I Hate Hamilton
I am the one who hates the shows everyone else loves.
You know the disjointed feeling you have when you’re the one not getting why the audience around you is so happy? Usually it’s selective, unusual. Not with me. I am in that position most of the time.
It’s not that I don’t like anything. It’s that I don’t ever seem to like what everyone else reveres. I don’t enjoy being a contrarian, so I’m bewildered at how how everyone else can be so wrong when I am certainly right.
It started with the classic movie ET. As I was watching back in ’82, I kept waiting for my own heart to glow. I expected something profound, something beyond Disney SFX. But I left the theater feeling like I’d been to a puppet show. Cute, yes, but picture of the year? Or any year? At the time I thought nothing of expressing my opinion to others, freedom of speech and all that. But I misjudged the phenomenon, the sheer volume of worship the public had for that space creature. After a few stinging slap-downs, mostly centered on my lack of emotional development, I began to respect the implicit censorship. I didn’t pretend I liked it, just didn’t argue when others explained the obvious flaws in my taste.
2017 was an especially bad year for me. The list of acclaimed movies that I thought actually kind of sucked grew long and jagged. I was sure I was going to fall headlong for Call Me By Your Name, the gay film of that year, but very early on I started counting how many times the lovers ran into scenes laughing. I wasn’t swept up in their giddy romance, I wanted them to get jobs. And Armie Hammer was way too old for Timothee Chalamet, who may have finished puberty at the time of filming. Even more age-related prejudices pestered me about the script, written by James Ivory of the Merchant and Ivory era. Just exactly how old is he now, I kept wondering, and why hasn’t he joined a bowling league in The Villages instead of promoting borderline-pederasty?
The thing is, I don’t ever learn not to expect too much. I nearly flew to see The Post with Meryl and Tom H and hundreds of their contemporaries. I’d read and heard the accolades, and I wanted to see art lead The Resistance. Instead, I sneaked out less than halfway through, as if heading to the bathroom, as if anyone was going to ask. I even thought Meryl stunk up every scene, which in itself is a kind of treason. James Franco in The Disaster Artist made my skin crawl. At one point I was sure I could actually smell his unwashed hair. Sally Hawkins’ mugging throughout The Shape of Water made me hope she and the fish-human would end the movie prematurely by swimming off into the oblivion of the Atlantic.
I’ve tried to examine why I find myself here so often. Probably I’m just basically ornery, not easily pleased. But I don’t want to accept that, since I have plenty of other avenues for putting myself down. I choose to blame it on Hype Disappointment. In all these cases, I was so sure I was going to love the films, and went to them expecting consummate brilliance and sensory fulfillment. Maybe no film can live up to that. All my friends think Call Me By Your Name is a masterpiece, and I have just smiled, mumbling something about how it would be nice to spend the summer in Italy. These friends and all the critics and everyone everywhere love the movies that ultimately won Big awards. Like a right-wing Republican professor in a Fine Arts department, I stay quiet for the sake of conflict-avoidance.
It’s not just movies, of course. Back in the nineties when I was taking courses at NYU, I managed to get unimaginably good prices on Broadway shows that were starting to wobble at the box office. One was Showboat, which before long had me praying to Old Man River for a ride out of the theater. This was clearly written by white people, I thought, and that wasn’t even the harshest feeling I had for it.
Which brings me to Hamilton. Not that I currently have the $1,300 I need for a post-Covid seat inside the theatre, but I’m afraid that if I ever did, I’d be the sole attendee wearing a frozen smile. This show is so beloved that if my seat were vacant during the second act I certainly would be hunted down. So I would have to stay, no matter what. I could be wrong: I may very well get my thrill on like everyone else has, even Mike Pence. I already love the premise, a hip-hop inspired musical written by a Hispanic playwright with historical characters portrayed by mostly non-white actors.
But I’m afraid. Sore afraid. I know what I’m like.