Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Slate on kabuki, or, "I don't think that word means what you think it does"

Slate's Jon Lackman takes up one of my pet peeves, Americans' insistence on using the term "kabuki" to describe ritualized behavior (as if actors in Western drama don't follow scripts) (of course there is some improvisation in Western theater - but guess what, there is in kabuki, too).

He writes:
Of course, pundits don't care about the real thing. They use Kabuki precisely because they and everyone else have only a hazy idea of the word's true meaning, and they can use it purely on the level of insinuation. They deploy Kabuki because:

1) It sounds funny.
2) It sounds childish.
3) It sounds foreign.
4) It sounds incomprehensible.

He's right: the way US pundits use this word is indefensible. They're simply parading their ignorance.

I don't have much to add except that kabuki is really an amazing theatrical tradition, and I wish more people associated the word with that rather than with political behavior.

Bonus: if you're one of my local Oregon readers (do I have any?), you can go see kabuki, in English, from April 16 to May 2 in Salem at Willamette University, or May 2 in Portland. Here's the info.

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