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  • James Reid

Outrage and a Broadway Musical

A still of Christopher Jackson (George Washington) and Daveed Diggs (Thomas Jefferson) in a Original Broadway performance of Hamilton

Recently the creator of Hamilton, Lin Manuel Miranda, was driven from the social media platform Twitter due to hostility. It could be postulated, but not confirmed, that a lot of it was caused by outrage fueled attacks over his work, Hamilton. Before I continue I'll pose a question to you. Is art for the sake or entertainment even if it obfuscates the truth as a treatise on the awfulness of the past?

The year started off poorly. Fires tore through the Island continent of Australia, war with Iran seemed like a possibility and the entirety of the sports world was devastated by the loss of Kobe. Everything from political strife to natural destruction seemed to be plaguing our society. A devastating event would then take place in Minneapolis that would serve as a catalyst for revolution and bring us to question the very nature of our history as a republic. George Floyd was choked to death by a cop named Derek Chauvin. This event would cross various ideological discussions and end up with a musical caught in the crosshairs.

The entire debate about Hamilton wasn't caused because Floyd died. It was over a month between his death and when Hamilton was released on Disney+. Between then a progressive revolution had been brewing. In Bristol Connecticut a group of protesters found the statue of Slave trader Edward Tolston and toppled it off its perch, its final resting place becoming the bottom of a bay.

Locally we faced this ideological debate about history on more than one front. Our Mayor doxed protesters, people petitioned for the 13th century king Louis IX of France to be taken down because of his history with Jews and a statue of Christopher Columbus, who is seen by many as a genocidal maniac, had his statue removed from Tower Grove Park. That would only be isolated events of a greater philosophical movement.

People wanted all slavery supporting confederates to lose their statues, as the confederacy was not only seen as an enemy to America as a rebellion but also as the arbiters of the ideological belief that people of color needed to remain as slaves. Soon even the founding fathers were being viewed as enemies, which is a fair assessment.

Enter Lin Manuel Miranda. After striking a massive deal for the pro shot of his arguable opus, The hip hop musical about the first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, Disney scheduled its release for July 3rd just a day before Independence Day. The musical built off glorifying these people. According to Mount Vernon's website George Washington owned slaves. Thomas Jefferson, on top of his slave owning, is facing even further justifiable hatred for his treatment of the person of color who mothered his children, Sally Hemings, a lot of them through possible rape.

Hamilton showcases Washington as a flawed hero, never stopping to look at slavery. Instead his deepest moment of reflection can be found in his reminiscing of a failed command. Jefferson played by Daveed Diggs is even worse. He runs around doing his hip hop cabinet battles with the single heaviest moment of reflection being in the line "we know who is really doing the picking"

Musicals as an art-form, at least on Broadway, are aimed at the class of New Yorker who are willing to spend $900 for 150 minutes of singing and dancing. That's not an insult so much as a description of its primary demographic. Hamilton with its Pulitzer and 11 Tonys transcends the norms. It's considered one of those rare creations that serves as both populism and art. I'm not here to condemn the art or its failure to acknowledge history.

In conclusion I'll let you decide what stance you want to take. Art is subjective and so is what you take from it.


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