Off the Hook

How much can an artistic work such as a book, a play or a satire change the way in which we think, or for that matter vote?

The thought occurred to me last week after a visit to Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre to see a rare production of Arthur Miller’s play The Hook. Partly intended as a film script, Miller’s play looks at the life of dockers on the New York waterfront in the early 1950s; a world where corrupt Mob led unions did little to help the underpaid and exploited workforce. Pressure from the FBI, who feared that “The Hook” would cause labour unrest in the dockyards, meant that the play never made it to the stage or screen, although Miller’s one time colleague Elia Kazan went on to cover very similar territory with his classic film On the Waterfront.

Was the FBI correct in fearing that “The Hook” would lead to widespread industrial unrest?  I can’t help but feel that they probably over reacted. Books, plays and films may well prick our liberal social consciences, but they rarely lead to riots in the streets.

Many of us are old enough to remember Alan Bleasdale’s 1982 TV series Boys from the Blackstuff which grimly portrayed the reality of life for those manual workers who has been left behind in Margaret Thatcher’s post industrial Britain. The controversial series generated a great deal of media coverage and outraged the Conservative Government. However, “Boys from the Blackstuff” didn’t stop Thatcher being re-elected by a landslide at the 1983 General Election.

There are exceptions of course. Ken Loach’s 1966 drama-doc Cathy Come Home had a major impact when broadcast by the BBC and directly resulted in many positive changes to the way in which our society deals with homelessness.

Perhaps we should give the last word to the late Peter Cook who once said that he had been inspired to become a satirist by the crucial role which Germany’s satire boom in the 1930s had played in preventing the rise to power of Adolf Hitler.


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