Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How Colonialism Makes Everyone Look Stupid

I've gotten very into 1930s music recently. Not just dance music--though that's fun, too--but popular music from the 30s. The radio hits and movie themes. And... ...this song. Noel Coward's Mad Dogs and Englishmen is probably a teensy bit racist (or more than a teensy bit racist) in spots, but it's also a hilariously rendered bit of lingual dexterity. Because most of my blog friends are either writers or history geeks or both, I thought you might enjoy this! What I find so interesting about this song is that no one gets off scot-free. There is definitely the ingrained and rather offensive use of terms like "natives" for people who are not English, but are part of the colonized Empire. I definitely sense an assumed hierarchy invoked here Yet, we're also poking fun at the colonizers, and how their customs and clothing are ridiculously out of place in the territories they've claimed as their own. In a stanza missing from below, "It's such a shame when the white men claim the earth; that they give rise to such hilarity and mirth!" A few stanzas for your reading pleasure:

In tropical climes there are certain times of day
When all the citizens retire,
to tear their clothes off and perspire.
It's one of those rules that the biggest fools obey,
Because the sun is much too sultry and one must avoid
its ultry-violet ray --
The natives grieve when the white men leave their huts,
Because they're obviously, absolutely nuts --

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
The Japanese don't care to, the Chinese wouldn't dare to,
Hindus and Argentines sleep firmly from twelve to one,
But Englishmen detest a siesta,
In the Philippines there are lovely screens,
to protect you from the glare,
In the Malay states there are hats like plates,
which the Britishers won't wear,
At twelve noon the natives swoon, and
no further work is done -
But Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
The toughest Burmese bandit can never understand it.
In Rangoon the heat of noon is just what the natives shun.
They put their scotch or rye down, and lie down.
In the jungle town where the sun beats down,
to the rage of man or beast,
The English garb of the English sahib merely gets a bit more creased.
In Bangkok, at twelve o'clock, they foam at the mouth and run,
But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

1 comment:

MrsC said...

Love this song, love Noel! We saw Blithe Spirit in the west End in our first few days in the UK, only three weeks ago but seems longer! It is very funny but famously mysoginistic; Coward had no untimely sensitivities and his prejudices reflected the age in which he revealed them, which I guess is interesting too. Incidentally the play is set in the 1940's and the costumes were terrible! Great hair though! Silly things like the dinner guest wearing palazzo pants-yes they were a fashion but not in English countryside society. Mind you I've done things like that myself when costuming Agatha Christie plays, knowing full well all the women would have been in tweed, but that's so dull! (not at dinner of course)
Anyway I am prattling, thankyou for a lovely taste of memeory lane ;-)