John Cleese cancels appearance over Hitler impersonation debate

An Adolf Hitler print at Cambridge University has sparked a fight over the limits of free speech and has brought Monty Python comedian John Cleese into the fray.

The impersonation was featured in a debate last week on whether there is “good taste.” Andrew Graham-Dixon, an art historian, posed as Hitler as an example of bad taste, arguing that good and bad taste exist.

At the time, Keir Bradwell, president of Cambridge Union, a debating society, jokingly thanked Graham-Dixon for the impersonation.

The impersonation came when British universities faced criticism, including from the government, for allegedly failing to act harshly enough on expressions of anti-Semitism. And since then, Bradwell changed course and issued an apology for not interrupting Graham-Dixon.

That conviction has prompted Cleese, a free speech advocate, to cancel his attendance at an upcoming event at the Cambridge Union. He said he made the decision in protest of the university’s treatment of Graham-Dixon.

“I really wanted to speak to Cambridge Union students this Friday, but heard that someone has been blacklisted for impersonating Hitler,” Cleese wrote on Twitter Wednesday. “I’m sorry I did the same thing in a Monty Python program, so I get blacklisted before anyone else.”

Cleese was scheduled to appear in Cambridge as a guest of the debating society as part of his new documentary series, “Cancel Me,” in which Cleese interviews people who are perceived to have been penalized or silenced for making offensive statements.

In the debate, Graham-Dixon spoke like Hitler, putting on a German accent while giving a Nazi salute.

“The cultural struggle through taste, my struggle, my struggle, the struggle of Adolf Hitler, I was a watercolor painter, I was rejected, my German art, my purity, was rejected”, said Graham-Dixon with a German accent before some 400 listeners. , as shown in images of the debate obtained by the Varsity news site. “The romantic tradition of German art was rejected by this modern art, this horrible modern art that was promoted by the Jews.”

The audience of 400 people voted for Graham-Dixon in the debate. At the event, Bradwell praised Graham-Dixon for “perhaps the longest impression of Hitler this camera has ever received, a remarkable achievement for tonight.”

But days later, Bradwell apologized for not interrupting Graham-Dixon.

“I would like to offer my unreserved apologies for the comments made by a speaker in our debate on Thursday night,” he wrote in a statement posted Saturday on Twitter. “Neither I nor society tolerate the thoughtless and grotesque language used by the individual in question, and I am sorry I did not intervene at the time.”

He added that, “my failure to intervene was solely a matter of lack of courage to detain someone in front of a room of 400 people. The speaker came as a respected art critic, and there was no indication that he would make the comments he did. I wish we could have anticipated the comments he made and chose someone else. “

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