“You`ve Got To Be Carefully Taught To Hate…”

Terry Teachout`s list of Broadways shows includes a listing for a revival of South Pacific:

South Pacific (musical, G/PG-13, some sexual content, brilliantly staged but unsuitable for viewers acutely allergic to preachiness, reviewed here)

An excerpt from his excerpt of his review says

“South Pacific” goes dead in the water every time the characters stop singing and start talking, which is way too often. The book, adapted by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan from James Michener`s “Tales of the South Pacific,” is a wartime drama built around a May-September romance between Nellie Forbush (Ms. O`Hara), a cheery Navy nurse, and Emile de Becque (Paulo Szot), a super-suave French plantation owner who fled to a Polynesian island after killing a man, took up with a now-deceased native woman and sired an adorable pair of children. Their skins, alas, are too brown to suit the Arkansas-born Nellie, and thereby hangs the tale of “South Pacific.” Will true love purge our poor benighted heroine of her racism? Will her middle-aged suitor be killed in a daredevil mission behind Japanese lines? Would that one could care, but Hammerstein preaches his sermon with head-thumping triteness: You`ve got to be taught before it`s too late/Before you are six or seven or eight/To hate all the people your relatives hate. Stir in a megadose of beat-the-Japs period fervor, and you get a show so reeking of uplift that you can all but feel your pulse slowing to a crawl as the second act inches toward its predestined happy ending.

South Pacific, if you`ve never seen it, is actually about teaching people to hate Little Rock, Arkansas. Roy Reed, formerly of the Arkansas Gazette, writes in the Lincoln Center Theater Review:

Nine black students arrived at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, September 4, 1957, to make history. A few hundred angry white people were waiting to assert their own history. They beat up a black reporter, terrorized one of the black students who found herself alone, and started a vicious little riot that got the attention of the whole country.

A week later, a small theater on Long Island opened a revival of the musical South Pacific. The nurse Nellie Forbush, having already confessed, “I`m a little hick!,” got around to mentioning that she was from Little Rock. The audience booed and hissed so furiously that the show was stopped for three minutes. (Time magazine, September 23, 1957)

The Long Island crowd pretty well summed up the national view of Arkansas`s capital and the thugs who were presumed to populate it. If any New Yorker knew better, he had the good sense to keep his mouth shut. Indeed, the whole world–outside the once Confederate States of America–was in no humor to cut Little Rock any slack, not in 1957 or for many years afterward.[Nellie Forbush`s Home Town, Spring 2008]

Later in the article Reed writes

[Forbush] was the sort of person that Lieutenant Joe Cable`s song was aimed at in the musical:

You`ve got to be taught before it`s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate…

How many Long Island theatergoers would have noticed that the guilt-ridden singer, who was condemning the same quality in himself, was from Philadelphia? And how many would have gone on to reflect that the South did not enjoy sole ownership of American racism?

Cable has decided that even though he`s in love with a “native girl” named Liat, he can`t marry her, because they won`t like it in Philadelphia, either. Liat is played in the movie by the incredibly gorgeous France Nuyen, and prejudice against her is simply not credible.

But, I repeat, the modern production of South Pacific is about people being “carefully taught to hate” Southerners and any America that existed before the Age of Obama by Broadway liberals like Frank RIch.