In my communication class, my professor has said that Hairspray is a good movie (also a former touring Broadway musical) that deals with the things we talk about in class. We talk a lot about how the media plays a huge role in the ideas people have about the world. During the time of Jazz and Rock n’Roll especially, the media changed people’s idea about race.
I though back to the time I saw Hairspray, and I remembered parts of the main plot and that there were racial issues. It had been a long time since I’d seen it though, so I didn’t quite remember everything about the movie. I decided to get it from the library, and wow! It was SO different watching it again with the topics from my class in mind. There are so many small things and lines people say that I would never have picked up, if I wasn’t thinking about the idea of the media changing people’s racial opinions.
In the movie, a young, heavy-set teenage girl named Tracy Turnblad (Nicky Blonsky) growing up in Baltimore, wants only to be a dancer on the Corny Collins Show and become the love interest of the show’s lead guy Link Larkin (Zac Efron). After auditioning and showing of her moves on “negro day,” she achieves her goal. But she isn’t quite satisfied with her accomplishment. She come to find out that “negro day” has been cancelled, and it will no longer happen once a month. This courageous, spunky girl puts aside her wants to fight for what is right. She marches in protest with her colored friends against the TV station, and changes many people’s views. With the help of her friends Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes), Seaweed (Elijah Kelley), Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah), and her parents Edna (John Travolta) and Wilbur (Christopher Walken) she succeeds, and eventually the Corny Collins Show becomes officially integrated. One small voice taking a stand, made all the difference.
There were some small lines and things that I picked up while watching this, that I never had and many people might not have either. During the scene when they first show the Corny Collins Show, the main song all the kids sing is about being the “nicest kids in town.” The media give the teens of Baltimore the idea that those kids are the coolest and the nicest, and that everyone should be like them. The girls are beautiful and skinny, and the guys are strong and handsome. You see the way they treat Tracy when she auditions for the show. They will not even give her a chance, because of the way she looks. It becomes not just an issue of race, but something we deal with everyday in our lives. You aren’t pretty if you don’t look like the people on TV.
Also during that scene, Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer), who only cares about her daughter Amber (Brittany Snow) being Miss Teen Hairspray says “We want to keep them thinking in the white direction.” Most of the parents in that time probably thought this way. They wanted things to be the same as when they were kids. Blacks and Whites were not equal, and they did not dance together on TV. The media portrayed that whites were superior. They had a whole show, while the Blacks were only allowed a once a month appearance.
Finally, the last think I noticed was at the being of the movie when Penny’s mother, Prudy Pingleton (Allison Janney), says “Are you listening to that race music again?” (referring to the Corny Collins Show). This is a perfect example of how parents were against the music of the day. They were afraid of its message, and that it would cause their children to become sexually active, or accept colored people, or both together. Parents were set against change. Penny’s mother of course did not succeed, because later on Penny and Tracy’s colored friend Seaweed get together. Music change the racial views of the teens.
My favorite scene in the movie is when little Inez (Taylor Parks) wins Miss Teenage Hairspray. Even though she is black, people put aside their views and they recognize her real talent. The is the pivotal moment where, Corny Collins (James Marsden) announces that the show will finally become integrated. If gave people hope that things could be better.
It was really cool to watch this movie again, and to be able to get more out of it. I would encourage everyone to watch it again, and not just think about the music (which is really good, by the way), but think about the meanings in this movie. The media really does change our ideas about the world.
I had the opportunity to see Hairspray on Broadway, when I went to New York City back in High School for a choir tour in 2008. It was really fun, and exciting to see a real Broadways Musical.