By Contributing Writer Caleb Maupin
From Maelstrom, the Bi-Weekly Satirical Magazine of Baldwin-Wallace College
“You can’t stop a train as it goes speeding down the tracks / Yesterday is history and it’s never coming back.”
-“You Can’t Stop the Beat,” Hairspray
“However much reactionaries try to hold back the wheel of history, sooner or later revolution will take place and will inevitably triumph.”
Hairspray is refreshing in the world of cheap action movies, and patriotic war films. It is great to see a film that portrays a brave and defiant heroine, challenging the status quo and battling the powers that be. We are taught so well that things do not change. So many films, classroom recitations of the pledge allegiance, and high school social studies classes tell us that the “beat” has been stopped, and that capitalism and the current state of affairs, with all the inequality, selfishness, and greed, is “just the way things are”. But Hairspray tells a different story. The main character is Tracy, a young overweight teen who is obsessed with a Rock and Roll television program, and favors racial integration; a “chubby communist girl” as she is once described. Through a strange twist of fate, she winds up appearing on the show. She and her mother endure abuse because of their weight, in a society with unrealistic body standards and male dominance. In the end Tracy gives up the world of fame, in order to fight for her dream of blacks and whites dancing together on the program.
There is a final musical number, in which a crowd of youth, black and white, defiantly dance in front of a crowd of disapproving adults, and police officers. The message of their lyrics is simply “we are the future, and we refuse to let this oppression continue.” Defying her mother, a white girl kisses her black boyfriend on TV. Tracy’s overweight mother also gets up and dances saying “if you don’t like the way I look… I just don’t give a damn.” The message of “you can’t stop the beat” that history, like a “train” as the film’s lyrics say, is much in line with an ideology called “dialectical materialism”. This idea, coined by Karl Marx, is the belief that history is moving forward.
Marx believed the current system, in which the factories, farms, and banks are privately owned, would be overthrown, and we wouldmarch forward into future called “Socialism.” Under Socialism, the people would have control over the factories, farms, and banks, and they would strive and push for an ever brighter future.
All the revolutionaries of the past from Martin Luther King to Leon Trotsky were singing their own version of “you can’t stop the beat”.
Travolta’s acting leaves something to be desired, and the “he’s a guy in drag” humor can only be funny for a while. However the quality of the choreography adds to the films explosive power, and the liberating emotional message of teen rebellion and social progress.
It takes beautiful films, with astounding sound tracks like Hairspray to remind us that there is a better tomorrow on the horizon, and another world is possible, but as Tracy told her parents near the end of the film, “people like me have got to stand up and fight for it.”
When I heard that line, I applauded.
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM THE MAELSTROM STAFF