Alan Bissett, The Arches Behaviour Festival, 9th-11th April
Alan Bissett’s Ban This Filth! is an hour-long thought process which culminates with musings being passed on to the audience to expand on themselves and hopefully give life outside of the room they originated in.
It’s an intimate show. Three rows of chairs, with Bissett cheerfully greeting people as they enter, not quite yet in performance mode. For the most part, the show is conversational. Bissett tells us of his experiences growing up, how he was raised by predominantly women, and how it taught him to respect them. He also talks about his male peers, with boys being rough and tumble, being sporty, and then eventually discovering porn, making sexual jokes and becoming regular club goers.
This is all interspersed with personified readings from the works of radical feminist Andrea Dworkin. A well-respected writer and feminist, her most widely known books deal with the issue of pornography. Dworkin considered it a violence that dehumanises women to the point where they are mere genitals.
These two sides of the play converse with each other, as Bissett examines his own attitude to pornography, beginning on a single line and ending with a shrug. He speaks of Twitter discussions where women spoke in defence of pornography, calling it feminist. So which side is right? Left open to interpretation, the name of the play could go some way to answering this, reflecting Bissett’s views on pornograpy at the start of his journey, even now, or maybe an opinion of the play itself.
The programme for Ban This Filth! says it “may contain nudity.” It “may” contain it because ultimately it is down to the audience. With what must be at least an 80-20 female to male ratio, Bissett asks if him being naked and as exposed as can be is right and just. Is it something he should do? Does it reverse the power and make us equal? Is it really the same thing as porn? Does him standing in front of us make it different? Since he is alone does it make it less sexual…and so on. Not many people vote either way.
My own thought process went something like: It isn’t right that he should get naked, because individual men aren’t necessarily the problem. Bissett is a loud and proud feminist doing what he can to take spaces occupied by men and make them more women-friendly. But I didn’t vote against him taking his clothes off either because his story made it sound like we, men, deserved it, to be stripped and as vulnerable as we make women. But that makes nakedness a sign of vulnerability, which it doesn’t need to be. But…but…but…and so on.
Ban This Filth! is an often-times hilarious show, yet also scarily relatable. Things from your childhood and adolescence you forget once you’re older come back to make you realise how problematic things have been from a very young age. Bissett hangs around for discussions if you want to ask him questions, and I do, and I want to ask a lot of questions to a lot of people to see if there is any clear cut answer. Even now, I am thinking of more things that I took from the show, only to add to the ever-growing list of things I, and Bissett, simply don’t know the answer to. It ends ultimately with a shrug, but a hopeful shrug that people will leave asking these questions.