Saturday, February 23, 2008

Life Imitates Art in Saudi Arabia

Michelle Malkin points to this story about 57 men in Saudi Arabia being investigated and prosecuted for flirting. She suggests that an appropriate soundtrack would be something like "My Sharia Amour." But that's not quite right. No, this reminds me of something....

Wait, I'll think of it...

I know! It reminds me of something that an apparently prophetic playwright wrote over one hundred and twenty years ago. His name was Sir William Gilbert, and he worked with an equally famous chap named Sir Arthur Sullivan. The resulting operetta was named "The Mikado" and the incredibly confusing plot summary can be viewed here.

Although inspired by a nascent Japanese "invasion" into British culture in the late nineteenth century, it was really meant — as were most of G & S's works — as an indictment of the pompous stupidity of British aristocracy and government. Gilbert recognized the frivolity of many laws that were passed by Parliament and found no small irony in their futility. In this operetta, flirting has been declared illegal by no less than the Emporer of Japan, as evidenced by this dialogue between Yum-Yum and Nanki-Poo, the bubble-headed protagonists:
YUM. (retreating). If you please, I think your Highness
had better not come too near. The laws against flirting are
excessively severe.
NANK. But we are quite alone, and nobody can see us.
YUM. Still, that don't make it right. To flirt is capital.
NANK. It is capital!
YUM. And we must obey the law.
NANK. Deuce take the law!
YUM. I wish it would, but it won't!
To solidify this backdrop, Gilbert gives us the following terse explanation in a song that happens to be one of Sullivan's more clever compositions (note: if you can find a recording, or, better yet, attend a performance, just know that this song is my favorite, even though in three runs of doing this show I never once got to sing it!):
Our great Mikado, virtuous man,
When he to rule our land began,
Resolved to try
A plan whereby
Young men might best be steadied.
So he decreed, in words succinct,
That all who flirted, leered or winked
(Unless connubially linked),
Should forthwith be beheaded,
Beheaded, beheaded,
Should forthwith be beheaded.
And I expect you'll all agree
That he was right to so decree.
And I am right,
And you are right,
And all is right as right can be!

This stern decree, you'll understand,
Caused great dismay throughout the land!
For young and old
And shy and bold
Were equally affected.
The youth who winked a roving eye,
Or breathed a non-connubial sigh,
Was thereupon condemned to die —
He usually objected,
Objected, objected,
He usually objected.
And you'll allow, as I expect,
That he was right to so object.
And I am right,
And you are right,
And everything is quite correct!

And so we straight let out on bail
A convict from the county jail,
Whose head was next
On some pretext
Condemned to be mown off,
And made him Headsman, for we said,
"Who's next to be decapited
Cannot cut off another's head
Until he's cut his own off,
His own off, his own off,
Until he's cut his own off."
And we are right, I think you'll say,
To argue in this kind of way;
And I am right,
And you are right,
And all is right — too-loo-ral-lay!
All of this material, by the way, is hosted by the indispensable "Gilbert and Sullivan Archive," hosted at Boise State.

In truth, the only elements missing from this Saudi story are a cheap ex-tailor, Ko-Ko (whom I played all three times), who is elevated to Lord High Executioner, and the insufferably pompous Lord High Everything Else, Pooh-Bah.

Life imitates art in Saudi Arabia, but not in a good way.

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