Three Little SJWs From School

The Mikado poster

Nobody’s safe, for they care for none

I must admit that I have been waiting for this one. I knew that it was only a matter of time before the social justice censors came for The Mikado, that beloved Gilbert & Sullivan operetta set in a highly fictionalized version of Japan, and here we are.

(My other long-standing test for the final capitulation of our society to the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics is the inevitable future banning of George Gershwin’s sublime Piano Concerto in F, a work of jazz and blues rendered in classical form for orchestra, due to its “cultural appropriation” of musical forms pioneered by African Americans. I guarantee you that this will happen, and that picket lines will appear outside the Lincoln Center and Walt Disney Concert Hall much sooner than you think.)

Back to the present day, though, and Fort Hays State University has become the latest epicenter of SJW protests after the FHSU Music and Theatre student organization dared to put on a production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Mikado”.

Campus Reform reports:

Some students at Fort Hays State University (FHSU) in Kansas say a school-sponsored operetta production is not only “racist,” but also rife with “cultural appropriation.”

Naturally, the idea of an operetta based on late-nineteenth century stereotypes of Japanese culture and customs provided the perfect opportunity for various SJW saviour types to go charging to the defence of any innocent contemporary Japanese (or Japanese-American) people who may be offended. Never mind that the real target of W. S. Gilbert’s humour in The Mikado, as in so many of his works, is British bureaucracy and imperial custom. No; instead we must see only artistic cruelty and the helpless victimhood of a designated minority group.

One of the most damaging facets of the current craze for scouring old artistic treasures for reasons to hate and ostentatiously denounce them is the fact that everything interesting about the work in question must take a backseat to the confected outrage of the professionally offended. And sometimes the outrage obscures truly interesting detail, such as that noted by Caroline Crampton in the New Statesman:

Gilbert and Sullivan were first and foremost creating a satire, not a musical comedy. They were working at a time of wide-ranging, if implicit, censorship of the theatre, where easily affronted middle-class audiences would simply not turn up if a work had a whiff of scandal or immorality about it. Gilbert himself likened the challenge of being a late-19th-century dramatist to “doing a hornpipe in fetters”.

Like Shakespeare hundreds of years earlier, using a fictional version of Italy to host his comedies about the Elizabethan court, Gilbert and Sullivan used their “Japan” as a proxy to enable them to satirise the very middle-class audiences they courted. The Mikado’s central plot device that I find so frustrating – that flirting is a crime punishable by death – is a dig at the theat­rical censorship that would not allow any extramarital romance to be portrayed on the London stage.

Utterly ignorant of this nuance and context, a Fort Hays State student going by the name of Fatima took it upon herself to deface several of the posters advertising the event, attaching a semi-literate rebuttal in which she takes W.S. Gilbert to task for being insufficiently woke:

 

The student’s list of accusations against the production is long and rambling:

The Mikado is racist for many reasons so when I saw the Dr. Joseph Perniciaro picked this for the opera I was appalled. The Mikado is cultural appropriation, it is RACIST, it is “yellow face”, and it sure as hell shouldn’t be a production that still exists.

To begin, the opera is about Japanese People … *BUT* … it is being performed here at Fort Hays State University with an all NON-ASIAN CAST.

Quelle horreur – the student musical theater group failed to observe the unwritten rule that characters of a certain race can only be portrayed by actors of the same race. Presumably, Fatima the Outraged Student is also up in arms that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical Hamilton dares to use an all-minority cast to tell the story of the white male Alexander Hamilton’s rise and rivalry with fellow white male Aaron Burr. Except of course that we all know that Fatima would cheer this casting.

The charge sheet continues:

All this production is, is an exaggeration of Japanese stereotypes. The actors put on kimonos, black wigs, color their brows black, wear sandals, use fans and small umbrellas, *OH* – and also put white powder on their face. ‘Blackface’ is universally unacceptable, so why is it okay to do a ‘yellowface’ production? Well, NEWSFLASH, it’s not. If this production was about African American people, it WOULD NOT be cast with all white people.

Absolutely. My mother took me to a production of The Mikado at the English National Opera when I was a teenager and now when I think of modern Japan, I immediately picture severe-eyebrowed, black haired warrior men and porcelain-skinned, umbrella-twirling Geishas. The world’s third largest economy and historical imperial power has never had any opportunity whatsoever to export its true culture and neither have I, a citizen of the United Kingdom with two eyes, a (Japanese brand) television set and an internet connection ever had the opportunity to see real Japanese culture and creations for myself.

More:

The show was created by Gilbert and Sullivan (who are known for such racist productions) in the late 1800’s, and it reduced the Japanese culture to an item of curiosity, fetishizing them for a profit.

I think that the widespread Western fetishization of certain things Japanese began somewhat later than 1885 and with very little assistance from late Victorian operetta, but how thoughtful, how brave of this FHSU student to get outraged at the cultural misrepresentation of Japanese people who lived and died a century before she was born, and who undoubtedly practised meticulous open-minded tolerance at every opportunity in their own lives.

This production was not okay when it was created and it definitely isn’t ok today – like COME ON, it’s 2018. Not to mention that they had to cut the N-WORD out to make it more acceptable *(like that changed how racist it was)*.

Yes, this student actually wrote the phrase “like COME ON”.

On a semantic point, how can something be both a stereotype and cultural appropriation? At one point FHSU’s student censor claims that The Mikado is based on an inaccurate pastiche of Japanese culture and custom, and on the other she accuses Gilbert & Sullivan of cultural appropriation. But how can one culturally appropriate a stereotype? And if a stereotype is culturally appropriated, who is actually harmed? Surely not the Japanese people (either contemporary or those of 1885), since what appears on stage was not a true representation of their lives when it first appeared, and certainly bears no resemblance to life in the technologically advanced, urbanised Japan of today. If one were particularly sensitive and pedantic one could say that The Mikado is glib and insulting, but cultural appropriation is an inaccurate charge.

But on a broader level, I am intrigued about the other contradictions inherent in this charge against The Mikado. Japan is a rich, powerful and historically imperial nation, and has certainly not always been a childishly innocent or benevolent actor on the world stage. Modern-day Japanese cultural and commercial reach is strong, though curiously Japan itself does not have a reputation as a cultural melting-pot particularly welcoming to immigrants. Japanese people are among the most privileged in the world, and scarcely in need of defence by do-gooder social justice warriors, fighting on their behalf from American university campuses.

Would the FHSU students protesting The Mikado also be up in arms at a production lampooning the British, either historical or contemporary? Obviously not, because Britain has been placed squarely into the White Imperialist Aggressor box, and therefore made ineligible for sympathy or outrage when her citizens or culture are mocked, parodied or criticised. Yet Japanese imperial “crimes” in recent history are real. People alive today still bear witness to them. So what precisely is it which pardons and rehabilitates Japan in the eyes of SJWs but continues to damn countries such as Britain and America?

The answer can only be a resoundingly arrogant, America-centric view of the world – a quasi-imperial view, if you will, expounded by the identity politics Left. This worldview assumes firstly that the supposed experience of a Japanese individual is the same as a Japanese-American individual, that both are in need of defending against the risk of offence or emotional harm. and that it is the place of American university students who can barely string together a coherent paragraph to act as self-appointed guardians of their wellbeing. But the Japanese are certainly not a persecuted minority in their own country, and thus far the only publicised objections to The Mikado have come from outside Japan. It takes a peculiar kind of arrogance to think that the Japanese culture and people are so weak as to need the help of American campus SJWs.

The English National Opera regularly stages productions of The Mikado. One of the ENO’s corporate partners is the Japanese piano manufacturer Yamaha. If there were any organic upset or consternation at the continued staging of this operetta whatsoever then Yamaha, a Japanese corporation, conscious of its domestic reputation and eager to avoid being associated with a supposedly white supremacist event, might well consider ending its association with the opera company. They do not do so because there are probably only a handful of individuals on Earth who are genuinely upset at the existence of The Mikado, and of those souls an infintessimally small number would actually be Japanese, the rest comprising of deluded young Western campus activists with too much time on their hands and not enough legitimate causes to support.

In fact, a similar protest did apparently take place in 2014 when another musical theater group dared to put on a production of The Mikado in Providence, Rhode Island. The Taiwanese individual who launched that particular protest was at least willing to countenance possible acceptable productions of the work:

I am aware of a production that had Asian actors in the lead roles while wearing British costumes. There is also a film “The Mikado Project” by chil kong, that shows an Asian-American theatre company producing the opera. These are both great moves. I can support a production of this material that shows some consciousness of the present day, but not a straightforward, uncritical celebration of these 1800s racial stereotypes.

The decidedly non-Japanese student(s) who launched this latest protest at Fort Hays State University, on the other hand, think that only total censorship and banishment of the work down the memory hole will do, proving that each concession to the authoritarian, regressive Left only fuels and encourages even more draconian future demands.

There is no victory great enough to sate their appetites because ultimately this is not about protecting a beleaguered minority (I have yet to read of instances of Japanese people traumatised by Gilbert & Sullivan) but rather about the exercise of power by identity politics-soaked leftist activists.

We tolerate this illiberal, censorious nonsense at our peril. Allow the SJW brigade to take down The Mikado and it will be swiftly on to the next target.

 

The Mikado - racist - cultural appropriation - FHSU

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Over-Emoting Is A Growing Distraction In Live Music Performance

Overwrought emotional displays which detract from the music are not new to live performance, but are they becoming more pervasive and insufferable?

In an interesting segment from last night’s Ben Shapiro Show, Shapiro focuses on one stand-out act of celebrity leftist virtue signalling at the recent Grammy Awards in order to riff on performer over-emoting in more general terms.

The specific performance that raised Ben’s ire featured U2’s Bono – an Irishman, it’s worth remembering, not a US citizen – singing in front of the Statue of Liberty, and praising the “shitholes of the world” as the source of America’s greatness, intended as a rebuttal to President Trump’s use of the vulgar phrase in a meeting with members of Congress about immigration.

While looking wistfully at the sky and prancing around in front of the Statue of Liberty, Bono portentously intones into a megaphone:

Blessed are the shithole countries, for they gave us the American Dream.

And to this nonsense, Shapiro responds:

As a musician for many many years, my favourite violinist – as is every violinist’s favourite violinist – is Jascha Heifetz. One of the things I love about Jascha Heifetz is that there is no histrionics. Jascha Heifetz, when he plays the violin – go look at a tape of him – is just stone faced. He just plays, and it’s great.

One of the things I hate the most about modern music is modern music is all based on energy and histrionics. It’s all based on you making faces while you sing, and looking up to the sky like Bono. Look at him, looking up to the sky with his red, white and blue loudspeaker.

This is something that I also find incredibly annoying and distracting. Of course this kind of preening and prancing has long been connected with music, and performers caring more about how they look and portray their socio-political opinions than how they sound on record is hardly a new phenomenon.

Nineteenth century Romantic pianist and composer Franz Liszt cultivated such a following that it coined a term – “Lizstomania” – where women would fight even over his coffee dregs and discarded cigars. And Lizst himself egged on this behaviour, being one of the first concert pianists to rotate the piano so that he would face the side of the stage at a right-angle to the audience, the better that they could appreciate his dashing profile.

Neither are all of the musicians I admire entirely innocent of this behaviour. Conductor-composer Leonard Bernstein also cut a dashing figure and was famous for the “Lenny leap” where he would sometimes clear a full foot from the podium. Glenn Gould, long my favourite pianist, is almost as well-known for his eccentricities – such as humming as he played, sitting on a battered folding chair when giving concerts and dressing for winter even in the height of summer – as he is for his revelatory interpretations of Bach, Beethoven or Brahms. But in the latter’s defence, many of his defining idiosyncrasies were clearly innate rather than studied, and in fact Glenn Gould had so little time for being a celebrity that he stopped giving concerts altogether at a young age to focus his energies on the recording studio.

British violinist Nigel Kennedy could likewise hardly be described as a staid, boring performer, yet his eccentricities somehow draw one into the performance rather than distracting or repelling the audience or listener. Watch Kennedy break normal concert protocol by addressing this BBC Proms audience immediately before launching into Elgar’s violin concerto and you’ll see what I mean:

 

But to me there is a definite order of magnitude between the baseline level of emoting that we see in classical music today and the more restrained (on average) approach of even thirty years ago. I confess that as technically brilliant as the likes of superstar pianists Lang Lang or Daniil Trifonov may be, I struggle to watch them because of the on-stage theatrics (in my opinion Yuja Wang does a far better job of being engaging and contemporary without appearing like a cholera patient on a storm-tossed sailboat).

I don’t care if you’re hamming up the rubato while playing some Chopin, there’s no need to lash your head around or make anguished faces as though someone is lurking under the piano pulling out your toenails as you play. But then maybe that’s just because I like my classical musicians the same way I like my journalists and TV news anchors – scruffy and unkempt, too dedicated to their craft to waste time worrying about being a walking shampoo commercial.

Now some of these behaviours and tics – maybe even a majority – can be put down to the understandable exuberance and vanity of youth. But I think a significant minority are inspired by a recognition that being brilliant is not enough unless one also looks and acts the part. And the look and act that audiences increasingly demand and reward is high on emoting, high on dazzling feats of technical brilliance (what Glenn Gould once derisively referred to as “piano-playing” in a self-critique of his earlier work) and lower on the kind of subtlety and introspection which is often needed to bring out the best in even some of the more bombastic repertoire.

And so might it be the case that the real problem with efforts to expand the market for classical music are not the things that usually get traditionalists so worked up – wearing jeans to the opera, mandatory white tie for orchestral musicians, informal lunchtime concerts and so on – but rather the fact that more and more classical performers are adapting to the Age of YouTube by attempting to groan and grimace their way to profundity just like every street busker who sings Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” at a quarter speed, or Ke$ha’s overwrought performance at this year’s Grammys?

The point of classical music is, unsurprisingly, to convey ideas through the medium of music itself. Of course individual musicians will want to put their own stamp and interpretation on works, either in service of what they believe to be the composer’s original intent or to shed new light on what can sometimes be over-familiar works in the repertoire. But if you frequently find yourself pounding the piano keyboard like you’re playing Whack-A-Mole or sawing away at the violin while grimacing like your appendix just ruptured, you’re probably doing it wrong. The emotion should go through the music and not be lost in the gaudy, inefficient heat exchange of on-stage pantomime.

Performer eccentricities, when unintentional and/or in service of the music, are fine, and sometimes even a blessing. But Ben Shapiro is right; when they detract from the music itself then that can become a problem – in classical music as much as pop music with all the schmaltzy, simplistic political preening of Bono’s preachy Grammy performance.

 

Bono - US - 2018 Grammy Awards Performance - Virtue Signalling - Immigration - Blessed are the shithole countries

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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 54 – Mr. Prager’s Opus

Dennis Prager

When a prominent conservative speaker cannot conduct a symphony orchestra without attracting protest from social justice warriors in the arts world, we should take note; the regressive left will not rest until they have driven all conservative thought criminals from the public square

Conservative author and talk radio host Dennis Prager recounts a disturbing tale in the National Review this week.

Some background: for many years, Dennis Prager – a long time classical music aficionado – has conducted various provincial symphony orchestras in the United States, indulging his passion while raising much-needed funds for those orchestras and introducing new people to the world of classical music. As an amateur, Prager has never accepted a fee for conducting; he purely does so out of love of the music and a desire to introduce classical music to a wider audience.

These events actually look really fun – Prager participates only in the first half of the concerts, conducting a symphony and then doing a Leonard Bernstein-style “Young People’s Concert” format where he breaks down the symphony under discussion, revealing the inner workings of the music and interviewing members of the orchestra to get their insights. The second half is then conducted by the orchestra’s usual music director, a kind of 50/50 split between amateur and professional. In short, what’s not to like?

Anyhow, Prager was recently invited by the music director of the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra to perform Haydn’s symphony no. 51 with that ensemble at the iconic Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Prager has a particular affinity for the music of Haydn, as Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra music director Guido Lamell notes:

“On his radio program he often talks about the glories of music. His bumper music that introduced his program every day was a Haydn symphony in F major. He has studied this composer more deeply than anyone I have met. We classical musicians saw then in Dennis and continue to see the greatest and most vocal supporter of classical music on earth.”

Therefore this would seem like the perfect fit – a rarely heard Haydn symphony conducted by someone recognised by other musicians as an expert in the field, performed in a true world-class venue. This invitation must have been a dream come true for the amateur conductor, who called it “one of the great honors of my life”.

And that’s when the story took an ominous turn:

About a month ago, however, a few members of the orchestra, supported by some Santa Monica city officials, decided to lead a campaign to have me disinvited.

As I said, this is a new low for the illiberal Left: It is not enough to prevent conservatives from speaking; it is now necessary to prevent conservatives from appearing even when not speaking. Conservatives should not be even be allowed to make music.

To its great credit, the board of directors of the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra, composed of individuals of all political outlooks, has completely stood by their conductor and his invitation to me.

But the attempt to cancel me continues. It is being organized by three members of the orchestra, each of whom has refused to play that night. Readers will not be surprised to learn that two of the three organizers are college professors. Michael Chwe is a professor of political science at UCLA, and Andrew Apter is a professor of history and director of the African Studies Center at UCLA.

In an open letter to the symphony’s members, the three wrote: “A concert with Dennis Prager would normalize hatred and bigotry. . . . ”

And why?

Examples of my hatred and bigotry include my belief that in giving a child over for adoption, adoption agencies should prefer a married man and woman before singles and before same-sex couples. Another example – my favorite – is my having said that, if there is no God, ethics are subjective, will offend atheist members of the orchestra.

This is insane.

Music is supposed to bring people together, to bridge even bitter differences of opinion. The musicians of Daniel Barenboim’s acclaimed West-Eastern Divan Orchestra – comprised of musicians from countries not always on the best of terms, including Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Israel – manage to sit down next to one another and perform amazing, transcendental music together. I know – I heard them play Beethoven and Tchaikovsky with great authority at the BBC Proms in London.

And yet three American musicians, including two coddled academics from UCLA, feel unable to perform Haydn with a fellow countryman because of relatively minor political differences, primarily relating to Prager’s social conservatism. Because his presence would allegedly cause them, or various other people for whom they claim to advocate, some grave and irreparable offence.

This reflects so badly on the individuals concerned that there are almost no words to describe it. What wouldn’t the members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra give if the only point of issue between their respective countries, between Israel and Palestine, was a debate over adoption laws or a philosophical question about whether or not an objective ethical code can exist without God? The ancient grudges, resentments and enmities which divide the Middle East are far greater than those which divide Red and Blue America, and yet it is in the cloistered halls of American pseudo-liberalism where true intolerance can now be found.

More:

Not to be outdone by these professors, a former mayor of Santa Monica and current councilmember, Kevin McKeown, wrote: “I personally will most certainly not be attending a concert featuring a bigoted hate-monger. The judgement (or lack of) shown in inviting Prager may affect future community support for the Symphony.”

This sounds an awful lot like a threat, and a very thinly-veiled one at that. This is worse even than the heckler’s veto, deployed with such success by Social Justice Warriors, Antifa protesters and others to shut down speech or events which they do not want to proceed for ideological reasons. Such thuggery as we have repeatedly seen on university campuses is bad enough, but now we apparently have a serving city councilmember threatening the funding or “community support” of a local symphony orchestra unless that ensemble bends to her will and disinvites a fellow musician.

I take this story quite personally because like Dennis Prager – albeit in a far, far smaller capacity – I too have attempted to support the arts by giving time and financial support to make the amazingly rewarding heritage of classical music more accessible to people who otherwise might not have had the opportunity, or even the idea, to go to an orchestral concert. The thought that one day I might be banned from doing so because of the political beliefs I hold is as unbearable as it is outrageous.

I have a passing familiarity with Mr. Prager’s biography, work and political positions, some of which I agree with and some of which I do not. But that doesn’t matter – there should be no ideological or political test when it comes to participating in the artistic life of one’s community or country.

I wrote on this same subject over three years ago, when Russian maestro and then principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, Valery Gergiev, was facing calls to resign because of his pro-government stance on Ukraine. Music is one thing that we all have in common, one of the best bridge-building tools that we have. If the New York Philharmonic can go on tour to North Korea then a couple of coddled academics from California can swallow their tremulous objections and make music with Mr. Prager for sixty minutes.

I feel tremendous sympathy for Dennis Prager as he attempts to pursue his hobby and give back to society while under assault by the intolerant regressive left. But let us be under no illusion – stories like this will only become more common, not less, until the Right regroups and finally stands up to the Left’s assault on freedom of thought, expression and speech. Today it may be a high-profile talk radio host and author who finds himself being hounded out of his life’s passion by censorious opponents of his politics; tomorrow it could be any of us.

Whether you have written a blog, attended a march, donated to an election campaign, posted something political on social media or expressed yourself in a thousand other ways and mediums, we all leave a trail of evidence in our wake which can later be used to accuse you of thoughtcrime, declare that your renegade opinions represent a threat to the mental or physical safety of others, and ultimately see you excommunicated from whatever it is that you like to do the most – your dream job, your favourite hobby, your book club, your gym. Even your family.

This is where it’s going unless we begin fighting back – not just making snide jokes about SJWs and liberal tears, but actually going out and forcefully making the case for freedom of expression and diversity of political opinion. We need to win the argument or risk being silenced forever in all the ways that matter most.

For the love of music, for the protection of our freedom of expression and as a means of preventing society from fracturing any further into two Americas divided by mutual incomprehension, Mr. Prager’s Opus must be heard.

 

Mr Holland's Opus - Richard Dreyfuss - 2

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Happy Independence Day

Happy Independence Day

And to all those Americans (looking at you, New York Times) celebrating their wonderful country’s independence today while looking upon Brexit as some terrible catastrophe – why would you deny your closest and most reliable ally the same sovereignty and freedom which you rightly demand for yourselves?

How does your unthinking, slavish devotion to this fraying, discredited world order honour the bold legacy of the Founding Fathers?

 

America! America!
God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

 

Britain United Kingdom - United States of America - USA - Independence Day

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