Saturday, March 16, 2013
Following is a Letter to the Editor which appeared in the "Sydney Morning Herald" on 2 October, 1975. It refers to a play I attended in Sydney called "The Floating World" written by Australian playwright, John Romeril. The play is his most notable work and displays the usual Leftist double standards. "The Floating World" is a derogatory Japanese term describing the life of the pleasure-oriented idle rich in Meiji Japan. Romeril was at the time of the performance aged 30 and I was 32. The play was written in 1975
A recent picture of Romeril (as of 2013)
"The Continuum Companion to Twentieth Century Theatre", edited by Colin Chambers, says of Romeril:
"Socialism and a determined anti-imperialism have led him to champion the cause of the underdog and to examine contradictions in class, gender and racial conflict as well as Australia's geopolitical identity. This is evident in his version of "Love Suicides" (1997) and his involvement in the Landmines Project (from 1999)." -- JR
2 October, 1975
Play accused of stirring up hatred against the Japanese
SIR, I wish to make a protest against a particularly deplorable piece of racism being perpetrated in Sydney theatre. I refer to the anti-Japanese play "The Floating World" being presented at the Nimrod in Surry Hills. The racism starts even in the play's program notes. These feature several excerpts from anti-Asian diatribes written in Australia around the turn of the century.
When I attended the play, I at first took these ludicrous utterances about the "poor moral character of Asiatics," etc. as being something intended to amuse. The content of the play, however, suggests that they were meant to be taken seriously. Although the play is essentially about the reminiscences of an ex-digger survivor of the Burma railroad, the play starts out with a prologue attacking the involvement of Japanese business in the Australian economy. The only common element between the World War II incidents being recalled in the body of the play and the prologue is the common theme of anti-Japanese sentiment.
While the incidents paraded in the play did no doubt take place, while the World War II Japanese Army was no doubt brutal to Its prisoners, surely there is no point in stirring up these old hatreds and resentments now. Surely incidents such as the My Lai massacre convince us all that all armies are brutal to the defenceless from time to time — even the armies of the supposedly moral West. Who are we to criticise? And yet this play has the gall to parrot the old saws about how immoral it is for 350,000 Australians to drive Toyota cars because of what the Japanese did in the war. If I had been asked to conceive of a more anti-Japanese play than this one, I would be hard put to do so.
It explicitly engages in the "stirring up of racial hatred and resentment" which in Britain is now illegal and which in Australia there have been some attempt to make illegal. Given the usual liberal commitment to encouraging one another to treat people as individuals rather than as instances of a race or nationality, this anti-group, anti-race propaganda seems something we can do without.
Given the undoubted sensitivity of the modern-day Japanese to foreign criticism, and given their undoubted importance to us as partners in developing a better world, this play can have only negative effects. It is an example of the worst sort of taste. We must surely look to the future and not go on stoking up the resentments of the past. One gets the impression that among the trendies it is all right to be racist as long as the group criticised is successul and powerful — the Japanese. A play devoted to portraying the uglinesses of Aborigines would presumably never be presented in Sydney theatre. And yet the Jews can testify that racism directed against a successful and powerful group is every bit as destructive and dangerous as racism directed against the oppressed.
(Dr) JOHN J. RAY,
Lecturer in Sociology,
University of NSW.