Canceling of Les Misérables kissing scene is not victory over LGBT but of hysteria

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~Republished from playwright Alfian Sa’at’s Facebook page~

In a Straits Times report, it was mentioned that MDA removed a a ‘same-sex kissing scene’ from the musical Les Miserables because of complaints from ‘members of the public’.

The report stated that “Facebook user Alvin Ng posted in a Facebook group that he wrote to MDA to complain about the scene”. It failed to mention that the group was ‘We Are Against Pink Dot in Singapore’. The poster, Alvin Ng, has removed his posts from the group. But why be scared of media attention if you believe in standing up for whatever you think you stand for?

Anyway, the operative term is ‘same-sex kissing’, not ‘gay kissing’. I know some LGBT people were upset when the news first broke, wondering whether it’s another instance of the MDA erasing any representation of queer people from the media—and thus rendering them invisible. But let’s put the kissing scene into context. Deep breath…

Hi Alvin Ng! (And friends.) You watched ‘Les Miserables’ the musical. Good on you! A musical, as you’d already realised, is not a 30-track CD that’s performed live by people in nice costumes moving around on stage. Usually a musical has a story, and a story has characters. And one of the characters in ‘Les Miserables’ is Monsieur Thénadier. In the musical, he is a comic secondary antagonist…

You know, what, never mind. Thénadier is a Very Bad Man. Of course the musical is a lot more complex than that, and part of what makes Victor Hugo’s novel a great work of literature is that there is moral ambiguity: Jan Valjean the convict and Fantine the prostitute are Good People, while Javert the policeman is a Bad Man. But that’s confusing! So back to Thénadier: he swindles customers at his inn, beats his servant Cosette and has Very Bad Manners.

At the end of the musical, Thénadier crashes the wedding of Cossette and Marius. He sings the song ‘Beggars at the Feast’, where he shows himself to be an unrepentant boor. He starts insulting the weddings guests:

Ain’t it a laugh?
Ain’t it a treat?
Hob-nobbin’ here
Among the elite?
Here comes a prince
There goes a Jew.
This one’s a queer
But what can you do?

And then he gives the guy who he claims is ‘queer’ a peck on the lips. Now Alvin, let’s just think about this kiss for a while. Not all lip-kissing is romantic, or erotic. In some cultures same-sex people even peck lips as a form of greeting. Drunken straight fratboys may do it as a stunt, often followed by sexuality-affirming gross-outs. Bullies do it too, because they think the ones they kiss will feel humiliated.

And Thénadier, being a Very Bad Man, is such a bully. The kiss he planted on the guest is not a mutual kiss. And a non-mutual kiss is assault. Come on, Alvin, the character is married to Madame Thénadier and they have a daughter! Were you even paying attention? But because you’ve been so inflamed by the daily moral panics at the WAAPD (We Are Against Pink Dot) page, you have to take a same-sex kiss from a musical completely out of context and flag it as some kind of insidious homosexual propaganda.

You might think that canceling the kiss represents some kind of victory over LGBT’s and liberals, but honestly Alvin, it is nothing more than a triumph of ignorance and hysteria over common sense and sober reflection. And with the MDA being dragged in, wearing a T-shirt saying ‘I’m With Stupid’, it is also a triumph of bureaucracy over literature.

There is a line to be drawn between wanting to tell the world that Singaporeans are conservative and wanting to brag about what backwater philistines we are. Unfortunately you’ve crossed that line to the latter. Thénadier, recognising a kindred spirit, would have been so proud of you that he would have given you a kiss.