Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Music Man

If you want a microcosm of life and attitudes in the United States, look no further than Meredith Wilson's "The Music Man."

Over the past two nights, I watched this wonderful musical (the 1962 version, with Robert Preston) while commuting home from work. As I watched it, I realized more and more how much this musical reflects some of the odd attitudes we pick up.

First of all, disdain for authority. When Prof. Harold Hill screams into River City, the Mayor is the only one worried about checking his credentials. He easily convinces the local school board that they've got bigger things to worry about than a traveling salesman who'll stick around town until the uniforms are delivered and the band instruments tuned and ready. Nobody wants to listen to Mayor Shinn, the bumbling oaf who can't spit a sentence out of his mouth to save his life.

Second, consumerism. When that Wells Fargo wagon comes rolling into town, everybody here not only lists off the things they've received from the wagon, but all express the hope that the wagon is rolling into town just for them.

Third, that willingness to listen to a good speech. When Prof. Hill tells the town "they got trouble, with a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for pool," it's nothing more than voters listening to a slick politician telling them the things they want to hear or suspect may be true -- he's telling truthiness, not truth, and truthiness is really what we want from the people we follow, isn't it?

Fourth, that naive innocense that somewhere in the family, the ordinary, workaday, boring family, is a genius of sorts who can find talent and fame and fortune without really working for it. Prof. Hill strikes gold with this, using his "Think System" to convince the town that their boys band can be the best east of Chicago just because they want it to be. Even Mayor Shinn buys into the charade for just a few minutes. But at the end, when the town band comes in and begins to play, the town as a whole looks past their rotten playing and plays up the fact that the are playing.

So, do I think these are flaws in the American character? No. I love that naive innocense. I exude such innocense. And that optimism that with even a little bit of effort, I, too, can be a genius. Reality settles in my brain and my mediocre talents much more swiftly and completely than it does for the poor folk of River City, but nevertheless, that hope arises like a phoenix from the ashes of disaster and brings forth the roses of success, and suddenly I'm mixing my musical metaphors. Better stop now.

But not before this:

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