Can I be real a second, for just a millisecond? Full disclosure. I've never seen Titanic, Forrest Gump or Twilight. I have not read the Harry Potter series and I have never watched a moment of reality TV. I kind of know what a Pokemon is but I assure you I am not going to use my data to run around outside looking for one. I usually try to move away from anything that is figuratively or literally cartoon in nature. Most likely if the rest of America is swept up in it, I am not. But if you walked by me and happened to say, “What's your name, man?” I may very well stand up proud and say, “My name is Alexander Hamilton.”
I have not been obsessed with a piece of pop art since I was a teenager. I remember there was a summer when I watched Grease so many times my older brother decided he would hold me down and tap my rib cage with his knuckles every time I turned it on. (It may not sound that painful, but that was the highest level of sibling abuse that was permitted in the early eighties.) I can't stop listening to Lin-Manuel Miranda's Broadway hip-hop sensation, Hamilton and I would suffer through rib cage tapping to hear it. If you have not listened to it yet, take a look at your calendar, see when you have a few months to pencil in a new obsession and press play.
You know how a mom can't stop talking about her new born, or how a pet owner just can't shut up about their pet? That's how I am with Hamilton. Let's say someone asked if I was going to apply for that promotion at work, I may respond with, “I am not throwing away my shot.” After I inform the kids that they will not be staying out past curfew, I will end the sentence with, “And if you don't know, now you know.” If my wife is listing the names of people who are coming over tonight, you can bet that when she gets to the end I am going to add, “...and Peggy.” My daughter and I have a whole routine just about the small line when Eliza asks Hamilton if he knew about the duel his son was in. Next time you see me, ask me about it and I will do it for you. It's hilarious. (I have no proof to back up that it is hilarious besides the sound of my own laughter.) Have I annoyed you yet, with my obsession? Hey, if I will lose you as a reader it's okay, “You'll be back.”
So when a pop culture phenomenon takes over the country, it usually is because it set its sights firmly on the middle of art and intelligence. I loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens but you can't say it tried to be anything other than a container of popcorn. Hamilton reaches for so much more. The tag line on Hamilton is: The story of America then, told by America now. I am here to say it is actually opposite. It is the story of America now, told with the plot of America then.
We are living in a time where it appears colors will never co-exist together. There is so much racial turmoil and we are told day after day that people of different colors will never be in harmony. Well every night at the Richard Rogers Theatre in New York City, people of every color perform together in perfect harmony while literally harmonizing. People of so many races and colors have worked together to sing words of inspiration about the very country that has allowed there to be a debate about whether it even wants people of color to come here anymore. We need to be reminded that “Immigrants, they get the job done.”
The only people who can afford to see the show at this point are the very class and age who seem to have the most difficulty with mixing people of color. Millennials have a ton of issues but racism doesn't appear to be one of them. That is something that belongs to older generations. Maybe seeing an African-American George Washington is just what Baby Boomers need to realize that people are people just like love is love is love. That's one point for Millennials; one point against them is the fact that my youngest child asked me why people say Obama is the first black President when George Washington was. Win some; lose some.
You can't turn on the news without hearing about another mass shooting. Each one leads us to a ridiculous conversation about the second amendment. Somehow an educated populous has allowed lobbyists to decide that an assault weapon is the same as a musket. I heard the “Ten Duel Commandments.” Number four was not about a Sig Sauer MCX that can shoot 50 bullets at once. In Hamilton, you see the consequence of violence that can be achieved simply with a musket ball in a duel. But for those who love their guns, you also see the bounties that were won with a musket - America's independence. Either way, it was just a musket.
The one place Hamilton doesn't reflect our current time is in the line, “He's never gon' be President now.” The chorus sings this line once Hamilton's affair comes out. After Donald Trump, we know there is nothing you can do or say that will cause people to proclaim, “He's never gon' be President now.” Trust me, Trump tried. (Also, this is another of the new phrases I love. Whenever someone screws up, like let's say my wife spills her coffee, I sing, “You're never gon' be President now.” Another hilarity. Try it, everyone hates it.)
There is also the idea of disagreeing. You may disagree with me about your right to bear arms, or Trump or racism. My guess is if you do, your response will be to disrespect me. That is the way of our time. In Hamilton, two men who vehemently disagreed, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, still signed their letters to each other: I have the honor to be Your Obedient Servant. Can you imagine someone today leaving a comment on a Planned Parenthood Facebook page about how a woman's right to be advised by a doctor is against God and how all the doctors working there should die because the writer thinks life is sacred? Would they end their comment: Signed, Your Obedient Servant, A. Ham? More likely it would be signed. A. Hole.
As we approach the end of Obama's term, it will be impossible to listen to "One Last Time," the song where George Washington talks about handing over power to the next person and not cry. The musical continues to reflect even as our future hurls forward, whether we like it or not. (Also, don't you think our new president will be so much more like John Jay who wrote 5 essays and quit, while Hamilton wrote THE OTHER 51!)
Despite what the Entertainment Weekly would like you to believe, truly remarkable art doesn't come around very often. Sondheim set the bar in the 1970's and it took 45 years for a new contender to leap the bar. Hamilton arrived and is rapping to us about civility, racism, guns, politics, affairs and love with a cast that looks like a print ad manager's wet dream. There is hope. I do not believe the future of our country is found in the news, it is found in theaters, books, songs and other art. Through great art, change is brought. So let me pull this all together for you and explain how our entire country can improve...hold on. Wait for it. Someone just put on the Hamilton record and it's “Room Where It Happens”, sorry I gotta go sing. Figure it out yourself. Your Obedient Servant, S.Ryan.
Scott Ryan is a writer living in Ohio.
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