By: Allyson Mower
My local radio station, KUER, has a long-running show called RadioWest. For the last several years, the program has partnered with a Salt Lake City theatre company called Plan-B Theatre to produce live radio theatre. The latest episode, titled Stand, is an original, hour-long play about political and intellectual freedom written by Matthew Ivan Bennett. It’s a story of compelled speech, thought, action, and surveillance “by the minute”–a perfect work of art for intellectual freedom proponents to engage with and explore.
The play is set in the American West in 2050. California has seceded to establish a democratic socialist country and a DMZ separates it from America, a technologically advanced, surveillance-heavy government. The story focuses on agents who work for the government, the nature of their surveillance work, and, as seen through the main character Agent Moira, the latent desire to rebel. The agents scour what people have publicly posted (I’m assuming it’s still the world wide web in 2050) to find commentary critical of the government. If the agents find questionable content, they “send it up” to the next level of review. The play does not focus on what happens to people if they post criticism, something I wanted to know more about.
Instead, the play focuses on the small rebellion brewing in the government. One agent seeks to make connections, but has to do so using encryption tactics and other means of avoiding detection by the very government agency he works for, the agency one character describes as “political police.” Agent Moira gets herself on a side she’s not certain she wants to be associated with, but she has personal convictions regarding privacy and individual freedom.
The play covers a range of intellectual freedom themes, not only freedom of thought, but also self-censorship, privacy, and surveillance. It incorporates compelling characters who have lived previous lives with fuller degrees of freedom. These juxtapositions help create a fun and imaginative way of exploring the relevance of intellectual freedom.
There’s no double-speak in this world like there is in 1984 but it does seem as dull, colorless, and drab. At one point, a primary surveillance worker divulges his true feelings about loving the California beaches–something he’s not allowed to say in his world with a seceded California. I kept wanting to know what would happen if he had said out loud what he thought. Including that additional component would have encapsulated the perfect twin rebellion–anti-surveillance and anti-compelled speech. If you’re interested in intellectual freedom, check out Stand!
Allyson Mower, MA, MLIS is Head of Scholarly Communication & Copyright at the University of Utah Marriott Library. She’s very curious about curiosity, what drives people to uncover information, and how libraries of all types create demand for knowledge. As a tenured faculty member, she researches the history of academic freedom — a kind of intellectual freedom — and the history of authorship and scholarly communication at the institution. She provides the U of U community and the general public with information, tools, and services related to both copyright and publishing. Allyson was a Library Journal Mover & Shaker in 2008, was nominated as a 2012 Society for Scholarly Publishing Emerging Leader, and served as the U of U Academic Senate President in 2014. Find her on Twitter @allysonmower.