Perhaps a lot of us sing loudly of feelings that are not quite our own, assert kinships and allegiances we do not exactly feel, try to feel familiar and comfortable in places where we are not thoroughly welcomed.
Archive for July 2012
“In a Conventional Dither”: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Camouflaged Critique of Race Relations at Mid-Century
During the three-year stretch in which Richard Rodgers’ and Oscar Hammerstein II’s South Pacific and The King and I reached the Broadway stage, theatrical expressions of support for the equality of black and white were a dicey proposition, courting charges of Communist sympathies. And yet in these two musicals, lyricist and librettist Hammerstein found a way to voice that support. However, in keeping with the times as well as his temperament, he did so by indirection, and also with what might be called camouflage: presenting the “destabilizing” message about race relations in a matrix that included remarkably conventional and reassuring, even retrograde, messages concerning the relations of the sexes and colonialism.
My family was not perfect in every way (no one’s is), but if they had done nothing else right, they acquitted themselves with great honor that day. If the powers that be at Penn State had half the sense of right and wrong, half the integrity that my family had shown forty years earlier, there would be several, maybe dozens, of young men today who would not now be struggling with demons whose acquaintance I fortunately never made.
And there is much melody in this ditty, especially as contributed by a deceptively simple ukelele. Hearing that plangent instrument obsessing over a C# minor 7th chord with McCartney’s sweet falsetto crooning the leading tone at the top and then swooping down through the chord to the tonic, lifts you into a sublime, solitary, and calm place.