Coming Up Next for Coronavirus and Consent

Image by Simon Gradkowski
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As artists, venues and producers scramble to find new ways to make and monetize, now that every creative medium is compromised by restrictions on how we create and consume, an eye in the back of our heads is best used to keep track of the last crisis to strike our industry: #MeToo. For while the “hands-off” approach is being taken in good humour, we’ve got to prepare for the long-term impacts of social distancing on a community defined by its intimacies.

I work in a relatively niche area. I teach sexual violence prevention to creative people. This involves opening discussions about consent processes, gender and sexual diversity, mental health promotion, and accessibility for people living with disability. I love my job, whenever I get to do it, because I’ve seen teams become more conscious of each other, more secure with their audiences, and stronger creative voices in the making of successful work. And then, at a stroke, every plan I had fell through my hands, every place I would go closed its doors, and nearly every single person I knew lost their job. Now that I’ve flown back to Australia on recommendation from my government, I’ve been asked if coronavirus has destroyed my career.

Yes and no.

In the past weeks there has been a remarkable change to the way people consider each other’s personal boundaries in the arts. Reports are flying of collaborators asking before touching and hugging, communicating clearly and checking in on interpretations of body language and facial expressions, and using the word ‘consent’ in a positive, productive context. Initiatives that were once repelled by sinister motives masquerading as “creative freedoms” and “sense of play” are now unquestionable adaptations to process. 

While it is a shame that the rate of sexual assault and harassment wasn’t enough to compel people to this kind of reinvention, there’s definitely a silver lining to what coronavirus has instigated, especially the level of care we have for our fellow creative community. 

In this forced down time, organisations and practitioners would be well-advised to reconsider their policies on sexual violence to make these more practical, to make any practices more vigilant, and to make all strategies preventative rather than reactive. 

What continues to concern me, is that at some stage this virus will become manageable, will be contained, and we will be able to re-explore the role of proximity, interactivity and even sexuality in our artistic work. At whatever point we do regain momentum, there is undeniable risk of increased risk of sexual harassment and sexual violence once a mass of confined people once accustomed to opening night parties, closing night japes, shared dressing spaces and reduced personal boundaries are unleashed into one another’s company again. 

There is potential for the sector to go backwards in the safety of its workers. Intimacy directors may become nice-to-haves as budgets tighten dramatically. Many projects will be forgotten in favour of surer sells that appeal to old hierarchies. To boot, the rapid evaporation of creative work due to virus-related lockdowns will likely mean that desire and desperation for work will drive people – as it has always done – to bow to pressure to contribute sexual favours for the (often empty) promise of work; my concerns increase.

Film, particularly television, and gaming production seems likely to skyrocket as these mediums are what will be easiest to consume in an ever-increasing season of isolation, quarantine and escapism. Video games are notoriously harmful environments when it comes to consent and inclusion, whilst television is taking steps to make safer sexual content, with commitments from Netflix and HBO to have intimacy coordinators on all productions. 

These mediums can take the lead from work being done in some immersive theatre productions to train teams on collaborative codes of conduct and consent processes, mental health first aid, sexual and gender diversity, bystander intervention practices and harassment response strategies. Invest time at the head of a project schedule to ensure everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet – further, that they contributed to the writing of the hymn sheet itself.  

People around the world have turned to artistic expression as a means to get by through balcony karaoke, live-stream listening parties, movie nights via webinar and the list goes on. The artistic and creative industries can lead the way in ensuring society does not go back to business as usual. Rather, that we rebuild eco-friendly, consent-conscious, community-focused, diverse industries to face the challenges ahead.

That’s it. That’s what I think. That’s what I hope for.

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