Friday, August 24, 2007

New Yorker Profile of Ian McKellen

When Ian McKellen visited Singapore on a R.S.C. tour, Yawning Bread pointed out the bad publicity that must result from Singapore's anti-gay law:

So McKellen lands here, he reads the highly prejudiced letters in the press, he mixes with gay Singaporeans and hears their stories. He watches a gay play in which Section 377A of the Penal Code is discussed.

What do you think he's going to say about Singapore after he's left our shores? He, the celebrity with huge access to the media all over the world?

Sure enough, the New Yorker profile of the gay actor, written by John Lahr, includes a paragraph on McKellen's response to Singapore. As part of his interpretation of Lear, McKellen strips completely naked in the storm, but not in Singapore.

In Singapore, where gay sex is punishable by up to ten years in prison, Lear was forced to wear underwear in the storm scene and McKellen spoke to the press protesting the community's "personally offensive" anti-gay strictures. During a TV interview, he managed mischievously to mention that he was looking for gay bars. "When I found a couple," he wrote, "I was greeted rapturously." So, evidently, was the tour. "Singapore was a wow--full houses and standing ovations," he wrote.

What a terrible irony. Singaporeans gave him standing ovations, but would as soon clap him into jail should he have sex with another man in the country. And so the country gets entangled in contradictions as it tries to promote Singapore as a Renaissance city, and the arts as another growth engine of the economy. The anti-gay intolerance goes hand-in-hand with moralistic philistinism. Requiring Lear to cover up, with no appreciation for the integrity of a man's art, is barbaric, even as it poses as custom.

In McKellen's interview with Reuters, (quoted by Yawning Bread), he responded thus to the question whether he was aware that Singapore senior statesman Lee Kuan Yew has said it would be difficult to repeal the law on sexual acts between men because of popular opposition from the country's conservative majority:

"Yes. Then he must expect gay people not to come here, he must expect gay people to emigrate, he must expect no company to have their gay employees work here."

Home truth.


Miguel Murphy said...

Thanks for this! McKellan's LEAR is coming to LA in Oct and I can't wait to see him--

Love your work, and your blog!

Jee Leong Koh said...

Thanks! I'm probably too late catching him in Sep. at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.