Nostalgia of a Different Hue

As I race through NaBloPoMo, I’m finding opportunity to revisit some drafts of posts I started but never got to finish…here’s one from this summer that I’m finally getting to!

During the summer months, my husband and I feel like we essentially run a prison.  He runs the cafeteria where he makes the meals, parades the children in to eat, sends them out to the yard for some exercise and day light while he cleans up and preps the next meal.  Then we repeat it all over again, all the while trying to break up the inevitable fights that erupt between our two sweet inmates.

Without the structure of a school day for any of the four of us, the transition into summer break can be a tough one, but it also means lots of time to force some family bonding.  My kids are old enough to sustain an interest in a non-animated film these days, so I decided with the later bedtimes of July and August, it was time to do perform my gay father duties and introduce them to some quintessential musical movies of yesteryear.  I scoured the Internet for all the “Best of Movie Musicals” lists I could find and compiled my own, cross-referencing what is available on Netflix and what could be borrowed from the library.  Shortly after school ended, we started to really promote the gay agenda with these two unsuspecting children.

First up was the original 1933 version of 42nd Street.  This is the source material for the glitzy 1980s Broadway version, and my kids had a passing interest in it because Audra McDonald mentioned in an interview we watched that it was her favorite when she was a kid, along with A Chorus Line.  (My kids are already experts in the original cast version of A Chorus Line, including their favorite line: “I was feeling her boobs and feeling her boobs.  And after about an hour or so, she said, ‘Oh, don’t you wanna feel anything else’ and I suddenly thought to myself, ‘No, I don’t.'”  That was a fun one to explain while emphasizing that this is not language we repeat or even sing along to.)

Neither my husband nor I had seen the film version of 42nd Street, and although there’s nary a song for a good long stretch in the beginning of the film and it’s entirely shot in black and white, my kids stayed focused.  This being a 1933 film though, there of course is no racial diversity.  Late in the film, the only actors of color manage to eek out a few lines on screen, and they are all playing servants who speak broken English.  My husband did his best to discuss how “silly” it was that black people weren’t allowed to have leading roles back then and how they were forced to play submissive characters.  Luckily, the showstopping numbers started pretty quickly thereafter and the kids were dazzled by the glamor of all the dancing white girls.

Next up, we tackled Singin’ in the Rain, one of my all-time favorites.  My husband had never seen it, and before he had his gay card revoked, we sat him down for this important milestone.  The kids and he loved the film with its hilarious dialogue, showstopping dance numbers, and memorable characters.  Again though, no diversity, and my daughter even asked at one point if there were any black people in the movie.  I had to explain why black actors had such a hard time in 1952 making a living in film.

Then we took on the original 1954 version of A Star Is Born.  None of us had seen this one, but what could go wrong with Judy Garland belting out “The Man That Got Away”?  Much to my chagrin, this is a pretty adult film, focusing on the devastating effects of alcoholism on a marriage.  With my own personal history, I found the movie really difficult to watch, and as we were getting read for bed that night, my daughter wanted to debrief.

“Why do people drink alcohol?” she asked.

Oh boy.

“Well, some people like the way it tastes, and some people like the way it makes them feel.”

“But some people die when they drink it?”

“Yes, if they drink too much.  People who are addicts can’t stop.”  With our daughter’s history in foster care, she already knows about addiction.  We’ve talked with her openly about how her mom had a disease known as addiction, which means that she can’t stop herself from using things that make her body really sick.  She knows that she has this problem and that she can’t take care of herself or her kids, and that’s part of the reason she gave her to us to be a permanent part of our family.  “It’s like the disease your mom had, and the disease that my mom had.  My mom got so sick that she died from it, but your mom is still fighting it.”

She paused while she took this all in.

“Why do you drink alcohol?”

Could this get any worse?

“Well, I like the way it tastes and at the end of a really long day, sometimes it calms me down.  Some people take medicine to do that, some people meditate…lots of people do different things to calm themselves down after they spend the whole day working hard.  Some people exercise.  Some people even clean.  Sometimes I like to have a glass of wine.”

“How come kids can’t drink it?”

“Kids’ brains are still growing.  After you turn 21, you’re brain will be just about done growing, and that’s when it’s safe for you to have a little bit of alcohol at a time.  If you drink alcohol before you turn 21, you might hurt your growing brain.”

“When I’m an adult, I’m only drinking once a week, on Sundays.”

“That sounds like a good plan.”

And with that, she was done.  We didn’t even to talk about the one scene in the film that featured black people: Judy Garland dressed as a little boy singing “Lose That Long Face.”  Early in the song, she is joined by two dancing black children, and our daughter literally joyously squealed, “Black people!”

Alcoholism and racial stereotyping, this is what passes for summer break in our family.

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