Elen sila lumenn omentielvo!

Sunday, May 09, 2004

The Deactivation of Cynicism

I am currently in the middle of one of my periodic Lerner-and-Loewe listening binges, and in the course of doing a bit of online research, I'm noticing that apparently several of their songs have subtexts that are a bit unpleasant nowadays. What interests me just now is that none of this ever occurred to me. I can give two examples of this. First, consider the lyrics to "Thank Heaven For Little Girls", from Gigi:

"Each time I see a little girl
Of five or six or seven,
I can't resist a joyous urge
To smile and say,
Thank heaven-
For little girls!
For little girls get bigger everyday.
Thank heaven for little girls,
They grow up in the most delightful way.
Those little eyes so helpless and appealing,
One day will flash and send you crashing
Through the ceiling!
Thank heaven for little girls,
Thank heaven for them all,
No matter where, no matter who,
Without them, what would little boys do?
Thank heaven
Thank heaven
Thank heaven for little girls!

Those little eyes so helpless and appealing,
One day will flash and send you crashing
Through the ceiling!
Thank heaven for little girls,
Thank heaven for them all,
No matter where, no matter who,
Without them, what would little boys do?
Thank heaven
Thank heaven
Thank heaven for little girls!"

This song is sung in the film by Maurice Chevalier, an elderly Frenchman as he stands in the park watching little girls at play. And the funny thing is, until I found some review online a week or two ago that pointed it out (I've since lost the link), I never even considered the possible interpretation of pedophilia. I mean, this elderly guy singing about how captivating little girls are -- how horrid!

And yet, since I'm raising my own little girl, these lyrics seem perfectly in line with what I see as she grows up, and in the context of the story of Gigi (an older man -- not the one singing this song, but his nephew -- eschewing every woman he meets, only to find love with a young lady he has known since her childhood), the song makes perfect sense, and not in any kind of creepy way. But maybe I'm wrong? Should I watch Maurice Chevalier singing "Thank Heaven For Little Girls", and be reminded of things like the Catholic priest-and-altarboy scandals? Is it remotely fair to Messrs. Lerner and Loewe to interpret their song in anything remotely approaching this light?

My other example is from My Fair Lady, which is not just my favorite Lerner-and-Loewe musical, but my favorite musical of all time, period. (In fact, on my personal list of favorite movies of all time, My Fair Lady outranks all but two of the Star Wars films. That's how dearly I love My Fair Lady.) There is a fairly minor character named Freddie Aynsford-Hill who meets Eliza Doolittle at the Ascotte opening day and becomes smitten with her. A little later on, Freddie turns up on Professor Higgins's doorstep, bearing flowers for Eliza. She refuses to come out, because she is so mortified at how her first day in public as "a respectable lady" turned out (and no, I'm not going to spoil what is, to me, one of the funniest moments in a movie ever, if you haven't seen it). Does Freddie go home, to try again later? Nope. He heads out onto the street corner opposite Higgins's home and sings "On the Street Where You Live":

"I have often walked down this street before
But the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before;
All at once, am I
Several stories high,
Knowing I'm on the street where you live.

Are there lilac trees in the heart of town?
Can you hear a lark in any other part of town?
Does enchantment pour
Out of ev'ry door?
No, it's just on the street where you live!

And oh! The towering feeling
Just to know somehow you are near!
The overpowering feeling
That any second you may suddenly appear!

People stop and stare. They don't bother me.
For there's no where else on earth that I would rather be.
Let the time go by,
I won't care if I
Can be here on the street where you live!"

And Freddie just stays right there. When next we see him, the film implies that he's never left that spot, even though more than a month has passed. In short, by singing "On the Street Where You Live", Freddie has announced for all the world his intention to stalk Eliza Doolittle. I mean, consider it: you're a woman, you meet a guy for the first time, and that very night he takes to setting up camp fifty feet from your front door. Shouldn't that be a bit creepy, as opposed to naively charming, as the song depicts?

I'm not objecting to these two songs on these bases at all. I'm noting that, in seeing other people point these things out, I wonder if we've gone too far in making jaded cynicism our default position. Or, conversely, if my own "cynicism meter" is not tuned high enough to pick up on stuff like this.

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