I just listened to discussion of Hamilton on The Big Picture, one of my favorite podcasts, and I learned that one of the criticisms of it is the rapping of Lin-Manuel Miranda. I’ve heard his singing panned as well, on another favorite podcast, in fact–Pop Culture Happy Hour. I’m no judge of those area, so I’ll leave them alone–except to say that if you can make it onto Broadway and into Disney movies as a performer with weaknesses, just wow.
Of greater importance, The Big Picture discussion reiterated the substance of another one of my posts–the criticism aimed at “Hamilton” for glossing over slavery and emphasizing debatable American mythology such as the greatness of the founders and the American Dream itself: Anyone can make it if they work hard, regardless of background or ethnicity, just like Hamilton.
I’ll have to think more about the Horatio Alger angle, but because of these posts I’ve been reflecting on Miranda’s writing choices related to commenting (or not) on slavery. I lean toward thinking that the show makes a louder statement about slavery by never addressing it, since that is in keeping with the traditional view, but that traditional view is “taken away” from the Great White Keepers of Antiquity in the sense that this particular telling of the story belongs to the culture of minorities. They developed hip-hop, and this is hip-hop history. It would be distressing, to say the least, for “Hamilton” to be performed by an all-white cast since diversity is baked into its identity. This is a dazzling reversal of the situation that has endured: The story told by whites has been seen as belonging only to whites. No minorities get a voice. As the diverse cast tells this “White story,” it is reminiscent of someone making a serious point by straightforwardly giving voice to the opposite. An example might be King Solomon straightforwardly proposing the splitting of a baby in dispute. The vital point was that the false mother should step back, and he communicated it all the better by not addressing it all.
If the text of “Hamilton” placed more weight on slavery, it could more easily be co-opted by white presenters proud of their own wokeness. It’s good that that that can’t happen. This story would just be wrong coming from whites only. As wrong as some people would take a Scrooge of Color.