Today’s News Meets 19th Century Musical Comedy
The Mikado: Inspiration for Aspiring Politicians (and “Journalists”)
Gilbert and Sullivan may not have been the originators of Screw Ball Comedy, but those late 19th Century musical comedy giants were certainly early masters of it. W. S. Gilbert, who wrote the lyrics for the team, was as fine a political and social satirist as ever to draw blood with a pen, or punch a keyboard, and the Mikado contains some of his finest work (and some of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s finest musical scores to boot). Watching the Mikado the other evening, after a day of political brouhaha, I realized what a wonderfully crafty politician is Koko, the Lord High Executioner, and how well he would fit into today’s political scene. How little politicians have changed since 1885!
To give the briefest background to Gilbert’s hilarious caricature of practical politics – Koko had recently come to his exalted position in the town of Titipu “by a set of curious chances”, which we won’t go into, but he was anxious to retain his cushy position so long as the duties were “purely nominal”. When faced with actually performing his duty, beheading Nanki Poo, he discovers himself entirely too tender hearted. Not daunted by that slight difficulty, Koko rationalizes that an affidavit of the execution would satisfy the far off Mikado (aka “Emperor”) just as well as a real execution. Such an affidavit is easily, if expensively, procured from the throughly corrupt Poo Bah, who holds all the other government positions in Titipu (and the salaries appertaining thereunto) – the problem seems resolved.
Shortly, however, Koko is alarmed to learn that the Mikado is approaching Titipu. Koko immediately begs his supposed victim to hit the road, for “…if he finds you alive, I shall have the greatest difficulty persuading him that I’ve beheaded you.” What breathtaking inspiration for any aspiring politician – no concession that ‘the jig is up’, no concession that reality trumps political fiction (no pun intended). Koko concedes only that his task as a politician will become more difficult in convincing the Mikado that the living reality standing before him is less reliable than the political fiction of the affidavit. And, of course, by the ‘and they all lived happily ever’ ending, Koko’s audacity born of desperation has accomplished exactly that.
Now to my point (finally, you may be saying). A few weeks ago millions of Americans were in an uproar over the contents of “hacked” emails revealing shocking criminality, pay for play corruption, sleaze, incompetence, a fraudulent party primary election, and collusion of candidate and “news media”. But, like Koko, our intrepid political class was not ready to yield to defeat and disgrace.
Today, the reality of the scandalous content of the emails has been entirely dismissed from the public discourse and the searchlight of media outrage is on the public spirited perpetrators of the so called “hack”. Posturing politicians of both parties, and their media lapdogs loudly decry ‘foreign intervention in the operation of American democracy’. It would seem some of them are just itching to start WWIII, so great is their indignation. There are calls for overturning the ‘fraudulent election’ that amount to nothing less than calls for revolution. Suddenly the crime appears not be the blatant corruption revealed in the emails, but the breach of politicians’ sacred right to conduct their reprobate affairs in private, and the public’s equally sacred obligation to remain ignorant – traditions politicians of both parties seem to agree upon. The delusions of political chicanery appear to be triumphing over reality once again.
I tell you, Koko had nothing on today’s political operatives, and even the satirical genius of W. S. Gilbert couldn’t have contrived a more absurd scenario.
copyright 2017 by Bill Kitchens