‘Yankee Dawg You Die’ and ‘M Butterfly’

In much of the, rather limited, academic work on Gotanda and his plays, the comparison to Hwang’s M. Butterfly appears often. Both plays are hugely reminiscent of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Where Hwang’s M. Butterfly cinematically spans some twenty years, the Gotanda piece examines the first year in the evolving relationship between a young aspiring Japanese actor and an older more established ‘Chinese’ actor. While Hwang’s Butterfly has a cinematic feel, Gotanda’s piece uses a stereotypical cinematic portrayal of a Japanese soldier to fix the general reception of Asianness in the popular consciousness. The opening scene of Yankee Dawg You Die, which attacks this standard portrayal of the Japanese, sets the tone for the rest of the play.

If M. Butterfly merely attacks the Anglo-American system of representing Asianness, Yankee Dawg You Die reinforces the attack with a discussion of its impact. Bradley, for example, exposes the effects of the mediated castration of the American male has had on his life while accusing Vincent of perpetuating it in his ‘Charley Chop Suey’ speech.

Both playwrights, in these works, utilize Western stereotypes regarding Asians as their source material. The stereotypes of the play are self-consciously enacted by each of the characters. The Asian American bodies of the respective actors are by no means conflated with their stereotypical role of the submissive Butterfly character in Hwang’s play, or the crazed Moto character in Gotanda’s. In Yankee Dawg You Die, Hollywood punishes both Vincent and Bradley with its thirst for grotesque ‘rumors’ and ‘impersonators’ that usurp the place for the actor both on and off the stage. At the same time, the play optimistically suggests that performing the stereotype can reveal the vulnerability of the system that produces it. Both Song and Vincent emerge as more powerful characters than the stereotypes they are forced to confront, making them more attractive and appealing, especially to an Asian-American audience.

Inseparable from these strategies, however, is a disturbing emphasis on the attractiveness of the stereotype. In Yankee Dawg You Die, Vincent and Bradley describe the enactment of stereotypes in language rife with metaphors of illicit sexuality; performing the stereotype is an unnatural act that holds a guilty pleasure. Watching Vincent on television is for Bradley ‘like having sex with my sister’. Yet Gotanda’s Yankee Dawg You Die depicts the marketing of these stereotypes to the public by unwilling actors. M. Butterfly more problematically emphasizes the seductive possibilities of the stereotype, not only for Gallimard but also for Song and the other characters. M. Butterfly is much more explicitly about the erotics of the stereotype, the fulfillment of desire through the performance of the image.