Marriage Equality May Make ‘Peter Grimes’ Irrelevant
Now that the US Supreme Court has made it illegal for states to ban same-sex marriage, homosexual people across the English-speaking world (except Australia) are reportedly pleased that Western society is coming to accept their sexual orientation as a matter of course. Gay men and women everywhere have expressed their joy that such a powerful and symbolic victory on the road to equality has made them feel accepted and welcomed in a way that literary metaphors never could.
“Yeah, this real equality changes everything,” said John Man, keen opera enthusiast. “Just last month I watched Benjamin Britten’s classic opera Peter Grimes and I thought ‘wow that child murdering pedophile outsider is someone I can relate to metaphorically somehow.’ But with these new marriage equality laws all that seems a bit weird now, like maybe there was some other allegory Britten could have used to express the sort of crushing isolation he must have felt living in the homophobic UK of the 1940’s.”
Man says that it is understandable why anyone with a keen interest in opera would have been able to fall under Peter Grimes’ musical spell. Its thinly veiled attempt to express the cruel machinations of the intolerant society Britten lived in have long been the only way people could cathartically express feelings like “hey it was pretty bad we cut off Alan Turing’s balls” without feeling incriminated.
Now that society is at least superficially trying much harder to look like it includes minorities and previously persecuted types of ‘other’, Man is worried that soon there will be no audience left to enjoy that moment when Grimes predictably kills yet another child that obviously shouldn’t have been given to him in the first place. “I fear that the younger generation just won’t understand this,” he said, “because it makes even less sense now than it ever did.”
Even though he lives in a world where state-sanctioned equality seems to be spreading everywhere (except Australia), Man is hopeful that the next generation will be able to appreciate why Britten composed Peter Grimes the way he did. “At first, Benji just wanted to set the original poem, a long and depressing story about an unambiguously violent and cruel child-obsessed maniac, into an opera,” said Man. “But then he realised he could turn it into a metaphor for his own life instead.”
Man is nevertheless hopeful that performances of Peter Grimes will continue as per usual, and that audiences will somehow find a way to empathise with characters who just make one stupid decision after another and cause tremendous human suffering as a result. “Modern societies have obviously moved on from the sort of Dickensian bureaucracy in which unwanted children are thrown to the wolves,” he said. “Except Australia.”