Earlier this weekend I sat in the audience of BU on Broadway’s production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Going into the play I knew almost nothing about it. I’d heard a couple of the songs, but mostly out of context. I really only knew that it was about Jackson. Let me say, I am a little dismayed that people I respect and love decided they liked this show so much that they wanted to produce it.
The production value of the show was good. The actors and technicians did their jobs well, but I don’t understand why anyone in 21st century America could support the message of this play. The show is structured as a rock concert around Jackson’s life. He’s a pretty sympathetic character throughout, despite some of his rather questionable choices. The climax of the play centers around Jackson’s a minor breakdown concerning whether or not to enact his Indian Removal policy. Apparently, we are supposed to feel bad for him because being a president is hard, and there are a lot of voices to consider in making decisions. In the last scene one of the characters brings up the fact that some consider Jackson to be the greatest president ever, and some consider him to be the American Hitler. That is true; there are a lot of opinions in this country. But this play doesn’t really pick one. It mostly says, being Jackson must have been hard, think about it from his perspective, instilling a sense of sympathy in the audience. I AM SUPPOSED TO BE SYMPATHETIC TOWARDS A MAN WHO COMMITTED GENOCIDE?!? Even in the 21st century we can’t admit one of our own presidents made a huge mistake. Why is that? Is it out of a severe aversion to saying we were wrong, or is it just out of sheer nationalism? Part of what is so infuriating about this is that no one seemed to notice. They were too swept up in the fun punk aesthetic of the show to realize that this play was telling them that committing genocide is okay because it was inevitably going to happen no matter what. But the thing is, there is always a choice. You could commit genocide or you could not. Andrew Jackson said yes, I will forcibly remove these Indians. It doesn’t make him the worst leader in the world, but it also doesn’t mean that I should feel bad for him. Furthermore, what implications does this have about contemporary foreign policy? Am I supposed to believe that the war in Iraq was all groovy cause the president didn’t really have a choice? Or how should I feel about the Holocaust? “Ehhh if Hitler didn’t try to scapegoat the Jews, somebody else would have” just doesn’t seem like a viable answer to me.
Beyond that, we just talked about two plays in class that celebrate Native Americans overcoming difficult past experiences. Both Spiderwoman Theater’s Power Pipes and William S. Yellow Robe Jr.’s Grandchildren of the Buffalo Soldiers tell stories of resilience. Despite things like rape and war, the characters in these plays overcome with grace, proving that the world could still be full of hope in light of past destruction. Neither of these plays denies the horrible past; they both commemorate what happened and then decided that the best thing to do was move forward because it was the only thing to do. That is what I want to say about Andrew Jackson. He was our President, and he made the decision to forcibly remove the American Indians from their land. The Native communities will never recover from that. But they have continued to strive towards success. That is what is important here. They survived genocide. We should be celebrating their resilience instead of wasting our time acknowledging that Jackson was a complicated person who had a hard choice to make.
Also, upon completion of this blog post I found an article on Howlround that better expresses the historical and cultural place my frustration comes from. I encourage you to read it.