Cultural Appropriation or Swiftian Satire? Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado

“The Mikado.” Illustrated London News, 4 Apr. 1885

| by Masaki Morisawa, Senior Product Manager, Library Reference, Tokyo |

Last year, an American high school student’s twitter account flamed up when she posted prom pictures of herself wearing a cheongsam, or Chinese dress. Some Asian Americans accused her, who is not of Chinese descent, of cultural appropriation. “My culture is NOT your [expletive] prom dress,” wrote one particularly upset commenter. Others, including many Asians living in Asia, defended her actions and dismissed such criticism as irrelevant.

While “cultural appropriation” is a fairly recent term, similar debates have arisen in the past where the borrowing of “exotic” elements from foreign cultures have been criticised as offensive or disrespectful. One such example is Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera The Mikado, a work that is often hailed as the duo’s masterpiece, yet at times has stirred controversy due to its use of Japanese costume and settings. In this post I would like to take a look at the history of Mikado performances and the controversies surrounding them.

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Off with Her Head? The Initially Mixed Reaction to Queen’s Iconic Song ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

Ewbank, Tim. "A first-class hit." Daily Mail, 4 Dec. 1975, p. 19. Daily Mail Historical Archive, 1896-2004

│ by Lily Deans, Gale Ambassador at the University of Birmingham │

Over the past year, the cinematic world has produced numerous biopics which share the stories of stars many of us have grown up with, love and admire. The most memorable one for me was the double BAFTA-winning Bohemian Rhapsody which portrayed the fantastic story of the most talented (in my opinion!) band of the past century: Queen. The film highlighted not only the unparalleled talent of this eclectic band but also the dedication and effort that went into producing the songs we all now know and love. Interestingly, however, one section of the film focused on the release of the now classic song Bohemian Rhapsody in October 1975 and highlighted the initially negative reception of the song (from some critics). This surprised me, as I have come to know Bohemian Rhapsody as a song that passes through generations with adoration and unyielding success. Thus, when I was introduced to Gale Primary Sources, I thought it would be interesting to research the critical reviews of Bohemian Rhapsody in Gale’s online archive, to see first-hand the opinions and negative comments that were made at the time of the song’s release – and to reflect on how questionable they are in retrospect!

Read moreOff with Her Head? The Initially Mixed Reaction to Queen’s Iconic Song ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’