BettaKultcha . . . press release from Richard and Ivor.

bkemmaDisclaimer: The following press release is the opinion of the Betakultcha organisers, Richard Michie and Ivor Tymchak. Bettakultcha attempts to have a policy of free speech at all costs. As un-moderated presentations are given during the show, all future events will be publicised using this disclaimer.

Any offence given by previous presentations was unintended and we apologise if anyone was unexpectedly given offence.

The only question worth asking is: how should we live?

Back-story: Robert St John Smith had presented at the first Bettakultcha. He talked about another film that he is still making in the gothic-horror style and that is still stuck in post-production hell. When Richard and I were invited to make a cameo appearance in his latest film, which was based on the Betakultcha format, we were happy to help out. Robert is an independent filmmaker living in Leeds trying to make things happen, so we thought it would be another Bettakultcha innovation to have a world première of the film and a presentation about making films independently. All I knew about the story was that it was about a madman who kills a girl and that it was in the schlock-horror genre (hence my bizarre makeup). On paper, it looked like an interesting idea to use Betakultcha to promote the efforts of an artist working in Leeds. But it was a mistake.

It was a mistake for many reasons.
Firstly, we should have given a warning about the content before we showed the film.

Secondly, disregarding any philosophical debate about free speech, we simply misread the context. We know many Bettakultcha regulars are campaigners for social justice. Anything that could be perceived as overtly discriminatory or politically incorrect could get a reaction: a bad one.

Thirdly, I had not seen the film before we screened it at the event so I didn’t actually know what the content was or how it was portrayed. Some might say that this is no excuse and no kind of defence for Betakultcha, but here is where it gets terribly confusing.

Although we see the slides beforehand, neither Richard nor I have any idea what the presenter is going to say. This raises a terrible dilemma. Do we ask for a script beforehand and censor anything we don’t like? What if our sensibilities are from a different culture? Who are we to make such judgements about someone else’s views anyway? Which subjects are taboos? If a white supremacist wanted to expound the philosophy of Ayn Rand at Bettakultcha do we allow them on stage?

I remember one presentation by @burnyourbones that showed how the images of Moors murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley had been used for promotional purposes in commercial enterprises. I found the presentation disturbing, as it seemed to trivialise crimes that were horrific beyond imaginings. The audience, however, laughed heartily. Was I wrong in my reaction?

As organisers of the event, Richard and I avidly listen to the audience’s opinions and recommendations for improvements and one of the key things that people say they enjoy about the event is that absolutely anybody can be allowed to get up and speak. Should that opportunity be preserved?

Do you want an anodyne, pleasant evening being entertained and informed by pre-vetted and censored speakers, or do you want the unexpected, outspoken, challenging ideas of the minority, disenfranchised, disadvantaged and passionate?

What is the manifesto of Bettakultcha? To be honest, there isn’t one. We’ve deliberately kept it loose, unquantifiable, dangerous, and commercial-free. The one rule we were adamant about — and still are — is no sales pitches. We want better culture — to further understanding, expand knowledge, and increase confidence… We want to promote activism, collaboration, localism, and real debate.

For my own part I feel that the heckling of presenters at Bettakultcha should be prohibited. Some of our presenters are incredibly nervous first timers who have spent a deal of their time putting their presentations together. They have put the effort in because they fiercely want to say something. The least we can do is have the courtesy to listen to them. Also, heckling is not critical thinking, it is emotion. On the other hand, anyone who is prepared to speak about their passion should be prepared for (and welcome) a response from the audience. The opportunity to engage with the presenter is in the break or after the event when specific objections or insights can be discussed in a rational and sympathetic manner. Clearly, we are in need of a bigger forum if a presentation exceeds ‘normal’ sensibilities.

We didn’t acknowledge the incident on the night because many people missed the film and I didn’t want to say anything unconsidered that I would later regret. I accept the criticism that something like this was going to blow up at some point and we should have had a strategy in place to deal with it.

We apologise to Robert for the discourtesy of being heckled and we apologise to the audience members who were offended by the film. I spoke at length with the woman who heckled, and the film genuinely distressed her. This is not a frivolous issue and a solution needs to be found.

We do listen, we do care and we will act on meaningful suggestions.

We’ve got an elephant in the room now. What are we going to do about it? The floor is yours…

Ivor Tymchak

51 comments

  1. Last night was fantastic in my view, however I am saddened that some audience members were offended. At least there has been an opportunity to discuss things – a right to reply as it were – via social media, here and elsewhere for example.

    I hope that those offended would agree, on balance, that it is better to have an open forum rather than stifle free expression.

    With regard to the film, if you remember the male character’s to-camera narrative, he raised some thought-provoking issues about violence as entertainment in the media, and he later explicitly dismissed sexuality as a motive for killing. That made me feel the film was not in fact celebrating or promoting violence or sexism, but rather bringing a deep insight into the cultural environment (including, ironically, social media) that could influence or even provide an opportunity for a serial killer.

    This is actually topical and potentially a very valid concern.

    Sadly I don’t know for sure, because we never got to see the end of the film. But that was where my mind was going with it. It could have been entirely gratuitous as well, I acknowledge that also.

    However, my fear is that if you try to censor this marvellous event, the spirit and indeed the potency of Bettakultcha, as I know it, may be lost.

    Last night was my second Bettakultcha event. My first was in Bradford, and it was a fantastic evening. Some of the content was in a way quite outrageous, especially one talk from @irnaqureshi, a Muslim woman, on growing up in Bradford. I won’t repeat some of the gob-smacking, cringeworthy things she came out with – always a with a big smile – but the amazing thing was that you ended up with a much deeper understanding of some very harsh and difficult experiences she and her family had growing up on her council estate, and clearly how she has triumphed over them.

    It was a little gem of a presentation really, but I would not like to have been the one who decided, knowing its full content, if @irnaqureshi should have been allowed to speak that night.

    The dilemma for Ivor and Richard is how to ensure that presentations given are not gratuitously offensive, and I agree this is a tricky one. I am in favour of a simple warning, coupled with free debate after the event via twitter and perhaps a dedicated Bettakultcha blog.

    As Kate Fox said in her review of last night, these occurrences are probably a rite of passage at speaking events, but rituals often mark a phase of growth, and my hope is that Bettakultcha will only grow bigger and better from last night’s experience.

  2. When Het did her Myra Hindley presentation, a male voice (that wasn’t one of her friend’s, because I was sitting with them) can be clearly heard offering to ‘give her one’, an incredibly offensive heckle. Het brushed it off, and professionally delivered a fantastic thought provoking piece on the glamorisation of violence by society. She knows a lot about her subject, and I have had long conversations with her about it afterwards, as have several people. I wouldn’t compare the two.

    Last night I had to leave the film as stalking and sexualised violence are a couple of my triggers. I passionately believe in freedom of speech, and that the Bettakultcha format works, however if someone knows they are presenting on a emotive subject matter they should be prepared for an emotive response. I’m pretty certain I’ve offended people in the past with my presentations, you never know what people’s trigger points are and you can never please everyone.

    Both Ivor and Richard have contacted me asking if I was OK, which was lovely of them, and after today’s storm on twitter I think this has shown that people need a place where they can feel safe to express their opinions knowing that they won’t be looked down upon, or insulted for having them, but can debate openly and respectfully. Hopefully, in the future, Bettakultcha can provide that space. But that was not the case last night, in my opinion.

  3. I’ve been waiting with baited breath for the response to the backlash of last night. Eloquently put, as always, Ivor.

    I was actually very offended by the Myra Hindley presentation, but it didn’t cross my mind to shout out, or to blame Ivor or Richard for it. It just simply wasn’t to my taste or morals.

    I think the film caught a lot of us, me included, off guard. It wasn’t something I expected to see last night, which is silly really – I know to expect the unexpected at Bettakultcha.

    I don’t think I need to say anything else on the twitter backlash that’s occurred since last night, everything’s been said, and people’s concerns and upset have been addressed.

    Let’s draw a line in the sand and call it a day on the whole issue.

  4. I was worried about delivering my presentation, many BK moons ago, as it involved very deeply emotive issues concerning the treatment of mental health. I wanted to talk about 1 particular asylum and what it was like to live there as a patient and now it’s bcm private flats, as an important aspect of local history, not to judge mental health in any way. I spent a long time thinking how I could do this with sensitivity, and even got a mental health professional to trial the talk on 1st. Just days before BK, a documentary was shown that specifically talked about the awful treatment at High Royds, and twitter exploded with outrage. I worried even more. My ultimate fear was the very real possibility that people with close conections to High Royds would be in the audience, and I would upset them with a well-meaning talk.

    The response I ultimately had was overwhelmingly positive,including from professionals, ex-employees and others who had personal connections who were in the audience that night, and eagerly talked to me afterwards. It is only 5 minutes, so I knew there was a lot of potential for appearing brash and ill-considered. I spent time thinking about how I could be clear and sensitive in what I was going to say, and how much or little information I was able to convey. There was an awful lot of material that I did not include, whilst also wanting enough to make it interesting and informative.

    I know BK is all about going for it, and I applaud this vibrancy. But, maybe we need to also take a level of personal responsibility of ‘how might others perceive what I am trying to say with just the information I provide,and the manner in which I will convey it?’ This goes for presenters, bloggers and tweeters.

    My thanks to Ivor, Richard, Dave and John, plus others,who put so much work into trying to make Bettakultcha work. It’s appreciated, even when it goes a bit wrong.

  5. I personally didn’t enjoy the film and was glad we didn’t see the end, but I’d be reluctant to have any kind of censorship or pre-vetting at bettakultcha. I agree with Jess that you can never know what people’s trigger points are, so it’s impossible to draw any line. The best you can ask is that any presenter who thinks their content might offend or disturb should discuss it beforehand with Richard and Ivor.

    I do strongly object to any kind of heckling, for exactly the reasons Ivor states, and unfortunately I think the ambience last night was a contributory factor – it’s a lot easier to heckle from darkness. I much preferred the Corn Exchange as a venue for other reasons as well, essentially because I thought it allowed a much better connection between speakers and audience.

    Ultimately, the bettakutcha audience will vote with their feet on what kind of event they wish to attend.

  6. My worst fears have NOT been realised: common sense and tolerance have prevailed. I would just like to say how humbled and touched I am that people really care about Bettakultcha. The fact that they are prepared to rant, scream, argue, reflect, question, think, analyse, consider, accede and express forgiveness over its preservation, gives testament to the special democratic space it has created in Leeds.

    It is clear to me that most people value the accessibility of the process. The sheer quality and quantity of writings (I saw the first extensive and thoughtful blog post at 10 am the next morning!) has blown me away. You’ve done us proud and you’ve done yourselves proud. Thank you.

  7. I was completely surprised by the reaction to the film. Almost any horror film or any episode of crime and police dramas like The Wire or Dexter will probably contain *actual* nudity plus any number of simulated mutilated bodies and acts of horrific violence. I was not in the least bit offended by what little of the film I saw. Unlike some people, however, I don’t think that my reaction is the correct reaction for everyone, and people who are offended or traumatised by this sort of thing have the right not to see it and to be given a bit of notice so they can clear out for a few minutes. Richard and Ivor’s reaction is spot-on.

    What did upset me in the aftermath of all this was how many people sarcastically threw around the words Angry Militant Feminist, as if OBVIOUSLY feminists all think the same way about subjects like this , and as if the only place these objections could have come from is a political correctness based in feminist theory. Maybe the people who were upset were victims of violence, maybe their friends or family were. There are any number of reasons that could be behind this which probably do include feminist values, but those values differ wildly from person to person. It seems like a huge part of the backlash against the ‘heckler’ and against the other people who were bothered by this film seems based in the idea that the little feminists are just making trouble.

    1. The backlash against this has included incredibly abusive comments, and threats made about and to people who were expressing an opinion founded on sometimes years of thought and research.

  8. Firstly, Bettakultcha is great – fun, thought provoking, often geeky and bizarre, and this I love. I wish I had the nerve to stand up and do it, and commend all of those who do (and with such breadth and creativity). And BK IX on the whole was another brilliant evening, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and laughed loads.

    My first thought when the Killing Amy film was introduced was that it felt like opportunism – a filmmaker using the event to find an audience for his work, and I muttered to myself in my head that this guy should go find a damn film festival, but then I told myself to shut up, as BK is open to the creative and why not use film as a form of presentation?

    The tech problems that resulted in a false start and then leaving the film hanging before it ended really didn’t help matters, but this is what I thought (note – my personal opinions). Firstly, it wasn’t the finest example of filmmaking. The story and script were weak, the editing laboured in parts, and the actor’s delivery frustrating. I also didn’t like his yellow shirt, but I don’t want to get too picky. For a five minute film we didn’t even see in full, it was a flippin long five minutes.

    I myself tweeted that I thought it was the worst presentation I’d seen and I summed it up as a ‘crap sexist film’. This wasn’t really fair, as I haven’t seen the film in its entirety, but within the constraints of Twitter it was the most recognisable shorthand I could muster. So, I’ll hold back any accusations of sexism as a description of intent, because I expect that was not the case.

    However, I do think the use of the writhing porno actress was naïve, ignorant and unimaginative. The point it illustrated did not have to be illustrated in that way. Granted, it temporarily distracted me from the annoyance of the yellow shirt, but it made me cringe. For some people in the audience it was apparently upsetting. Earlier, a presenter had warned us in advance of a gory slide so people could look away (allow me to momentarily raise my hand in the international sign of ROCK!) but no such warning was given about content of a sexual nature (that subjugates women) that some viewers may find offensive. And in the overall context of a film – matter of factly plotting to kill a woman, it raised inevitable reactions and accusations of misogyny. The salt in the wound, and quite a telling point, was the filmmaker afterwards explaining all the trouble he went to, to find an actress to pretend she’s in a porn film. His unbridled determination really didn’t pay off, it just made him look a bit of a knob-end.

    The resulting hatred of “militant feminists” on the Twitter feed is very disappointing, and again, unimaginative. One person’s art is always going to be another person’s big pile of shit, that’s just life, but do people really have to be so nasty on a personal level? Just because one person doesn’t understand how another can feel upset/offended by something, doesn’t mean their response isn’t genuine.

    There will always be an element of risk with Bettakultcha, but I don’t think cries of censorship are necessary. Ultimately people should feel they have the right to be heard, as presenters, but also as audience members. And anyone willing (and brave enough, in my opinion) to get up there also has to accept that with opportunity comes a level of responsibility.

    My filmmaking tip is this – know your audience.

  9. I wasn’t there, so maybe I shouldn’t comment, but…

    I did follow the rumpus on Twitter and became more and more dismayed. I was, variously, surprised, incredulous, curious and mildly amused. Then, I simply started feeling sorry for people.

    I feel sorry for the people who felt upset by the content.
    I feel sorry for the film maker who, I’m sure, made and showed the film expecting a reaction and to provoke thought and discussion, but expected a completely different reaction.

    I feel sorry for the people who have been dehumanised:
    I feel sorry for ‘the heckler’ who was obviously upset and has been mocked and dismissed.
    I feel sorry for “the organisers” Ivor and Richard, who, as the tweets kept on coming, lost their names and identities, and became sort of a corporate face for a Bettakultcha leviathan, like the ratty bloke from BP. I feel sorry for them because they aren’t media-trained dancing bears for a faceless corporate monster, but a couple of blokes who had a great idea that they, genuinely and rightly, thought would make the world a better place and then did something about it.

    Most of all, I feel sorry for the presenters whose work has been all but ignored in the aftermath – as an audience member I loved tweeting my thoughts on the work of others, and, as a presenter, I felt such pride in people commenting on my piece; most people last night didn’t get that.

    Let this change Bettakultcha if you want, but don’t let it wreck it.

    It might’ve been a snuff movie, but nobody died!

  10. Looking to the future, it seems to me that one very mundane reason why things went the way they did was that an item which required sustained attention was programmed in the break, when such sustained attention was impossible(even without the technical problems). It also made addressing the issue afterwards fiendishly difficult, since only part of the audience had been affected. This isn’t to take away from the wider issues addressed so passionately here and elsewhere, which will inform BK as it continues to develop; perhaps BK had reached that moment in its growth where it was time for such issues to be addressed. But it does flag up something simple and practical that can easily be done. Any film – like any presentation, needs to be given time, space and the opportunity for consideration in its entirety; it isn’t fair on filmmaker or audience to have it as ambient ‘entertainment’. So, if something comes along that isn’t formally a presentation but looks like it should be paid attention to, add it to the formal programme, and stick to music for networking and drinks time.

  11. I really enjoyed Bettakultcha 9. It was my first time and had heard great things about previous events.

    I didn’t think much of the film to be honest or the presentation that followed [probably the weakest of the night] but that’s not to say that others felt the same way. Film like so many artforms is subjective and supposed to provoke a response.

    I saw the ‘incident’ as I was stood on the balcony and it all seemed a bit unneccessary to me. I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

    I wouldn’t really consider the porn element of the film as porn or offensive but again this is subjective. Was it any worse than the shot of women’s breasts and naked bodies etc in Kristal’s tattoo presentation? Not in my opinion. And what about the expletive packed final random slide presentation – any WAGs in the audience would have been up in arms!

    The person who had invited me along also wondered what could have caused such a response from the heckler and we presumed that she might know somebody who had been murdered or suffered a terrible fate of somekind. Justification to engage in debate…in my opinion.

    Chasing the presenter out of the venue screeching ‘excuse me’ over and over again is not the way to engage in healthy debate. But running off and not willing to defend something you have gone to such great lengths to produce is no way to behave either. Filmakers/artists should be prepared for criticism and negative reaction – surely this has got be part of the reason for bothering to do it in the first place.

    I hope other Bettakultcha virgins won’t be put off by what happened. I certainly wasn’t and will look forward to the next event and the wonderful, unpredictable randomness of it all….

  12. Given the views of quite a few Bettakultcha regulars it would have been appropriate for Robert St. John to have given a trigger warning beforehand. I think the way this could be addressed in future is, when Richard and Ivor send out the initial email to the speakers with slide details etc, to remind speakers that any potentially inflammatory content should come with a warning. It was great that Dean Vipond did that of his own accord with his slide with Slayer artwork.

    However, it’s definitely not appropriate for Richard and Ivor to give trigger warnings – and I think it’s a real shame they feel they have to start future events with a disclaimer – because of the policy of free speech at all costs, which is precisely why Bettakultcha works so well. The venue/seating arrangements can be changed (and maybe will be based on feedback?), but the ethos of the event is what makes it so unique and why it attracts such large audiences.

    I really enjoyed giving my presentation because I had free rein regarding subject matter. If my boyfriend (a Bettakultcha virgin until last night) and I weren’t moving to London we both would have been very keen to present again. This is because Richard and Ivor do such a fantastic job and promote an ideology that is so in line with our thinking that we would love to come back. We mustn’t forget that apart from one controversial speech, the rest of the night went very smoothly and there were some fabulous presentations.

    1. Forgot about this too – no censorship is good. Not knowing what the presentations are going to be on is very good. Therefore, trigger warnings by the speaker are great, and therefore therefore giving the audience an informed choice while ensuring there’s no presentation spoilers is win win and could potentially save a lot of hurt feelings IRL and on Twitter.

  13. What a 24 hours. This has totally stolen MY limelight. I thought Bettakultcha was supposed to be all about ME! You know I’m kidding don’t you?
    One thing I love, and stand for with the Bettakultcha and the Culture Vulture is freedom of expression. Social media makes that pretty difficult to stop anyway. Yesterday we saw such heights of emotions from all perspectives. It’s amazing that we could all be at the same space and see things completely differently from not just our physical vantage points, but with what we took with us to the event.

    And aren’t we blessed? Sorry to sound a bit ‘anodyne’ but I asked the question on my favourite forum (Twitter) last night, if Leeds was an age, what age would it be? We as a city are growing together, that’s how it feels from my perspective. We really seem to be squabbling, making up, making mates, falling out, kissing, snogging, hugging and making some seriously good stuff happen along the way. Quite publicly, very transparently, and sometimes it can get a bit raw along the way.

    So what am I getting at? I guess I’m intrigued as to how this debate, which may seem so dry when discussed in academic, political circles has grabbed us all by the short and curlies. Has it made any of us have more empathy? I’d like to hope that when the dust settles on this one, we may stop being polarised and wonder what it’s like to see things from somebody else’s perspective. The thing I’d like to see change is the way people react to each other in public forums, remember when all’s said and done people have feelings and it’s easy to hurt them with a careless tweet or comment. That’s not saying don’t comment, but perhaps think before tweeting/commenting.

    In the long run there’ll be more eruptions that test us as a community, as that’s what I think is growing. I find what we are learning about ourselves and each other totally fascinating.

    Thanks for sharing your opinions in such a open and honest way on our blog, and to Richard and Ivor for giving us the opportunity to facilitate this discussion.

  14. To me, I see Twitter and more locally, BettaKultcha Leeds as a (sometimes dysfunctional) family. There are arguments, misunderstandings, occasional recriminations, people going off in a strop, metaphorical slammings of doors, icy silences. However, there is also humour, forgiveness, support, friendships made, respect and, in the end, the family is stronger than all the obstacles thrown at it and caused by it. That’s why BettaKultchs will be stronger after all this has blown away.

    In my opinion the intro to this article on the Culture Vulture home page on this site paints a picture of Ivor & Richard bailing out water as the ship lists one way and another. To me, at most, the ship was rocked slightly in some slightly choppy waters and the everybody got a bit wet but that’s all.

    (P.S. I’ve just realised that I seem to love a metaphor!!)

  15. I read all your comments this morning after having a night without the web but with a nice bottle of red and a nice night with my girlfriend.

    I’m personally so touched that people are supportive of Bettakultcha which myself and Ivor started for a laugh nearly a year and a half ago. The events of Tuesday really knocked me and my mind went into overdrive as to how to handle the situation and people’s feelings. We chose the angle of taking time to reflect, talking to people who had helped and supported us for a long time and we knew would give us a warts and all perspective of Bettakultcha.

    I’m glad to say that we got that and we’ll learn from it. This post is our way of getting that feedback from the people we don’t know personally. So thank you to everyone who’s commented so far and I look forward to reading what comes next.

  16. Great stuff BK and everyone, well said and good learning for us all (i was right in the middle of it all as the microphone guy!).

    Let’s all move on now from this and enjoy Septembers event.

    Who’s gonna volunteer to speak next time?

    I’ve got an idea already from 1am last night!

    Best wishes

    Lee J

  17. I think the arguments that were spawned after the event occurred because no one knew the real reasons why it caused such vocal offence to that person, and so were guessing, trying to understand what happened.

    At least, I have not read the reasons. Is there somewhere I can go to read the actual true reasons why it provoked disruptive offence?

  18. I wasn’t there that night, I bought a ticket, and went to the wrong venue – won’t bore you with the story. So I cannot comment on the event itself. But I want to put it on record that I’ve always enjoyed my previous visits to Bettakultcha and will continue to support them.

    And looking at Nick S’s metaphor. I don’t think I would have been too bothered about getting slightly wet in a rocky ship on some choppy waters. Water will dry, ships stabilize and seas become calm. But that’s just my opinion.

  19. If we worried about giving offence we’d never do anything. It’s an adult arena and people just have to accept they may not like or agree with everything they see and hear. And as you say they can always collar the presenters in the breaks.

  20. June Russell: absolutely spot on. I realised as the film was showing that BK is the wrong environment for any film, not just the one that was being shown. BK is a live, noisy, animated, participatory event. We won’t be showing any more films that require sustained attention.

    Marianne Rizkallah: thanks for reminding us all that, on the night, we saw some of the best presentations ever given at a BK event. Apologies to the brilliant presenters for being overshadowed by a small (but ultimately pivotal) blip in the evening.

  21. Whatever your standpoint on this controversy, you cannot deny that it has sparked a huge volume of debate. I can’t comment on the film as I was taking a break from videoing the event to have a chat at the back of the room.

    What I do think is worth commenting on is what all this says about Betta Kultcha as a phenomenon. I have been struck by the numbers of people who aren’t directly involved in the organisation of the event who have been quick to rise to its defence, or at least to express hopes that this will not knock Betta Kultcha off its course. I reckon that is something to be valued and captured. There is a real community that has grown up around Betta Kultcha, and I think Richard and Ivor deserve a lot of credit for that. And, we all learn from our mistakes (if mistakes they are), and I believe BK will emerge from this all the stronger. I even saw a comment yesterday that “this would never happen at BK Bradford”, which seems to suggest that, even after only 2 events, a sense of ownership is emerging in the Bradford BK community.

    The other thing that this brings home to me is how much I miss at BK because my focus is on making sure the filming is going right. I am always being asked what I thought of a particular presentation, only to realise I have no recollection of its content. But, I still really enjoy being part of BK, which is as much about being part of a community and an experience, as it is about taking note of what people are saying.

  22. I appreciate there is a very tricky balance Ivor and Richard are trying to make between keeping Bettakultcha fresh & vibrant whilst wanting to make sure both the audience and presenters are happy, and think the press release above was very carefully considered and well worded.

    Regarding the question of censorship, and I appreciate Alexandra & Marianne have already touched upon this, I think it should be left with the presenter to warn of the inclusion of offensive material. Yes I appreciate there is no way people can know every single thing that may cause offence, and no one would expect them to, so let common sense prevail on that one (as demonstrated by Alexandra re High Royds).

  23. I’d actually reserved a slot of 2.4 seconds of each slide in order to fire off a witty retort to any would be hecklers.

    Alas, no heckles came. You wimps. 🙂

    On a more serious note, I think all the practical, level-headed stuff has already been said.

    Nothing truly disastrous occured, and a few lessons can be learned here and there.

    As for Robert’s presentation – I genuinely felt for the guy as it must have been absolutely gutting to go on after the technical difficulties. It was a shame we didn’t get to see the full film and that Robert’s presentation didn’t really touch on what he hoped the film would communicate, but still those 5 minutes of the stage were his to do with as he pleased, and good on him for getting up there and doing it in the face of adversity.

    The heckle, however, was really quite unfair. Not because heckling in itself is unfair (some heckling can of course be good-natured and in some cases even encouraging), but because the limited timeframe of the medium means you can’t stop the presentation to address the heckler. You are essentially defenseless because you’re locked into your 15-seconds-per-slide script and to deviate from that runs the risk of de-railing the whole thing.

    Thus, the audience is left to exercise their own judgement on how to behave – and heckle – appropriately. As we learned from Tom’s fantastic presentation, the Wisdom of the Crowd is rather fallible and, as with any event, the bigger BK gets the more likely it is that the audience will contain people who exercise poor judgement.

    For my first BK, though, I enjoyed it. By turns enlightening, weird, amusing, inspiring. I hope the event continues to shine.

  24. Graham Pilling: I’d like to make the distinction between ‘heckling’ and ‘banter’. One is ill-mannered and the other, generally, supportive.

    At all future events I will give the notice that if anyone feels an irrepressible urge to shout out or to offer banter, then it must be addressed to me and I will give an appropriate response. The only space where banter will be allowed with the presenters is where the presenter invites it themselves, and the random slide challenge if a presenter is stuck for words.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Ivor: a very fair distinction, I would agree with that.

      And I think drawing up some ‘expectations’ for the audience will be a good way to preserve some respect for the presenters’ stage time and deter innapropriate behaviour – or at leas as best you can!

      Again, as a first timer, really enjoyed myself. Thanks to you, Richard, and everyone involved (especially John for the filming!) for the work you put into it.

  25. Regarding Simon Atherly’s comment about the Bradford event, I want to clarify that it was Isma Almas who gave the outrageously funny talk about growing up in Bradford. I did the talk about freezer contents. I imagine the confusion occurred because we both use aspects of being Muslim in Bradford in our work; the difference is that I blog about the theme and Isma uses comedy.

    1. Irna – please accept my sincere apologies for confusing you with Isma Almas, and yes you are correct, I did read your blog and that was mostly where the confusion arose.

      By the way, I very much enjoyed your presentation about freezer contents, and now each time when I open my own freezer door, and stare at the disorganised, half-empty collection of unrecognisable items, I am reminded of your beautifully organised freezer contents and of course frozen baked beans…

  26. I have nothing but admiration (well, and a bit of envy too) for BK – Richard and Ivor are pioneers and instigators of something other cities can only look at with jealous eyes. I take my hat off to few people, but I’ll take it off to them.

    One point that appears not to have been mentioned (that I have seen)is that the film signalled a change of format – and that is what made it the more shocking, and perhaps created a different context for a short while.

    The format of BK – submitting the slides alone in advance, and then presenting live – works as an editorial valve for BK in that they can distance themselves from the content. Thus if ever a white supremecist did jump up and present, they could join the audience in saying ‘well, we didn’t expect that!’ and move on.

    By changing the format to allow the film they forfeited that distance, and moved from the role of audience/instgators to curator/editors. It felt as if the film had been somehow privileged…

    I would have been slightly annoyed if the film had been about fluffy bunnies and had been afforded a similar exemption – one that I would never expect. As it was, the difficult topic added to the discomfort…

    If anything, it proves one thing – the BK format is genius and uniquely creates a truly open, safe space for passionate expression.

  27. Nick Copland: Excellent point about the distancing concept, although If it were appreciated on the night, the complaints should have been directed towards Richard and I and not the presenter, so I can only guess it was missed.

    Anyway, many thanks for your kind words and for your valuable contribution on the night. I doff my hat to you sir (I’m afraid I never take my hat off!).

  28. Hat-to-hat…
    Ivor – I think the ‘distance’ thing works for everyone and actually helps create the particular kind of space at BK. Disrupting it causes ripples of unease, making heckling or the like more possible. The format is your greatest asset.

  29. “I spoke at length with the woman who heckled, and the film genuinely distressed her”

    Maybe you’re talking about a different person, but the girl I watched chase the presenter out of the room did so with a smile on her face. I also noticed she seemed to be laughing with people shortly after, though I didn’t hear what they were talking about.

    This doesn’t seem like the actions of someone “genuinely distressed”, although I’m willing to admit I may have misread it. The smiling, however, was genuine – she passed within a metre of me while it was happening.

    1. Well, that was the face she presented to me Chris, though I did read other reports that she was smiling. Maybe that’s her coping mechanism. One thing I have learned in my time on this planet, is that you assume people would behave in a rational manner, as you assume you do, and they don’t!.

      I don’t know this woman, so her behaviour could be unfathomable even to her friends, who knows what her motives were…

      I am acquainted with Jess though, the woman who left, and she was upset.

    2. Chris, I was right next to the presenter during the incident, and saw exactly what you did – and read it exactly how you did. Someone, somewhere (maybe even in these blog comments, I’m too lazy to search!) commented that the presenter should have stayed to defend himself. In my opinion, he left with his dignity intact – there is wisdom in the saying: “Don’t wrestle with a pig, you’ll both get dirty but the pig likes it.”

      Ivor, (presuming Jess is BookElf?) I had a chat with her on twitter, it was nothing to do with perceived sexism/misogyny that upset her, but she is not comfortable watching, for example, modern crime dramas unless it’s in her own home where she can switch the telly off if it gets too much. Which is fair enough, of course!

      1. I’ve followed your conversation with Jess, Maria so I know you have resolved any misunderstanding with her. She also explained to me why she was upset. I don’t like to presume anything when people get emotional.

        I also think Robert was withing his rights to ignore the raised voice of an objector (it’s a shame he left). I don’t care how passionate someone believes in something, if they can’t discuss it rationally and with courtesy then they must expect to be ignored.

        1. For the record, I never had any misunderstanding with Jess- I’m fairly jaded when it comes to horror films etc, so find it interesting to speak to someone who isn’t.

          1. I’ve had very interesting conversations about why people are desenstised to violence in the last week with various people. It is fascinating that we can feel empathy for someone who was directly affected by violence-the incredibly affecting talk a few months ago by the man (sorry forgotten his name) whose mother was murdered- and yet are entertained by violence when it is not real, and feel we must justify this. It is also interesting, and sad, that when the notion that it is our right to be titalated with images of violence or violent intent is challenged as possibly damaging to people at large , the response is with threats of violence against a person, as had happened to people as a result of this episode.

      2. Oh and the sexism did upset me, but that wasn’t why I left. If I was triggered by every sexist thing I saw on a day to day basis I wouldn’t be able to be on the internet!

    3. Hi
      When you’re feeling angry, and gobsmacked and incredulous a deeply human way to react is with a laughter, not humour, but despair and ‘I can’t believe this is happening’ feeling. I was one of the friends the heckler came back to. For me It was shock and powerlessness resulting in wide armed shaking of head style OMG WTF laughing.
      Also, ‘protect people from the abuse of heckling’? Really? “Excuse me” and “What about the Plot” is probably the tamest heckle ever.
      Even the woman who said ‘people either love tattoos or are frightened of those who have them’ had “bollocks” shouted out as she left – far worse in my opinion.

      1. Evidence to guffors of laughter upon the mention of Leeds City Council services earlier in the evening….
        It’s because us feminists are completly humourless, didn’t you know? 😉

  30. This has been an interesting one to watch explode online, certainly been a few learning points for me.

    Nothing to say about the incident itself, but as a former BK presenter just wanted to chip in with regard to heckling/banter.

    I’d hate to see audience/presenter interaction stymied as a result of a desire to ‘protect’ the presenter. If you’re going to stand up there you need to expect, and be prepared to cope with, some to-ing and fro-ing with the audience. No one wants outright abuse, and the points about getting all your points in whilst the slide are up are well made, but for the audience to be asked to speak through the chair as it were seems OTT to me.

    I think we have all learnt from this, everyone with an interest in BK has seen what happened. My expectation is that the audience will self moderate to a significant extent, they do already… we’ve all seen toe curling presenters getting treated gently and with compassion there in the past.

    Oh, I do have one thing to say on the incident, and its that (as has been said) it’s a great shame for the other presenters that this has eclipsed their post presentation glow. Super quick uploading of the videos might rekindle some of the on the night thoughs so they can be shared with the presenters now?

  31. Nick Copland makes some interesting points about the film signalling a change in format and this being a contributory factor in the shock impact.

    Equally however, let’s not get too religious about the format. A risk was taken with it, but it was the perceived or indeed imagined content that created such a big reaction – in my view – not the change in format.

    I’d acknowledge Nicks observations, but the evening is not about the format, so much as the content and the people – comperes, audience and presenters. I do also agree with Nick that it could have looked as if Ivor or Richard in some way curated or ‘endorsed’ the film.

    However, I think as Ivor stated on the night, or at least subsequently, they as organisers did not know the full content of the film, just as they do not know the full content of any presentation, but have some idea from the visual content submitted beforehand.

    It could even be argued that the film was really not significantly different from any other presentation – there have been many others I have seen in my short time that have varied the format a little or a lot (i.e chanting, diva-style singing, live twitter crowdsourcing polls, rhyming, rugby football chants, people handing out sweets or bits of leaded type…)

    It’s all part of what makes Bettakultcha so vibrant and indeed quite edgy at times.

    I would class the film/presentation as a “brave mistake”, but I would hate to think that Bettakultcha becomes rigid and risk-averse with the format as a result.

  32. Not having been there on the night, I can’t really comment on the film and it’s appropriateness. I hope I can make some valid points to the general issues raised about BK.

    While I laud the principle of free speech, I’m not sure you can 100% preserve it anywhere at any moment. As with any laissez faire system, there is the need for some overseeing to correct blatantly obvious issues.

    There is an element of trust Richard and Ivor give that to the presenters. But the presenters need to repay that trust back and I would have no issue with presenters who deliberately go too far being blacklisted or ask not to present for a period of time. This would have to be truly shocking, though. A threat might at least make people think.

    Equally, I like the idea that Richard and Ivor don’t know what the presentations are about, but slides of a dubious nature could be dealt with by having a discussion beforehand to ensure the content and tone appropriate.

    The problem is that most issues are grey – but you still know black from white.

    I would not have been offended if approached to check if my slides of Adolf Hitler, the yellow star of David worn by WW2 jews and a flurry of cross dressing women were appropriate. They were, but just looking at the slides doesn’t guarantee this. But I could still have lied.

    As I say, the ultimate responsibility is with the presenter. One thing the comments point at is the presenter/film maker was looking for approval for his work for himself rather than to inform, entertain or educate an audience. As a former broadcaster, that is always a dangerous angle to take and my starting point would always be the later. That’s just my impression from the above and I may be wrong.

    Another thought is that a period of time could be allotted for debate on issues raised/ questions from the floor at the end when people have had time to think.

    My final point is a quote from Churchill: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” – I feel another BK presentation brewing.

    1. I think a forum on the Bettakultcha website would be a good place to allow people to express their concerns about a presentation, if they have any. It’s impossible to legislate for all tastes and the point you make about trust between the audience and presenters is valid. It’s not so much what someone says, but how they say it: if mutual respect is there, then challenging ideas can be addressed without fear of unthinking reactions. It is all about trust really.

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