Everybody’s Favorite Little Human Trafficking Musicale.

9 Oct

Nestled in a beautiful corner of the American west, the stage is set for a ‘beautiful morning’. Instead, open on a band of sex-starved brothers who live in a cabin in the woods (Unibombers much?). In a charming adaptation of everyone’s favorite tale of Roman pillage and plunder, the brothers kidnap six girls they’re crushing on from a nearby village (the oldest brother managed to get a lady to actually agree to marriage), they trap them in their hilltop shack and force them into marriage.

It’s Broadway baby!

Why am I writing about this goofily sexist product of an earlier age?

I’ve recently been experiencing a resurgence in affection for classic Broadway standards. I have a not entirely unabashed affinity for these classic songs. High school musicals were the cultural events of the season in my childhood and adolescence, I was raised on the Sound of Music and I can belt out OH what a beautiful morning with the best of them. While I have occasionally felt the urge to commit to an indie-band public listening persona, it would be dishonest to imply that I didn’t binge-listen to Les Mis on occasion.

Anyway, so I’ve been listening to some oldies lately. I’m not talking West Side Story, and certainly not Wicked. I’m talking 42nd Street, Guys and Dolls,  and my all time favorites from Cole Porter, Rogers and Hammerstein, Gilbert and Sullivan etc. In a thirst for more music, I was trying to remember musicals I’d seen as a kid, and I remembered watching ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ on a family road trip.

So I revisited it.

Various Artists – Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Well, obviously there’s some problematic misogyny  issue happening here. Actually, it goes way beyond misogyny and doesn’t just verge on but walks right on into full-on human trafficking issues. But it’s still a little bit charming…right? The thing is though, this ultra-macho story of forced marriage is presented in technicolor. The songs are bouncy and catchy, the dancing is really great,  the costumes are cute and the setting is America at its most beautiful.

Which must be the reason that this retelling of Plutarch’s “Rape of the Sabine Women” (See track 6: Sobbin’ Women) is still somehow not absolutely repulsive. Granted, it’s a somewhere between a little and a lot repulsive- but I don’t feel the need to burn every DVD copy in the real-fire kind of way. I’m even feeling a little drawn into the world of swinging axes and gingham skirts.

I mean, I’m probably being dramatic, it’s not like these women are in chains- they put them up very nicely in their mountain cabin and they do after all, kind of like the brothers. The story ends as a love story, albeit perhaps made possibly only via Stockholm syndrome.

Another possible reading is that it’s a story of the desperate sexual politics of the American frontier, where the male to female ratio was far too high. So, I get that joke…but ladies of the old West, the joke’s on you.

Either way, it’s the plot of a Roman tragedy with a uniquely American ultra-masculine ethos, lit like a My Little Pony dreamscape, punctuated with song, dance, lots of fringe and ending with a group wedding.

The moral of the story: We’ve produced some super weird cultural relics over the years, and Broadway is a prime culprit. Don’t even get me started on Brigadoon (which is more awesomely weird than sexistly weird, but still)…


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