Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Chauvinist Musicals: Why Are Those Seven Brothers So Irresistible?

When I get sad I like to watch old musicals. Cheaper than Prozac and ten times more entertaining. The scripts are corny, the dance numbers are meticulously choreographed and the costumes look like they were designed by color-blind drag queens. Fun for the whole family. Some of my favorites include Guys and Dolls, The Pajama Game, Calamity Jane, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

All feature a strong female lead that doesn’t take crap from anybody. Good thing too because a lot of crap gets thrown at her…from none other than their lead male counterpart and potential love interest of course.

Check out some of these winning lines:

“The dolls were agreeable with nice teeth and no last names” -Sky Masterson, Guys and Dolls
“If a guy did not have a doll, who would holler at him?” -Nathan Detroit, Guys and Dolls
“Why don't you ever fix your hair?” -Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane
“What do I need manners for? I already got me a wife.” -Adam Pontipee, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

On the evolutionary ladder these guys are one rung up from Fred Flintstone when it comes to respecting women.

These musicals were released in the 50’s which was not a decade known for its emphasis on female empowerment. Just like any art form these movies should be viewed with consideration for their context. I accept these male characters with a grain of salt because I’m fully aware that is how men spoke about women during that time period.

While this is true, and while I know that nobody takes these movies too seriously, I still couldn’t reconcile the fact that despite their blatant chauvinism I found these characters not just tolerable…but also incredibly charming.

After a recent re-watching of one of these favorites I think I figured out why.

The dancing certainly doesn’t hurt. I can’t be trusted on a flight of stairs when I’m sober but these men are leaping through the air, somersaulting through drainage systems and balancing on spinning logs. That level of coordination is pretty impressive.

However my major epiphany came when I noticed that the men in these movies are not good at verbalizing how they feel, either because they don’t know how or because they are terribly out of practice. They represent the stereotypical mid-century man’s man who refuses to acknowledge he is even capable of emotional depth…when suddenly, about 48 minutes into the movie, he falls madly in love to the point where he can’t bare it any longer. So what’s a guy to do when he doesn’t have the words? Burst into song of course.

When his love is so strong words alone can’t express it, it is only through the magic of a choreographed musical number that he can adequately do his feelings justice.

Ladies, some of us pass out from delight when a guy declares his love in a text message. I think this is a step up.

And on the charming scale it’s an adorable 10/10. Or maybe I am just a sucker for baritones, but even so, don’t forget that after all the catty remarks and insulting banter runs out the male lead is still succumbing to a love he denied was even possible. AND he wants to sing about it.

A man who is willing to admit he was kind of clueless? That, to me, is pretty darn charming.

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