by Margaret Chrystall
THE poster image for Scottish writer Alan Bissett’s show (see below) is a head – half Alan’s, half American feminist Andrea Dworkin.
To be honest, it’s not a perfect fit.
In Ban This Filth! Bissett plays both himself – telling funny stories from his own life – and Dworkin, who has a few things to say to him about pornography
When Bissett began to think about basing a show on the issues of pornography – now ever-more available online – he decided to read Dworkin’s work on the subject as something to test his own views against.
Her hardline stance – controversial even to some other radical feminists – was that pornography is misogynistic, damaging to women – and men – and is linked to rape and other forms of violence against women.
He said: “A lot of what she was saying, made sense.
“I started to get interested in the theories. Then you start remembering things in your own life. You start wondering how boys are trained into becoming men. How are they encouraged to be competitive, get into violent films?
“I started finding anecdotes from my own life, many humorous, so the show evolved into half stand up comedy routine and half feminist theory.
“I just started telling stories from my own life and people were laughing – and I thought ‘That’s great, they’re laughing because they recognise it’.
“I bring in Andrea Dworkin and use extracts from her life and her thoughts to comment on that. Her parts of the show are as if she’s delivering a speech, mine – as if I’m talking to you in the pub.”
Bissett – like a lot of people – knew about Dworkin, but hadn’t read her work.
“Until I did, in my head she was a bit of a caricature figure, a raging volcano of feminist rage, outpouring a hatred of men.
“She can get angry, but there’s a lot of humanity and passion in her work and there’s a lot of very strong theory as well, so you quickly realise she’s got something to say – and to me as a man.
“She says men get trapped either by conditioning or destructive cycles. You only have to ask ‘Why is the male suicide rate so high?’ to realise that a lot of it is to do with the way men are conditioned to be strong warriors and competitors – and to have to live up to that for their whole life. It puts incredible pressure on men.
“So Dworkin and other feminist thinking is not about breaking men down because they are the enemy, it’s about ‘This is good for men and women’.
“I realised she was on my side – eventually.”
Before presenting Ban This Filth! to the public, Bissett risked his potentially toughest-ever crowd – a group of radical feminists assembled by a political bookshop in Edinburgh.
Bissett recalled: “Sometimes it felt very tense as a performer because I could feel them analysing every second.
“At the end I took a bow, left the room – and I was just shaking.
“But I went back in – not sure if they were going to rip me to pieces and – they had a lot of questions. But they were generally warm for the show because they could see that I had treated Andrea Dworkin’s work with a lot of respect and that I was asking questions of myself as a man.”
His most recent performance couldn’t have been to a more different crowd.
“It was at an all-male Burns Club – I had no idea of that beforehand. But when I got there it was 95 per cent male. If you are an all-male club you are probably not a group of feminists, probably the opposite. But they liked it!
“They had challenges and they had questions. But I thought that if the show could communicate with two such different groups, I must have got something there!”
Bissett – last seen in the Highlands in his previous show The Red Hourglass playing spiders, among other roles – is again breaking new ground with his next projects.
“In 2016, I want to do a show about Scottish footballer Graham Souness – like Andrea Dworkin, he’s an uncompromising authority figure. I supppose he’s a male Andrew Dworkin,” laughed Bissett.
“And I’ve got one coming up in August about Scottish independence called The Pure, The Dead And The Brilliant with Elaine C Smith. It’s mainly a comedy, but one that asks serious questions.
“A month before the vote, the world’s media is going to be watching and I’ve got to do something,” confessed the writer, nominated earlier this year as a candidate for rector by the Glasgow University Yes Society which campaigns for Scottish independence on campus.
But Bissett’s next novel sees him turn his attentions to the Highlands. He may well move here, the Falkirk writer suggests.
“I’m going to write my first rural novel – all my books have been very Central Belt and very urban.
“But as a result of being a novelist and a performer, I get to travel all over Scotland and the Highlands is amazing. It’s a completely different atmosphere, landscape, people and I thought ‘This is not a Scotland I have ever written about’.”
The writer agreed he likes to expose himself to new challenges – “it keeps you fresh and it keeps people guessing!”.
And Ban This Filth! may see more exposure to the Bissett taste for challenge than we had bargained for.
“It’s worth saying there is nudity in the show,” he laughed.
“But it all depends on how it’s going on the night...”
Alan Bissett’s one-man play Ban This Filth! is on at Strathpeffer Pavilion on Saturday (8pm) and on Sunday at The Drouthy Cobbler Bar, Elgin, (7.30pm). For more details, go to: http://alanbissett.com. Find him on facebook.com/Bissettism and on Twitter: @alanbissett