Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Sound of Sincerity

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a performance of The Sound of Music at the high school in which I teach. It was a very good production by a very small school with very limited resources. I was proud of the kids.

But, in the end, driving home, I found myself feeling a little sad. It occurred to me that our contemporary society could would never produce a play like this. We the play, still, because it is a classic, but the conditions and the climate today are not ones in which such open, unashamed sincerity is tolerated

We don't do plays about upstanding resistors of oppression being saved by heroic nuns. We don't write Richard Rodgers melodies and Hammerstein lyrics about "brown paper packages tied up with strings" and "wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings." We don't do sincere piety. We, quite simply, don't do unapologetic beauty.

We do zombies. We do games of thrones where the rules are rape and war and deceit. We do drug dealers and prostitutes. Our pop songs (and even our country songs) are about infidelity and, sometimes, misogyny. We make TV shows about prime ministers having sex with pigs. We do dark and depraved like champs.

This is not to say that we don't produce intelligent shows. I even like the zombie shows. I'm watching a pirate show that is full of naughtiness and violence, so there is a place for it, in my mind.

It's just that I can imagine a play like The Sound of Music being written -- let alone, produced -- today. The soil is different, so the stuff that grows out of it simply cannot be the same and in the circle that exists, people don't want to consume the old crop. (I am tempted to go into an even more extended metaphor about organic crops and what we eat today...but...)

We can argue the particulars all day, but something had to be right about a world from which plays like The Sound of Music sprang. I don't mean this in a golden-age sense. I am not saying the world was, overall, better, because, God knows, from a lot of people's points of view -- especially minorities -- 1965 certainly was not a better time. I am just arguing that something was better; something fueled the production (and popularity) of such a play that does not seem to be there today.

I am not sure what has been added to the soil of artistic farming that has changed things. Cynicism? A desire for "coolness"? Whatever it is, it has made our productions slicker, faster and hipper...but, somehow, colder and bleaker.

Something made this old play about the Nazis focus on the beauty of human resolve and courage and not on the darkness of human nature. We all know both can come out of writing about such a turbulent time. What was it that made things seem to go the other way in 1965? What produced such sincerity and warmth?

I'd be grateful for anyone who can prove me wrong. Give me some examples of that kind of beauty, innocence and sincerity in something more recent.


  1. So, do you think that's related to why adults started reading y.a. fiction in the 90's, and why Tolkien has had such a long, passionate devotion from readers? I think the adults-reading-y.a. has somewhat passed, in part because y.a. joined the Edgy Club.

    1. A very interesting obsevation, Marly. I think you are right about YA being kind of a step back into an escape from the "Edgy Club." I suppose -- what? -- Twilight marks the move away from the lighter feel of YA. (Though, I have seen that categorized as "teen paranormal." Thanks for reading and commenting.