I’m not a communist anymore?!

Right, ok…where do I even start here?

I’m not even going to attempt to express this poetically or even vaguely nicely (I sort of did that in my last post, which perhaps wasn’t poetic as much as it was chaotic, although the two are sometimes synonymous); I just need to laisser this crap sortir already. I’ve had a personal shift of sorts, and although my last post concerned a less defined version of this very shift, I need to chronicle it more clearly for one final time before I can move on.

Great. 3 sentences in and I’ve already started sounding like I’ve just had a breakup. I guess it serves me right for letting ideology, of all things, define my character and shape my development for two and a half years.

Ordinarily, I would start from the beginning, from the psychological, even aesthetic, process which I underwent before reaching the phase of my life which started in early 2014 and ended a few hours ago. But I already did that while speaking as my hypothetical 26-year-old self. And in any case, such abstract ruminations are meant to be crafted elegantly into delicate, shapely prose, not splattered onto the screen in a colourful mess of realness. This is not the place for that.

So this is what actually happened in my life – which, in comparison with my ‘inner world’, I barely ever discuss. I was a communist for two and a half years, and during those two and a half years I did a lot. I met some people who have influenced me considerably, read more theory than I had ever read before, got a column in a newspaper, amassed a reputation at school as ‘that communist girl.’ But more than anything else, I moulded my identity. During those fragile years at the start of adolescence, during which everything seems so uncertain, Marxism was what gave me purpose, a sense of direction, a sense of self. Paradoxically for someone who does not believe in a non-grammatical ‘self.’

I’m not really succeeding at the no-abstractions thing, am I? Oh, screw it. Maybe I can’t think outside of abstractions. Another paradox.

Anyway. It’s quite scary how much of an influence Marxism had on me, psychologically, over those two years. For a while, almost everything I said, read or did related to it. I tried to construct a persona for myself based on it. I tried to be an ‘intellectual.’ I tried to ‘fight the system’, even if that just meant not handing in my physics homework and calling someone reactionary on the coach. The result was that my entire reputation was based around being a Marxist. People only saw me in relation to Marxism, because I only saw myself in relation to Marxism.

Now, although others’ perceptions of me have generally not changed, my own have. As the dialectic goes, there were some quantitative changes before the qualitative ones which inspired this post. I grew increasingly interested in language, and then in the arts, and then in science. At the same time, although I tried not to show it, the utter ineptitude and plain pitifulness of the left was eating away at my energy. I realised that perpetually forcing myself to rebel did not make me content, or even fulfilled. And I don’t want to waste my time on this anymore. I want to contribute. I want to take pleasure in things. I want to learn and adapt and take the future as it comes, and I want to be happy.

Honestly, some part of me wants to run as far away from politics/economics as possible and never come back after this. I already know that my career will absolutely not involve it and that my true passions, rather than veils for my disconnect and stereotypical teenage conflict, lie elsewhere. But I know politics is too important to ignore, as well. I’m not ready to commit myself to an ideology yet, and I may never be ready again.

So all I will say for now is this. Today, I renounced the socialist sclerosis to which I had been bound for two and a half years, and I have never felt freer. We are living in an entirely new society today, where political and economic divides are disintegrating as we speak. And it’s exciting – not because our predictions will come true, but because we can predict nothing at all, and doing so will result in more faith than sound sociology. As for me, I’m going to devote far more time to the things which genuinely lift my spirits, and when it comes to politics, I want to be completely open-minded for a while. I want to know how that feels again. There is plenty of intellectual merit to Marxism, and some of it will stay with me for a while yet, most notably dialectics, structuralism, and the notion of a scientific outlook on and study of society. But however influential it was, I am closing that chapter of my life. I’m not a communist anymore.

Musical Review: Miss Saigon

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The second musical I saw was of a very different vein. For one thing, it was set (primarily) several thousand miles away, in Saigon, Vietnam. For another, it was set around 20 years earlier. And for another, far from being lighthearted and comic with subtle cultural messages, it was dark and harrowing, and the cultural conflict took a much more deeply frightening form (if anything can be more frightening than your Indian mother brandishing a rolling pin at you and yelling about how you’re a disgrace to your family). The plot, of course, was the famous story of the country girl from Vietnam who began a passionate romance with an American soldier during the war, lost him when he was evacuated, still believed that he would come back for her, and was finally broken three years later – after meeting his new wife.

This short summary cannot even begin to do justice to the utter grief and anguish conveyed by the musical. Some musicals make the audience pity the character, and maybe sniffle a little. This was the first musical I’ve seen that didn’t just induce a little bit of sorrow and sympathy and sniffling; it induced a complete outpour of empathy, of emotion, of despair on behalf of the protagonist, who had lost everything she had. It takes extremely effective characterisation and worldbuilding to make the audience feel so connected to a character, especially when the character in question is not in a circumstance to which most people in the audience can relate, in this new, post-Cold War millenium. Apart from the brilliantly realistic and poignant acting, there were two main factors which I thought contributed to making the musical so easy to relate to. The first of these was the appeal to basic human emotion through the use of “motifs” of what people seem to instinctively pity. In particular, this was done using children. Kim’s (the main character’s) son served as a projection screen for much of her emotion: he represented her lust for her lover Chris, her absolute certainty that she was married to him despite the lack of legal documentation, her total conviction that she and he had to be together and that they had to find each other again and that she had to leave the real life dystopia that was Communist Vietnam. Since we are all aware of that deep, intimate bond between mother and child, this made her emotion even more real and painful than it already was.

The second factor is something to which I would like to devote a fair amount of discussion: the set of the musical. It was spectacular. I am not the slightest bit familiar with the technicalities of staging and set design, but the versatility of the set, the way in which it could transform from strip club to barracks to traditional village to hotel suite and back again, showed a really smart design. There were two scenes in particular which I felt used staging to capture emotion perfectly. Firstly, there was a scene near the beginning of the play showing some sort of Communist military parade, which I think was to display the brutality of the war and the conviction with which the Communists executed this brutality “for the greater good.” The sides of the stage were lined with Vietnamese Communist flags – red with a gold star in the centre – and soldiers clad in identical military uniforms embossed with a red star marched across the stage, forming a shapeshifting block of khaki, as a large golden bust of Ho Chi Minh’s head watched over the scene. The lighting was harsh, the music thumped and periodic bursts of smoke provided regular “jolt-up-in-seat” moments. It was an “all-out” show of military splendour and the glories of collectivism, and even with knowledge of the atrocities of Ho Chi Minh’s regime one couldn’t help but admire and anticipate the revolution.

In contrast to the brash, upbeat strength of this scene, the other scene which particularly stood out was the one during which the American soldiers were evacuated. This scene was particularly hard to set, since there were many emotions and senses which all had to be conveyed at once – the rush of the evacuation, the desperation of the soldiers, the roaring chaos of the surrounding war, and the slow breaking of Chris and Kim’s hearts as they found out that they wouldn’t be able to reach each other. This was accomplished by a riot of loud bangs, shouts, flashes and, ringing out above all this, the two lovers calling to each other in vain. The scene was complete with a genuine helicopter dangling above it, whose sounds filled the room.

In terms of the music, I didn’t find that the songs from this musical were anything special; I thought that the dialogue and scenery were a lot more powerful in terms of conveying the emotion of the story than the songs were. The one song which I did really enjoy was, incidentally, one which I sang two-and-a-bit years ago at the Performing Arts Workshop at my school: the Wedding Song. I’ve yet to find out what the Vietnamese words in it actually mean, but it was wonderfully delicate, with beautiful harmonies: a musical monument to love at its purest. Perhaps this is my obsession with foreign music speaking, but I wish there had been more music in Vietnamese: from what little I have heard of the language outside of this musical, it really is quite beautiful and romantic.

Although Miss Saigon is, for the most part, a love story rather than an insight into sociocultural contrasts, I was pleased to note that there were a good few cultural phenomena on which to comment. The main cultural conflict here was classic Cold War stuff: a counterposition of American, capitalist values and the Communist – and, paradoxically, more traditional – values of Vietnam. There was one song by the strip club owner, who was a born capitalist (and who got too much screentime, in my opinion), which was a huge, showy dance number with feathers, stilettos and money-throwing and epitomised capitalist culture, contrasting sharply with the military parade: an epitome of Communist culture. In Vietnam, falling in love with someone from the West was being “a traitor to your country”; in the US, men deliberately went to Asian countries to meet women. And a considerable part of the central plot stemmed from a cultural misunderstanding: Kim thought she was married to Chris after a traditional Vietnamese ceremony, while Chris, being American, viewed marriage as primarily a legal matter and proceeded to legally marry someone else back in the States two years later. Another interesting thing to note is the idealisation of the United States – throughout the musical, despite having just lost a war, the United States remained the stuff of particularly good dreams for every Vietnamese character in the play. All the Communist, anti-Western propaganda seemed to be futile. Interestingly, in today’s world such propaganda is much less prevalent than during the Cold War, but America is the world’s most hated country according to ABCnews.

So overall, I did really enjoy Miss Saigon; it was poignant, raw and cleverly put together, and contrasted well with the other pieces of art which I’m reviewing for this project.

(I hope y’all enjoyed the lack of political bias.)