Sunday, December 20, 2015

Stop You're Killing Me

As I've noted, one of the most common and mindless clichés a critic can use is to say of an old work that it's more relevant than ever. A good example is in this A.V. Club piece on relatively new musical theatre pieces that should become standards.  One nominee, suggested by Oliver Sava, is "Everybody's Got The Right" from Stephen Sondheim's Assassins, a show first presented in 1990.  Here's Sava's take:

No living figure in musical theater is more revered than Stephen Sondheim, and for good reason. The depth and specificity of his songwriting is unparalleled, and his work changed the course of musical theater as his influence spread to the younger generation. While nearly all of his works have aged wonderfully, one show in particular becomes more relevant with each passing year: his 1990 musical Assassins with writer John Weidman. Telling the true stories of nine people who attempted to kill U.S. presidents (some successfully), Assassins is a chilling examination of the dark side of the American dream, an idea encapsulated in “Everybody’s Got The Right,” the song that opens and closes the show. Sung by all the assassins, the number posits the shooting of a president as the ultimate expression of American freedom, a chilling message tied to a rousing melody. In an American landscape where gun violence is a deadly epidemic, “Everybody’s Got The Right” is essential listening that uses music to highlight the dysfunctional relationship American people have with their guns and authority figures.

"More relevant with each passing year."  How exactly has it become more relevant?

It couldn't be because we've had more assassinations lately.  In the decades before the show we'd seen the death of JFK and attempts on Ford and Reagan (not to mention the shootings of MLK, RFK, George Wallace and others).  In the decades since, we've been relatively peaceful in this area.

Can it be the death of the American Dream?  Seems doubtful.  Let's ignore things like the Civil War and the Depression and the threat of a world takeover by fascism, and just look at the past fifty years or so.  In the past half century we've seen worse racism, worse pollution, worse unemployment, worse health care and worse crime than today.  Yeah, things may go up and down, but there are always serious problems.

Could it be about how we live in "an American landscape where gun violence is a deadly epidemic"?  I don't see how it can be that.  Since the early 1990s, the rate of gun violence has dropped dramatically.

What happened, actually, is that we had yet another critic with no sense of perspective, thinking like a five-year-old that whatever is happening now is more important that what has happened at any other time.  So when he sees a show that seems to comment on something today, that must mean it's more relevant than ever.

PS  In a related problem, the latest Rolling Stone features an article claiming 2016 is the most important election ever.  Of course it is--it's happening now, after all.

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