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March 4, 2013: A Fiddler On the West Side

March 5, 2013

We watched a couple of old musicals on cable TV this past weekend. Well, they weren’t old-old. They were made in 1961 (“West Side Story”) and 1971 (“Fiddler On the Roof”). I’ve seen both before, but it was different this time. Very different stories; very different films. But they were similar in that they both dealt with prejudices and the price people pay, at the hands of others, to be different or to accept other people’s differences.

In “Fiddler,” the Russian Orthodox government roughed up the Jews in a little village just to show them who’s boss. And Tevye, the main character, disowns one of his daughters because she marries someone that’s not their own kind. In “West Side Story,” a take on “Romeo and Juliet,” people fight and kill those who aren’t like them. Maria, who is at first portrayed as a young, innocent teenager, turns out to be the wisest one in the story. When Tony, who is best friends with a gang leader, secretly meets Maria on a fire escape and wants to meet her parents, she says no, explaining that they are afraid, like her brother, who is in a rival gang.

These types of stories have been told on stage and in films for decades, and yet people are still afraid of others who are not like them. So they hate them. Another Maria-ism: When Tony is killed (after her brother and the other gang leader die in a knife fight), she says that it’s hate that killed them.

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