Ban This Filth!
Scottish Storytelling Centre
“Put your hand up if you’re a feminist,” starts Alan Bissett as the icebreaker.
Cue a sporadic raising of hands, and an awkward conflict in me as I weigh my support and belief in feminism against the stigma of declaring myself a male feminist. You can imagine my disappointment in my initiative as Bissett asks for women to put their hands down to see if any men have announced themselves, the lack of which he comments on as strange. It seems the conflict I had is actually a major theme in Bissett’s brand new Fringe show ‘Ban This Filth!’.
The Falkirk-born writer then launches into a retelling of how his life, success and political beliefs have been built and shaped by women. He switches between three modes of storytelling; a mock retelling of the typical male culture in which we raise ourselves (violent video games, football, going out on the pull, all tied together with familiar themes of competition and aggression), a description of his own childhood and teen years, and regular readings of American feminist Andrea Dworkin.
While the non-Dworkin parts of the show are spotted with witty and entertaining observations on growing up, the most fascinating aspect of ‘Ban This Filth!’ is the debate it has with itself over pornography as a point of division within the feminist movement. Throughout the first half or so we’re taken on a vivid and well articulated line of debate as Bissett tells how pornography propagates the institutionalised degradation of women by men. Then, just as it seems like he’s perfecting his argument, a short Twitter recreation jolts our view. We hear impassioned voices of those who work in the sex industry, and suddenly Bissett noticeably starts to realise that maybe things aren’t as simple as all that.
In this is what’s most refreshing about ‘Ban This Filth!’; the way it conveys the complexities of having a debate on something as vast as the sex industry and expresses the different truths surrounding it. The implications of this lesson could be considered almost existential, but really it’s just a solid grounding of discussions which often become far too conceptual and forget the real world consequences of the theory.
“Show your working,” as Bissett puts it. This play is essentially that, him trying to show his working for how he came to believe what he does, only to find out there’s a lot he forgot to factor in.
The fact that he never quite comes to a definitive answer is what turns this solo show from an interesting but by-the-books political discussion into a genuinely fascinating exploration of feminism, pornography, and the ingrained individualism we plant into issues which stretch far beyond just ourselves. There’s plenty to be taken from ‘Ban This Filth!’, a lot of which will surprise and challenge you if you’re expecting a standard good versus bad discussion on gender roles. Let it be known that Bissett goes to good effort to genuinely challenge himself during the show, in order to project the ways in which we need to challenge ourselves if we’re ever going to achieve anything meaningful as a society.