Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda's life seems pretty wonderful. Not only is he the writer of the musical of the decade, the one that's lodged into the recesses of your brain forever and has you humming to yourself in the shower and on the street and basically everywhere. Not only does he seem like a thoroughly happy, lovely human being. (Do you follow him on Twitter? You should probably follow him on Twitter: instant mood-lift, promise.) He also has a very photogenic, sweet family who went with him to Austria and took part in Miranda's tribute to The Sound of Music, which aired on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. It couldn't have come at a better time.
When you think of the 1965 musical The Sound of Music, you might think: old, irrelevant movie that my mom or grandmother is constantly bugging me to watch. I hope not, though. It's one of my favorite ever movies for all of these reasons: Julie Andrews, fresh off recording Mary Poppins and at the top of her game; insanely beautiful landscape that will have you hatching a summer trip to Austria just like *clicks fingers* that; and a soundtrack composed by Rodgers and Hammerstein that gives Hamilton a run for its money.
I can't help but wonder at the timing. Part of the compelling weirdness of The Sound of Music is how it manages to effortlessly fuse the extremely personal with the extremely political. On one hand, it's just a goofy rom-com that follows nun-in-training Maria (complete with requisite ex-nun pudding bowl haircut) and her growing friendship with the original Christian Grey, Captain Georg von Trapp, whose children she's looking after in her capacity as governess. But on the other hand, it's about Austria being occupied by Nazi Germany.
At the beginning of the movie, there are rumblings of trouble. Captain von Trapp seems to take great care to avoid responding to telegrams summoning him to fight as part of the German Navy (alongside the Nazis). And while Maria does everything she can to make the von Trapps' home a bubble of safety, security, and happiness, ultimately when politics begins to intrude too far, the von Trapps are forced to take action.
The film's politics are not that straightforwardly progressive — as Robert von Dassanowsky has argued, the movie is strangely accurate about a very specific, little-known point in European history, “the anti-Nazi authoritarian state, the 1934-38 Austrofascist Ständestaat of the Chancellors Engelbert Dollfuss (1892-1934) and Kurt von Schuschnigg (1897-1977).” That's why although Captain von Trapp is staunchly anti-Nazis, whenever he talks about this antipathy towards the movement, it's based on his concerns for Austrian independence rather than the fact that Nazism meant hating on Jewish people.
But the film is clear about one thing: singing, performing, and self-expression is not a frivolous activity. Singing and self-expression was a form of resistance to fascism. I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen The Sound of Music yet, but via Maria's tutoring of Captain von Trapp's children and their learning to sing, they become more confident at resisting blind authority in both their home and the wider world and singing forms one of their most important weapons in resisting being indoctrinated into the Nazi state.
That's what makes Miranda's home video such perfect timing. You'll probably have already read about the parallels between Donald Trump and various fascist figures — whether Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini. While it sounds desperately dramatic to compare Trump to figures responsible for mass genocide, the European fascist movements started off in ways that feel familiar now: They were ushered in by a financial recession and hostility surrounding race. It may sound like a bit of a stretch, but I'm pointing out a comparison people have already made.
There have been a whole bunch of articles written about the very smart, practical things you can do to resist Trump's agenda, with donations and volunteering at local organizations coming top of the list. This is a great idea: I cannot stress this enough. But perhaps an activity that hasn't been stressed enough is singing and performing. This is counter-intuitive for many reasons. It can feel frivolous to engage in your own performative, imaginary world when everything is so dark and desperate right now. But for a start, it's a smart, free form of self-care. Singing is healthy: It counts as a physical workout, and it is psychologically positive. According to Time, singing dispels loneliness and depression and the magazine argues, "The pleasure that comes from singing together is our evolutionary reward for coming together cooperatively, instead of hiding alone, every cave-dweller for him or herself."
From a capitalist standpoint, singing is basically useless. You're extremely unlikely to find fame and fortune via your singing. Only a few people get to be the Britney Spears and Katy Perrys of this world. The rest of us are just singing for nothing in our local choirs or in bands. Well, at least I assume this is how Trump would have us see it. Because in Trump's America, everything may boil down to dollars: how much you had when you came into America and how much you have now.
So, sure, singing is useless. You're probably not going to make your fortune from it. It's not an explicit form of political protest, like marching or voting or volunteering. But in a subtle way, it's a form of subversion. Singing in a group brings people of all different backgrounds together and makes people feel less alone — what do we need more than this, especially this week? Please, if you can, be like Miranda and take the opportunity to sing with your loved ones.
Images: TheEllenShow/YouTube; 20th Century Fox (3)