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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Horror and Censorship Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Art of the Cinema’

By Daniel Mercieca, Gale Ambassador at Durham University
Daniel Mercieca is an English Literature finalist, and President of both the English Literature Society and Bede Film Society at Durham University. His main research interests are Film Aesthetics and Screen Adaptation, with further interests in twentieth-century poetry and Romantic poetry. Dan enjoys the independence of thought, interdisciplinary and experimental aspects of studying English and aims to achieve a Master’s in Film and/or Literature. Dan enjoys lyricism and landscapes in the works of Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charlotte Smith and Toni Morrison. His favourite directors include Alfred Hitchcock, Darren Aronofsky, Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan for their suspense, soundtracks and cinematography. If he is not reading books or watching films then he is probably writing, running or trying something new.

Since the March 2018 Facebook and Cambridge Analytica controversies, censorship and data protection have come under an intense spotlight in today’s digitised society. While we become increasingly sceptical of surveillance, and cautious of what we post online, it is important to appreciate those who have struggled to be fully seen and heard. The efforts of writers and filmmakers to overcome issues of (in)visibility have consistently featured in my study of literature at university; Elizabeth Gaskell’s serialisation in Charles Dickens’ Household Words magazine, 1850-51 (she was restricted from publishing independently because of her gender), the Brontë sisters’ use of male pseudonyms, and the 1918 posthumous publication of Gerard Manly Hopkins’s poetry due to his Jesuitical vow of obedience, are all examples of nineteenth-century censorship.

Read moreHorror and Censorship Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Art of the Cinema’