In the past year or so, journalists and activists have discovered that history is not as woke as they want it to be.
Accepting the apparently non-PC sins of the past is very hard for Peter Marks of the Washington Post. In his piece, “Out of Step Musicals,” he writes that the sexism found in “My Fair Lady,” the “Fantasticks,” “The Pajama Game,” and “Carousel” might have influenced the culture of sex harassment and assault. And until we get our society’s sexual relations sorted out, we can’t have nice things like old musicals.
But what are these horrible offenses portrayed as normal in these supposedly out of date musicals? In “Crazy for You,” a “rich kid” spins a girl around and “stuns her with an unasked-for smooch.” In “The Pajama Game,” a male character calls the female grievance committee “the cutest.” In “My Fair Lady,” grouchy Professor Henry Higgins asks Eliza for his slippers. Such unchecked, rampant sexism is adding to the culture of rape and assault, right?
Marks is conflicted: on the one hand, he’s not in favor of “outright erasure,” but on the other hand, “until someone figures out how to fashion an antidote that doesn’t seriously diminish the original, it should not be done.” But does Marks understand that these characters (with all of their sexist flaws) are not supposed to be idolized as perfect heroes? Higgins is seen as a sexist, rude character, but he’s got a more woke counterpart in the rest of the cast, who consistently rebuke him.
The writer whines, “We have to wish on the conveyors of these old musicals the wisdom and the tools to transcend the limitations of ways of thinking on vital subjects no longer in tune with our own.” But there is an element of subtlety that perhaps Marks is missing in the characters. One can’t just tell a story and build a character without some flaws to make him relatable, or believable. Art imitates life. Life doesn’t imitate art.