…because they don’t know what the hell they are talking about.
I, on the other hand, do.
Whelan, who is usually much better than this, writes in “Yes, Merrick Garland Found ‘Hilarious’ a Song About ‘Rapes for Sale’,
Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland, as a college student, wrote a review of the musical The Fantasticks in which he labeled “hilarious” a song that (in his words) “provides a shopping list of rapes for sale (e.g. ‘the military rape—it’s done with drums and a great brass band.’).” But the Breitbart account turns out to be accurate. (Here is Garland’s article from the Harvard Crimson’s archives.) I have no interest in defending Garland’s observation from his college days nearly fifty years ago,* but I will try to put it in some context. What a theatrical performance can make amusing is often difficult to fathom in the abstract, as Mel Brooks’s “The Producers,” involving a musical comedy about Hitler, demonstrates. I will note that “The Fantasticks” (according to this Wikipedia entry) ran, on and off Broadway, for 42 years (from 1960 to 2002), “making it the world’s longest-running musical.” So it would seem that many folks shared Garland’s enjoyment of the song. Not surprisingly, controversy arose at some point over the “rape” lyrics, leading lyricist Tom Jones to revise them—to eliminate the word “rape.”
It is hard for me to tamp down my contempt for Whelan’s piece, but I’ll try.
To begin with, citing the college opinions of any adult professional to embarrass or diminish him or her is a despicable tactic, a pure Golden Rule breach, a cheap shot, and, to be blunt, stupid. Whether it be Michelle Obama, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton or anyone else, college is for exploring ideas, sticking out your metaphorical chins and making mistakes. When I see any critic or pundit digging that deep too try to embarrass or impugn a public figure, I consider it signature significance..for a dearth of decency and fairness. That’s what I expect from Breitbart. Not Ed or the National Review.
That would be true if Whelan’s article wasn’t embarrassingly ignorant, but it is. You know, conservatives need to get out more, specifically out to see more live theater. The article has the tenor of someone who has barely heard of “The Fantasticks,” and who has certainly never seen it performed. Worse, and again I wouldn’t expect this of someone of the erudition of Ed Whelan, it is redolent of someone who doesn’t own a dictionary.
The “Rape Song” in “The Fantasticks” isn’t about sexual rape, and that is made clear in the dialogue leading up to the song. “Rape” is specifically used in its secondary or tertiary meaning, it’s classical meaning, which is an abduction. You know “The Rape of the Sabine Women,” the famous painting by Reubens? It doesn’t show any forced sexual intercourse, because—let’s use Wikipedia since Ed likes that source—
“The Rape of the Sabine Women (Latin: Sabinae raptae), also known as the Abduction of the Sabine Women or the Kidnapping of the Sabine Women, was an incident in Roman mythology in which the men of Rome committed a mass abduction of young women from the other cities in the region.”
Got that? Abduction. In “The Fantasticks” plot, two fathers wanting to bring their children together as a couple hire a bandit and his crew to fake an abduction attempt of one father’s young daughter so the other father’s son can foil it, thus becoming her rescuer, hero and love interest. The song that Garland liked is indeed a terrific and funny one, as the bandit describes all of the various fake abductions he can arrange for a fee. The resulting sham is a slapstick affair set to music, and would be right at home on Nickelodeon. How do I know? Well, I’ve seen the show many times. I’ve read the libretto. I’ve played the bandit, El Gallo, professionally. I’ve directed the show. I’ve sung the song in front of audiences, and I’ve choreographed the abduction, aka “rape.”
Finally, it is embarrassing to read a conservative pundit endorsing a political correctness-spurred act of censorship every bit as offensive as banning Dr. Seuss or Pepe Le Pew. In another musical Ed probably never heard of, “Oliver”, a disillusioned Oliver Twist sings a poignant song called “Where is Love?” I feel like singing “Where is integrity?”
Yeah, Jones caved and wrote a substitute (and vastly inferior) song, because schools, one of the main sources of the show’s productions, were being politically correct and shying away from the show, cutting the song, or worse. What was “worse”? Well, a director friend was hired to put up the show for a Catholic school that objected to the “Rape Song,” and insisted that it be cut. He refused, explaining that it was integral to the plot, but said that if the nuns could come up with a word other than “rape”that fit the meter and the meaning (“abduction”), then he would consider it. The song, I’m sure you know, since you are more culturally literate than Ed Whelan or his editor, begins with El Gallo singing dramatically,
Rape! R-a-a-a-pe! Raa-aa-aa-pe! A pretty rape! Such a pretty rape!
The nuns came back to my friend, all excited, and said they had come up with the perfect substitute.