“You gave each other a pledge?” Tevye’s voice rises.
“Unheard of. Absurd. You gave each other a pledge?” He’s more frustrated with each line.
“Marriages must be arranged by the papa. This should never be changed!” He goes on: “Where does it stop? Do I still have something to say about my daughter?” Tevye stops and starts again. “They gave each other a pledge! Unheard of! Absurd!”
But then the proud patriarch, caught between traditions that define a people and a new world, sighs. “But look at my daughter’s face. She loves him. She wants him. And look at my daughter’s eyes, so hopeful.”
If you know the story of this great movie you know that Tevye gives in. He’s gruff as a goat but soft with deep love for his children. The entire scene is played out again at the daughter’s wedding. The men do a fantastic dance – I’m ready to joint up just watching. But then, one at a time, men begin to dance with their wives and this time the wives squawk. Finally Tevye exerts his position as man of the house and demands that his wife dance with him. She protests but he shouts. “I want to dance. With my wife!”
Cultural change is an amazing thing. In Fiddler on the Roof we see all the players align. The seemingly unmovably religious. The more openly religious. The eager youth from the city. Love supersedes all. All of this in a short movie. But all of these things roil in semi-secret under the covers every day everywhere. They pop up now and then in dramatic fashion in the form of a boy standing in front of a Chinese tank. Or in the picture of an old warrior like Lech Walensa who has simply come to the of his rope. But mostly culture changes in the most subtle of ways. We finally figure out, in the case of my family, that not all Slavics are greasy thieves. We go to football games and find that our boy’s best friend is catholic. We find out that our funny, hardworking, in every way normal CPA daughter is a lesbian.
None of these things change by fiat. None of these things things change by political demands. No president or senator or mayor or business owner changes culture. At the very best they are prescient enough to hop aboard a snowball that is already careening. This is exactly what President Obama did when he became gay-friendly. This what all politicians do, if they’re smart enough. Some, though, think that they can change culture by their actions. They believe their own fiction.
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