By Julia Hower

I was met with outrage when I wrote a very mild review of Kiss Me Kate several weeks ago. I padded my strong opinion with ample (and obviously deserved) praise for the actors, but now I want to state that no matter how talented you are, the material you are performing is much more important. In fact, what many performers tell me is that their motivation is telling a story and making an audience happy.

I was shocked to see that my peers at Roosevelt could not step back and look at the flaws in our school musical; I was even more shocked that those who participated in it had not noticed the problematic themes, as they did not seem prepared for any kind of critique. It is problematic to get too comfortable, even when you are in an organization as amazing as the Roosevelt Drama program. To be blindly devoted to Drama enough to feel justified in ignoring flaws can have a huge impact on viewers, especially in a community that puts so much stock and pride in our spring musical.

I heard many people say that I must have reacted the way I did because I didn’t understand the satire- that I don’t have a sense of humor. Would you ask someone to have a sense of humor about rape or racism? Because many of you have asked that of your peers. I hope we can all see that it is wrong to ask for a sense of humor about abuse. I understand that it was satire, but that was why I was offended so deeply. I will not ask someone who has been a victim of abuse (one in six people) to sit and watch a woman being whipped and laugh along with the crowd. I will not ask a woman who has been told that her opinions are invalid because of her gender to sit and laugh at a female character as her conviction and fiery spirit are made into a punch line. I will not ask someone living with an abusive relationship to smile when the ‘happy ending’ of a woman losing her conviction and going from an abusive fiancée to an abusive ex-husband finally occurs. I will not sit silently, grin, and applaud when I hear a beautiful voice warble out the words, “wife, hold your temper and meekly put your hand ‘neath the sole of your husband’s foot, In token of which duty, if he please, My hand is ready, ready, May it do him ease.”

I want to remind everyone that seeing these things can trigger anxiety attacks in people who have experienced these horrors, and I want everyone to know that seeing an abusive relationship laughed at normalizes terrible things in the minds of potential abusers and rapists. And before you say that the abuse and violence was two sided, consider this: does that really make it any better? 40% of abuse is experienced by men, something that was also sensationalized as a meek attempt at self defense in this musical.

This was written in the 40s and reflects widely accepted views at that time, but we all must realize that it is being performed in a high school in 2014 where it is being received and presented in the same way as it was then, with no apparent discussion of the serious issues expressed in the story. These problems need to be discussed in our media, but not in a way that trivializes them. This musical was performed in front of elementary-schoolers, and nothing was changed – not even the bullwhip one character uses to beat his wife; not even the fact that a woman’s desire to not get married is given no thought and is considered funny and trivial.

This musical impacted many minds, and if you can’t acknowledge that, care about it, or take responsibility for it, you are a part of the problem.

2 Comments

  1. Bharathi Jagadeesh

    I’m a Roosevelt HS neighbor who likes to read the newspaper to hear about what’s happening at the school.

    I couldn’t agree more that Kiss Me Kate is a play out of step with the standards of our times, and cannot be done lightly, for humor. I am glad to see that there are students who are willing to take a stand against the casual participation. I don’t think we should simply ignore past work because it doesn’t fit with our times, but when we revive it we need to discuss it, seriously, in the context of new moral arc of justice (which does not allow men to beat their wives).

    It’s a tough stand to take, Ms. Hower, to refuse to go along when people argue that they are “just trying to funny,” and, I’ll put on my mom cap to say that I congratulate you for being will to stand up for what you believe.

  2. Bharathi Jagadeesh

    Oops, “I’ll put on my mom cap to say that I congratulate you for being wilingl to stand up for what you believe.”

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