Thursday, December 03, 2009

The unseemly stalkers of youth slang

In this comment piece in The Guardian, Shirley Dent takes a swipe at "the rush to relevance" that she argues is reducing classic literature to a series of empty gestures, designed to attract fickle youth audiences who can't cope with proper English. Swear down.

Dent, in particular, doesn't like the idea of Julius Caesar being adapted to include street slang:
Not only is it patronising to those it hopes to welcome, but it entirely
misses the literary purpose and value of slang, usually utilising the lamest,
least challenging has-been manifestations of "cutting-edge,
fresh-from-the-street" talk. Take a line from the street slang Julius Caesar: "I
come to bury Caesar, not big him up." Are you kidding me? Even to an old fogey
such as myself, this sounds dated. When well-meaning literary professionals seek
to get down with the kids in this way, the world really is turned upside down.
On one side, those who should know better abdicate their duty to introduce the
next generation – wherever they come from – to the very best of literature; on
the other, you have a misplaced scramble to latch on to and leech off the
knowing cool of youth.

I've got mixed feelings about this view. On one hand, the students involved in the Wasted production, deserve to be applauded for their hard work and dynamism ( I've got to say that as well because I teach some of them and I don't want to get slapped up by an angry gangsta-thespian at registration), and you can see that the use of language that they are familiar with from the colloquial discourse around them is one way of opening up the text to different audiences. But, on the other hand, is it just a cheesy, patronising and craven attempt to bring a hint of ghetto colour to a pedestrian adaptation of a great play? Is slang being used because the actors don't actually understand the original words and meanings?

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