If there’s one movie I’ve seen a possible, actual, literal 1,000-plus times in life, it’s The Sound of Music. If you grew up overseas on military bases in the 1980s, movies were your viewing pleasure. The Department of Defense provided us with one channel, the Armed Forces Network (or AFN, for short), and decided what shows we were going to watch. It’s why nearly all of us who grew up on military bases in the ’80s and ’90s are fans of Guiding Light and General Hospital. Those are the soap operas we had to watch.
So in my house, it was movies. We were prone to serial repetition, too. We didn’t just watch a movie once and move on. We watched movies on repeat, daily. Even watching some movies multiple times in one day. The Sound of Music was one of those movies, along with movies like Cabin in The Sky, any Disney movie released to VHS (remember those?) and Annie. My little sister, in particular, loved The Sound of Music. We all did. We knew the words and we sang all of the songs. My personal favorite is “Do-Re-Mi,” which I busted out singing as I typed out the title. Maria wasn’t lying, either. If you know the notes to sing, you can sing most anything. Word up.
Well the movie, set in the the late 1930s during World War II in Austria, has a pretty solidly Nazi Germany plotline, complete with requiring participation in the Nazi forces by Captain von Trapp, Liesl’s boothang joining up and the family having to escape into everybody’s favorite neutral territory, Switzerland. Point is, if you chose to watch The Sound of Music, or put on, I don’t know, a stage play of the The Sound of Music, there’s some Nazi Germany going down.
So it’s with some form of confusion that the principal of famed New York City performing arts high school, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, allowed for a school production of The Sound of Music, and then decided she wanted any Nazi symbols or props to be removed from the stage. As you can imagine, this wasn’t popular with anybody, especially not the students.
The principal at the elite “Fame” school, Lisa Mars, ordered Nazi flags and symbols removed from the stage set of the beloved tale of the Von Trapp family, who fled the Nazis from their native Austria as Adolf Hitler took power, students told the Daily News.
“This is a very liberal school, we’re all against Nazis,” one sophomore performer told The News about the fuhrer furor. “But to take out the symbol is to try to erase history.”
In the 1965 movie starring Julie Andrews, Von Trapp patriarch Georg — as played by Christopher Plummer — famously rips the Nazi flag in half. The story was based on a memoir by Von Trapp’s daughter Maria.
Mars did not respond to requests for comment. After The News made inquiries, the city Department of Education said the Nazi flag would still appear in two specific scenes.
Look, from any lens, it’s ridiculous to allow for a production set in the damn Third Reich and then attempt to remove all visual representation of said era. That’s just foolish. One of the great things about art is the many, many teachable moments that can come from it.
On it’s face, I get it: Those symbols are offensive and we are off that, get rid of them. It’s the same logic behind removing Confederate statues entirely, which I think does less for justice and more to allow us to pretend the shit never existed. I think we need a huge ass racism museum (that can build upon the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University in Michigan), personally. Put all of these statues up in there and let’s send people there to learn. Erasure helps nobody.
But those statues have been there for decades in many cases, relics of a time when celebrating our fucked-up history wasn’t challenged. Nowadays, that’s not the case so much; marginalized communities are speaking up and getting shit shut down. For this school to decide to do this play, knowing what it entails, and then deciding that parts of it that are essential to the story should be altered to fit a political dynamic is ridiculous. I think it’s pretty safe to assume that most people who see anything Nazi related nowadays, and especially at the super liberal high school theater, won’t find actionable inspiration in those symbols. The vast majority of people agree that Nazis are bad. It’s art. And the play stands as a teachable moment.
This also begs the question of where do you draw the line? If this line of logic and thinking were to be followed across the board, where does it go from here? If you can’t go to Bella Noches, where the hell can you go?
Mostly, if you’re the principal who has some type of principled argument against the usage of necessary symbols to execute a production, why allow it in the first place? It’s an amazing hill to die on since...wait for it...wait for it...wait for it..
...the hills are alive with the sound of music.
I’ll see myself out. I’ll go fa.
I’ll see myself out again.