Thursday, June 10, 2010

Under the Surface of The Music Man

There is hardly a more dangerous place to turn off our brains than in front of a television. This is not because we can freely and mindlessly accept attitudes and moral judgments in other areas of life, but rather, we must be more careful in front of a television because it is exactly there that we are inclined to stop thinking. The danger is that all the writers, directors, and producers of everything that goes on television know that the vast majority of America's population sits in front of the tube so they can be entertained without having to think. And they say to themselves (rightly so) that this is the media to use when they want to get a message to the world and change people's minds. Even commercials can be an attack against the principles many people hold dear. They say: "You may not even know you want this, but you need it. You ought to have it. And what's more, you should enjoy it by buying it with someone else's money if you possibly can. Everyone will admire you if you do."

Movies and TV shows are much more subtle. It is so easy to mindlessly enjoy them; to vicariously live and have adventures through the characters on screen. We imagine what it would be like if we were doing and saying the same things with the same consequences. And in this way, modern movies can edge their way into our minds and skew our perception of good and evil, modesty, true love, responsibility, faith, and finances. Old and new movies alike can present dubious images of reality that we are slow to recognize. However, I also think that many movies, new and old, have excellent morals and snapshots of truth that we can learn from should we choose to recognize and think about them.

For example: I recently watched the Music Man, an excellent musical from 1961. While there are many interesting comments throughout the movie on the American Midwest and small town social life, we find more worldview statements in how we see Prof. Harold Hill interact with the town. He is an unabashed con-man, come to sell boys bands and get out before they realize they've been swindled. He is undeniably good at what he does, but the movie paints his intentions as morally reprehensible and dangerous to his well-being. I can't imagine anyone watching the movie wishing that they were in his position. There is also an interesting commentary on mercy and love. For Marian (the librarian) discovered early on that Prof. Hill was a cheat, but decided to keep the information to herself because his influence had made her little brother happy after two years of ashamed lisping silence since their father had died. This was a judgment call on her part, and I'm inclined to think that it was the wrong one--she should have exposed him. But again, with such hardness do we often meet a merciful response to evil...unless it's toward ourselves. In the end, he is redeemed. The band comes and plays, albeit terribly, and the town is satisfied. (I'm sure I don't know why.) At first sight, it might seem that Prof. Hill is redeemed through his own works because many other groups of people in the town realized that he had done many good things for them. But this is not the case. It was ultimately the playing of the band and his care for Marian that made him stay that redeemed him. But he did nothing to help that boy band play and he certainly did nothing to earn Marian's trust and admiration. So, while there is some measure of open disrespect to authority (the comical Mayor Shin) and while one might doubt the wisdom of Marian's decision to trust the professor, we can certainly walk away from the film with the reminder that mercy is always unreasonable and redemption comes through mercy.

If you haven't seen it, watch it! And tell me what worldview statements you see in other areas of the movie.