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Just a Kiss

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A few days ago, I posted the following on my Delilah Night Facebook page

If you follow me, you know I live in Singapore. Singapore is a very complex country often reduced to caning or banning chewing gum in the media.

We are also a country with anti-sodomy laws on the books (377a), where progresses in the quest for equality for the LGBTQA community is stymied at every turn by “traditional /Asian values”(while being advised by American advocacy group Focus on the Family and American based /American style Christian Fundamentalist Churches). Singapore is a country where coming out often means being estranged from your family, and thus many choose to stay closeted.

Singapore had one park –one —where you can “protest.” Assuming your event gets the proper permits. In 2008, an event called Pink Dot was launched with around 2,000 citizens and permanent residents forming a pink dot to physically demonstrate that there are people in Singapore who support the right to love. In 2015, over 29,000 individuals participated. 2015 also marked the beginning of the counter movement “Wear White” to support “traditional Asian values”–jointly organized between a cleric and the fundamentalist Christian preacher who eventually took all the media attention. This year they didn’t release numbers, but there was a lot of backlash against foreign companies co-sponsored the event, such as Goldman Sachs and Google, despite those companies having local headquarters. I’m told there was a lot of minor hassling —this square meter isn’t technically part of the park so you can’t stand here, etc. So despite this one event, a stationary event in a small park, there are many who use the rhetoric of “forcing values down our throats.”

Enter a production of Les Misérables, on tour from Australia.

I happened to see the “kiss” that caused this kerfuffle, which playwright Alfian Sa’at breaks down FAR better than I do. I can tell you that the audience physically flinched and audible gasped. It was if the weight of their horrified shock pushed everyone in the theater back against their seat.

What do people do? Call the police. Call the Media Development Association, the board that allows or bans movies (or “edits” them). Post on hate groups like “WeAreAgainstPinkDot.”

What is the outcome? The MDA claims the kiss was not in their script and was not approved, and therefore must be removed.

I found a great deal objectionable about the production as a superfan of Les Mis. The staging choices, the over-reliance on projected video backgrounds, the lack of the rotating stage, and some truly miscast actors. It was a mediocre performance.

The kiss was not the objectionable part, and I say that as someone who was accompanied by her seven year old.

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The playwright I referred to is Singaporean Alfian Sa’at.

Here is the text of his FB post

In a Straits Times report, it was mentioned that MDA removed a a ‘same-sex kissing scene’ from the musical Les Miserables because of complaints from ‘members of the public’.

The report stated that “Facebook user Alvin Ng posted in a Facebook group that he wrote to MDA to complain about the scene”. It failed to mention that the group was ‘We Are Against Pink Dot in Singapore’. The poster, Alvin Ng, has removed his posts from the group. But why be scared of media attention if you believe in standing up for whatever you think you stand for?

Anyway, the operative term is ‘same-sex kissing’, not ‘gay kissing’. I know some LGBT people were upset when the news first broke, wondering whether it’s another instance of the MDA erasing any representation of queer people from the media—and thus rendering them invisible. But let’s put the kissing scene into context. Deep breath…

Hi Alvin Ng! (And friends.) You watched ‘Les Miserables’ the musical. Good on you! A musical, as you’d already realised, is not a 30-track CD that’s performed live by people in nice costumes moving around on stage. Usually a musical has a story, and a story has characters. And one of the characters in ‘Les Miserables’ is Monsieur Thénardier. In the musical, he is a comic secondary antagonist…

You know, what, never mind. Thénardier is a Very Bad Man. Of course the musical is a lot more complex than that, and part of what makes Victor Hugo’s novel a great work of literature is that there is moral ambiguity: Jean Valjean the convict and Fantine the prostitute are Good People, while Javert the policeman is a Bad Man. But that’s confusing! So back to Thénardier: he swindles customers at his inn, beats his servant Cosette and has Very Bad Manners.

At the end of the musical, Thénardier crashes the wedding of Cosette and Marius. He sings the song ‘Beggars at the Feast’, where he shows himself to be an unrepentant boor. He starts insulting the weddings guests:

Ain’t it a laugh?
Ain’t it a treat?
Hob-nobbin’ here
Among the elite?
Here comes a prince
There goes a Jew.
This one’s a queer
But what can you do?

And then he gives the guy who he claims is ‘queer’ a peck on the lips. Now Alvin, let’s just think about this kiss for a while. Not all lip-kissing is romantic, or erotic. In some cultures same-sex people even peck lips as a form of greeting. Drunken straight fratboys may do it as a stunt, often followed by sexuality-affirming gross-outs. Bullies do it too, because they think the ones they kiss will feel humiliated.

And Thénardier, being a Very Bad Man, is such a bully. The kiss he planted on the guest is not a mutual kiss. And a non-mutual kiss is assault. Come on, Alvin, the character is married to Madame Thénardier and they have a daughter! Were you even paying attention? But because you’ve been so inflamed by the daily moral panics at the WAAPD page, you have to take a same-sex kiss from a musical completely out of context and flag it as some kind of insidious homosexual propaganda.

You might think that canceling the kiss represents some kind of victory over LGBT’s and liberals, but honestly Alvin, it is nothing more than a triumph of ignorance and hysteria over common sense and sober reflection. And with the MDA being dragged in, wearing a T-shirt saying ‘I’m With Stupid’, it is also a triumph of bureaucracy over literature.

There is a line to be drawn between wanting to tell the world that Singaporeans are conservative and wanting to brag about what backwater philistines we are. Unfortunately you’ve crossed that line to the latter. Thénardier, recognising a kindred spirit, would have been so proud of you that he would have given you a kiss.

orlando
Until this weekend, I thought that the Les Mis kiss was going to the most controversial kiss I’d be talking about.
Today we are coping with the worst mass shooting in American history, a shooting the murderer blamed on seeing gay men kissing.
My heart is shattered that this keeps happening over and over and over and over.
I’m going to hand it over to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s sonnet that discusses Orlando as part of his Tony acceptance speech.

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