It’s possible that I might have misunderstood at the time — and I haven’t seen the film since it came out, so intervening years may have introduced even more misunderstanding — but I think I took away from Farewell My Concubine, the 1993 film about the Chinese cultural revolution, a belief that celebrity, in the form of a specific stage name and a specific kind of performance style and even a specific way of life, is passed down from generation to generation in the Peking Opera. The characters onstage are passed down from generation to generation in all theater, of course. I’m talking about the offstage persona. So imagine that there were still somebody calling himself Laurence Olivier today, who inherited the name from the prior actor, and who specialized in the kinds of roles that the original played, and who behaved in public and in private exactly the way that the original did. Except instead of Olivier, only one generation removed, it would probably be an actor’s name and persona from twenty or thirty generations ago, passed down from actor to actor, a backstage, real-life character “performed” as thoroughly and faithfully as Hamlet or Othello is “performed.”

Or, to put it another way: Lady Gaga should just buy the rights to the name “Madonna” and stop messing around.

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