It’s a Hard Knock Life

I love musicals. I don’t remember when I saw my first musical on stage, but I’m sure that long before that I loved movie musicals. My husband joined in to musical obsession after seeing Wicked on Broadway a few years ago. And now we have a son who loves music and dancing, and as we learned earlier this year, musicals. We took him to see High School Musical 3 and he loved it so much that we had to see it five times in the theater before it came out on video.

So, of course, I want to indulge this love of musicals. But I’m struggling with how to do that. Themes that never bothered me before now make me cringe.

I think he’d most like musicals about kids. But just about every kid musical has an orphan theme, some better done than others. Oliver was never a favorite of mine, but I loved Annie. Now I’m wondering, it is appropriate for my son to see? Sure, right now he probably won’t “get” lots of the message. But someday he will; what will it mean to him then?

And then there’s the racial themes and stereotypes. First, there aren’t many musicals that have minorities in them. Second, when minorities are represented it’s often only to fulfill a stereotype.

I have two friends who have highly recommend Miss Saigon; both said it was one of their favorite musicals. I haven’t seen it so one friend let me borrow her soundtrack. It was in the first song on the soundtrack that I became uncomfortable, and as the soundtrack played on that feeling only grew. Asian women existing only for pleasing men; Asian men cunningly only helping other if it advanced their cause.

So I did what I always do and began doing some research on the Internet. I came across a review of the Broadway version written when the musical was still playing on the Great White Way (it was posted in 2008). It points out all the stereotypes that are perputuated in the story line of Miss Saigon. And as so often happens, the first comment was from a dissenter who wondered if it would be a misrepresentation to portray the story with “political correctness” since it was set in the 1970s, which we all know wasn’t politically correct. The response was that it would have been misrepresentation only if you believe that there were no Asians in the 1970s who had any redeeming qualities and that there were no whites who could see past the bigotry.

And that’s my dilemma. So much of what’s out there in entertainment, especially in years past but to some extent still today, shows a skewed view of the world when it comes to race and adoption. It’s true that America’s past is traditionally very “white” but since the beginning we’ve had people of color here. People who have contributed much to our country, and people we largely never hear about. Yes, stereotypes exist, whether it be about race or adoptees or genders. Yes, some people believe those stereotypes are true and use them to form opinions. And yes, someday my son will need to know all of these things. And maybe, when he’s old enough to understand, movies and musicals will be great jumping-off points to start conversations about these themes.

But in the meantime, at the tender age of 3, would seeing these messages be detrimental? Would it affect his developing sense of self in a negative way? These are the questions I ask myself before viewing any movie or show. They are questions that many of my white friends with biological kids never ask about these “family-friendly” movies. These films have no bad language, no sex, and no violence–nothing in there that could harm a youngster, right?

For me it’s not that simple. I must look deeper and with a more critical eye than I did before. Not to completely shelter my son from reality, but to make sure the messages he’s getting are helping build him up as a minority in this country during these formative years.

1 Response to “It’s a Hard Knock Life”

  1. November 1, 2009 at 11:58 pm

    Yes, it is very difficult isn’t it! You do have to look at things differently than non-adoptive parents do. You do have to think about the racial and adoptive issues that others might just gloss over. Your son is so young, that I might start out with some of the disney “musicals” for him. Yet, some of them even have racial undertones that most of us don’t get. I agree with you, do you just gloss over the deeper stuff until he is older and let him watch it anyway? Or do you monitor even more closely even if he is too young to totally get it, knowing that he may get more than you think, or it will leave an impression of how things are, when they aren’t that way at all? Maybe you just might stick to the Wiggles for now? Good Luck and Hooray for you for being so insightful, despite that poo-pooing I am sure you are getting from some friends! Whatever you decide, just that fact that you are aware, you will make the right decision for you and you child!

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My Korean Culture Blog

Just a reminder that if you want to learn more about Korean culture (both traditional and pop culture), language resources, and cooking, check out my other blog: thekoreanway.wordpress.com It's filled with resources for adoptive families or anyone interested in Korean culture.

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2009 Lost Memories

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