‘Hamilton’ Loses Its Snob Appeal

As regular visitors to The Passive Voice know, this is a blog about books and authors, not a political blog.

However, a post from a couple of days ago, While offensive TV shows get pulled, problematic books are still inspiring debate and conversation, generated a lot of conversation here, PG decided to put up another post about “problematic” creative works and cancel culture.

If you are concerned this is the beginning of a trend on TPV, be assured it is not.

From The Wall Street Journal:

When I was a new student at Yale in 2015, everyone on campus was talking about the Broadway sensation “Hamilton.” “It’s amazing,” a classmate told me. I had never been to a musical. Neither, as far as I knew, had anyone from my hometown. I searched the internet for tickets: $400—way beyond my budget as a veteran enlisted man attending college on the GI Bill.

So I was pleased this month when “Hamilton” became available to watch on the streaming service Disney+. But now the show is being criticized for its portrayal of the American Founding by many of the same people who once gushed about it. Is it a coincidence that affluent people loved “Hamilton” when tickets were prohibitively expensive, but they disparage it now that ordinary people can see it?

In 2015, seeing “Hamilton” was a major status symbol. In 2020, it doesn’t mean much. The affluent are now distancing themselves from something that has become too popular. A New York Times art critic recently urged that the Mona Lisa be taken down from the Louvre. Too many proles had seen it, undermining its ability to confer status on the well-to-do.

A friend of mine recently told me that he didn’t enjoy “Hamilton” but never told anyone because everybody at Yale loved it. Once something becomes fashionable among the upper class, aspiring elites know they must go along to have any hope of joining the higher ranks. But once it becomes fashionable among the hoi polloi, the elites update their tastes.

The upper classes are driven to distinguish themselves from the little people even beyond art. This explains the ever-evolving standards of wokeness. To become acculturated into the elite requires knowing the habits, customs and manners of the upper class. Ideological purity tests now exist to indicate social class and block upward social mobility. Your opinion about social issues is the new powdered wig. In universities and in professional jobs, political correctness is a weapon used by white-collar professionals to weed out those who didn’t marinate in elite mores.

These are luxury beliefs—or ideas and opinions that confer status on the upper class while taking a toll on lower class. They are evolving so rapidly, it’s hard to keep up. To stay on top of it, you need to have lots of free time or the kind of job that allows you to spend hours on Twitter. Working-class people don’t have time to accrue such cultural capital.

To understand the neologisms and practices of social justice, you need a bachelor’s degree from an expensive college. A common refrain to those who are not fully up to date on the latest fashions is “Educate yourself.” This is a way of keeping down people who work multiple jobs, have children to care for, and don’t have the time or means to read the latest woke bestseller.

The winds will have shifted by the time the proletariat catches up, and that’s the point. Affluent people keep their positions secure by allowing only those who go to the right colleges, listen to the right podcasts, and read the right books to join their inner circle. But just as today’s fashionable art will soon be out-of-date, so will today’s fashionable moral opinions.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

PG had a similar experience when he graduated from a not-very-prosperous rural area (high school graduating class: 22. Number obtaining a four-year degree: 2) and attended a “prestige” university as an undergraduate.

Everything was different, people were different, clothes were way different (PG’s freshman roommate informed him he absolutely could not wear the tight pants he had worn every day in high school anywhere on the university campus. Fortunately, jeans were acceptable and cheap and PG had saved some money from his most recent summer job.)

Unlike a great many people with his social background, PG adapted and ended up fitting in well socially with an “I’m different, but smart and fun to hang with” persona (Although winter breaks were spent at home and spring breaks were spent on campus or at home. Other than a short trip home, summers were spent in cheap housing on or near campus because the jobs paid marginally more and PG had learned how to live cheap.)

However, PG never really enjoyed more than a handful of his college classes. He needed a degree and did what it took to obtain one. Nothing on his degree indicated that he had skipped a lot of classes and ended up with an average GPA. He had some good friends in college and kept up with several for a few years, but remembers talking with only one during the last 30 years. He has far more attorney friends around the country than college friends.

Today, PG lives in a place he enjoys in a nice house with very nice neighbors in a town that includes a large university. Everyone earns a comfortable income, but only a handful of families within a one-mile radius of Casa PG flaunt their money to any significant extent. Several families include someone or more than someone whose occupation would require an advanced degree.

PG doesn’t recall anyone in the neighborhood ever asking him where he attended college and doubts anyone knows or cares.

And, although he enjoyed the book, PG hasn’t heard anyone talk about Hamilton.

See also, My Biggest Regret in Life: Going to College

13 thoughts on “‘Hamilton’ Loses Its Snob Appeal”

  1. The OP is an interesting example of class warfare and snobbery which runs both ways as “lower” classes can be pretty aggresive in sneering at “elites”.
    It can be quite amusing to watch it pop up over and over.

    Class warfare has always been about us.
    Probably always will be unless the levelers win, since it’s basically just another expression of humans’ innate tribalism. Just watch young children of the same social stratum find ways to sort themselves into cliques.

    My interest is understanding the subtleties of class conflict as it can be useful for character building.

    My favorite use of this is in Poul Anderson’ classic TAU ZERO, with his star-crossed lovers. Deeply in love but separated by their cultural baggage; she is an upper class scientist brought up to see love and sex are separate, with the latter being recreational while he is a boostrapper from a poor background where everything was by necessity shared, except the partner. That rendered him aggressively monogamous and incapable of conforming to the upper class mores of the clircles he moved in. Considering the story has them trapped aboard a runaway lightspeed starship unable to decelerate which forces the modest-sized crew into a survival-focused community, their quandary is a perfect counterpoint to their physical peril. (Highly recommended, btw.)

    As for Hamilton I never had much interest in it though I was amused by the NY and political elites raving over a rap musical featuring minority performers in a sort of reverse minstrel show.

    Even more amusing is the recent cry to “cancel” Hamilton, the original statist politician, and they still have no issue with the play itself. No cries of appropriation there.

  2. And, although he enjoyed the book, PG hasn’t heard anyone talk about Hamilton.

    But, I heard lots of people talking about the finale of Game of Thrones.

  3. I guess I might be a snob from a third direction: I hate musicals. I somehow managed to not hate Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge.” That’s even though I had a grudge against it, since its version of the Lady Marmalade song played nonstop on the radio, and even invaded a dream I had. There was no escaping it. I can make an exception for musicals where the characters have an excuse to be singing, and somehow spontaneously dancing in sync (like the Phantom of the Opera). Otherwise, shut up and tell the story already 🙂

    So, I was never going to see Hamilton, even if it didn’t trip my “historically inaccurate” alarm. But–from a cultural standpoint, I also never saw anyone talking about Hamilton the way I saw people talking about Game of Thrones. I loved the videos that showed up in my YouTube feed in the show’s last season, especially the medieval-history vloggers discussing the utter shite that was the Battle of Winterfell. At first I thought the vloggers had really crappy video because the scenes were so dark. Then it turned out HBO filmed the episode that way, but one vlogger helpfully presented a lightened-up version. The vloggers’ roasts were so much fun, and I was happy I never watched the show to begin with. Then came the “Pitch Meeting” video for GoT’s last season, which made it abundantly clear why GoT’s showrunners were called Dumb & Dumber.

    Where writers are concerned, I think the TV GoT presents a clear-cut case for why novelists shouldn’t be so quick to sell their stories to Hollywood. Don’t just vet the contracts, vet the storytelling prowess of whoever is adapting your book. GRRM should have made sure the show runners stuck to the source material. And also, had enough source material for them to stick to …

    Back to class issues, I think it’s a good idea to have friends in the upper and lower classes. You just never know. You saw John Wick 2 and 3, right? Street people, “High Table” people, you want an “in” with both 🙂

    • You also need a lot of gold coins. 😀
      A fun version of the hidden society trope, that.
      I wish folks used it for more than the standard urban fantasy vamps, wolves, etc.
      That is a nice and (still) safe way to explore class issues.

      • The gold coins were what made the story “click” for me in the first movie. After that, I just loved seeing the secret world unfold. And I think you’re right, we don’t normally see the hidden society trope outside of vampires and such. It’s cool how the Wick franchise uses it.

        • Heinlein used it in METHUSELAH’S CHILDREN.
          Zenna Henderson used it in her stories of THE PEOPLE.
          Not sure I’d count HIGHLANDER and the RAVEN. Those weren’t organized enough to count.
          Not much else comes to mind.

  4. I went to see it at the Curran. The words of the rapping went by way too fast for this old mind to keep up. The wife enjoyed it, that’s what counts.

    Pet Peeve: I don’t like the musical because it doesn’t really impart any of the really important information about Hamilton. See how much of this people who love the musical actually come away with.

    He belonged to the Federalist party and was in favor of a strong central government. As such, he and fellow Federalist John Adams effectively hijacked the constitutional revision convention of 1787 and used it to propose, sell and install an entirely new and different strong central government. In doing so, Hamilton was one of the founding fathers who contributed the most to giving us the government we have today.

    (This is where the cancelling comes in. As part of that convention, Hamilton agreed to slavery in the South and the 3/5ths rule. Without that there would be no Federal government at all, so Hamilton had to sell out, as it were, to get what he wanted.)

    He was an aide to General Washington and impressed him with his organizational abilities, and as Washington’s Treasury secretary was was considered the second most important person in that administration, if not actually the first. In the beginning, about the only thing to do was to raise and spend money, and Hamilton was all over it. That duet? Washington and Hamilton sing the duet about Washington wanting to retire after two terms, and Hamilton wanting him to continue – without mention that was because Washington was Hamilton’s meal ticket.

    When he left the government and set up shop in New York the state was a Federalist stronghold, with him as the most influential party member. He arranged for the state legislature to grant him a charter for the First Bank of New York. It was also the ONLY bank in New York, and if you were not a Federalist in good standing you could not do business with the bank. Hamilton did not seem to see anything unfair there.

    Aaron Burr convinced Hamilton to support a charter for the Manhattan Water Company, an effort to bring in fresh water to combat a cholera epidemic. In Albany, Burr modified the proposed charter to allow the company to also do business as a bank. Nobody read the final bill, and once passed because of Hamilton’s support, Burr had a bank of his own, in competition with Hamilton. Hamilton did not like this competition, and talked smack about Burr every chance he got. Eventually, Burr shot Hamilton, and viewed from some angles it’s hard to blame him.

    The logo of the Chase Manhattan bank is still a stylized cross section of a wooden water pipe.

    Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton made it her mission to keep the memory of Hamilton alive — because he was *her* social meal ticket — and that is touched on at the end of the play. Ever since, Hamilton historians have separated into pro and not-so-pro Hamilton camps. Chernow was obviously a pro-Hamiltonian. It’s a good book, but there are gaps. The play might be entertaining for some, but I thought that it was a mess overall.

    • Like with so many political labels, today’s federalists *oppose* the all-enveloping central government Hamiltonians favor.
      Likewise Andrew Jackson’s populist Democratic Party today wishes people would forget about him. At least they still observe his populist practices.

  5. Well, I saw the televised production (got sticker shock in NYC during a Christmas trip in ’18) and LOVED it.
    Being an old guy myself, I watched it w/ subtitles so I didn’t miss the lyrics. Without them I probably would have been lost. Live musical theater w/o a libretto is wasted on me, even though I enjoy it.

    Miranda is a genius. The performances were amazing. I hope you guys get a chance to see it.
    I adore Alexander Hamilton b/c in 1983 the paper he founded did a story on me. Hence, to this day, The New York Post is by far, the greatest example of words on a page since the invention of writing. Period.

  6. I hadn’t thought about subtitles, Desmond. Those could work nicely in a lot of settings.

    I remember attending an opera (Das Rheingold??) in Chicago a very long time ago. The performance included subtitles. They helped to clarify what I was hearing and seeing, including Rhinemaidens.

    This was several years prior to the entry of Mrs. PG into my life and I was dating a member of the opera chorus at the time. That relationship petered out shortly thereafter, but I can’t blame Wagner. Or subtitles.

    • In HS back in the 70’s we were REQUIRED to attend 2 performances/year at Lincoln Center. I looove the opera, but ballet really jazzes me. (The school picked up the tab; this kid from the Bronx couldn’t afford those tickets)

      Oh yeah, I’m nuts over subtitles now. (I’m 62 and have hearing loss in one ear from a shootout in the 80’s that’s degenerative). I use them on Netflix, Prime video, etc etc. In fact… the movie theaters up here give a sub-titles doo-hicky that plugs into your drink cup holder as well. It’s awesome.

    • Blaming Wagner is always appropriate. Subtitles to languages I speak well, however, are just annoying… especially since they’re often wrong by being overliteral; but then, one of my post-surgery binges was Berlin Alexanderplatz and I had to keep turning the subtitles off.

      Could be worse — could be dubbed or badly translated…

      • As my hearing gets worse I often turn on the subtitles for English language TV programmes: I get decidedly annoyed at their inability to reproduce the words being spoken, even when there is no translation involved. This often results in significant though subtle changes in meaning, which always leaves me very suspicious of subtitles where translation is involved (though it’s still better than dubbing).

        As for surtitles in opera, I appreciate them even when the sung words are in English as I can never understand what is being sung, irrespective of the language being used.

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