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Johnny doesn't cut it


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I've spent a number of evenings over the last three weeks in rehearsals for a musical. That corporate entity to which I sold my soul in June sometimes bears a striking resemblance to college: there's sports tournaments, social forums, a campus full of intense, interesting, and intelligent people, and a lax dress code. There's also a theater troupe, and I've gotten involved in their 10th Anniversary Musical Review, which is, in short, a number of songs from musicals they've performed over the past 10 years strung together and called a show.

From what I've seen at rehearsals so far, it promises to be pretty good. More than that, it's a great deal of fun, and I've begun making friends among my fellow cast members.

A couple of the songs we're doing come from the musical Man of La Mancha, which itself is based on the novel Don Quixote by Cervantes. It's the story of a man who, losing his grip on reality, takes it upon himself to become a knight errant, to "roam the world in search of adventure, to right all wrong, to mount a crusade to raise up the weak and those in need," and so forth. He finds a squire in his neighbor, Sancho, and ventures forth to fight giants (windmills) and be knighted by the lord of a neighboring castle (the proprietor of a nearby inn).

As a child, I loved the funny parts of the songs -- when Don Quixote demands a barber's shaving basin, calling it the "Golden Helmet of Mambrino," or when he's knighted as "the Knight of the Woeful Countenance" by an innkeeper.

As an adult, I've grown fond of another aspect: the love subplot. Don Quixote encounters a prostitute at this inn -- name of Aldonza -- and proclaims her his lady, Dulcinea -- a name that means "sweet." She balks, she mocks, she points out all the reasons that she could not be a lady, but Don Quixote persists.

At the end, in the final sequence, after he has been thwarted by the Knight of the Mirrors and no longer remembers his knightly adventures, she sits by his bedside and gently reminds him of his impossible dream. For a moment -- for the length of a reprise of the stirring, "I am I, DOn Quixote, the Lord of La Mancha!" -- he comes back to himself.

And then he dies.

And after his death, Aldonza says: "A man died. Seemed a good man, but I did not know him. Don Quixote is not dead. He lives. He lives." And when Sancho replies, "But Aldonza--", she cuts him off:

"My name is Dulcinea."

Listening to this over, and over, and over again, it reminds me to a certain extent of that Mormon legend, Johnny Lingo.

In similar fashion, Johnny Lingo comes across a somewhat disparaged and unappreciated girl, and after he treats her like she's pretty where everyone else had called her ugly. The moral of the story? If we treat people like they're beautiful, they become beautiful.

I've always been troubled by Johnny Lingo, for a number of reasons. First, the first indication that he appreciates Mohana's beauty is that he buys her. Sure, he pays eight cows when most sane people would only pay one, but that's beside the point. She becomes an eight-cow wife when she's bought.

That's not as troubling as the second reason, which is that the focus is on her physical beauty. "Mohana, you ugly!" her father shouts at her; and by treating her as beautiful, Johnny Lingo -- her savior! -- makes her beautiful.

I think the story of Aldonza is a better example of the principle that Johnny Lingo should be teaching: that if we treat people with high esteem, they will come to believe that they are people to be esteemed. It's deeper than skin and beauty; it's believing that you're a Princess or a Prince rather than a normal, everyday, unspecial person. And more, it teaches a far more Christlike message that even sinners are still Princesses. Johnny Lingo and his cows forget that.


3 Responses to “Johnny doesn't cut it”

  1. Blogger D-Train 

    Very interesting ideas, Arwyn. I've never actually seen Johnny Lingo, as I am a relatively new convert to the Church. But I've heard the story rehearsed many a time.

    I agree that treating people as if they were beings of worth causes a great increase in self-esteem. But I wonder if the greater problem is that people think that someone needs to pay eight cows for them in order to become worth the cows. Self-esteem, when viewed in this light, tends to become a reflection of a market value rather than a deep-seated self confidence.

    Am I right to worry that if self-esteem comes from the payment of cows, it will fade away when the cow-payer does?

  2. Blogger Arwyn 

    I think you've read my first point deeper than I did, and I think you're right to worry about that. What Aldonza has when Don Quixote dies is a self-worth that doesn't depend on a status symbol, but on a shift in her own perception of herself. That can stay with her, since it's internalized.

    On the other hand, to be an "eight cow wife" requires that you buy into the cow system to begin with, and therefore requires that your self-esteem depend on an external factor, and that it could therefore fade when the external factor goes away.

    Excellent insight.

  3. Blogger RoastedTomatoes 

    You're absolutely right--Johnny Lingo thoroughly buys into the idea of physical beauty as the defining essence of femininity. It also completely eliminates female protagonism, since the woman can never act but only be acted upon. But Johnny Lingo is also racist, seeing the islanders who are its main characters as "exotic others" who have bizarre customs, and providing a European-American man as a narrator figure in order to emphasize this exotic-ness. So, I think we're dealing with an all-around bad film.

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