person"), especially since his current exhibit at the Flynndog in Burlington, Vermont has once again placed his work on my radar. I found that the biographical article on Schumann had been censored yet again, this time to remove any discussion of his positions vis-a-vis the Holocaust, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In my previous article, I had noted that one contributor (an anonymous user with the IP Address of in Cambridge, MA) while acknowledging that there had been some dispute over Schumann's artistic representation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, had also introduced the unverified claim that Schumann's family had been refugees from Nazi Germany (a claim that contradicts Schumann's own statements about his childhood.) I also noted that another contributor (with the address of in Sarasota, Florida) erased the names of Schumann's critics, and even went so far as claiming that the reception to the work had been "quite positive" when, in fact, it had been seen as contentious whether it had been exhibited in Boston or Burlington.

I brought these matters to the attention of a wikipedia editor who uses the handle Moonriddengirl, who revised the article to present a neutral point of view, while still mentioning the dispute around the exhibit. ("Update to "When Wikipedia Renders One an Un-Person")

However, on August 24th, an anonymous contributor with the IP address of (somewhere in Seminole, Florida) published a revision in which the entire section entitled "Palestine Exhibits" was deleted. The writer from had only this to say:

Palestine Exhibits: was deleted. It was a thoroughly biased attack on Schumann's character due to political disagreements.

Compare this assessment with what was deleted:

In 2007 Schumann premiered "Independence Paintings: Inspired by Four Stories" in Boston and Burlington, Vermont.[2] The series was inspired by ten days Schumann spent in the Occupied Territories of Palestine, as well as John Hersey's 'The Wall', a graphic account of the birth, development, and destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, the largest of the Jewish ghettos established by Nazi Germany during the Jewish Holocaust. The series proved controversial, with critics labeling Schumann's works as "anti-Zionist", "anti-Semitic" and "sort-core Holocaust denial", accusations Schumann denied, stating that "I’m not saying that what’s happening in Palestine is the same as what happened in Warsaw . . . but it’s certainly a reminder."[2] While Schumann later acknowledged that he "may have unnecessarily hurt some people's feelings" with the series, he returned in 2008 to the theme of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his subsequent art series, "The University of Majd: The Story of a Palestinian Youth", which addresses a case of what Schumann believes to be false imprisonment in Israel.[3]

Was this actually a "biased attack or Schumann's character"? That is something best judged by people other than myself. However, the real problem is that we are seeing censorship of any mention of contentious positions taken by an artist who has for decades been a leading figure in radical theatre in America, censorship of criticisms he has received, and a reluctance by his self-appointed defenders to even write about his immense contributions to puppetry and theatre. Indeed, Schumann's allies are censoring mention of controversy in which Schumann clearly wants to be embroiled.


Justin Evans said...

Just a heads up, Ian. Tod Slone is on the move again. I'm getting renewed hits from the A.D.

Ian Thal said...

I haven't really dealt with Professor Slone in any major way since my entry, "Stalinist Clown Strikes Back" which was something of a follow-up to American Dissident Outs Stalinist Clown.

That said, his pencil work has improved in recent years.

Anonymous said...

All due respect, but why are the political opinions of a theater director in northern Vermont such a concern to you? Why do you feel that it is your moral responsibility to "speak truth to power" (as it were) on Wikipedia?

Ian Thal said...


You ask a fair question-- I suggest following the links provided in my response, as they will further elucidate.

While Northern Vermont might seem a remote location, the theatre director in question is internationally known, internationally influential (aspects of his work are studied in universities around the world) and someone with whom I have worked-- therefore, within my field, his work is significant, even if worthy of criticism.