Last week, University employee Eric Clopper performed a one-man show entitled “Sex and Circumcision: An American Love Story” in Sanders Theatre. Reports later claimed that, during his show, Clopper stripped to the nude and made anti-Semitic comments, including accusations that “the Jews” had “raped” him through the act of circumcision. As such, the University is reviewing the show and its apparent violation of the City of Cambridge’s entertainment license with Sanders Theatre, which prohibits nudity.
While we support artists’ right to free expression as a general principle, Clopper misbranded his show, omitting his fringe anti-Judaism beliefs in the show's public advertising. Posters of a censored yet nude Clopper and paid promoters in penis costumes made no mention of Clopper’s anti-circumcision stance, much less his anti-Semitic one. Campuses should be places of free speech and open dialogue. Clopper’s tirade put this principle to reprehensible ends by falsely billing the show as an “American Love Story” instead of a bigoted criticism of, in Clopper’s words, the Jewish “fucking covenant.”
The disparity between the extensive branding and the actual performance likely forced unexpecting members of Harvard’s community to endure a barrage of anti-Semitic claims. If students are not prepared to engage with the discussion at hand, universities cannot build on previous academic growth or free dialogue. Thus, rather than opening the campus to constructive dialogue or comedic entertainment, Clopper only sowed more confusion among Harvard students and the general public, undermining free discourse and the marketplace of ideas.
Moreover, Clopper’s own position as a Jewish man does not grant legitimacy to his bigotry. In a video posted to YouTube after the show, Clopper argues that his Judaism legitimizes his criticism of Jewish practices, and that non-Jewish people do not have the right to criticize this. We disagree. Anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism, and Clopper’s claims, such as his belief in Judaism’s “demonstrably evil influence” on the United States, are anti-Semitic. Individuals can espouse hateful speech toward identities that they hold, and their identity does not give validity to their views when they do.
Clopper’s nudity, as it pertains to Sanders Theatre’s entertainment license, presents an area in which the University must explain its timeline of review. Given that nudity is not allowed in Sanders’ contract, it is heartening that the University is “currently engaged in a review of these reports to determine whether Harvard was provided with an accurate account of the content of Mr. Clopper’s show, prior to its production,” according to Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesperson Rachael Dane. If Clopper misrepresented his show to violate this license, that presents further cause for criticism of his actions. If, on the other hand, the University was cognizant of Clopper’s intention to strip naked, it should have taken action to prevent him from doing so, for the sake of decency to the unsuspecting audience and of not violating Sanders’ contract.
Clopper could have used his time and energy leading up to the show, coupled with the legitimacy of Sanders Theatre, to perform a comedic one-man show about circumcision as an “American Love Story." He could have even used it to offer a serious critique of circumcision practices as they pertain to the Jewish faith without veering into anti-Semitic beliefs. Instead, he used his position to deliver a tirade prominently featuring nudity and anti-Semitism to an audience that was given no fair warning to expect either. We castigate his doing so.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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