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Monday, November 21, 2016

The Hamilton Controversy: When An Audience Member Becomes The Show

Many misconceptions about the weekend controversy involving the Broadway show "Hamilton"'s cast's shoutout and shaming of audience member, Vice President Elect Mike Pence.

This does not involve the First Amendment. The First Amendment restricts government interference with speech. It has nothing to do with personal or corporate restrictions on speech. The Hamilton cast was perfectly within its rights to do the monologue. The Hamilton producers, owners, sponsors, etc. are within their respective rights to respond, as are prospective audience members entitled to boycott the show (which has been suggested in some corners).

Now, here is a link to a Canadian telecast story (Canadian Broadcasting Company), including video of the actor Brandon Dixon's monologue:


The issue here is not one of rights. It is one of culture.

Is it appropriate -- not whether it is legal -- for an audience member to become "the show" by design of the cast?

Do we -- as patrons, as customers, as the audience -- want our entertainers to possibly call us out, in public, for whatever views we might hold, or even the views we might be presumed to hold?

Finally, the reality may be that the intent of the end-of-show monologue was to deliver not the "stated" message, but this alternate, thinly veiled message: Since we disagree with you (and impute the worst attributes to your character),you will be a target anytime you step out into public, you will never be safe, and you will be made to suffer until and unless you repent. 

The "legal" views of this controversy should be instructed by this important, and universally overlooked, distinction.

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