Watching election night coverage, what struck me most profoundly is the massive demographic changes our country is undergoing, as we become a much more diverse nation than ever before, and also how completely the Republican party is on the wrong side of history. Obama won big among Latinos, African Americans, gays, women, and young people. And that does not portend well for the future of the GOP, which may soon stand only for "Grumpy Old People."
And so, as a public service, I offer the GOP the five musicals they should see before the next election, so they can learn a little about this country they want to lead, even if they're all a bit disappointed in the rest of us right now...
In the Heights One of the few things Democrats and Republicans can agree on after the election is that Latinos made all the difference, with 71% of them voting for Obama. And as Latinos become a larger and larger share of our population and our electorate, the GOP has a serious problem. Despite a few high-profile Latinos in the Republican party (Marco Rubio, for instance), Republicans are on the wrong side of every issue important to this community. GOP pundits and strategists are concluding now that they just have to get their message out to this community more effectively, but they don't understand that the Latino community got their message loud and clear -- they just didn't like what they heard. Maybe if some Republicans could see In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda's authentic, insightful day-in-the-life snapshot of modern Latino life, they might start seeing these Americans as Americans and not "illegals." Musicals always reflect the culture and politics of their times -- Latinos demanded and took a place at the musical theatre table with In the Heights, and now they're doing the same thing in American politics.
Passing Strange Likewise, the GOP also has a problem with African Americans, who were an even larger slice of the electorate this time than in 2008, and 96% of whom voted for Obama. Once again, Republicans think their problem is a communications issue, but it's really an issue issue. African American voters don't agree with Republicans on the issues -- economic fairness, education, housing, social justice, etc. And on top of that, the 2012 election was without question the most racist election in modern times, sometimes overtly racist, other times more dog whistle. Passing Strange is a show about how complex race has become in our modern society and how it's becoming more cultural than genetic, as we watch the Browning of America in real time, a demographic inevitability which terrifies many conservatives down to their little old pink toes. Maybe if Republicans could see this show, they'd stop thinking of black folks as lazy, criminal, welfare gobblers. Passing Strange only dabbles in explicit politics, but everything about this story is subliminally political -- since race itself is always inherently political today -- especially in an era of a mixed-race President. And let's be fair -- all conservatives are not racists, but almost all racists are conservatives, and the GOP has to grapple with that problem...
Urinetown In recent times, it's usually conservatives who get over-energized by some fake or misleading movement, and they end up running right off the cliff of sanity and reason, just as they've done in 2012. But liberals have been known to do it too. Urinetown is a very dark, very cynical look at movement politics and how easily true believers will follow someone who looks like they know what they're talking about. Of course, too often the person at the head of the movement is some ass clown like Glenn Beck or Michele Bachmann. But the impulse is the same whatever the politics. Urinetown shows us what happens when passion overtakes reason in political movements, whether it's Creationism, climate change denial, trickle-down economics, or in the case of this brilliant musical satire, environmentalism. If ever there was a musical that embodies the "We Are the 99%" movement, it's this one, and it offers prescient insights into Occupy Wall Street and the other populist politics that have dominated 2012. But it's also a story about denying reality, a mindset that only works for so long before reality rears up and kicks you in the nuts. If Republicans continue to reflexively deny facts and truth, they will all end up like Bobby Strong. And the Republican Party will be sent off to Urinetown.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson As I've been blogging about for the last few months, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is a show about the dangers and inherent weaknesses of populism, and how it often elects the wrong guy. This is a story about how eagerly Americans flock to celebrity, cockiness, swagger, and charisma. They did it with George W. Bush and with Obama. But BBAJ is also about one of the GOP's greatest weaknesses, the difference between campaigning and governing. Dubya was a great campaigner but a complete idiot when it came to governing, so he passed many of the most consequential decisions off to the Dark Lord of the Sith. And you see where that got us. This show brings to mind an argument Lawrence O'Donnell made after one of the 2012 debates -- that our Presidential campaigns don't really test any of the skills the candidates will actually need in office. Once they're elected, they'll never have to stand on a stage and come up with answers to complicated problems without smart people around them advising them. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson plays like a comedy, but it's really a very tragic story, one that Republicans and Democrats both would do well to heed.
Bat Boy This is a show about how a society treats "the least of these" and about how un-Christian many Christians can be, when irrational fear and self-interest overpower compassion. Substitute "Muslim" or "Kenyan" for "bat child" in the show's dialogue, and you'll see how relevant this show still is. I've been pointing out on Facebook how much conservative positions and values contradict the values Jesus teaches in the Gospels, and Bat Boy speaks to that moral disconnect. For a party that claims Christianity for their own, they sure don't know much about the Bible. You may think this is a joke, but there is actually a conservative movement in America literally rewriting the Bible, so it better comports with their conservative political ideology. You read that right. Today's Democratic Party embodies many of the teachings of Christ, but the Republican Party is really only about stopping abortions (Can't find Jesus' quotes about that? Yeah, me neither.), lowering taxes on the rich, and the unfettered -- and amoral -- Free Market. But I've actually read the whole Bible, and I don't recall a single passage in which Jesus sings the praises of capitalism or lower marginal tax rates. Throughout Bat Boy, the bigoted citizenry yammer on and on about their "Christian Charity," while they practice the worst kind of scapegoating and Golden Rule busting. It's funny but it's not. Republicans need to see Bat Boy and understand how far they've strayed from actual Christian principles.
So there they are. There are other musicals conservatives should see too, but we'll start with these five. You can tell me I'm a brainwashed liberal all you want, but I voted for the guy that the majority of Americans voted for. So if I'm too liberal, so are the majority of Americans. And unlike many on the political Right today, at least we liberals still believe in reality.
But all that has very little to do with my point. Musicals are one of the ways we explore and pass down our history and culture, how we figure out who we are and what we value, and all these shows tell us some great truths about our nation and our times. Those who are on the wrong side of history -- I'm lookin' at you, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell -- would do well to learn from this truth-telling.
I'm just sayin'.
Long Live the Musical!