I know today is the 10th anniversary of the iPhone launch, but I didn’t get my company-issued one for almost a month, so rather than reflect on how I was onsite for the two moments that shaped the 21st century, I’ll look back a little…because I finally got with the times in modern geek/political culture and saw Hamilton yesterday.
I think the obvious thing is: had I seen this twenty-five years ago, it would have changed my life. But like Rent – which I saw for the first time in 2003, after retrovirals and the dot-com boom and HIV as a suspended sentence rather than a death warrant – time and events have moved me out of the target demographic. I think the ideal audience for this show is a young American of any age, background or station who hasn’t yet had the opportunity of a shot, let alone the chance of throwing it away. (Had I seen this show twenty years ago, rather than twenty-five, it would have been a lot harder to take, and I can’t vouch for what would have been my reaction even two or three years ago.)
I have said elsewhere that this show reminded me of the iPhone, or more precisely, the iPhone 4: the craftsmanship, the materials, the weight of it and the feel of it. Lin-Manuel Miranda has taken such simple phrasing as “it’s quiet uptown” or “that would be enough” and freighted them with enough emotional heft to add them to a list of things that will probably be tattoos on theater majors for years to come. Not that “I am not throwing away my shot” and “young scrappy and hungry” and “WHO LIVES WHO DIES WHO TELLS YOUR STORY” won’t be up there with “defying gravity” and “no day but today” and “the Internet is for porn” (okay, maybe not that last one). But you can see every dollar, every hour, every drop of sweat up there on that stage. This was not something some genius randomly shat out, this was a work, a labor, and if it looks effortless in the telling you can see the effort that made it. Like Willie Mays, Miranda put in the hard hours to make it look easy.
The thing that grabbed me most about that show, though, was the liminality of the moment. Nothing was predestined for the United States of America. Nothing was on rails that said we would inevitably become a superpower. Those early days, those first arguments about how we would regard our allies or how we would finance our government or who would have the upper hand between the agrarian rural lands and the swelling urban districts – those are the same fights we’re having two hundred forty years later, over the disproportionate power and influence of the South or the relative righteousness of the sweat of the brow versus pushing papers.
We write rules, we make laws, we throw everything into that black box and agree to abide by whatever emerges from the room where it happens – but like Gibson’s cyberspace, it’s really a shared consensual hallucination. We have norms and behaviors that are only that way because we agree that’s how it’s going to be. And then when we disagree – what? When we decide that we just don’t have to do what we always did? When we can use a Senate rule – not a law, not a Constitutional process, a mere point of debating order – to shut down majority rule? To deny one branch of government its role in another? When we decide that we need to know a candidate’s finances, until he says “no you don’t” – what then? When a full house beats a flush and the guy with the flush says “no it doesn’t” and scoops for the pot – what then? What are you prepared to do? Never mind if you don’t have the votes – what if the votes aren’t enough?
Hamilton and his friend and his foes gave us enough of a government and a nation that we grafted this Founding Father nobility over it and took it for granted. Maybe we can keep it. Maybe not. And nobody knows what comes next. And contra Angelica, Eliza, And Peggy, you’re not always lucky to be alive when history is happening. Of which.