Hey, Where The White Women At?

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.

33 comments on “Hey, Where The White Women At?

  1. Tim Marugg

    ” It’s better to let them behold the swastika, and laugh at it, then live in fear of it.” -then, +than

      1. delurking

        Right. You meant SSRI – selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor. Now you’ll never forget that again. You’re welcome.

  2. Tim Marugg

    Sad, isn’t it, that educational administrators are so afraid of political fallout from hysterical parents, that they neglect their central duty: to educate.

    1. SHG Post author

      If admins had some level of interesting in addressing the hysteria of the most easily offended parent, they might take the time to explain, or at least hold firm in the face of controversy. The question is, do they disagree with the hysterical parents, or are they in complete agreement?

      1. John Barleycorn

        Ding, ding, ding…Give that man a prize!!!


        You should really start brushing up on that pre-grandparenthood thing esteemed one and start organizing a parking lot guerilla theater productions company now.

        It will give you time to work out the neferaious nuanances of the new nebulae. Which is not like the ionized gasbags of lore.

        You may be surprised at how well a group of toddlers will take to the stock rolls of a classic Roman Comedy and as an extra bonus the miles gloriosus can be cast so broadly these days as to have those you wish to roast on a stick nearly miss their reflection until it crushes their soul in waves of delayed  comprehension that are more unsettling than a purposely accentuate cowlick in the barbers chair the day before the first day of middle school.

        P.S. If you play your cards right that Streisand lady might even lend you a hand.

  3. JD

    Since I know you love anecdotal references, I must share how traumatized I was when my children were in a high school production of “I never saw another butterfly” For those who don’t know and are weak with google, this is a play based on a collection of works of art and poetry by Jewish children who lived in the concentration camp Theresienstadt.

    Concentration camps were run by Nazis, who, rumor has it, used swastikas.

    I wonder if this play should be banned too. For the children. So that children who died at the hands of Nazis may never be heard and forgotten.

    1. SHG Post author

      If a child gazes upon a swastika, even if used to demonstrate the evils of the Nazis, it will burn their eyes and sear their brains. Doesn’t anyone care about the children?

      And yes, I adore anecdotes. But not too often, so they remain special.

      1. Martin Goodson

        Mr. Pritchard needs to scour his library, black permanent marker pen in hand, in search of that dread image. You can’t be too careful and, as he said there is absolutely NO context in which a swastika is acceptable, that surely must include books?

        Books on the history of Germany, books on World War II, books on military history, books on aviation history, all kinds of books may be at risk of containing a depiction of a swastika.

        Who knows what kind of mental trauma could be experienced by a youth with a perfectly innocent interest in aviation inadvertently stumbling upon a picture of a Messerschmitt 109? His or her young life could be utterly ruined by that kind of psychic shock!

        1. jay-w

          It’s worse than that: Prior to the 1930’s, the swastika was routinely used as a totally non-political design element in arabesque artwork — very possibly even on the covers of children’s books.

          I have several books in my library that had originally been purchased by my parents (or maybe grandparents) in the 1900-1920 timeframe that are decorated with swastikas. I am not at home right now, so I can’t check, but I’m pretty sure that one of them is a poetry book.

          1. Keith

            Ever been to the Jefferson County Courthouse? My wife had a trial there last year and sent a pic of this:

  4. Richard G. Kopf


    You serve a very valuable service. I never knew that The Producers was a satire. Indeed, I always thought “Springtime for Hitler” was merely a pretty song like “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music. Please keep the education coming.

    Auf Wiedersehen, der Admiral.


        1. Richard G. Kopf


          See you really are an educator. I was going to use the word “teacher” but I’m reliably informed that educators are not mere teachers. Indeed, using the word “teacher” is a microaggression. My bad for even thinking such thoughts.

          All the best.


        2. Kathleen Casey

          The Rolf character is forced to sing “I’ll take caaare of youuuu.” Don’t trust anyone who says trust me.

  5. kushiro

    The damage is done. These students have already been traumatized by swastikas. I recommend that Mr Pritchard take them on a healing tour of the temples of Japan.

  6. mb

    Rainbows are racist because they are made by refracting white light, and unicorns are a phallic symbol used by the patriarchy to brainwash girls into not fearing rape.

  7. ShelbyC

    Great, now I’m imagining a high-school kid on stage going, “Horses! We can’t afford to lose no horses…”

  8. Keith

    The harm these kids receive at the hands of oppressive regimes is indeed problematic. I’m not sure when schools stopped all attempts to challenge students, but I’m thankful it hasn’t infected my small corner of the country (yet). Every year, the local Jewish day school performs a play at the local public school where they perform and educate a new wave of kids on the horrors of our past. It’s a necessary lesson to making sure history doesn’t repeat itself.

    Trigger Warning: kids were forced to think in the creation of this photo:

  9. Ted Kelly

    If you rotate a chess board 45°, and look hard enough, you will see a whole bunch of swastikas. I fear for Tappan Zee’s chess club.

    1. David M.

      At Tappan Zee’s chess club – such tension!
      As the promise of open dissension,
      which threatens community,
      friendship and unity,
      reaches a whole new dimension.

      Watch as Hans and Hillel play a game.
      Each boy chooses to slyly reframe
      the other’s position
      as a vile disquisition
      on history, culture and blame.

      Both boys, now the table: upset!
      Upturned chairs make a decent barbette.
      Everyone draws a gun,
      all the fun looks quite done.
      But be cheerful! The end is not yet.

      Pritchard enters the room through the ceiling!
      “No more swastikas! Let there be healing!”
      All the tension dissolves!
      And the nerd fight devolves
      into hugs of superlative feeling.

  10. Rick

    After reading your article I emailed Bob Pritchard with my thoughts about his censorship. I just received this email back. The Internet strikes again.

    “The play was not censored…had you seen it, you would know this to be the case.

    The whole story: There were two, large banners with swaztikas displayed in a public space two weeks PRIOR to the actual performance. These banners appeared without any explanation, and, unless you were affiliated with the play, would not have known that this was part of an upcoming theater set – it would have been irresponsible to permit these flags to remain in place without any explanation as to the context of why they were displayed in the first place. Also, this was photographed by students and put on social media with no regard to context.

    I directed the staff to cover the sets until the night of the performance – hardly censorship.

    This past weekend, there were three, uncensored performances of The Producers (yes…even with the occasional historical artifact appropriately presented within the context of the satire). The audience enjoyed the show immensely for all three performances.

    Robert R. Pritchard, Ed.D.”

    1. SHG Post author

      Given what the students had to say, and Pritchard’s own quote, this explanation emits an unpleasant odor. But if we were to assume this is accurate, despite what was told to WCBS, the solution is to provide context if that’s what’s missing, not censor.

    2. DaveL

      That explanation fails to, well, *explain* exactly how we ended up with this gem:

      There is no context in a public high school where a swastika is appropriate,

      Now, I’m not an English major, but it seems to me that “the swastika should not be displayed in a public school without putting it into proper context” is a rather different sentiment from “there is no context in a public high school where a swastika is appropriate.”

  11. Aaron

    I guess the rule about references to Hitler and the Nazis isn’t in effect today. Anyway…

    “I was born in Duesseldorf and that is why they call me Rolf!”

  12. OEH

    “Could one really concentrate on one’s job when what preoccupied the faculty was how to excise the word ‘wine’ from a Hemingway story, when they decided not to teach Brontë because she appeared to condone adultery?” (Aazar Nafisi from Reading Lolita in Tehran).

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