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September 23, 2017

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Government should live and let live so the bands can play on

The best analogy of the possible closure of the famous Taipei live house Underworld (地下社會) due to a violation of the building code is perhaps the 2009 British period comedy "The Boat That Rocked" about an illegal radio station and a humorless government official doing all he can to shut it down.

In a speech given before the end of his radio station, the American DJ The Count said: "And as for you bastards in charge, don't dream it's over. Years will come, years will go, and politicians will do (expletive) all to make the world a better place. But all over the world, young men and young women will always dream dreams and put those dreams into song ... The only sadness tonight is that, in future years, there'll be so many fantastic songs that it will not be our privilege to play."

It is wrong to close storied places such as the Underworld and Witch House (女巫店), which are incubators of local subcultures, on the grounds of building code or commercial classification violations. By doing so, the government will shut down not only important cultural scenes in Taipei but also damage the creative spirit vital to the cultural industry. Shiny stadiums may be where dreams are realized but they are first made in small places. Imagine what will happen if the U.S. government disallowed Steve Jobs to work on his first Apple computer because his home garage was not a verified workplace.

Cultures are never built by grand initiatives, they are born from real life experiences and grown from the blood and sweat of the people. As organizations programmed to work by agenda, governments have an innate difficulty in understanding that concept. They need to be reminded by people who care about culture. Luckily for Taiwan, yesterday's rally for Underworld at the Legislative Yuan shows that the nation has no lack of such people.

But that does not mean people should just throw the rule book away. In the movie, the Count made the speech as the shabby boat that hosted the radio station was sinking into the freezing North Sea, in part because the station's owner is not much of a sea captain. The recent crackdown on pub safety began after a fire killed nine in a Taichung pub last year. Given the darkness, the commotion of guests, and the tangled-up cables common in popular pubs, it is reasonable to require them to have proper safety preparations.

To support local live houses, the government should use more liberal regulations only to protect the people's lives and the rights of local residents. Music loving live house runners, on the other hand, should improve their venues not for compliance's sake but for the safety to their customers. After all, a live house can only support culture when people can get out of it alive.

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