In a rare visit to the cinema, I was subjected to trailer after trailer for films predominantly about apocalyptic battles. Digital technology has made ever more realistic and accessible the horrors of world chaos, so we have live updates on military coups and grass-roots revolutions. Far less compelling, it seems, is the actual governance of peoples. As King George taunts his former subjects in the musical Hamilton, “It’s much harder to lead.” We should learn about our country’s failures.
My daughter and I recently saw Allegiance on Broadway. It is an emotionally evocative musical based on the experience of George Takei’s family. Takei is best known for playing Hikaru Sulu in the original Star Trek television show. They were among the 120,000 Japanese-Americans forced into internment camps during World War II. Their homes and businesses were either confiscated or sold at a fraction of their value (such as $2,000 for land worth $20,000). At war’s end, they were given a bus ticket and $25 in cash. The government did not apologize for their unjust treatment and offered no assistance in their social re-integration. I was teary-eyed from the very first song, and later heard the audience crying in surround sound.
Among the new shows on Broadway, three are about immigrants: Hamilton, Allegiance, and On Your Feet, about Gloria and Emilio Estefan. The director of Hamilton has added an extra pause to accommodate the audience’s cheers when the Marquis de Lafayette says, “Immigrants — we get the job done.”
During World War II, Hollywood and United States government sought to calm public anxiety with upbeat fantasies and explicit propaganda. In our time, Hollywood gives us dismal horror stories, which do not seem to offer much hope. In my reading of anthropology, we homo sapiens have prevailed over greater odds — the Ice Age, larger predators — without the technological tools and brain power available to us now. Good leadership sets the tone and resolve in facing major societal issues, but lately our leaders are trailing the people in action.
My rabbi teaches that what you take pleasure in reveals your values. I ask, what values are we demonstrating with our devotion to these stories? A taste for world domination? A penchant for violence? I long for a shared sense of humanity, where we acknowledge the need to live together in harmony for the continuation of Planet Earth. The threat of climate change will vastly exceed the threat of militant Islam. Let’s focus on making this world the one in which we wish to live.