Monday, July 18, 2016

History Pays Off

Writing at Acculturated, Mark Judge points out that the hit musical Hamilton would not have happened if creator Lin-Manuel Miranda hadn't been the kind of fellow who would read an 800-page biography about a dead white European male.

Although some historians have quibbled with the dramatic license that Miranda takes with our nation's founding events, it's also true that probably nothing since "Schoolhouse Rock" has put the American Revolution front and center in so many areas of cultural discussion. Sure, nobody believes that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison actually sparred with each other in a rap battle during cabinet meetings, but by casting their arguments in that format Miranda gives the discussion living dimension it's not always easy to imagine when we just read the history today.

And while other folks wonder at the way the show casts only minority actors in the roles of the Founding Fathers, it actually highlights the power of the idea they created and the documents that shape it. The Declaration of Independence was written by white men and unfortunately probably far too many of those white men thought it concerned only them if they thought about the matter at all. But their limitations don't invalidate the ideas of the Declaration, nor do they for the U.S. Constitution. Miranda's choice makes that statement as powerfully as anything since Martin Luther King, Jr., was claiming that civil rights legislation was the way that America fulfilled its stated purpose, not trashed it.

Anyway, if you're a creative type who's looking for the next cultural translation masterpiece, David McCullough's always worth a read. And the idea of the Truman-MacArthur disagreements being shaped into competing raps is pretty intriguing, even if Truman's eventual winning mic-drop moment might be a little too close to a phrase made famous by one of the idiots soon to be nominated to run for President.

(ETA: Some folks might disagree with calling Alexander Hamilton "European," Technically he isn't, and would be either West Indian or American depending on what time frame you want. But people who sniff down their noses at DWEM's probably don't make those distinctions.)

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