Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Lord High Everything Else

I've been reading the text of Gilbert and Sullivan's great comic operetta, The Mikado, and I'm amazed at how good it is. Aside from being laugh-out-loud funny, it's a social and political satire, which gives it real depth.

One bit that really made me think is the dialog that comes in at the very end of the above clip. Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner asks advice from Pooh-Bah, The Lord High Everything Else, whether he should raid the treasury for his impending wedding festivities. Because Pooh-Bah holds every office in the city except for that of executioner, he is unable to give a coherent answer. He continually qualifies, contradicts, or overrules himself in a comical process that obviously could go through cycle after cycle forever.

One of the most distinctive principles of liberal democracy is the notion that these jobs should all be held by different people, so that they can check and balance one another.

Hey, wait a minute! Doesn't that mean that a free society will be like Pooh-Bah: confused, unstable, unable to arrive at a final answer?

Yes! It does! But what's so great about stability? After all, what "stability" means is that we have an argument and then one party wins, finally and irrevocably, and gets to lord it over the rest of us. The Hell with that!

If freedom is good, stability is bad. Let Topsyturvydom reign!

The dialogue between Ko-Ko and Pooh-Bah is considerably abridged in this clip. You can find the whole exchange here, at the end of "No. 5" (the fifth scene). Here is another clip, of Groucho singing another song from The Mikado, this time with his daughter:

No comments: