Controversy over the Rock Opera

Where Elephants WeepWhen writing up my last post, I forgot to check with Cambodge Soir. As I read there today, I found out that the rock opera Where Elephants Weep has not been banned outright, as is also reported in a (translated) piece on KI Media. I found the Cambodge Soir report particularly insightful, relating who exactly said what and also including the views of the monk, the government and the opera representatives. You can read the original report in French by Ung Chansophea and Alain Ney on Cambodge Soir. My translation is below.

I must ask for forgiveness in advance. My translation from French is as bad (and liberal) as it is from Khmer. I hope that you can at least walk away from this with an understanding that there is a more complex story behind a headline as simple as “Monks Force Rock Opera Off Air.”

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Oh Those Cambodians…

Where Elephants Weep

Via Danny Fisher, I read about the rock opera that was forced off the air in Cambodia due to complaints from monks. Apparently, they were offended by the character of a bad monk who disrobed, slept with a woman and then was later seen again in robes. There was some other coverage of this story at Precious Metal, Mongkol and also at Shambhala Sun, where Rod Meade Sperry in particular caught my attention with the following lines:

This stands in stark contrast to how we Westerners mostly deal with cultural portrayals of Buddhism. Whether it’s a rapper co-opting a chant for his song, or a major motion picture taking incredible liberties with Buddhist ideas or imagery, or just the mountains of semi-Dharmic knick-knacks that are popping everywhere, we — for the most part — just shrug our shoulders and say, “Meh.”

It seems like a very simple story. Cambodian monks are basically narrow-minded angry Asian Buddhists who get offended every time they see Buddhism wrapped up in something they don’t recognize. If only they were as open-minded as us Western Buddhists. Those rock opera producers certainly had no idea what they were doing when they put the character of a nasty monk into their plot. Or did they?

Few journalists care enough to report in depth about Cambodia (except you Nicholas Kristof!), so here’s what I’ve got to say on the subject.

Continue reading “Oh Those Cambodians…”