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Engendering conflict

Andrew Miller | Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I returned home on Saturday night, after our crushing defeat at the hands of Boston College, and realized I had to soothe my ruffled feathers. Normally when I’m in such a mood I decide to watch a movie, a movie that will either make me laugh or make me cry depending on just how bad of a mood I’m in. And this past Saturday was no different from any of those other days.

As I flipped through my DVD binder trying to decide which movie would help me through the troubled time, I came across many titles that would have been extremely helpful in this situation. “Rudy” – a Notre Dame classic that always brings a tear to my eye. But how could I watch Rudy when the last thing I wanted to think about was Notre Dame Football? “Heavyweights,” the earliest and arguably best of all of Judd Apatow’s movies, always lightens my day. But a petty argument with a friend who also likes the movie has soured “Heavyweights” for me for the time being.

I was running out of options and then I saw it. The perfect movie for my current mood. Not only could I watch it but I could sing along to it and even get up and dance if I felt the need. “West Side Story.” The timeless tale of Romeo and Juliet writ large on the landscape of 1950s New York City. Yes, “West Side Story.”

But I became troubled about midway through the movie. As Tony and Maria begin serenading each other during “Tonight” I realized that if I hadn’t been by myself I probably would not have been able to watch or even suggest “West Side Story.” Why? Because I’m a man and men don’t like musicals.

At least that’s what our culture would have you believe. It’s not cool to be a man who likes musicals. Musicals have singing and dancing. Men don’t sing and dance. We grunt and drink beer. Musicals have whimsical plotlines. Men don’t like whimsical plotlines. We like John Wayne and Burt Reynolds. Liking musicals is akin to liking the ballet or the opera.

Now, a typical male response to the suggestion of watching a musical would be: “What?! You want to watch a musical?! That’s so lame. Why can’t we watch ‘Escape from New York’ or ‘Demolition Man?'” With all due respect for the work of Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone, I argue that there is a time and a place for watching musicals: all the time and everywhere. Think about it, all you males out there, all you manly men who disown musicals: I have heard you sing along to Disney tunes at parties. I have seen you dress up as Aladdin and Magic Carpet for Halloween. I have watched you watch Family Guy and The Simpsons and appreciate every time they break into a big, Broadway number. So don’t tell me that you don’t like musicals.

The counter to this – “We only like those things in an ironic way. When we sing along to ‘A Whole New World’ we’re doing it because it’s not cool to do it, and we know it’s not cool to do it, but by us knowing that it’s not cool and doing it anyway we’re making it cool. It’s ironic.” Nay, I say to you. A thousand times nay. If you really wanted to treat musicals in an ironic fashion you would choose a song that nobody’s ever heard of from an obscure musical, probably something approximating Philip Glass, and you would make it your ring tone. You wouldn’t thrash around a party as soon as “Circle of Life” comes on or belt out “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” at the top of your lungs.

I want all the men at this University to be able to say, “I am a fan of musicals.” It’s unfair that such a gender bias exists: we can’t openly and happily admit our love of a toe-tappingly delightful show-tune. Women are privileged. Sure, in recent years men have been able to overcome the romantic comedy barrier, but the Great Wall of Musicals cannot be conquered by our small and insignificant pro-musical front.

There is some hope for us musical-loving men. Trey Parker and Matt Stone understand the power and beauty of a musical and how it can make a truly great cinematic experience. It can in fact be solidly argued that these two South Park creators heralded in the new age of movie musicals with “South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut.” Without that movie, maybe we wouldn’t even have “Hairspray” or “Mamma Mia!” on the big screen.

But even though musicals are now more prevalent in theaters, men still cannot go in alone. I had to see “Hairspray” with my sister and “Mamma Mia!” with a female coworker because of a latent fear my friends would laugh at me for doing so. And that’s not right.

We need to refocus the discussion of gender on this campus. Sure, there are latent gender issues that plague our community. But one that never gets mentioned is the inability for men to like musicals publicly.

As a step in the right direction, I invite all my friends to an open viewing of “My Fair Lady” in my room this coming Friday afternoon. If nobody shows up, it won’t matter. With the door open I’ll be singing, “I Could’ve Danced All Night” with pride.

Andrew Miller is a senior English major. He can be contacted at amille15@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necesarily those of The Observer.