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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

Yeah, I Write For That Paper

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

From time to time I get to write an article in the county weekly, "The Jackson County Advocate" (yeah, I write for The Advocate--I can say that, right?). As a minister member of the Grandview Church Alliance, I get my turn in the rotation to write a back page "editorial," which most weeks is a sermon. I've tried to avoid being sermonic (with ambiguous results)

Well, the paper is under new ownership, and I figured that I had written my last Advocate piece. But yesterday they called and asked if I could have a piece to them by noon today. "Sure."

So what did I do? I wrote about Rent.

Here, for your reading pleasure, is the article in its entirety.

Measuring Rent; A Christmas Retrospective

Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes/
How Do You Measure - Measure A Year?

As a college thespian, it was somewhat unavoidable that I would become mired in the pit of aimless young adults taking caffeine intravenously and gurgling the lyrics to Rent. I just didn’t think it would happen to me at 29.

And it wouldn’t have if I hadn’t allowed myself to be dragged to the recently-released film adaptation of the Tony award-winning stage musical. Even when the musical’s soundtrack was released on cd in the late 90’s—feeding the insatiable frenzy of aspiring dramaturges everywhere—even then I had avoiding falling into the pit. It was a fad, a passing craze that I, being of independent mind and spirit, would avoid being sucked in to. And so I did. Even as scores of classmates irrepressibly sighed the chorus of I’ll Cover You and refined the steps to the Tango: Maureen, I remained unaffected.

I am unaffected no longer.

If you’ve not seen Rent, either the play or the movie, fear not. It’s simple. The plot mirrors that of the classic Puccini opera La Boheme, and it centers around a group of aspiring artists living in the Alphabet City neighborhood of New York. The main irritants in their lives are love, sexuality, drugs, and AIDS (yes, as my wife whispered to me during the rousing strains of La Vie Boheme, there is a connection there).

If I had been sucked into the hysteria around the play ten years ago, I’m sure I would have missed it. I would have been swept up in the music, drawn into the angst, and mesmerized by the reckless abandon with which the characters attack life. I would have seen it as an ode to the uncontainable bohemian life, and I would have done one of two things: I would have run after that life with full speed, or I would have loudly denounced it as a sin-slathered mess.

In truth, the Bohemian life that the script gives you is a mixed bag. Yes, it is free and independent and unfettered by the corporate cultural forces of uniformity. But it’s also deadly. People die in the play. People are broke. Even as they defiantly stomp on restaurant tables and give the moon to Corporate America, Rent’s characters perpetrate atrocities upon one another and rise to feats of magnificent cowardice.

At its core, the musical is a praise of and a plea for community. Its characters are simply un-compelling apart from their relationship to one another. And as history has shown elsewhere (see the civil rights movement), community takes shape among the dispossessed and the downtrodden, the marginalized and maligned. That is the thing I’m sure I would have missed as a self-conscious college thespian, the thing that I’m sure is the raison d’etre of the whole production: community and belonging.

Look around you this Christmas, as you do your shopping and your light-gazing. Look around and listen. You will surely hear in the streets of your neighborhood, in the aisles of your malls and stores, and in the buzz of family gathering chatter, the yearning refrain of Rent’s characters:

Will I lose my dignity?
Will someone care?
Will I wake tomorrow from/
This nightmare?

For the tattered characters of the play, there is good news to be found in one another. Which is more than can be said for many of the people we will mindlessly pass on the streets this month. But for those people, for you, and for me, there is a deeper good news, “good news of great joy for all people”: you can have your dignity because the God of the universe has submitted to an undignified stable birth; and when you wake tomorrow your eyes will be opened to a sunrise of hope.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 2:42 PM


Wow. Very inspiring Rocky. I love it when writers/preachers use current cultural issues to create the backdrop for a powerful message. Well done my friend.
commented by Anonymous Scott, 4:29 PM  

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