Commentary

Gay panic at ‘Death in Venice’

A few weeks before the pandemic began the Croatian National Ballet visited Budapest.

A guest performance of the ballet ‘Death in Venice’ by the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb took place in Budapest when I had a friend visiting from Paris. When we arrived to the theatre the tickets were discounted. The cashier said it was because there were too many empty seats and they were filling them up.

But they weren’t just giving away cheap tickets to poor students (a time-honored tradition that allowed me to see all major operas and then some during my studies). The audience was full of besuited bureaucrats coming straight from work. Overheard conversations confirmed my assessment. The guys surrounding us were “from the ministry” and they recognized colleagues from other ministries on the balconies.

The air of righteous nationalism filled the room right as the Hungarian anthem was sounded. All besuited office rats jumped to their feet and solemnly demonstrated their national-ness – mostly to each other. Then the Croatian anthem came. Our besuited bureaucrats generously tolerated it – but it showed that they were tolerating.

But the pre-show torment wasn’t over just yet. The event was organized under the Croatian Presidency of the Council of the European Union and, as a consequence, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy was the third anthem we were supposed to listen to standing on our feet.

Our ministry rats were having none of that. They angrily slammed their assess down on their seats, the entire row was shaking. It was not the length of the anthems that made them sit down. It was to express their hostility towards the enemy, the EU. Just like they do at football matches. I told my French friend that it was just because the anthems were so long.

Luckily, the bureaucrats didn’t throw banana peels or chanted racism like they do at their natural habitats, the football stadium. The enemy was the EU after all, and it was not in attendance. So we could sit down and the ballet could start. I was worried when the suits remarked that the lead dancer was Asian and how come, but they gracefully let that slide. But what came after shocked them.

It started with subtle hints. But then the male dancers started wearing heels. The loyalist bureaucrats were starting to get uneasy. “Is this gay?” they asked one another. They had obviously no clue what ‘Death on Venice’ was about and the ballet didn’t have subtitles for them to clarify.

They grew increasingly uneasy. Are they silently sitting through and tolerating a display of homosexuality? What if someone sees? Hell, someone definitely sees – other bureaucrats like them are also in attendance.

Finally, they snapped. At some point the pressure was just too much for the poor loyalists. They rose to leave demonstratively. One group at first, then others. Scores of agitated and outraged loyalists were loudly leaving because they thought that the ballet was about homosexuals.

They would have been relieved to know that it was about the pedophile longings of an old guy.

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‘Death in Venice’ (dir: Luchino Visconti, 1971)

The “anti pedophile” law in action

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