Luck Be a Lady

November 9, 2008 at 3:35 am (Drama Queen) ()

Last night at our weekly DnD game a friend of mine brought with her a play she was reading called M. Butterfly, which isn’t Madame Butterfly, though I guess you could look at it as a sort of response to the stereotypes present in Madame Butterfly. Basically the plot of M. Butterfly is a French diplomat, Rene, has a twenty-year long affair with a Chinese woman, an opera singer named Song. Except Song is actually a man in disguise who’s spying for the Chinese government and the French diplomat somehow fails to notice even though they consummated the relationship (which caused me great lulz). In the end, after he’s put in trial for spying for China, he finds out that Song is a man and he goes crazy — dresses up as a woman and kills himself.

To be honest I think one of the themes that should have been included on the book jacket was homophobia — part of Rene’s delusion, I think, is that he flat out refused to accept the possibility of a relationship between two men. Which I guess would combine with his refusal to accept the possibility that Song wasn’t the shy, submissive Chinese woman he wanted her to be. That was the status quo of their relationship; Song as the submissive Oriental woman and Rene as the dominant Western man and when Song upset that balance Rene snapped and tried to set it back, before killing himself because it’d been all a lie, and indeed his attempt to set it back is also entirely a lie (apparently in the movie, which my friend saw, had Rene dress up in pseudo-Chinese/Japanese clothing before he died).

I want to be sympathetic to him (well, not really), except I can’t get over the fact he didn’t notice Song was a man for twenty years even though they apparently had sex. I just — how do you delude yourself so much you don’t notice something like that? WTF.

M. Butterfly is supposed to be based of a real incident, to which I can only say WTF as well. Did a man seriously have a relationship with a man pretending to be a woman for twenty years and seriously not notice? In the author’s afterword (which I read) he mentioned that the real like Rene said that he just thought real life Song was being modest, which. Did they ever have sex or not? It’s ambiguous in the notes about the article, my friend said it was ambiguous in the movie…she’s going to read the play and let me know about that one, too. It’s just. I feel bad for focusing on this angle when there are other angles (ie. stereotypes of the East by the west, stereotypes of how women should act, stereotypes of how Asian women should act…in the afterword the author mentioned the concept of a Rice Queen; gay Caucasian men who are attracted only to Asian men, at which point they expect the Asian man to be the “woman” in the relationship.) I should be more interested in. But I mean — honestly. Twenty years, and he didn’t notice at all?

We also had an interesting conversation over whether or not it was supposed to be explicit to the audience that Song was actually male. Apparently in the movie Song was never seen undressed and therefore, while (s)he was slightly off, no one actually realized he was a man until the reveal at the end. Whereas at the beginning of the play, there’s a brief section where some unidentified men are talking about the incident and one outright asks the other how the diplomat didn’t recognize the spy was male. So — it would seem that the audience would have gone into the play with the knowledge that Rene was misidentifying some equipment, which would have inclined people to believe that the person he was misidentifying was Song — but then, was Song’s performance supposed to then put the audience in doubt of such a conclusion?

I’d actually kind of like to see this play on the stage. Any adult male who could pull of a convincing (stereotype of a) woman on stage, in front of a live audience, would be an actor to see. Now think of the mindfuckery if it was a woman who played the part of Song…


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