As it turns out, a night at the dinner theater with Miss Saigon is not a perfectly relaxing way to end a trauma filled week for a therapist and an anti-trafficking activist. In fact, if you are wondering how to re-traumatize someone suffering from secondary trauma, have them also watch a show about war, abandonment, exploitation, and death. When your husband says it's worse than The Walking Dead, you know you've crossed the line. "This is death and violence based on true facts and real stories!" So we found ourselves paying to be entertained by the reenactment of strip clubs and brothels and manipulated to laugh at the pimp's comic relief solo.
I was sickened. First of all, I had no memory whatsoever of all these scenes, having gone to the Chicago production in college. I remember liking the music, but my naive 18-year-old self must have failed to make necessary conclusions. Now, I had brought my husband to an exotic dance show!
I was saddened. Tears wet my eyes as these talented actresses subjected themselves to the degrading sexual behavior their sisters are forced to perform around the world, every day, in scenes all too similar. Beautifully sung, magnificently orchestrated and choreographed, we are duped into believing this is art, but the real thing is slavery? Why do we condone this?
I was furious. The Engineer was brilliantly funny and probably the best character in the show. He was also a trafficker - a glorified pimp feeding on the sexual enslavement of young girls. Why do we laugh at such men? Why do we humorously use the phrase "pimped out," dress our kids in pimp costumes at Halloween, and tolerate this sort of person? But here I was, participating in the horror of laughing at his lines.
These thoughts, by David Mura, put words to my jumbled emotions better than I can:
The real truth is: Prostitution is not a love story. But by focusing on this love story, Miss Saigon ignores or slights the dehumanization and exploitation of prostitution and instead tries to romanticize human trafficking. The musical ignores or slights the fact that this prostitution existed as a result of the U.S. military presence in Vietnam. It ignores or slights the fact the G.I. hero Chris and his fellow soldiers are exploiting and dehumanizing the Vietnamese women they take economic advantage of.
If a 17-year-old white Minnesota girl was forced into prostitution and then claimed she had fallen in love in one night with a john who was a soldier from any other country—Mexico, Saudi Arabia, China, India, Nigeria, take your pick—would your average white Minnesotan believe her? Would they look at this so-called love as romantic and tragically doomed? Or would they label it for what it is—the sexual, psychological and economic exploitation of a minor?
I am shamed. I paid money for this show and stayed despite my discomfort and shock. I cannot condemn anyone, for I myself contribute to a culture which allows human trafficking and the exploitation of others to flourish. The ugly truth is that we all do in a multitude of small actions every day. We mindlessly support industries, brands, and entire cities which use the sexual exploitation of women to turn a profit. Until we as a culture eradicate our tolerance for this in the mainstream, we cannot expect to see the end of human trafficking. We are naive to think so.
Consider what you may be supporting in your purchasing and entertainment decisions. Have you been similarly shamed by your own actions?