Saturday, March 11, 2017

I Get in Another Stupid Argument in a Facebook Comments Thread

First, some background.

Actually it's more of a question.  Has anyone out there ever seen Miss Saigon?  What did you think of its politics?

I never watched it.  But I've listened to the CD.  (My mom used to have a copy).  And I got the impression that it had an anti Viet-Cong bias.  Which always irked me a bit.
I mean, yes, okay, I admit it's difficult to defend the Viet Cong.  The Viet Cong and the NLF did a lot of horrible things.  But everyone on all sides of that war did a lot of horrible things.  And the Viet Cong was at least supported by the majority of the Vietnamese people.  And that's got to be worth something, right?  I mean if you have this huge war to decide who is going to govern Vietnam, then the opinion of the Vietnamese people has got to count for something, right?

Anyway, the source of the argument was that on a Facebook page for expats living in Saigon, someone started a post gushing about how wonderful the Miss Saigon musical was.  And people began lamenting the fact that the Vietnamese government would probably not allow this musical to be performed in Saigon.

Taken just on face value, I probably should have supported this sentiment.  (The fact that I personally don't care for this musical is irrelevant to the broader issue of freedom of speech).
But something about the tone of the conversation just irked me. 50 years ago America bombed Vietnam into smithereens, and now American expats are in Vietnam complaining that the Vietnamese government won't show an American musical about the War.

So, unable to resist, I chimed in on the comments.

Okay, just for comparison's sake: How likely are you to see a movie in American theaters about an American woman in love with a brave viet-cong soldier?
There's no direct government censorship in america, but there would be all sorts of indirect pressures against such a movie ever getting a mainstream release.
And of course this being the Internet, someone immediately came around to tell me my opinion was stupid.
What's your point? And what's with the American finger pointing ? I dunno where Miss Saigon kicked off. But it's obviously made the international stage.
So I responded.
The point is perspective. It's all well and good for everyone to complain about how the Vietnamese government would never allow this play to be performed in Vietnam, but the same sort of censorship exists in America. It's just not enforced by the government. No country is comfortable allowing negative portrayals of itself.
And then:
There's a difference between censorship and whether or not it would be popular.
And why are you targeting America? Why not target the UK?
Or Australia?
So I said:
Unfortunately it's not quite so simple. There's all sorts of little indirect pressures that are independent of how popular the movie would be with the general public. Take, for example, the subsidy that the Pentagon gives to any movie that portrays the US army in a positive light. Not to mention the trouble it would take to independently finance a movie that portrayed the Viet-Cong in a positive light.
And he said:
The only limiting factor is, that nobody is interested in writing the script. This is all a pointless argument if no one has cared enough to write a compelling story.
Nobody cares!!!!
Nobody cared about Miss Saigon, until someone did it.
The whole point of telling the story, is to make people care.
And plenty of American military movies exist where the government abandoned troops and the military dropped the ball.
And then finally:
Actually it's not that simple. There are perhaps millions of scripts out there which will never make it into movies because they can't get the funding. In some cases, they can't get the funding because of political rather than artistic concerns. Here is one example:

And that's my story.


Whisky Prajer said...

I saw it some 20 years ago, so my recollection of its "politics" is nothing I'd stake an argument on. But it's a tragedy, right? A contemporary re-telling of Madame Butterfly -- so by the end everybody looks bad. I couldn't begin to guess what the Vietnamese government is reacting to, though I would imagine the musical's global success and general acceptance as "good culture" that's "must-see entertainment" would surely nettle. If there's a sensationally staged Vietnamese opera that's must-see entertainment, I've yet to hear of it. Which is not to say there isn't a great deal of Vietnamese performance culture that I am impoverished for not being aware of.

Joel Swagman said...

Actually to be fair, to the best of my knowledge, no one has even attempted to stage Miss Saigon in Vietnam. So the Facebook comments were preemptively lamenting that the musical would probably be censored in Vietnam, not reacting to any actual incident.
The Vietnamese government usually censors any portrayal of Vietnam that they do not control, regardless of ideology. I'm told by my students that even apolitical portrayals get censored, like X-Men Days of Future Past, which was heavily censored in its Vietnam release.