Still new to the Deep South, on Sunday afternoon we attended a holiday cultural performance held in our Alabama hometown’s splendid high school auditorium. The elaborately decorated stage was resplendent with professional performers who were joined by local school children. The latter had plainly taken their rehearsals seriously and were visibly thrilled to be participating.
Moreover, private donations funded almost two thousand tickets for children from the surrounding county to attend one of the performances presented over the past few days. The auditorium was abuzz with a very diverse crowd of uniformly excited kids.
Yet imagine our consternation when we saw children on stage playing the roles of tin soldiers, armed with toy rifles and swords. What is more, the guns (which even included an artillery piece) were fired with staged deadly effect on numerous adversaries. And, more shocking still, one child used his sword to stab to death a threatening creature, and then to cut off a crown attached to its head. An imitation scalping, in effect, carried out by a young boy in front of hundreds of even younger and surely impressionable school children.
I suppose it is an indictment of our culture that this militaristic, violent plot line prompted no protests from the local audience. To us, naturally, this indifference seemed at odds with widespread sensitivity about what our Washington ruling elites term this country’s culture of “gun violence.” Indeed, the appalling good cheer with which these scenes were greeted stands in stark contrast to steps taken in more progressive communities, where leaders of educational institutions protect our children by suspending from school those who draw, carve, or, worse yet, actually play with toy guns.
As we reeled from the carnage just described, the boy-killer turned to a pre-teen girl and presented her with the newly scalped crown. The message was clear: he was acting as her defender and champion. Thus was martial violence the springboard for a scene that celebrated the most antiquated gender stereotypes imaginable — the male as aggressive provider and protector of the helpless and submissive female.
Still, old and young alike in the sellout crowd reacted with warm, even enthusiastic approval! Apparently this occurred notwithstanding that most of those in attendance must surely have been aware of the lasting damage being done to the many young children present. For they were captivated by this alluring, anachronistic story.
To make all of this even worse, the tale told on stage — a stage on the premises of a public high school, no less — seemed to revolve around childhood dreams of Christmas treats. Christmas — Christmas! — banned in the military and in the public square long since, stalked this Southern stage on Sunday, joyous, generous, and unrepentant.
Elsewhere, in doubtless more enlightened provinces of our great nation, SWAT teams would have descended on schoolboys armed with fake firearms. Moreover the performance of this oft-told and beloved fable would have been banned for its glorification of violence and its perpetuation of inappropriate gender and sexual stereotypes.
All the same, we were pleased that the Alabama Ballet is one of the seven companies nationwide licensed to perform George Balanchine’s choreography of The Nutcracker. And we were grateful that in this small Southern city, for yet another Christmas season, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s enchanting balletdelighted children of all ages.
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