.

Cancel Madame Butterfly today!
Such racist music cannot soothe the soul.
Let’s never show another hate-filled play.

The King and I must also cause dismay
Since white composers can’t know ethnic dole.
Cancel Madame Butterfly today!

We also need to cancel the ballet.
Swan Lake promotes a privileged white role.
Let’s never show another hate-filled play.

Western art means only to betray.
Its history is poison to extol.
Cancel Madame Butterfly today!

Screw the critics. Drama’s what we say.
The theater is in our strict control.
Let’s never show another hate-filled play.

The stains of culture must be washed away.
The privileged must pay for what they stole.
Cancel Madame Butterfly today!
Let’s never show another hate-filled play!

.

.

Brian Yapko is a lawyer who also writes poetry. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


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27 Responses

  1. Jeff Eardley

    Brian, I once saw a production of Butterfly in Prague. I was hoping the subtitles would be in English, but no, they were in Czech. So basically, I am with you, so let’s find a Puccini statue to fling from the ramparts of Castel Sant Angelo.
    Great, entertaining piece. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      Jeff — although I’ve never seen Tosca your comment has me rolling on the floor! How are we going to haul that Puccini statue up all those stairs?

      Reply
  2. Mike Bryant

    Brian, a beautiful villanelle that lays out the revolutionary mindset perfectly. The poet persona must absolutely crush freedom. And, of course, to accomplish that task, truth and beauty are the first casualties. How ironic, then, that a culture warrior would speak destruction in the beauty of a villanelle!

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you, Mike. You got exactly what I was going for — I wanted something very mannered which gave the appearance of respecting culture but which has been warped into utter destructiveness by wokitude. It astonishes me how many curators of museums and galleries and theater producers and directors are willing to put on this woke mantle.

      Reply
  3. Joe Tessitore

    Well-done, Brian.

    Here in NYC, the theater is in their strict control, in every sense of the word.
    At the most basic level, only those who can produce their government papers are allowed to perform and allowed to attend.
    Three heroes emerged from the world of ballet in the midst of this – they chose to exit the stage rather than to roll up their sleeves.
    You’ll never hear of them.

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you, Joe. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to try to put on a Broadway play these days, or an opera at the Met. Everything and everyone has to be run through a test of whether the composer and authors are ideologically pure enough. Heaven help the directors or the performers who have a past that does not conform to woke ideological purity . This level of scrutiny and willingness to condemn is actually quite frightening.

      Reply
  4. Lannie David Brockstein

    To prohibit the artistic expression of hatred on the theatrical stage, is likewise to prohibit the expression of love there, as love and hate are part of the same emotional continuum—one cannot exist without the other. Every great story has both a hero AND a villain.

    The heartless ideologues of today zealously want for all expression of the completely normal human emotion of hate to be criminalized everywhere, and for that to be accomplished by means of artificially intelligent computers scanning society both online and offline. In China, if a person is not happy, they are punished for it by means of their vaccine passport score, I mean their social credit score, being decreased.

    The intention of those soulless husks is for the theatre, and all forms of art, to become as “abstract”, and thus as meaningless, destructive, uninspired, and ugly, as a so-called painting by Jackson Pollock.

    They have been taught for decades by Big Pharma’s scientific community of psychotics to falsely believe that humans are nothing more than organic robots, and thus that free will is an illusion.

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you for commenting, Lannie. I think you are 100% right. This destruction of Western Culture to me is very much a parallel to the Cultural Revolution in China — an exercise in self-loathing cultural suicide. How are we to survive when normal human emotion is criminalized or, at least, stigmatized to the point where we have to live in fear of expressing our true thoughts?

      Reply
  5. Peter Hartley

    Brian, let’s face it we are all overcome with at least a twinge of sheer hatred for the Germans every time we listen to Messiah or Elijah. It is just an inescapable gut reaction. I do believe Kulture has an awful lot to answer for, and it is very well put in your poem which bounces along with gusto and aplomb.

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you, Peter. I understand what you’re saying since I have a difficult time with Wagner. Would I ever consider cancelling the Ring Cycle? Hell, no! In fact, I’m particularly fond of the Ride of the Valkyries. It seems to me that every piece of literature and art is going to be offensive to someone. I don’t think it’s reasonable to try to cherry-pick our way through Western Culture and say “this is acceptable but that is offensive” ad infinitum. Once you go down that path nothing is safe. What is in favor today will change tomorrow depending on who is in charge at any given moment.

      Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Brian – Mendelssohn and Handel are indeed two of my favourite composers, Mendelssohn because he painted the strongest picture in music that I have ever heard (Fingal’s Cave) and Handel because he just always has been.

      Reply
  6. Margaret Coats

    Well done, Brian. The villanelle, with two refrains, does lend itself to angry protest style ranting, ready to drown out any opposition. Oscar Wilde once wrote a double villanelle of 12 stanzas, and the French poet Maurice Rollinat has a villanelle of 20 stanzas. Just imagine the effect if you continued this!

    In thinking of what else needs to be canceled, I got out my volume of the best Stephen Foster songs, many written for minstrel shows. As originally published, these often use black dialect. The most famous is “Old Folks at Home” (opening line, “Way down upon the Suwanee River”), translated into dozens of languages and sung all over the world. Florida adopted it as state song, but in recent years received approval from the Stephen Foster Memorial to alter the racist line, “Oh, darkies, how my heart grows weary, far from the old folks at home.” Foster also wrote the Kentucky state song, “My Old Kentucky Home,” and the California gold rush song, “Oh, Susanna,” among dozens of others well known and still performed. Surprisingly, someone speaking on National Public Radio about 10 years ago praised him as a genuine American popular song writer, capable of weaving Irish, German, African American, and other strands into his music and lyrics that appeal to “the multicultural mongrel experience of America in its history and culture.”

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      Sorry, Margaret! I didn’t properly reply. See my comment below. But another note on Foster and similar composers. It has become especially difficult for theater companies who try to put on productions of “Show Boat” or “Porgy and Bess” as well. “Porgy and Bess,” of course, was a show about African-Americans yet written by Gershwin. “Show Boat is especially targeted because Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein (as well as the original author, Edna Ferber) were all Jewish yet had the nerve to write songs like “Ol’ Man River” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.” What if we lived in a world where anybody could write songs about anything and anybody without having to check the color of their skin to see if they pass ideological muster?

      Reply
  7. Brian Yapko

    Thank you, Margaret. I’m always a bit surprised at how flexible classical forms can actually be. Now that I know that there’s precedent for extending villanelle’s I think I’ll make my next one breathe a bit with some extra stanzas.

    As for Stephen Foster — the second you mentioned him I thought “uh oh”… because you’re absolutely right! And yet he is THE American songwriter of the 19th Century. He wrote other songs as well that more directly referenced slavery like “Massa’s in de Cold, Cold Ground.” The same is true with a number of non-Foster Civil War songs, like “Kingdom Coming (The Year of Jubilo)” which is actually an important period standard.” And then what happens when you hit the 20th Century and have songs like “Waiting for the Robert E. Lee” or Gershwin’s “Swanee”? All of these songs have offensive elements to them and yet all of them are essential aspects of our culture. For me, cancelling them would be ridiculous as trying to divorce your grandparents.

    Reply
    • Jeff Eardley

      Brian, whenever my musician friends and I meet for a session, we always end the evening with “Hard Times” perhaps the greatest ever Foster song.

      Reply
      • Brian Yapko

        Yes! “Hard Times Come Again No More” is a great song which I would never have even heard of but for Youtube. And, I think, ahead of its time. I’m glad to hear musicians like you are keeping it alive.

  8. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Brian, the villanelle is a form that’s a particular favorite of mine, and you have done the form every justice. The two repeating lines are perfect for highlighting and emphasizing the sad plight of our history of truly magnificent entertainment today. The villanelle flows along smoothly and beautifully while making its pertinent and poignant point. Every area of our lives is suffering in this cruel cancel-culture war. When the art of historic theatre in all its musical and emotional glory is dead and buried… our hearts and our minds will suffer immeasurably.

    I love the way the poem builds to the stark crescendo of “The stains of culture must be washed away./The privileged must pay for what they stole.” – today’s divisive and destructive ideology in a nutshell. Brian, this is my type of poetry, and I thank you for being bold enough to get the truth out there in a truly beautiful way. Your fearless and fabulous villanelle rocks!

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you, Susan! My very first villanelle which drew courage from your “Woke Recipe for Disaster” which was brilliant, angry and funny and if anyone reading my poem hasn’t read yours, I am putting the link right here:

      https://classicalpoets.org/2021/05/15/a-woke-recipe-for-disaster-and-other-poetry-by-susan-jarvis-bryant/

      I’m glad you like my stark treatment of cancel culture. There are so many things to be upset about in this world but one of the things that really, really gets to me are attempts to erase and/or rewrite history. I’m grateful for your poetic voice and several other brave voices on this site and I’m deeply grateful that Evan provides a forum where those of us who care about preserving Western Culture from the mob can speak out. Because of its content, I know of no other site that would have allowed this poem to be published.

      Reply
  9. Paul Freeman

    You certainly have struck a chord, Brian. I cringe every time I hear ‘I feel pretty, Oh, so pretty, I feel pretty and witty and …. bright!’ When I write period poetry (Chaucerian style, usually), I have no qualms about using the word ‘gay’. However, since the word’s gone out of usage/fashion post Leonard Bernstein in meaning ‘happy’, I also have no qualms about dropping one of many synonyms for ‘happy’ – though a very useful one to poets who use rhyme.

    Years back, I recall the furore from the theatre establishment in Britain when it was suggested that Othello should be played by a black person (theatre tradition was the given reason, followed by a suggestion that no black actor was strong enough to play Othello). Thank goodness that attitude’s changed.

    Just as an example of how the arts can be reset without ‘wokeness’ becoming an issue, Back in the dimness of Time, I produced, directed, cast, etc., a version of Cinderella, on a gold mine in Africa. The Prince became the Chief’s Son, Cinderella was a black girl called Madota (meaning ‘Embers’), the Ugly Sisters were female (a boy playing a girl was unacceptable in the culture then) and they were just ‘The Sisters’ because no girl would accept being labelled ‘ugly’ (their characters carried the ugliness). Meanwhile, the Fairy Godmother became Madota’s Ancestral Protective Spirit (Ngozi), portrayed as an old man. Voilà!

    That said, I agree that in the quest for a new vision (or to keep the critics happy), when there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the old version, many folk are looking to take offence, just as you have so succinctly mentioned in your villanelle.

    Thanks for a poignant, though light-hearted read.

    Reply
    • Mike Bryant

      I believe Ira Aldridge played Othello in 1833. There were critics… aren’t there always? He apparently toured Europe, minus England, for fifteen years.
      Paul Robeson played Othello in London in 1930. Was there reluctance? Perhaps, but he was not cancelled and went on to play the role for years all over the world.
      However more recently there is racism and sexism quite evident in the cancelling of an actor that was to play Othello.
      This accomplished actor WAS cancelled along with the entire production.

      https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2016/11/07/canadian-university-cancels-othello-over-casting-furor

      Reply
      • Paul Freeman

        I was just recalling an incident I personally remembered and which stuck with me from an era when everyone was in awe of Sir Larry’s performance of Othello.

      • Brian Yapko

        Mike, I would have loved to see Paul Robeson as Othello. He was phenomenal in Show Boat. As far as the cancellation you mentioned, it really would have been interesting to see a female in the role of Othello, although that might have created a strange subtext. Perhaps no stranger than men playing the roles of women in Shakespeare’s day (imagine a man playing Desdemona!) But I hate that the university buckled to pressure and cancelled the production. When did people become so darned touchy?

      • Mike Bryant

        “When did people become so darned touchy?”
        What a great question. I believe that we have been lead into perpetual grievance by those who have the most to gain from our divisions. Those “dividers” do not want solutions, and so the hierarchy of victimhood must continually be adjusted. That is why they have brilliantly created intersectionality, a sort of union of each and every tiny group of the aggrieved. Each group can easily be moved up to the head of the hierarchy for a time and then rotated out to lionize the next victim group… again, with the intent to divide us into oblivion. Our leaders now reward whining and dependence. We are truly marching toward serfdom.
        Desdemona played by a man… that did give me a chuckle!

  10. Brian Yapko

    Paul, thank you very much for your comment which raises four really interesting points: how much to honor an author’s original words, when is race important in casting, how to address Western stories for non-Western cultures and the extent to which the woke are actually hunting for things to feel offended about. Any one of these subjects would be worthy of an essay.

    But on the issue of “gay” versus “bright” that’s one where I’m in favor of keeping the original word because the issue is merely one of change in meaning. In contrast, in The Mikado Gilbert uses language no longer considered polite and, in his “I’ve Got a Little List” the convention is to change his original use of the “N” word to “banjo serenader.” I’m on board with that change. Retaining the original to satisfy author intent just isn’t worth it.

    On the issue of “Othello” the role was written by Shakespeare, a white Englishman and originally performed by a white Englishman. And he’s a fictional character to boot. I’m in favor of casting anyone who’s a good enough actor to play this fictional role. Otherwise we get into a real maelstrom of casting issues. Where does it end? Only Jewish people can play Shylock? Only Scottish people can play Macbeth? Only people of Danish origin can play Hamlet? On the other hand, I’m not sure the same standard of color blindness applies when you’re portraying authentically historical characters. But that also justifies an entire essay.

    I love your story about Cinderella. I think it’s great when you can take a Western story and modify it. It sounds like you did a brilliant job. It reminds me of an old Japanese movie I recently saw which was a retelling of Macbeth but in the context of samurai in the 17th Century!

    And lastly, on the issue of people hunting for things to be offended by, I think it’s become almost a party game or a drinking game. “Let’s spot the hypothetical offense even if no one is complaining about it.” That sort of mentality. That’s what actually got Madame Butterfly cancelled recently in Little Rock and has it now supposedly “controversial” in places like Portland, Seattle and New York. A state of hypervigilance has been created which cannot possibly be maintained in the long run.

    Reply
    • Paul Freeman

      A lot to take in there. And with reference to your Japanese Macbeth comment, of course The Magnificent Seven is based on The Seven Samurai.

      Reply
      • C.B. Anderson

        Everybody knows, Paul, what The Magnificent Seven was based on, but no one has yet figured out what The Return of the Magnificent Seven was based on.

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