Comment of the Day: “Next: A Version of “The Mikado” Without Execution References”

I promise I won’t do this often, but this Comment of the Day is by me, a reply to a comment by Ichneumon, which you will find at the end. I have been involved in this debate elsewhere, and a common “gotcha!” being employed against me is the argument that I jumped the gun defending the production of “The Mikado,” because I didn’t (and don’t yet) know what the exact lyrics were. I think this is worth expanding on, since Ichneumon and others have accused me of being “unethical” for calling the critics of the Palin lyric, whatever it was, ignorant.  Saturday is usually quiet, and this seems to be all that is going on other than the Middle East blowing up; by tomorrow I’m hoping to be able to move on to issues having nothing to do with Sarah Palin, Missoula, or “The Mikado.” So here is my reply to Ichneumon, with sample verses, on the original post, “Next: A Version of “The Mikado” Without Execution References”:

“The fact is, everyone from the Wall Street Journal to local websites to conservative commentators have been slapping around the production without an exact quote from the production. I am in touch with someone in the cast, and am hoping, waiting, to learn exactly what the lyric was. So what, exactly, would you have me do, when the vast majority is citing this, and only this, as the basis for its condemnation: the production put Sarah Palin, by name on Ko-Ko’s list, and this constituted a declaration that she should be killed? “Well, that’s what I have to go on and what everyone has to go on, and going on that it is just wrong: unfair, ignorant, politically correct nonsense. That is true even if she was included in a part of the song other than the one I assume. The point is that the song is not a series of death threats.

Let’s see…if she was included like this..

“And the lady from Alaska who’s so fond of all her guns
With her ditsy dancing daughter and her dog-named batch of sons
Along with every single patriot tea party-ist!
I don’t think they’d be missed
I’m sure they’d not be missed.”

[CHORUS: Sarah Palin’s on the list, with each Tea Party-ist, and they’d none of ’em be missed, they’d none of them be missed.]

OK? How about that? Mild, as political humor; a bit more direct than Gilbert, who would not use the name; clever or not, a swipe at Sarah’s politics and a bit mean to her kids, but within the range of political humor (and hardly original), but the point is—it doesn’t call for her to be killed; the list is just a device. I cannot imagine a way to use Palin in that song that would justify Rory’s complaint…UNLESS it was something like this…

“We should visit Sarah Palin and remove her from her bed
Then rev up a power chain saw to remove it from her head…
And then leave her head in Levi Johnston’s bed; now there’s a twist!
They would none of ‘em be missed
They’d none of them be missed!

Okay, now that’s over the line—Rory’s complaint would be valid. But I think the chances of anything like being in any community theater show are nil. If the lyrical use of Palin is anything like that, I’ll issue a complete apology. I’m not worried.

So based on the complaints, and Rory’s wasn’t the only one, I conclude that the objection is to Palin being on Ko-Ko’s list of possible “victims.” That’s what I wrote about; I’m comfortable with it. The alternative was to let everyone bash a lyric that is consistent with the show’s tradition and is not actually violent or hateful in any way, until the issue was stale and the damage done.

Your other point is 100% unethical, misleading and illogical: “Everyone, including Rory Page, has a right to an opinion as to where it falls, especially since, ironically, it was Palin’s detractors who first made a big partisan hypersensitive stink about “violent imagery” from or directed at public figures. It seems fitting to turn that around and say, “oh, well then what about *this*, is it only considered ‘shocking’ when Palin does it, but not when it’s directed *at* her or other targets of liberals’ Two Minutes Hate?”

The fact that Palin and her supporters were outrageously slandered by the Palin-hunting media and some political figures like Tucson’s idiot sherriff does not justify or excuse her supporters doing the same to—W.S. GILBERT and the Missoula Community Theater. “They did it first” is an invalid rationalization for unethical conduct—tit for tat, revenge, sauce for the gander, whatever you call it, it’s wrong. If it’s wrong to do TO Palin, it is wrong to do FOR Palin.

(And parenthetically, I’m out of patience with your hypocrisy argument, since if you’ll do a little due diligence research on this site, you will find that it would be hard to find anyone as immediate and clear in condemning the effort to tie Palin, Limbaugh, the Tea Party or any “culture of hate” to the attack in Tucson as I was. I’ve encountered that phony refrain in every discussion about this, and while it may be applicable to some, it sure as hell isn’t applicable to me. And even if it was, it STILL doesn’t justify reading a violent context into the Gilbert and Sullivan song!)

In summary: my assumption about the context is based on thorough knowledge, study and experience with the song, the setting, the works of the author, the theatrical piece itself and its history in this country and Britain, and is consistent with absolutely everything that has been printed about the Missoula incident. I await the actual lyrics, but I will be amazed if they warrant altering my opinion or my analysis. Yours, however, is invalid right now.

Thanks for writing.”

UPDATE: I just learned from a reliable source what the Palin lyric was, before it was excised. It came in a different part of the song than where Gilbert put his political “victims,” and went like this:

“And that crazy Sara Palin, needs a psychoanalyst!  She never would be missed.  No. She never would be missed.”

As I correctly surmised, the lyric does not call for Palin’s death. It says she is crazy, it says she needs a psychoanalyst; it is far from deft satire, to be sure, but it is well within the boundaries of satire, and not violent in any way.


From: Ichneumon:

“Missing from these discussions is a critical piece of information — an exact quote of the MCT Palin swipe.

Jack, before you get on your high horse denouncing the audience member’s complaint as somehow indicative of his “complete ignorance” and a sad commentary on our society and blah blah blah, doesn’t it behoove you to find out the nature of the actual line?

At least Mr. Page was actually there and heard what was said and how it was delivered, and is basing his remarks on that, which is more than I can say for most of the folks commenting (pro or con) on the matter.

Obviously the Palin swipe could have been a well-crafted, witty, oblique commentary on modern society done with the kind of clever satire G&S would have been proud of, and worthy of support by all patrons of the arts.

Just as obviously, it could have been a ham-handed, awkwardly inserted bit of vicious Palin Derangement Syndrome that was rightly denounced as jarringly inappropriate in the play.

More likely it fell somewhere between those extremes, but everyone, including Rory page, has a right to an opinion as to where it falls, especially since, ironically, it was Palin’s detractors who first made a big partisan hypersensitive stink about “violent imagery” from or directed at public figures. It seems fitting to turn that around and say, “oh, well then what about *this*, is it only considered ‘shocking’ when Palin does it, but not when it’s directed *at* her or other targets of liberals’ Two Minutes Hate?”

It seems to me that anyone — and especially an ethicist — should not jump to conclusions about Mr. Page’s “ignorance” or “cluelessness” etc. without first knowing what, exactly, was said in the play. You bemoan Mr. Page’s “ignorance” of the “context” of the song, yet yourself lack the context of whether the inserted lines actually were well done and artistic, or truly classless and offensive. Ironic. You can’t presume based merely on their venue and then leap to broadly denounce someone and swaths of society as a whole based on your assumptions.

Not ethically anyway.”

9 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “Next: A Version of “The Mikado” Without Execution References”

  1. I would venture a guess that 99% of those complaining about the Ko-Ko patter song have never even seen a Gilbert & Sullivan show, and thus are ipso facto unqualified to comment on content they know nothing about. I would also venture a guess that a Missoula community theater production would NOT be filled with hate speech, or whatever they’re being accused of.

    Gilbert was a genius; not a hate-monger. Anyone who wants to write about his songs, his lyrics, or updated lyrics 150 years later should make it their business to find out what the hell they’re talking about.

    “Civility” has come to this? Why don’t you jerks go after the “performance art” geniuses who pour urine on sacred objects in the name of ART? Or any number of women-hating rappers who routinely sing about rape and murder? Pick your battles, indeed. Easier, isn’t it, to go after some small community theater, and NOT the ones making millions teaching hate.

    This is a tempest in a teapot, except insofar as it demonstrates how ignorant Americans can be, and how the Internet provides them an audience they don’t deserve.

    • I don’t think it’s a minor issue, actually (or I wouldn’t be killing my Saturday on it). It is part of a creeping effort to make satire and humor, as well as political criticism, impossible, or at least too combative for most people.

      And someone doesn’t need a book to “get” Gilbert, just common sense. I knew Ko-Ko was kidding about the executions when I first saw the show at the age of 8. It’s not a hard concept.

      • Defending the right to political criticism.

        You and Sarah Palin share similar views then. Isn’t that funny? For when she gave her much derided “blood libel” speech that is exactly what she was doing, defending the right to political criticism.

        • Why is that funny, Brad? We share similar views on a lot of things. I’m not sure could find any legitimate American political figure with whom I didn’t share a lot of similar views. I would hope that Palin would have been on the side of MCT, if she gave it any thought; my biggest problem with Palin is that she too often pronounces opinions without sufficient thought….glibness isn’t a substitute for competence. Her “blood libel” statement was essentially correct, and certainly provoked.

  2. Actually, the Lord High Executioner was always one of my favorite G & S characters. I suppose some might take umbrage if I should address them with the words, “I’ve got you on my list. You never will be missed.”! Uncivil? Threatening?! Anyone who’s ever seen one of those “operettas” know that they were done strictly for laughs; through a combination of social satire and of poking fun at overblown stage spectacles. Those two gentlemen would probably be tickled pink to know that their productions had not only stood the test of time, but were being popularly used and, on occasion, subtly altered to reflect current times… as long as it was not being used TOO uncivilly! For that, quote Ginsberg.

  3. As a California expatriate native Montanan and former Missoula resident, I hope the readers will not get the impression that we’re all a bunch of hayseed philistines. I’ve never done “Mikado”, but some 25 years ago did Maj. Gen. Stanley (the very model of a modern) at Missoula Community Theatre. Missoula is a wonderful place to live, with besides its MCT, has symphony, ballet, a university and several other active theatre groups. I’ve worked with, known, liked and respected MCT’s executive director for years, and only regret that he saw fit to delete the “offending” lyrics from remaining performances.

    • Thanks for the perspective, Richard. I think small towns get a bad rap, which is why it is so discouraging when some misguided souls live up to the worst boondocks stereotypes. I half agree about the decision to pull the lyric—their dilemma: do we endanger the two theater’s funding over a stupid (in content) controversy, though it is an important artistic and ethical principle? Most broads would vote to cut the lyric. Mine would, I think.

  4. Thank you, J.M. I do understand the Exec. Director’s decision; he was definitely between the proverbial rock and a hard place. As Sancho Panza said in “Man of La Mancha”: Whether the stone hits the pitcher or the pitcher hits the stone, it’s going to be bad for the pitcher.

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