why modernizations matter

I have a lot of fun with modernizations of classic novels or plays; whether it’s experiencing them or dreaming them up, I’m drawn to them exceedingly. There is nothing more entertaining than watching your favorite characters burst onto the scene of modernity – it’s like they’re entering into our world. When my brother, cousin and I watched Clueless, I don’t think anyone enjoyed seeing the updates to Austen’s Emma as much as I did (and I definitely don’t think the two of them liked me screeching out scenes from the original book). When you pitch a novel into the modern world, you lose all the trappings that distance you from its issues; it’s easy to look at costumes and old language and say, “This happened, but it was in the past, so it doesn’t really apply to my life.”

Let me talk about one of the best birthday presents I have ever received: This year, for my 21st, my family got me tickets to the Dallas Theater Center’s modern performance of Les Mis. I do not say this lightly: not only was it the best production of Les Mis that I have ever seen, but it may have been the best performance I’ve attended, period. The musical hasn’t really changed in its staging since its inception, and that tends to remove the audience; this threw us right into the issues Hugo had been trying to bring to light in the 19th century. The preface to Les Mis says it best:

“so long as social asphyxia is possible in any part of the world;—in other words, and with a still wider significance, so long as ignorance and poverty exist on earth, books of the nature of Les Misérables cannot fail to be of use.”

With this production, I was slapped in the face with the realization that these miserable things really do still plague our society. The cast was diverse, desperate and honest, conveying emotion that I didn’t realize the play had left. The prisoners wore orange and the plight of the ex-con is palpable and raw; lovely ladies was a shocking jolt. The poor pushed shopping carts and held “ex-veteran” signs, Valjean had prison tattoos, the students sipped lattes and traded their hipster scarves in for bulletproof vests and Che Guevara caps; the Thenardiers ran a seedy dive bar. The police brutality was so painful and palpable; in the final barricade scene, the faceless police officers surrounded the audience, moving in through the crowd and killing the rebels; it was so personal and awful and topical. I questioned the revolutionaries a lot more this time – in today’s world, what would drive someone to lead themselves and their friends into the mouth of death? – but Gavroche’s murder made me realize what they were fighting for.

More than anything, it did exactly what Les Mis was intended to do: it inflamed my sense of justice and my desire to try to right the societally imposed wrongs that I see in the world. In N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope (confession, I haven’t finished) and several conversations with my father have helped me realize that trying to make the world better isn’t optional – as Christians, especially, we are called to feed, clothe, shelter, and comfort our fellow man. It’s not a resume-building volunteerism that should propel us, but a desire to see God’s kingdom realized on earth:

“Resurrection, by contrast, has always gone with a strong view of God’s justice and of God as the good creator. Those twin beliefs give rise not to a meek acquiescence to injustice in the world but to a robust determination to oppose it.”

Moderizations are incredibly fun and entertaining, but the point should always, always be to encourage a deeper understanding of the original text by applying it to our own world. The point of so much literature is to touch on modern issues; although they might seem old-fashioned now, at the time they were written, their authors intended them as a commentary on modern society’s shortcomings.

In another vein, I saw the trailer for the upcoming adaptation of Annie last week and was blown away; I didn’t expect to be as excited as I am, but when I saw that they had made Annie a foster child, I was so struck and so glad that they updated the story. In this version, Annie is black, and although some (racist) people were upset, I could not be more glad. In the original version, Annie’s red hair marks her as belonging to a group that was marginalized (more strongly in the 19th century) – the Irish. Today, Annie’s race also places her in a racial group that is still often shown prejudice and unfair treatment; African-Americans have to fight stereotype every day.

Representation is so important; as vital as it is for everyone that all different types of people are portrayed as real characters in media, it affects children most.  When young girls and boys can see themselves in television, books, and movies, it inspires them and gives them characters to identify with. It makes them believe that they can be the heroes of their own stories: Latina girls watching Brooklyn Nine Nine can aspire to be cops, and Asian-American boys watching Up can hope to be as brave as Russell.  With the modernized Annie, thousands of African-American girls and thousands of children in foster care can see themselves on screen and say, my story is important; hopefully, the rest of us can say the same.

Hugo was right – by nature, people are broken and striving, and time will not change that. People have been the same since the beginning, and we continue to struggle between good and evil. This can seem daunting and hopeless, if we let it, but we have to keep working toward change for God’s kingdom. There will always be a story to tell or to retell; hopefully, we will continue to speak out for those who struggle to be heard.

><>

Advertisements

a list of nineteen points

At the end of last week, one of my favorite Walden employees asked me what was weighing on my mind.  “I’m trying to get to know you!” he said.  I realized that I hadn’t perhaps been as open as I was with people I already knew.

Here is a list about me based on some recent events:

  1. I’m always willing to talk to people about what they believe and what I believe; it’s excessively important and I try to be open about it.  I appreciated my friends in Boston who were so genuinely interested in discussion.
  2. I was torn up over killing a bug because it was beautiful, and because I did it for convenience’s sake.
  3. I could not have conceived of a more perfect internship than Walden, where I read and wrote and sensed magic in its very walls.  I found people there who understood.  I didn’t want to leave.
  4. Journaling always makes me feel better.  I wonder if it matters what I’m writing, or if the simple motion of a pen across paper would evoke the same feeling.  The act of creation is restful.
  5. I love the show Gravity Falls; I miss my brother.  The two are inseparably linked.
  6. Last week, I had a twenty-four hour mental gymnastics match about women in the church.  I still don’t have the answers, but I trust that God loves me.
  7. I have to teach myself to let ideas go without writing them down (see: this list).  I’m paranoid I’ll forget something deeply important.
  8. I have watched so much Teen Wolf lately that I try to justify it through literary analysis.
  9. When you move to a new place for a short time, you should logically keep to yourself in an attempt to not get attached before you have to leave again.  I try to make as many friends as possible.
  10. I have a knack for correctly cooking terrible things; I wish it were socially acceptable to eat out alone.
  11. I am attuned to my body’s quirks but cannot understand its refusal to properly function.  It’s immensely frustrating for me.
  12. Although I have felt the deepest affection for God, my understanding friends, my family, good stories, dead authors, and pet dogs, I don’t know that I’ve ever been in love.
  13. I like to find the possibility of magic in antique stores, strangers that look like centaurs, and the feeling of the wind.
  14. I love when people are expert in areas that I am not so they can teach me.
  15. I am sometimes careless when I drive alone; I am more cautious with other people’s lives.
  16. In Davis Square, I saw a newsstand made to look like a monster and sweaters kindly knitted for two statues, and these tiny things pushed my love of Boston even higher.
  17. I want to be seen as intelligent and insightful; I wonder how much of what I say is genuine and how much is monitored for the way that I perform myself.  From something as gentle as telling jokes in a way that will make my best friend laugh to feigning knowledge of a subject, I’m guilty of this.  Even this list reflects that.
  18. When people draw me into stories or theses with language that tickles my mind I experience the feeling that my heart is trying to push words through my mouth that I cannot speak.
  19. There are nineteen points because I don’t want to turn twenty.

I think I’ve changed over my time in Boston, and I wanted to perhaps find out who I’ve turned into.  I hope it’s better; however, glancing over this, I definitely need to spend more time with God.  Don’t I always.

Comment with small things that speak to who you are! I’d love to get to know you more.

><>