Two hundred and forty years after declaring what some argue is one of the most familiar and revolutionary sentences in the English language (Benson) – “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” – America is obsessed with race and diversity (as well as gender and terrorism). For one example, Black Lives Matter (Black Lives Matter), a chapter-based national organization with the intent to “(re)build the Black liberation movement” continually emerges in the evening news (Time) and social media, epitomizing the left-wing, liberal, academia-theory-driven obsession (Gross) with equalizing diversity through collectivistic legislation and genre specific reductionist theories, rather than holistic, inclusive practices within a voluntary, free-market economy of freedom. What was ironically purported to be self-evident in seventeen seventy-six, having omitted women and people of color, has taken nearly two and half centuries to work-through, process, and integrate into the culture, let alone the minds of its “free” citizens. This early twenty-first century, historical moment in time is ripe for “diverse” people in these United States to “rise up” and “take a shot” (Hamilton) at the old racist guard of the paternalistic status-quo. A fantastic new musical on Broadway is reaping the fruits of this fertile timing, and as I will suggest, is just as ironic and omits historic truths just as the original language in that document did. In short, the new musical Hamilton is a good ‘ol boys musical ironically performed by people of color telling the white man’s history.
Broadway musicals have a history of taking a shot at the status quo and forcing open a previously closed conversation. Musicals like Hair or The Book of Mormon more recently, challenged the readily accepted status-quo opinions and asked audiences to rethink conventional paradigms (NewYork.com). The newest “game changing”, (Hollywood Reporter, Nation) “revolutionary” (Goodreads) musical is simply titled Hamilton and imprints the new cultural meme of Alexander Hamilton as a game-changing revolutionary immigrant hero who took a shot at greatness but did not receive his due; until now. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s splendidly unique new musical is being hailed as a “landmark musical”, “not seen in decades” as stated in the New York Times (NYT Style Mag), and that is just the beginning of the adulations and high-fluent, gushing praise the musical has been receiving, pushing it toward much greater heights than Miranda’s previous Broadway success with his debut In The Heights. The rap-infused, hip-hop-driven music (Los Angeles Times – although it also includes R&B and other more traditional Broadway styles) along with the color-blind casting, (Vox) move Hamilton into a new genre of Broadway musicals. Just as Hair initiated full-blown rock into Broadway musicals, Hamilton will most likely be known as the initiator of the rap, hip-hop musicals to come. It will also be known as a leader of fully color-blind musicals that are likely to storm Broadway. And in today’s diversity-obsessed commercial America this makes perfect sense. The timing is right and the country is ready for this performance even as Trump’s uncanny performance and his constituency may not agree and may push the country toward a less diversely-open society. Which performance will take hold remains to be seen. Even Miranda admits, “But that being said, it’s all an accident of timing”. (Here and Now)
So what is the larger message of this episodic musical’s new-found legacy? What future opportunities will be forthcoming because of this precedent-filled production? Certainly rap and hip-hop will have more commercial appeal, but will color-blind casting continue to light the stages of the Great White Way? Will we get a Great Rainbow Way to replace the whiteness of Broadway just as Hollywood struggles with the issue currently? Just why is this musical afforded liberal openness when Hollywood is so lacking in color, while professional sports are still behind the curve (Think Progress), and the tech sector continues to be exclusionary? (Time-2) And most importantly why are these diverse people playing roles that romanticize and glorify the white European men who portended to be egalitarian while conveniently looking past the slaughtering of millions of diverse peoples as they did their part to “settle” the continent? In this essay I will explore these questions and suggest that Hamilton is chock-full of ironies, cements the status quo of the Broadway’s Great White Way and the white man’s history by following what is omitted in our official historical narrative, and is hugely successful because of its timing in this era of diversity obsession.
Could it be that the exquisite Hamilton toes a scripted line of the white man’s history based on Ron Chernow’s biographical dissemination Alexander Hamilton (Chernow) and so in fact is simply embedding a needed historical narrative which brews nationalistic pride and patriotism, albeit with a new colorful telling? Is this musical guilty of “removing offending excess” therefore “killing the ‘deep content’” of the history as warned by theater writer Rush Rehm in Radical Theater: Greek Tragedy in the Modern World? (Rehm) Indeed, Professor Emeritus Ishmael Reed doesn’t mince words as he finds the “establishment historians” of best-sellers “guilty of a cover-up”. Reed states unequivocally: “This is the case with Alexander Hamilton whose life has been scrubbed with a kind of historical Ajax until it sparkles. His reputation has been shored up as an abolitionist and someone who was opposed to slavery. Not true.” (Reed)
Would the same hyper-sensational, phenomenal success story accompany a Miranda hip-hop, rap-driven musical about Abraham Lincoln based on Lerone Bennet Jr.’s dissenting polemic Forced Into Glory (Bennet) which paints a portrait of Lincoln, using his own words, as a racist man? What would Broadway do with Lincoln’s words: “there is a physical difference between the white and black races, which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together in terms of social and political equality”. (Lee) Or would that hypothetical musical be barely recognized just as Bennet’s book is hardly taken seriously by Civil War scholars? (Project Muse) In today’s America where one pays a mighty price to question or dispute the corporate-driven official line of thinking, whether it be a an academician (Carolina Connection) or a doctor (Humphries) or an athlete (Complex Sports) or a politician (Salon), it seems all too clear that phenomenal success occurs in direct relation to the corporate sanctioning and advocating of a product or line of thinking. Hamilton follows the recipe expertly, mixing the fashionable, liberal, color-blind mindset, the token line or two supporting academic feminism (Warner), the heterosexual testosterone-driven hip-hop currency with the superb skills of composing a sung-through, dance-fest, glam musical complete with Broadway spectacle expectations.
While the liberal academy pursues the noble, humane, and deeply spiritual cause of equality of the races, it does so at its own peril often, much like feminism, by ignoring the differences and asking blacks to be like whites, similarly as women to be like men. The outcome of which is more of the same; more of the same ills of society that was brought about by the whites and men respectively, only in a different hue. It emits a sense of irony: why ought blacks want to act like whites or women like men? Why not blacks bring to the table their own history, as in this line of questioning of Hamilton, or women bring to the table their own natural inclination toward nurtured inclusivity and holism rather than the divisive, separatist, reductionist, drive for profit and glory that motivates men, especially men like Hamilton?
There is an irony, missed it seems by most, reversed by the cast and its supporters, that the diverse cast portraying all slave-holding men in the heroic, glorifying, romanticizing manner they do is demeaning to diverse people and continues to obfuscate the truth regarding these founding fathers. While the “racist legacy” of President Woodrow Wilson is being expunged at Yale (Washington Post) the same legacy is celebrated at the Richard Rogers Theater on Broadway. In fact all over America historical figures are being redressed for their racist attitudes, (Washington Post-2) yet we keep the founding fathers on a pure, lily-white, Anglo-American pedestal. These gentlemen owned slaves, did not free them easily, and yet espoused freedom and equality. By any definition this is hypocrisy. This hypocrisy, over-looked, disregarded and staunchly supported by performing men of color could be considered a back-handed slap in the face to diversity and perhaps propagates the historical narrative which omits a face-to-face examination and investigation of the hypocritical, racist nature of the birth of this nation.
The historical narrative of diverse people already native to this land, long before the white man conquered her, is a radically game-changing story were we to take it seriously and allow our corporate educational system to teach it. This narrative would align more with Broadway’s Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk (IBDB) which told the story of early Black American history and was performed by an all black cast, although not nearly received in the same glory as this new show which is not a “black” show. For the richly diverse, truly native “Americans” who lived on this land, whom we call “Indians” (Free Dictionary), these founding fathers are the next in line of generations of murderers and rapists who stole their land and freedom. Before the white man invasion and colonization there was no reason to “rise up”; there was no one oppressing them. The white man brought to this land his cause, without any regard for the real Americans, and with it their disgust of the British tyrannical rule. Short-sighted by any stretch of the imagination, these men forgot their manners, compromised their principles, and denigrated their ideals by treating the folks they ran into here the same way they were treated by their government; worse actually, much, much worse. Now, the oppressed, diverse people are making money and living the high life by pleasing the Great White Way’s producers, lining their pockets with fiat money which began with Hamilton’s central banking system, and all-the-while ignoring the possibility that they are only allowed to be invited to the capitalistic theatrical table because they are toeing the line and acting like good ol’ boys. Perhaps the progressivism of this production is camouflage for keeping the people of color right where they are expected to be.
Miranda, in his brilliant writing, did not include Hamilton’s support for the Alien and Sedition Acts (Encyclopedia) that ironically closed the door of opportunity for many new immigrants to the new nation. Hamilton did not align with immigrants. But immigrant rights are a hot topic today and Miranda, in the right timing, lends his support of the immigrant’s cause making immigrants the ones who “get things done!” (Hamilton) Ironically, Hamilton and the Federalists resemble Trump’s position on immigration, a very unfriendly position for liberal, left-leaning political advocates. Also played on Broadway in 2015-16 was another immigrant themed musical called Allegiance (Arts Beat), telling the story of America’s imprisonment of innocent Japanese-Americans into internment camps during World War II. Connecting the dots one can relate the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 with this musical which highlights the injustice done to these Japanese-Americans, thereby joining Hamilton and the Federalists with the injustice. Yet Miranda, from Puerto Rican immigrants himself, uses Hamilton to espouse a message of immigrant heroism, while Alexander and the Federalists shut the door on immigrant opportunities in 1798, as well as free speech.
Another Broadway musical from recent memory comes to mind when we consider what the ramifications are for a colorful cast to bring a new narrative regarding our history. The Capeman (IBDB -2) told the true story of Puerto Rican immigrant Salvador Agron’s committed murder in New York City, for which he had no remorse, but the writers put the crime in a larger context which had a sense of compassion more aligned with Greek tragedy than commercial Broadway; protests ensued. The music was widely regarded as changing the tune of Broadway also, this time to a Latin beat. Yet Paul Simon, the composer and owner of the show was not politically correct and was treated to a cold shoulder from the Broadway community even though many out-of-towners were enthralled by the production. Simon was not acting the part, nor was his narrative, and his performances were doomed. Miranda is not the ill-behaved composer that Simon was.
Another irony to add to the list is the #Ham4Ham Lottery and Show that took place outside the theater daily and is now grounded to a digital, virtual on-line reality because the dangers of so many cash-strapped people taking over the streets of Broadway. (Theater Mania) In essence, win the #Ham4Ham Lottery and a $10 ticket with Hamilton’s face on it will get you in to see Hamilton, while the #Ham4Ham Show exhibits the cast entertaining the cash-strapped folks for free during the lottery outside the theater, only now virtually. The high price of Hamilton tickets (Applause) makes it a musical for the middle-class at best.
With the majority of Blacks unable to make it to the middle-class (Frontline), one logically wonders if the cast of Hamilton is serving the wealthy, rather than the average American. Clever men have known how philanthropy can assuage a maligned reputation and the producers of this show recognize that without a “here’s your chance” lottery there may very well be some backlash based on exclusion. But offer a pittance to the lower class and it makes it hard for anyone to complain. One could argue this is capitalism, and it is, and it is founded in part by Hamilton’s financial vision for America built on accumulating debt and managed by a central government bank (although the bank is actually owned by private Anglo-American white men) that has helped create the vast income disparity we see in America today. Immigrant Alexander is celebrated inside the theater as a “hero” while outside the theater Hamilton is out-of-reach for the immigrants; not a warm welcome but rather a dice game. Ben Brantley of the New York Times was right; one must almost mortgage one’s house to get into Hamilton.
When asked about the fact that some of his target audience cannot afford to see the show Miranda self-referentially offered this: “Well that’s true of every theater show that exists. Part of the magic of theater is that people are in the room where it happens. And the simple laws of supply and demand have made this a tough ticket”. (Here and Now) This simple explanation of capitalistic principle defies the reality that supply and demand are hardly the driving force in our Hamiltonian government sponsored economy of “chosen” businesses which get bail-out money and subsidies, as well as the reality that dynamic pricing gouges out the under-classes in the drive for profits. With Broadway’s recent shift to dynamic pricing models (New York Times) the rich (whites have twelve times more wealth than blacks) are privileged to be the hipster first audiences and the poorer folks (blacks have twelve times less wealth than whites) will get the stale crumbs of a long-run musical long after its break into fashionableness. (CNN)
Yet Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow states “Our history is the saga of outsiders becoming insiders — of the marginal and dispossessed being welcomed as citizens”. (NYT Style Mag) Perhaps if the colorful cast were in actual power they might change this ironic soft-injustice, just as Hamilton may have changed the barbaric practice of slavery had he had the power. But he didn’t, the cast didn’t, and we can only judge by all of their actions.
The cast is making money and generating celebrity while their less advantaged brothers and sisters cannot take part in their glory; while Alexander made money and was hell-bent on glory, his slave, Dromo, was ill-treated and was captive. (Project Muse-2) Although Hamilton wrote “All men have one common original: they participate in one common nature, and consequently have one common right”, and also reasoned that no “one man should exercise any power, or pre-eminence over his fellow creatures . . . unless they have voluntarily vested him with it” (Alexander Hamilton), Alexander did not heed these words in action. In actuality Hamilton was a merchant in slavery and “besides marrying into a slaveholding family, Hamilton conducted transactions for the purchase and transfer of slaves on behalf of his in-laws and as part of his assignment in the Continental Army”. (Early America) Ironically, Chernow states, “Now Hamilton threatens to become the chic and glamorous founder”. (NYT Style Mag)
Of course the old ironic argument remains strong: people are a product of the times they live in. This framing context is supposed to allow us compassion and forgiveness to those who happened to be short-sighted in the
past when what is now considered criminal, irrational and inhumane was perfectly legal and supported by prejudiced, rational arguments. This line of reasoning often misses the point that there were already people who were acting on their humanistic beliefs and did not follow-the-times as it were. One powerful example of this were the Quakers, whom all of our founding fathers knew of. The Quakers, better known as Friends, also partook in the slavery-of-the-time and like many of these founding fathers, also realized the evilness of this enslavement. But the crucial difference is in what they did about it. They did not remain hypocritical but acted on their principles and petitioned the United States Congress to abolish slavery. They helped with the Underground Railroad, helped with resettlement, and became the first organization to take a stand against slavery and act upon the unacceptability of this nightmare that others could not bring themselves to do. (History) Why we consider these “founding” men to be heroes and not the Quakers is a question we might reflect upon. These noble men did not align with nor ally with the Quakers’ movement to do exactly what they said they wanted to do. No one lived more authentically the meaning of the words to that famous and revolutionary sentence we quoted above; only the Quakers lived in equanimity. Lest we conveniently forget, these righteous men who wrote the documents were not building a nation for all; they were building it for white men. It did not include women. It did not include blacks. It did not include natural Americans. It did not include anyone other than white men.
Hamilton may flip minstrelsy on its head, offering “sympathetic and insightful portrayals of the archetypal white Americans” as suggested by the New York Times (NYT Style Mag), rather than perform racist portrayals, but these sympathetic portrayals are deeply flawed and sanctioned to omit the ugly parts of these characters. The Smithsonian Magazine offers a very different point of view that certainly would create a radical re-telling of this same story:
“Jefferson owned slaves. He did not believe that all were created equal. He was a racist, incapable of rising above the thought of his time and place, and willing to profit from slave labor. . . Jefferson, like all slaveholders and many other white members of American society, regarded Negroes as inferior, childlike, untrustworthy and, of course, as property. Jefferson, the genius of politics, could see no way for African-Americans to live in society as free people. He embraced the worst forms of racism to justify slavery. . . Thomas Jefferson did not achieve greatness in his personal life. He had a slave as mistress. He lied about it. He once tried to bribe a hostile reporter. His war record was not good. He spent much of his life in intellectual pursuits in which he excelled and not enough in leading his fellow Americans toward great goals by example. Jefferson surely knew slavery was wrong, but he didn’t have the courage to lead the way to emancipation. If you hate slavery and the terrible things it did to human beings, it is difficult to regard Jefferson as great. He was a spendthrift, always deeply in debt. He never freed his slaves. Thus the sting in Dr. Samuel Johnson’s mortifying question, “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty from the drivers of Negroes?”. (Smithsonian)
The casting choice that flips the minstrel backwardness “shows us who we were as a nation but also who we are now” as Chernow states (NYT Style Mag) and is reiterated by Miranda saying ‘‘the show reflects what America looks like now”. (ibid) Are they saying that diverse people today are fulfilling the white man’s history in these performances? And/or that America is all people of color today (the cast has only one white male)? And/or that there were no people of color back in the mid seventeen hundreds? Their line of thinking is a deliberate push toward changing the racial mind-set and history of the culture. Miranda wants us to rethink history that includes the outsider, the immigrant, as a nation builder. When asked how immigration fits into his show, he responds:
On a certain level, Hamilton is the first proto-immigrant story. He is local boy, comes from Caribbean, works harder than everybody else, makes good. I think it’s a very important reminder that the people who have helped build this country and make it what it is often have come from somewhere else. It’s the renewable life source and blood source that makes this country great. (Here and Now)
Whatever “level” Miranda is referring to, it excludes the fact that every person who ever set foot on this soil off a ship from another land for two-hundred years prior to Hamilton’s arrival, was an immigrant. The forced migration of African immigrants, who cultivated the soil and created vast amounts of wealth and valuable property for America are left out so that Hamilton, born of a French mother and a Scottish father can be cast as the “proto-immigrant”. (Bio)
Let’s follow the book of this musical, the progression of Hamilton’s life according to Hamilton to discover insights to our point of view here, unpack the messages, and find any answers we might glean from all of our questions (For all quotations from the show please see Hamilton in Works Cited for official lyrics). In Alexander’s first conversation with Burr he bursts forth with “God, I wish there was a war!” – clearly showing his hawkish, war-mongering, which aligned very well with John Laurens, the Southern political leader known for his anti-slavery stance, and his well-known desire for “glory”. In fact Laurens left his wife and child, just as Hamilton did later, to attend to more important activities he cherished in his life- neither were family men, their lust was for glory and each paid the price of this ambition, Hamilton in a sex scandal and Laurens with his life.
Miranda has the company immediately tell us that Hamilton was “another immigrant, comin’ up from the bottom”. Yet Hamilton was of European decent brought up in the West Indies and not much more of an immigrant than any of the other Europeans who came to conquer this land; his skin color tells the story. His white skin would never be the immediate, unconscious clue for racist European men that he was an “immigrant”. But if his “immigrant” skin had color in it he would have been denied much of his opportunity and privilege. He rose up successfully because he looked European: he was white. His “bottom” was not so bad; what was slavery considered, rock bottom?
In his first conversation with Burr, Alexander’s ambition and braggadocios character affronts Burr. He warns young Alex “talk, less, smile more. Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.” And thus begins Hamilton’s initiation into American politics: deceive, play games, and definitely do not be honest- hide your true self! Of course Alex wants to “get ahead” as Burr insinuates but he wants to do it his own way, by talking and writing his head off! Laurens and Hercules Mulligan (who owned a slave, Cato, just like the rest) jump in “yo yo yo yo yo! what time is it? It’s show time!” and the three become fast friends. After spittin’ out some self-satisfied rhymes, which Miranda writes so intelligently and convincingly well, Hamilton declares “Britain keeps shittin’ on us endlessly. Essentially, they tax us relentlessly” Of course what isn’t said here is that the “Americans” of the colonies shit on the native, indigenous people much more violently, and although they do not tax the “Indians” they stole from them instead. Irony, paradox, and contradictions are there for the viewing but Miranda wisely leaves this lens out as the Great White Way would be far less enthralled if feeling the guilt that comes along with this recognition. Instead we get these good ol’ boys trading verbs while imagining great heights and “ascendency.”
Supporting this ascendant ambition, Alexander calls out to his boys, “a bunch of revolutionary manumission abolitionists, give me a position, show me where the ammunition is.” Combining these two ideas is an odd admixture of goodness and killing: just who are they going to use this ammunition on to free the slaves? Themselves? Who is forcing them to keep slavery of which they need to bear arms? Or is this a clever way of interweaving the conversation to show their heroism in both issues, slavery and revolutionary war?
In one of the most familiar refrains from the show Hamilton spews “Hey yo, I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy, and hungry”, swiftly painting America as an ambitious, poor youth trying to “rise up” like Hamilton himself. The other lens, the one left in the closet, says that this young, scrappy and hungry country is full of murderers, zealots and racists. With Hamilton’s constant repetition of this refrain, Miranda imprints in its audience the message he and Hamilton prefer. Second to this refrain, maybe even first in remembrance, is the line “I am not throwing away my shot” which constantly reminds the audience that Hamilton is a man of opportunity, an opportunist of the nth degree looking to “socially advance” regardless of what it takes, which we see later.
John Laurens, proclaims very early, “we’ll never be truly free until those in bondage have the same rights as you and me”. Sounds like the highest priority. But this won’t happen until way into the next century and not because of these men. These gentlemen had more important things to do, like kill the Brits, write founding documents and get-it-on with the ladies. Of course Laurens is also famous for his wanting to fight the war with a “black battalion” which he begged his slave holding father for, to no avail. Hamilton and conventional thinking would have us believe that Laurens felt that having the blacks fight as soldiers would be the first step in their emancipation, but it is all too easy, from the omitted lens, to see that without the black soldiers, chances are there would be no chance of victory. More than anything, Laurens wanted to find his glory in war and in his zeal he later left his pregnant wife, whom he married out of “pity” to go kill. (Massey)
Laurens exclaims you got to “rise up” and along with this ascendency image Hamilton starts the show with heroic images of mounting the good fight, becoming martyrs and lifting the spirit into a heavenly fulfillment. Unlike Laurens, Alexander, who also “wished for a war” as a kid, has a fear of death which haunts him. Laurens is hell bent on dying while Hamilton is scared shitless verging on paranoia.
I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory
When’s it gonna get me?
In my sleep? Seven feet ahead of me?
Comin’, do I run or do I let it be?
Is it like a beat without a melody?
How does Hamilton deal with this confession? He goes on to say “foes oppose us, we take an honest stand, we roll like Moses, claimin’ our Promised Land.” Yes, he proclaims their holy status as the chosen ones. Soon thereafter he tells his friends “let’s take a stand with the stamina God has granted us”, reinforcing the perception to the audience that we are dealing with not only noble, heroic me, but also God’s self-proclaimed, righteous favorites. Perhaps this is the rationale for all the injustices executed on the diverse people they lived along side of. When soon after he states “I’m laughin’ in the face of casualties and sorrow” one can only infer he understands his cold heart. As Hamilton and his buddies Mulligan, Laurens, and Lafayette “raise a glass to freedom, something they can never take away” they contradict the black situation.
In a must for Broadway musical formula, sex between men and women must be brewing in the story and Miranda infuses the show brilliantly with the Schuyler sisters whom “sneak into the city just to watch all the guys at work” – not quite aligned with feminist ideas today but cute enough to pull it off. These women are horny and they deliver their lustfulness in their first scene as they disobey and deceive daddy to go “slummin’ it with the poor” downtown and look for men. And when all the men shout “she’s looking for me!” the sisters have their match with a batch of horny men. Burr presses for his cause with “I’m a trust fund, baby, you can trust me” as if money equals trustworthiness. Endearing these women even more to their audience Miranda has Angelica (Schuyler) jump out of time and warn “when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel!” A nice nod to the fact that women were treated as property for men, yet never will we hear this nod to blacks, Indians, Mexicans, or any other classless citizens of early America. The Schuyler sisters sing a most hauntingly lyrical passage “look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now” as they feel the heat of history in their New York City – with no expression of their second-class status as property of men. Women were hardly the beneficiaries of the revolution; they were excluded from the party. Women of color were being raped and ill-treated most often while the white men forged their “new” nation. Marriage took sovereign rights away from women and made them dependents of their husbands.
Soon we find Hamilton’s feminist-pretending women oozing desire for men without any character development besides their relation to Hamilton (although one could suggest that Eliza’s efforts at the end of the musical could be rich). The men shout “Ladies!” a trio of times to emphasize the desire of their conquest-driven natures: “there are so many to deflower!” They’ve got the “looks!”, which for them is “proximity to power”, to handle the gorgeous, voluptuous bodies in front of them. At this winter’s ball Burr continues “yo, if you can marry a sister (Schuylers), you’re rich, son” showing the gold diggers they are at heart. To equal this passion the sisters furnish a very un-feminist feeling of “helpless” – the quintessential woman as helpless to men becomes the theme of their ball. As Hamilton soon gushes “all I have’s my honor” one has to wonder what exactly is he referring to. Well, we find out exactly how hollow these words are in the second act as he portrays his infamous first sex-scandal of the new nation. When Hamilton confesses to his future bride “if it takes fighting a war for us to meet, it will have been worth it”, he shows the same crass insensitivity as the King he rejects so fervently. And when Angelica’s desire to form a harem for gorgeous Alex begs Eliza to share her hot lover saying with manipulative power “if you loved me, you would share him”, any advances feminism has made in Broadway musicals is diminished into history; these ladies are sex-obsessed, men-hungry, and superficial. Of course Alexander reminds Angelica “you’re like me, I’m never satisfied”, and in so doing provides an alibi for his drives. This lack of satisfaction becomes part of his heroism rather than the disquieted soul’s excuse for recklessness it serves. But Angelica knows the expectation from daddy: “my only job is to marry rich”, and she fulfills her accepted destiny later marrying her rich man. She was to be a “social climber” for her father and gold-digging seems most natural for her personality. Just the same Burr’s affair with a married woman from the other side of the war suits his personality just fine. These are not the role models the new feminism would prefer.
The fact that the Schuyler sisters had slaves at home, twenty-seven of them, and that these womanizing men who claimed to be heartened abolitionists (or so their biographers claim) didn’t care a hoot; the Schuylers were still ladies to be had and even married; presents a disconnect or hypocrisy that had to be omitted, of course, from the show’s story. (Reed)
In a wonderfully comic portrayal of King George, Miranda clearly paints him as the evil doer antagonist. George makes the statement “I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love” which resonates with Hamilton’s earlier rhetoric. This ironic truth is layered onto and reserved only for the King. Miranda did not attempt to bring the same insights into the noble founding fathers although it is there for the jesting. The King’s unreasonable expectation of taxes set the revolutionary spirit on fire and was cause celeb for the colonies to unite and fight. Two-hundred and forty years later it appears that taxes aren‘t such a big concern for Americans as they pay more in taxes than ever before. (Washington Post-3) They simply tax themselves, or Uncle Sam, rather than the king. It might also be worthwhile to reflect on the show’s message that the irascible, menacing, King George is the only lead role being played by a white man in the production. (Toast)
When the French jump into the good fight and Lafayette, along with Hamilton, state “immigrants, we get the job done” Miranda hits a note so poignant for today’s hot-button-issue of immigration and does so with great aplomb – who would argue with these great men who are about to secure America’s freedom? Yet soon after, Hamilton, this time with Laurens, states “we’ll never be free until we end slavery!” These European “immigrants”, according to their own logic, did not free anyone, not themselves nor the African slaves. They may have known that freedom for all is the only real freedom but they did not have the heart, resolve, or wherewithal to do what the immigrant Quakers did.
After Hamilton is asked by Washington to head up the Treasury Department, Eliza pleads with him to stay home and be a part of their family repeating the passage that now begs: “look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now”. But Hamilton is committed “to lead”, not to be a family man, not to be a husband, not to be a father. The lusty power of leadership and fame stir his soul as he leaves Eliza behind.
Shortly thereafter, in grand fashion, Thomas Jefferson is “coming home” and hits the stage with bravado stating right away “I’ve been in Paris meeting lots of different ladies” revealing he’s a ladies’ man and fits right in with this troupe of playboys. And although Jefferson and history didn’t want us to know he had a slave-love, Miranda astutely throws in a line for Jefferson to acknowledge her presence thereby putting what we now know right up front so he can get on with the show and not have a cross to bear.
Jefferson jumps into the work, Congress is pushing new plans and Hamilton is passionate that they suit his ideas. So when Eliza and Angelica once again plead with Hamilton to stay around, be with family and go upstate with them he dismisses their pleas stating “I lose my job if I don’t get my plan through congress”. Once again work is more important than family and this time independent Alex will pay a very high price for his decision which brings him an opportunity.
Being the opportunist we have already pointed out, Hamilton has little will; when Miss Maria Reynolds knocks on his door with her desperate story of a vulnerable woman in pain plays Hamilton for a fool. She “let her legs spread and said: stay?” Hamilton prays to the Lord to “show me how to say no to this”. Alas the Lord has no sway over Hamilton’s hard-on and instead aroused Alex proclaims “but my God, she looks so helpless”. Thus began America’s infamous peeping Tom curiosity that would originate a very long list of sixty-seven federal, political, sex scandals from 1776 – 2015 according to Wikipedia sources. (Wikipedia) The fact omitted that the lying Jefferson, who was privileged to see the letters of correspondence between Reynolds and Hamilton, gave the letters to the press, and spread rumors about the lying Hamilton adds another layer to the deceptions of the play and the play within the play. (Examiner)
Miranda provides another wonderfully clear hook (refrain) in “the room where it happens” that is hard to shake once you hear it; like his other memorable hooks Miranda is a master of musically coherent repetitions that are gleefully predictable and satisfy the listener’s ear with self-knowingness that one is in-the-know. “The room where it happens” is the closed-door “art of the trade” that politicians and movers-and-shakers know very intimately: this is where deals are brokered and compromises, bribes and/or threats are made. But all is done in secret; “no one knows how the game is played”. Miranda is clear-eyed and honest here, but it mostly goes over the heads of Americans who still believe the news headlines and stories and official narrative is truthful. But just as Jesse Ventura pointed out a number of years ago making the analogy between politics and pro wrestling, “The two gangs pretend to be adversaries in front of the public…but ultimately, they’re both working for the same things: maintaining their power, getting richer, and making sure their wealthy backers keep control of the ship-of-state” – the game is a façade and fixed. What is said behind closed doors is out-of-ear-shot of Americans and we are spoon-fed a line of Fed BS that is never questioned. The song ends with this truth:
The art of the compromise-
Hold your nose and hold your eyes.
We want our leaders to save the day-
But we don’t get a say in what they trade away.
We dream of a brand new start-
But we dream in the dark for the most part.
Dark as a tomb where it happens.
Like most politicians, and most especially Hamilton, Burr does what is most advantageous regardless of principles and when he suddenly changes political parties he explains “I changed parties to seize the opportunity I saw”. Soon after Jefferson demands to Hamilton et. al. “now is the time to stand. Stand with our brothers as they fight against tyranny.” Of course Jefferson has a dear fondness for France and in this argument no one seems to remember that these men are the tyranny of the diverse people of color in America! This continued contradiction fits right in with the opportunism of Burr and Hamilton; use the opportunity to point the finger at others thereby keeping attention off one’s self. Again when Jefferson laments “our poorest citizens, our farmers, live ration to ration” there is no mention of the folks below this pitiful line of demarcation: the slaves.
Eliza finally comes face to face with her husband’s inner demons as she reads his confessions about his infidelity which he wrote to clear his name but “in clearing your name, you have ruined our lives”, she says with inner strength. His selfishness is unmistakable:
You and your words, obsessed with your legacy . . .
Your sentences border on senseless,
And you are paranoid in every paragraph
how they perceive you-
You, you, you . . .
Eliza takes a stand, erases the narrative by burning her correspondence along with her memories of Alexander and reclaims her heart and bed to herself only, as she copes with a devastated heart, broken from a heartless man of selfish desire and narcissistic adolescence.
Miranda ends his musical and this story with a question, “who tells your story?” It is a relevant question as it is suggested here that in order for your story to be told, especially on the Great White Way, regardless of who tells it, it must be officially sanctioned and fit the narrative. In the end, those who tell your story, those who tell the history, the past, the word-of-mouth that will be passed down, are the victors, the elite, the “chosen ones”. The expert wordsmith, multi-talented Miranda fits the bill and has the right timing on his side despite a show full of contradictions, performances filled with irony and a theatrical, media-sensation hit that couldn’t be any more patriotic and lifted by nationalistic pride so desperately needed in these end times of empire collapse. (MarketWatch) Hamilton producer Jeffery Seller believes that the success of the show is because “it touches something deep in us that’s patriotic that’s never been touched”; (Arrive) perhaps as Americans feel the nasty decline of greatness, hence the rise of Trump, they feel a need to reconnect with an older, mythic greatness that one can assume with certainty and push aside the current doubt of all American institutions such as government, banking, education, and the rest.
Only a holistic, inclusive telling of our known history will facilitate an honest, transparent view from which to critique, debate, and form an informed opinion about. One-sided narratives leave us in the dark to the greater awareness of history. As actor/director and Stanford theater educator Rush Rehm informs us, theater has the potential to do more: “That the founder of an imperial race [Ion] presciently criticizes what it will become suggests how Greek tragedy can look beyond ideology, encouraging the audience to question patriotic complacently.” (Rehm)
If Hamilton were to embrace this truly noble aspect of tragedy and employ a reflexive lens to this story, putting themselves in the shoes of another, Hamilton, Broadway, and America would have a further chance to mature; they would find a complex world of human condition paradoxes that requires deep penetrative insight to uncover a compassion needed to see that while our founding fathers were heroic in many ways, they were equally hypocritical to the slaves, women, Native Americans, Mexicans, and anyone who did not look like them.
Out of this kind of holistic, inclusive history would emerge a very different narrative; one that would help this nation grow rather than defend the one-sided official historical narrative. Instead of a one-dimensional, flat telling of Hamilton the hero, we would consider a more truthful telling as Reed reminds us: “Like other founding fathers, Hamilton found slavery, an “evil,” yet was a slave trader.” (Reed) Until then, all the school kids, including the twenty-thousand who will be privileged to see Hamilton for a ten-back, thanks to a gift-from-above, a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, who has a real stake in official history and who will also pay the show’s producers another sixty bucks for each ticket, (Arrive) will continue to get a white-washed false narrative that depicts America and her founding fathers with oxymoronic nuances as merciful slave masters.
And the status quo will continue unabated . . .
Mark Ruhala, Author
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