Social Question

josie's avatar

Was the musical "Hair" racist?

Asked by josie (30931points) October 11th, 2010

I guess because of friends and relatives who came of age in the 60’s, I have a terrific interest in the decade and the so called “counter culture”. The Vietnam War, campus unrest, race riots, the Beatles etc. I like reading about the whole thing.
A musical was produced at the time, “Hair” that caused quite a stir because of sexual references, drug references, and nudity.
A couple of the songs in the original play contain language and/or metaphors that could not be printed today without generating controversy at best and censorship at worst. In fact, I figure I can not write the lyrics without getting modded, so I will not. You can look them up.
Are the lyrics to Colored Spade, and Black Boys racist?
If not, why not?
If so, how did Hair get to be such a popular counter culture statement?

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9 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

If I remember correctly, wasn’t one of the main points of Hair the fact that there was an interracial relationship and that the audience (the counter culture one anyway) rooted for its success? That means more than lyrics to a song which probably were included to include the general spirit (culture) of the time so that the audience, once again, can reflect on how wrong it all sounds.

llewis's avatar

Wow, it’s been a long time since I saw that one! I don’t remember clearly (as they say, if you remember the 60’s you weren’t there), but I think you would have to take the songs in context. I’m sure they would be considered offensive today just on their own, but the whole point of the movie was to shake people up and make fun of stereotypes.

Jeruba's avatar

I don’t think so. As I recall (having seen it on stage in New york in its first run—as a member of that generation), the songs about “Black Boys” and “White Boys” were sung by a white girl and a black girl, respectively, each praising the physical traits of the other’s race, and a black singer was the one who sang all the black racial epithets. It was all in the spirit of countering and defusing those terms and stereotypes, and in the context of the culture and the times, I thought it was very effective. Racist is just what it wasn’t: it confronted and challenged racism.

Even though Hair was popular theatre, and as such it was part of the moneymaking Establishment, it voiced the sentiments of my generation’s countercultural movement in such a way that it seemed to bridge the gap. Even if you hated its commercialism, how could you not love the music? It portrayed the young people and our shared philosophies and social structures sympathetically, warmly, and excitingly, making it seem like the fun that it really was while also trying to show the older generations what it was about. It touched on some of the serious themes as well as some of the down side, too (“Easy to Be Hard”). It would never speak for the spirit of the sixties the way Dylan did, but it was still authentic in its very pretensions.

filmfann's avatar

So you say…

Jeruba's avatar

ha ha . . . I was sober when I saw it

breedmitch's avatar

So you say…

Likeradar's avatar

I don’t think so. The language used would definitely be objectionable today, and it may have been used for shock value then. Colored Spade is sung by a black character, and what I get out of it is that he’s saying all the things other people have called him. As @filmfann and @breedmitch said… “so you say.”

iphigeneia's avatar

Like others have said, Colored Spade is sung by a black man and the purpose is not to encourage the racist names and stereotypes, but to say how ridiculous they are. Black Boys and White Boys promote interracial love.

I saw the Broadway revival after its transfer to London this year, and my impression was that it’s difficult to ‘get’ this show unless you see it performed in full. Hair is about freedom, letting loose, loving life, and loving everything living.

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