It’s a fair question whether a high school should be putting on a production of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers.” While its comedy may seem childish, its themes are mature. But that’s not the issue for Bob Pritchard, Superintendent of Tappan Zee High School. The play can go on. Just not, you know, with the comedy part.
Administrators have ordered the removal of swastikas from a high school production of The Producers, the famous Mel Brooks film that makes fun of Nazism.
The New York school district that oversees Tappan Zee High School considers the inclusion of a swastika to be offensive and, possibly, a hate crime—regardless of the context.
“There is no context in a public high school where a swastika is appropriate,” South Orangetown Superintendent Bob Pritchard told the local CBS station.
For those of you who live under a rock, are under 12 or have no sense of humor at all, the play is about producers running a scam on their “angels” by over-selling ownership in a play that is so awful that they’re certain it will close in a night. Brooks’ play gives us such heart-warming ballads as “Springtime For Hitler and Germany.”
Brooks used satire to ridicule Nazism. But that’s a problem at Tappan Zee, as it requires the whole Nazism part to make the satire work. Are high schoolers so fragile, so clueless, that they can’t bear to see a swastika? Apparently not. They get it.
“It’s satire, not supposed to be taken seriously,” said Tyler Lowe, a student performer. CBS notes that Lowe is himself Jewish.
It’s not surprising that the teens understand the play better than the district does. The plot concerns a pair of producers who put together a deliberately bad, patently offensive pro-Hilter play in order to profit from its commercial failure. They are thwarted when the play is a hit—the audience assumes it’s satire.
But what if seeing a symbol makes one child sad?
The danger comes when authority figures try to shelter kids from offensive ideas and symbols. It’s better to let them behold the swastika, and laugh at it, then [sic] live in fear of it.
Of course, The Producers is from 1968, long before anybody realized how desperately young people needed safe spaces to shield them from words, images and ideas other than unicorns and rainbows. It was a time when the use of humor was considered an effective means of making a point about societal issues.
But then, Brooks is old, and couldn’t possibly appreciate the hatefulness of his satire in today’s context. After all, he was the same old white Jew who wrote, produced and directed Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder in that paean to racism, Blazing Saddles.
You’re probably huddled up in a corner now, sobbing, shaking and drooling, wondering whether you’re entitled to SSDI for your PTSD. But don’t blame me. I didn’t make you watch.
But don’t be too alarmed. It’s not like comedians refuse to play college campuses because students are too easily outraged and offended by, you know, jokes. And besides, humor can be hurtful.