I have a love/hate relationship with the musical "The King and I." Love Yul Brynner, the costume pr0n, and yes, the whole "Small House of Uncle Thomas" scene, warts and all. I know what it was trying to say, anyway. Was uncomfortable about some things, but nothing I could pin down, just a vague feeling. Insert Futurama internet meme here.
So when the animated version came out a decade or so ago I was pretty interested. It looked beautiful. I'm all for more traditional animated fare. And with the Rodgers and Hammerstein soundtrack, how could it go wrong?
Well, have you seen it? The Prime Minister is now Ming the Merciless, using Bad Asian Juju Magic to thwart the King's introduction to Western influences. And he has the worst stereotypical sidekick I can't even describe, buck teeth and singsong patter and all (even though they try to make fun of the whole teeth thing, it's so painful I can't even tell you).
It was SO awful I had actually blocked it out of my memory until I saw a used videotape of it at the thrift store for a buck and went, "hey, why don't I have this?" and then I watched it and remembered with blunt force trauma.
I watched this with horror thinking "who greenlighted this?"
And then I remembered stories of Hollywood: most painfully why the "Bridge of Birds" movie never got off the ground, because, to quote the author:
Everybody turned it down except Paramount, where it eventually reached the desk of a senior vice president who exclaimed, "Gooks? You want me to make a movie about gooks? And not even modern gooks?"
Cut to this Author screaming AAAAAUUUUUGGGGHHHHH like a character in a Peanuts cartoon.
Add to this a healthy helping of "remember when M. Night Shyamalan cast all those white kids in the Last Airbender movie and a group protested it? I was marginally involved in that" and you'll see how I can sort of become a little vocal when it comes to this stuff.
(fun fact: Paramount produced Last Airbender also, so, they are zero for two as far as I'm concerned. Sorry, George Takei, but your wonderful Sulu does not unfortunately negate those two examples)
So what does this have to do with, using the obvious analogy, the price of tea in China? Or that musical I was going on about?
Well I have a Kindle. And I have a habit of finding old books for free that work very well in with the stuff I'm writing about. It gets one in the mood to write in that 19th century style to read a bit of it, your mind starts constructing everything in those sentence structures and it makes it much easier to get into the zone with this book. So I'm surfing the free books on Amazon and what do I find?
"The English Governess At The Siamese Court: Being Recollections of Six Years in the Royal Palace at Bangkok" by Anna Harriette Leonowens.
The original book from which the movies and stuff were adapted.
Oh wow, thinks I to myself, reading a firsthand account, written by a woman of the time, with such a story I already know, that will be enlightening, won't it?
If you think so, dear Reader, you have not been reading me long, have you.
Before the chorus of "don't judge it because of the time it was written" starts up, let me remind you of those lovely Rodgers and Hammerstein songs, shall I? How about we put on "Getting to Know You" and let it play in the background while I quote from Mrs. Leonowens' own words:
About the Siamese people:
"In common with most of the Asiatic races, they are apt to be indolent, improvident, greedy, intemperate, servile, cruel, vain, inquisitive, superstitious, and cowardly"
which she then immediately follows up with
"but individual variations from the more repulsive types are happily not rare."
oh goody, glad you cleared that up.
I'm still reading through it, but more of a slack jawed fascination than anything else. But everywhere through this book so far are little needles and jerks about "golly how backwards these Asians are." I don't know if she was writing to her audience or what, but seriously.
According to this book she was some kind of Victorian pioneer of women's rights, travelling the world alone and speaking up for oppressed women, yadda yadda yadda. But also apparently much of what Mrs. Leonowens wrote in her own book was a pack of lies. I am interested to find out how much, and what specifically, those lies are.
But as for the musical? I don't think I'll ever be able to listen to that music again. All I can think of is her being introduced to all those kids whose only crimes were a) being Siamese and b) having a father who wanted them to learn English, and thinking how in her head she's considering herself the only thing between them and growing up "indolent, cruel, and cowardly."
Is it just me or are there too many damn sausage factories out there? :-(
(I'm adding a tag for "sausage factory" because I think I need one now.)