Beyond the Bubble: Thoughts on “Hamilton”
Week nine in New York was shaped largely by “Hamilton” (2015) – the Broadway musical that you’ve heard of by now if you haven’t been living under a rock that has also crushed you into a paste – and was a major highlight of my off-term thus far. “Hamilton” was every bit as good (if not soundly better) than its reputation suggested. Almost a week after my trip to the Richard Rodgers Theatre, I can still hear bits of the soundtrack echoing around my head, the music living on by its own initiative, without singer or orchestra.
But what struck me more than anything else was how closely the key traits of many “Hamilton” characters resemble those of my peers at Dartmouth: John Laurens’ idealism; Aaron Burr’s impulses to please all, never to reveal his true positions and to gain power as a consensus candidate; Thomas Jefferson’s showmanship, wealth and status; and of course, Alexander Hamilton’s brilliance, obstinacy and endless, ceaseless writing.
Aren’t all of us at Dartmouth (and probably many of us at colleges and universities around the world) a bit like that? Idealists? Writing treatises and attempting to craft our own revolutions, albeit on a smaller scale? Others I know who have seen the musical have adapted some of its refrains — “he writes like he’s running out of time,” “the man is non-stop” — into their own lives. Why? Because despite the fact that it’s set nearly a quarter of a millennium ago, “Hamilton”’s message of youth, passion and brilliance run amok is timeless. We all, to some degree, like to imagine ourselves in that place, a place of misunderstood (but successful) genius and single-minded devotion to our beliefs.
Most of us do not, of course, have Hamilton’s mind, his zeal for the American way of life in which he so passionately believed. But that doesn’t make the mission fruitless. Passions of youth and strong belief are easily mocked and derided, but they are necessary not just for the functioning of a republican society but also for its health. Perhaps if we at Dartmouth were less like Aaron Burr — charmingly noncommittal, uninterested in firm stances so as to best please everyone, all about “talking less, smiling more,” not telling anyone “what you’re against or what you’re for” — and more like Alexander Hamilton in his abrasively dogmatic pursuit of ideology, the College would be a better place. What matters isn’t who likes you, but what you get done, Hamilton would say. Popularity is a small reward for weak minds next to actual accomplishment and commitment to ideas.
So Dartmouth is a lot like the opening days of our country. It’s filled with people with far more talent than sense and far more brilliance than restraint. And idealism? Well, that’s not so bad, is it? Make of it what you will, Hamiltonians.