'The Greatest Showman' Review, Pt. 1

'The Greatest Showman' Review, Pt. 1

A Failure of Historical Fantasy

"The Greatest Showman" is a movie that audiences loved but I did not. Putting aside the songs (they’re fine) and choreography (it’s good), the movie’s storyline is a mess that undermines the values it tries to uphold and botches historical detail to make itself marketable.

For the purposes of this article, however, I’ll forego historicity as a means of critiquing the story. This puts all creative responsibility in the filmmakers’ hands—at no point can they justify a weak plot point because “it happened in real life.” Telling the real story doesn’t matter. Telling a good fictional story does. I contend that, even apart from the facts of history, the narrative of "The Greatest Showman" does not hold up. It is neither a truthful real-life story nor a good fictional one.

Most of my lines of criticism intersect in the song, “This Is Me,” the film’s anthem of self-acceptance and empowerment. On its own, the song works. Within the story, it doesn’t. Barnum has just snubbed Lettie Lutz and her fellow circus freaks to gallivant with high society. They are justifiably hurt. He had presented himself to them as a sincere friend only to take advantage of their work and move up in the world without them. So what do they do to assert themselves—to prove that they won’t let some smooth-talking charlatan walk over them?

They quit Barnum’s circus and form their own!

Just kidding. They don’t quit. In fact, the song features the freaks huffily returning to Barnum’s circus, which… doesn’t empower them at all. They’re still making Barnum wealthy and letting him treat them like dirt. Even while the circus members sing, “I’m not scared to be seen / I make no apologies,” they are clearly scared to leave Barnum’s circus and engage with the world on their own terms. They have no way to retaliate or help themselves. The most they can do is send the message, “We’ll get back to work… but we won’t be happy about it!”

This is where the story’s relationship with history becomes tricky. It would be easy to say that the circus freaks don’t leave Barnum in the movie because they didn’t leave him in real life, but the movie already defies real life on a number of fronts. It isn’t a documentary—it’s an intentional reimagining of history. Why, then, would it be too anarchic to allow the circus freaks to strike out on their own? This would not only demonstrate their self-acceptance and empowerment visibly—it would also teach Barnum that his workers can and will walk out on him when he abuses their trust.

Nonetheless, the plot insists that the freaks stay under Barnum’s thumb. This decision serves only one purpose: to empower Barnum. The rest of Barnum’s arc—dealing with his fake affair, re-establishing the circus after the fire, handing off his position to Carlyle—revolves around his continued ownership of the circus. He never faces real, lasting consequences for his misconduct. The most he has to do later is offer a brief apology that his workers accept right away. Why don’t they question his sincerity? He’s lied to them for personal gain before—why wouldn’t he lie again?

Thus, “This Is Me” represents the hypocrisy of the film as historical fantasy: it claims to empower the underrepresented and oppressed, but in reality, it only empowers the title character. Barnum pulls all the strings. His workers don’t have the agency to leave him or even really confront him. Besides his wife, neither does anyone else. Even in promotional posters, Barnum is placed in the center under bright lighting while the circus members are to the side or in the shadows. Their stories are crushed by his story.

The movie’s failure as liberating fiction only becomes worse in light of the facts of history, which I’ll discuss in further detail next week.


Cover Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

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What Your Hogwarts House Says About You

Get yourself sorted and find out where you belong in the world of witchcraft and wizardry.

Sorting at Hogwarts is a big deal. Being sorted into a house is essentially being placed into a family while you are away from home learning about witchcraft and wizardry. Your house is made up of the people you will live with, go to classes with, play Quidditch with and everything in between. You basically spend 24/7 with them. Your Hogwarts house is your home away from home.

When you get sorted into a house, it is based on your personality traits. The people in your house are typically like-minded people who display the same characteristics as you.

When you’re a first year at Hogwarts, the minute you set foot in the castle you are swept into the Great Hall to have the ancient Sorting Hat placed on your head. This Sorting Hat decides which “family” you’ll be spending your seven years with.

For some, it is very obvious which house they will be in, due to certain personality traits they possess. For others, they may exemplify traits that fit a multitude of houses and are uncertain where they may end up.

To find out where you belong, you can take the official "Harry Potter" Sorting Hat quiz at Pottermore.com. For all you muggles out there, these are the characteristics that the houses possess and what your house says about you:

Gryffindor: The house of the brave, loyal, courageous, adventurous, daring and chivalrous. Those who stand up for others are typically Gryffindors. Brave-hearted is the most well-known Gryffindor characteristic, and Gryffindors are also known for having a lot of nerve.

Gryffindors are people who hold a multitude of qualities alongside the ones listed, making them a very well-rounded house. People who are Gryffindors are often people who could fit nicely into another house but choose to tell the sorting hat they want Gryffindor (there's that bravery). "Do what is right" is the motto Gryffindors go by.

Being a Gryffindor means that you're probably the adventurous and courageous friend, and you are usually known for doing what is right.

Ravenclaw: The house is known for their wisdom, intelligence, creativity, cleverness and knowledge. Those who value brains over brawn can be found here. Ravenclaws often tend to be quite quirky as well. "Do what is wise" is the motto they strive to follow.

Though Ravenclaws can be know-it-alls sometimes, they most likely do know what the wisest decision is.

If you are known for being the quirky friend, the smartest in the group or just great at making wise decisions, you're definitely a Ravenclaw.

Hufflepuff: This house values hard work, dedication, fair play, patience, and loyalty. Hufflepuff’s are known for being just and true. "Do what is nice" is their motto.

Hufflepuff is known as the “nice house” and believes strongly in sparing peoples feelings and being kind. This is not to say that Hufflepuffs aren't smart or courageous. Hufflepuffs just enjoy making others happy and tend to be more patient towards people.

If you ever find that you are too nice for your own good and cannot bear to hurt someone’s feelings, congratulations, you are a Hufflepuff.

Slytherin: This is the house of the cunning, prideful, resourceful, ambitious, intelligent, and determined. Slytherin's love to be in charge and crave leadership. "Do what is necessary" is the motto of this house.

Slytherin is a fairly well-rounded house, similar to the other houses. They are loyal to those that are loyal to them just as Gryffindors are and are intelligent as Ravenclaws.

Slytherin house as a whole is not evil, despite how many dark wizards come out of this house. That is merely based on the choices of those wizards (so if your friend is a Slytherin, don’t judge, it doesn’t mean they are mean people). Slytherins do, however, have a tendency to be arrogant or prideful. This is most likely due to the fact that everyone in Slytherin is exceedingly proud to be there.

What Hogwarts house you’re in says a lot about the person you are, the traits you possess and how you may act in some situations. But in the end, your house is really just your home that is always there for you. Always.

Cover Image Credit: Warner Bros Pictures

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How Art Can Help You Take Care Of Yourself

It's time to go on a date with yourself.


Art is a quintessential part of the human experience: it has something that has been present in human culture beginning from prehistoric times, from when human consciousness first entered the world. It is also something that transcends definition and intertwines with our play of life and the meaning of humanity. Art is an expression of feeling in its most ethereal meaning and "for fun" at its most basic.

Personally, as an Art History minor, art has been a dimension of life for me that I have explored deeply and holds a lot of meaning. Painting is a huge outlet and way to deal with stress for me, and appreciating fine art teaches me about the aspect of history and how all of history is tied together throughout paintings, sculptures, and photographs. It helps me center myself and remind me of the place I hold in this world and the curious aspect personal experience of history. However, art doesn't need to be the stereotypical idea of art: it can be expressed through dance, the learning of a new language, or the coloring of mandalas to ease stress.

The exploration of art and the artistic side of human nature is something that everyone has in them: it's written in our psychology. We have an entire side of our brain that is inclined toward feeling and abstract interpretation, so it's natural to assume that emotion and expression of art are intrinsically intertwined. Thus, experiencing art is a way to personally develop yourself, and can be an unfound way of finding out things about yourself.

Different ways to explore your artistic side can be very easy: as easy as 3rd-grade coloring books, coloring mandalas, or finger-painting. Recently, I participated in a lantern festival and being able to paint a small lantern was an amazing outlet from a stress-filled week and allowed me to express myself through something besides just communication. Writing is also another good way to express emotion and create art: many books are just art pieces, and can be another way to further develop yourself. Additionally, other small fun things like carving pumpkins (spooky season!) or even curating the perfect Instagram profile can be another way to express yourself.

Appreciating the small things in your life as art and self-expression help put you more in touch with yourself, which is easy to lose throughout the mundane cycles of college, work, and life in general. Keeping yourself in harmony and balance might seem like an earthy-crunchy concept, but self-care and self-love are vital in keeping the rest of your life ordered. Being mindful of yourself and your goals is something that I have always have had difficulty with, but working toward learning more about yourself is taking the first step.

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