Whisper it quietly, there is a new ‘youth obsession taking over’ , as every week since Boxing Day, 1,000’s of young people in the UK have been hearing a story of hope, of life, of inclusion, dance and controversy. No they haven’t been attending churches, or signing up to ‘old labour’ , it is not a superhero film, or Pixars latest, no, many young people in the UK are in the throngs of a ‘Greatest Showman’ obsession. More young people (i think) saw this film on its opening night, than go to church in the UK – probably.
Maybe it is the ‘High School Musical’ Generation finding its feet again with a new outlet, that was satisfied with repeats of Glee for a few years, maybe its that the film has managed to pitch itself delicately in the middle ground, so that fans of Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron go home happy,
maybe as a film it has developed its own rise above the ashes and beaten back where critics ahead of its release were casting doubt on its success. What i do know is that for the first time a film has gone back to the No1 in the ratings (we 9/2/18), in its 6th week of release, something unheard of. What is also known is that the soundtrack has been nominated for awards, but also downloaded and streamed in its millions. And the sing a long showings have sold out.
So – What is it?
What about The Greatest Showman that has thrilled and delighted. It has (and I have seen it) many redeeming charming features, yet at the same time, where critics have labelled it as fake or hollow , because in an age of authenticity i guess, we have become used to the failings of lead men trying to sing ( Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia, or Russell Crowe or Hugh Jackman (again) singing in Les Miserables (2012)), and be authentic in doing so – The Greatest Showman is instead slick, and gives off much more a whiff of a series of music videos. So it is not that it is in any way authentic that gives reason for young people to be attracted to or love it so much. It isnt as real, and that, actually hasnt mattered.
For all its fake-ness, it doesn’t lack charm. But also doesn’t lack edge. The flawed genius making something against better odds or judgement (or his wifes permission), who used the weird and wonderful in humanity to initially be pawns in his business, yet through the opportunity find themselves strong together, and with abilities able to delight and provoke reactions in an audience. The class war that ensues pits the view of art from the upper class against the lower class, yet those who perform for the bourgeoisie are shown to be more needy, fake and hollow, that the genuine band of ‘freaks’ clumsily assembled in PT Barnums Theatre.
At this point the line, made by PT Barnum to the theatre owner up the road is key; ‘You sell virtue to the burgoise, whilst we provide joy to the poor‘ was a particularly apt one, and one not as popular in the craze of turning movie quotes into pictures (see above, left). And, for young people, joy is what they find in the greatest showman itself. It is unabashed, it is loud, proud and confident. (NB what is it churches offer…? )
It would be sniffy and patronising to say that young peoples attraction to this movie is because it a popcorn veneer of real life, an escape of caleidoscope images and sounds, and Zac Efron. This misses the point. It misses the point because young people are cleverer and smarter than this, yes even those who have seen The Greatest Showman 8 times. For what it is is as much as story of inclusion, of hope and fulfilling dreams, that many many young people are not finding elsewhere.
It would be easy to rail off where young people have lost hope in the world today, The Greatest showman isnt just an escape, it is a place of hopes, of dreams, and where many people who had been written off for their ‘weirdness’ found a space to dream, be united and redeem their weirdness into abilities and dance in the faces of those who scorned them.
The Greatest Showman is a story of liberation, it encapsulates some of Augusto Boals Theatre of the Oppressed and challenges the order, masks, and hypocrisy that entertainment and theatre became. In the current climate, it gives hope to the young person seeking to develop their own music ability (but told repeatedly that it wont amount to much), it gives hope to the young person afraid of what people think of them, that it isnt just the establishment that dictates the dream. It is a story about the risk taking required to cause something to happen, the imagination that goes against comfort, risk taking that is sometimes misguided.
It is a story of inclusion, in an era where young people, who are growing up more inclusive than ever before, where those who are lost are included, where it is more than just the one talented person who gets to stand on the stage, but the many, the downtrodden and those who dont fit. And more and more, young people are not able to fit, not fitting for many reasons, through being misunderstood, maligned, politically, sexually, socially or spiritually.
The Greatest showman has given young people the opportunity to sing ‘This is me’ and be defiant, be confident and be brave and so it might be the song of the young person is more sure of who they are, rather than the questioning song of culture that wants young people to be afraid of themselves and sing instead ‘Is this me?’.
Is there something about Theatre, about Joy, about Community and about inclusion that The Greatest Showman that is delighting and encapsulating the imagination and dream of young people across the UK and beyond, yes. Might this be something that in youth work & ministry and the church that is reflected on? – this is not just a craze for young people, it is a revelation of what kind of community and world that they might just be hoping and dreaming for.
This is from the BBC, in its 11th week, TGS is still very popular! http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-43385034