Elayne Riggs' Journal (for Leah)

Monday, July 07, 2003

Living There, You'll Be Free, If You Truly Wish to Be

As Spencer mentioned in the comments on Friday, a local station did indeed run a showing of 1776 last night. The non-letterboxed version (not as bad as pan-and-scan but always hard to watch anyway because so much is cut off the sides of the screen), with some weird edits. For instance, it included most of Cool Considerate Men, except for the bit after the Hancock/Dickinson exchange I reproed on Friday, the part that begins "And that is why they will follow us... to the right, ever to the right..." - a bit of a shame, since that line kind of echoes Goering's "the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders" and ties into the scene (which was shown) where the Congressmen burst out into the street doing a modified goose-step using their walking sticks to approximate a "Heil Hitler" salute. The lead-in lyrics and actions are a very powerful combination, and the piece loses a bit of impact without the first. Also missing was the very funny bit of business with a sexually frustrated Jefferson trying to start the Declaration, where Ken Howard tossed away one piece of paper after another, culminating with him just looking at blank sheets before throwing them up in the air in despair.

Not sure how much else was excised, as I was flicking stations between 1776 and Willy Wonka, probably watching more of the latter than the former (which I'd just seen on DVD a couple days earlier, after all). Both early '70s musicals do deal with freedom in their own way, though, so that got me to thinking abut how I perceived the word is used differently by the left and right. The right seems to use what I call a directed or steered freedom, a freedom towards something that you're "allowed" or expected to want - for instance, freedom to worship, freedom to choose from among available products, etc. Whereas the left most often embraces a sort of escapist, outsider freedom, as in freedom from want, freedom from persecution, freedom from fear, etc. It makes sense, if you think about it, for relatively comfortable conservatives to be more in favor of regulated and limited freedom, and progressives struggling on behalf of have-nots to think of freedom in broader and looser terms. Interestingly, FDR seemed to split the difference in his Four Freedoms speech, the first two being directed freedoms and the last two being escapist freedoms. The problem with escapist freedoms is that they often require more imagination than directed ones. It's much easier to be steered towards a preconceived choice than encouraged to flee danger and repression in search of an unknown end. The latter can make for a powerful fantasy, but it's usually just a facade; the reality of modern America tends towards multiple-choice questions rather than thought-out essays. Just something to consider when speaking to one's fellow Americans about freedom.