PRC Minstrel-show Irreverence (1) : Commune Girls’ Brigade (1960)

[/caption]Stagefun, 1960, good humored sabotage of Jiang Qing (Madame Mao) before she even GOT there.

The Girls of the Communes – well maybe not both in one.

In a prior verbal excursion I blathered on perhaps at too great length about minor league and/or middle league vaudevillians as a sort of type or trope of the stage and of storying in general. My encode is minstrelsy: my interest long term has been piqued by the difficulty China’s cultural architects have had in finding a place for the inevitably irreverent stylistic mix that there as elsewhere is the bread and butter of this sort of entertainer. But not always. This is a retro-spect on a time when inclusion was more ready.

Stage farce and buffoonery- of the Jackie Gleason mold – are not what I have in mind, since they are situational (“sit-com”) and belong to no specific polity: the humorists are trapped in a more or less non-venue or supervenue: family escapades in front of the TV or overheard telephone nattering being two of the most universal.

Rather I propose we ferret out the in-situ if ragged interloper, the surprise creature who, so to speak, steals the show by make-fun directed at invisible 3rd party confabulations. Politicals and top-gun soldiers being the most obvious targets, their hectoring discourses and the popular discontent with such chatter making these offstage players sitting ducks for sub rosa ridicule. The targets cannot be named, but their locus is very place and time specific, even their individuation fairly easily guessed at (though in illiberal systems, the truly “top” layer of bosses CANNOT be indicted).

I guess I would further propose that in authoritarian regimes, because they are precariously rooted in (true) public opinion and (if imperial) are ever concerned about sub-ethnic secession, there are too many fatuous words of serious intent. So comics of the slightly wicked sort need to be incorporated into any and all state propaganda matrices if they are to keep audiences in play, sustain their overall appeal as rhetoric-makers. Maybe a simile with or from opera is in order: would say. anyone still watch such a cliche-packed tale as Boheme without the cafe scene’s backstabbing of the rich regime prototype lecher to liven it up? … Even the best of the classics seem to need one or another interstitial or divertimento, of the sort that irreverent (bawdy…) narratives are so good at creating.

At any rate, one thing that (even) Soviet Russia but NOT its “Far Eastern” competitors accepted was the appropriateness of this sort of discourtesy, provided it was somehow bound into “the system”. The Moiseyev Ballet troupe (to which we need return next post) is surely a prime example of this integration of seriousness and anti-seriousness: it owed its very existence to Stalin’s personal support (1936 on), first as a kind of circus, then not too long after as a melange of clearly deliberate take downs of any and all state-manufactured “Nation”al subcultures, external or internal. Of course there were infighter positives too… but Japan’s Takarazuka and the PRC’s “Eastworld Song and Dance” ensembles, though perhaps playing with the same idea, never had the courage to anchor it in a repertoire company.

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