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BWW Blog: Golden, or Just Problematic?

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Are golden age musicals the next victims of cancel culture?

As many of you know, I am a huge fan of golden age musicals. I absolutely nerd out about them. My friend once joked that my dream man is one who would sing Come to Me, Bend to Me from Brigadoon to me, and she was not wrong. Golden age musicals hold a special place in my heart and the heart of many theatre lovers. And why shouldn't they? It's Musical Theatre in its purest form. When people think of musicals, classics from this period are often the first that come to mind. However, as times change and we become more conscious about the media that we consume and the stories that we tell, we must ask ourselves; are the dated, racist, and sexist elements of Golden Age musicals so problematic that we can't appreciate them today?

For example, one of my favorite musicals of all time, White Christmas, features a mash-up entitled Minstrel Number: "I'd Rather See a Minstrel Show"/"Mister Bones"/"Mandy", a huge production number where the main characters perform an homage to minstrel shows. For those who don't know, minstrel shows were an extremely racist form of entertainment, consisting of skits and songs performed by groups of men in blackface, poking fun at the African American community and portraying stereotypes. It was a disgusting practice that, unfortunately, informed and inspired a great deal of Musical Theatre today. In this number, the traditions of minstrelsy are not only called to mind but celebrated and revered, looked upon with great fondness and nostalgia.

Another one of my golden age favorites, Hello, Dolly!, is extremely popular and famous, yet sexist. The show is deceivingly feminist, in that it features not one but three hardworking, single women who support themselves by running their own businesses, in the late 1800s no less. However, the happy ending of the show, the thing that we are rooting for, is that not one, but all three of them find a man who can support them and get them out of their independent businesses, which they all seem to hate. Dolly herself says that she is getting married because she is "tired of living from hand to mouth". When asked about her very successful career as a hat shop owner, Irene states "I hate hats!". The independent women long for rescuing from their independence, preferably by a man, which they all get.

However, this is not to say that all golden age musicals hold are antiquated notions, values, and morals. In fact, they can teach impactful lessons. Who can forget the iconic moment when Captain Von Trap rips a Nazi flag to shreds in The Sound of Music? Or the lessons about the dangers of racism that can be found in South Pacific ?

So, should Golden Age musicals be canceled? Absolutely not. Rather, they should take a page from 2018's revival of My Fair Lady, and get creative about changing, re-interpreting, and even cutting problematic material. We can still enjoy the classic stories that we know and love while remaining true to our morals and values.

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From This Author Student Blogger: Emma Rose Dorsch