The Yea-sayer/Nay-sayer is a so-called school-opera written by Bertold Brecht, Elisabeth Hauptmann and Kurt Weill in 1930. Initially it was titled The Yea-sayer, and the plot revolved around the question of whether an individual must be agreeable to sacrificing themselves for the good of society.
In the first version of the piece a boy gives ‘permission’ for his own execution. After a sting of discussions with students and workers Brecht’s The Yea-sayer was modified into a second version, where the yea-sayer is presented in contrast to a nay-sayer.
This nay-sayer calls the blind obedience of the yea-sayer into question. The function of the yea-sayer has seen a variety of literary interpretations; perhaps the most common interpretation being that the character represents the expression of a false obedience with regard to authority and social norms.
Indeed, the term ‘yea-sayer’ has a negative connotation in the German culture. To be a yea-sayer means to say ‘amen’ to everything. Not to resist. To accept anything. Better to be a nay-sayer in this case.
Nay-sayers may be more complicated and unpleasant for those around them, but at least they stand up for their own beliefs. An (initial) ‘no’ could simply be a way of just expressing oneself.
The American television show Arrested Development which aired from 2003 to 2006 and was revived in 2013, follows the story of a wealthy family that recently lost their money in a scandal involving the family’s real estate business.
In the first episode Michael Bluth becomes CEO and President of the Bluth Company after his father is arrested for crimes involving the company. Immediately all of their assets are frozen, and they have to get by with very little money. Most of the family moves into one house together, and Michael sells their car and jet in order to have a little money.
Despite their sudden loss of funds everyone except Michael tries to keep living extravagant lifestyles, and whenever Michael finds out about his family’s excessive spending and low-income, he tells them ‘no.’
For example, Michael refuses to buy his brother Gob small items like desk lamps or frozen bananas, and he doesn’t support his career as a magician. He also refuses to let Gob live in the family house, and tells him that he can’t live in the family boat or at the company office either.
Whenever Gob has ideas about the company (most of which are illegal) Michael tells him ‘no.’ When Gob tries to escape from prison by jumping from a balcony (around 30 feet in the air) onto Michael to break his fall, Michael also tells him ‘no.’ And this is only a small sample of the times Michael tells Gob ‘no,’ not to mention the numerous times he uses this word with the rest of the family.
Despite his efforts to help save the family and their business (and turning down good job offers to do so) his constant ‚no’ keeps the family from appreciating him. The other members of the family often describe him negatively, calling him such things as “selfish,” “robot,” and “chicken,” and at one point, Michael and his sister Lindsay discuss Michael’s helpfulness:
Lindsay: “You’re, like, the least charitable person I know.”
Michael: “I don’t do anything for myself; everything that I do is for this family.”
Lindsay: “You don’t do it for us. You just do it because you love being the guy in charge, because you love saying ‘no.’”
Michael: “Don’t jump on me!”