Lin-Manuel Miranda: a reprehensible genius?
Fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda are willing to see his idol telling the story of Alexander Hamilton totally drunk in the next episode of Drunk History. But for Public Health expert Marylin Aguirre-Molina, it can set a bad example for Latinos, who are becoming increasingly vulnerable to alcoholism.
On November 29, Lin-Manuel Miranda fans will be lucky: the handsome, Puerto Rican blooded actor and theater producer, winner of the Pulitzer Prize 2016 for his Broadway musical Hamilton, will appear in a new episode of Drunk History at Comedy Central. Miranda will be narrating a chapter about George Hamilton, the first US Treasury secretary, totally drunk.
“I drank 3/4 of a bottle of honey whiskey as I narrated. (Along w A LOT of water.) DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME”, he tweeted, during the shooting of the episode, on August 12th.
And while some fans count the days to see Lin-Manuel Miranda narrating the story of Hamilton under the effects of whiskey, others have dared to blame him for being irresponsible with his decision to be drunk on television. Considering at least his influence on the Latino community, says Marilyn Aguirre-Molina - professor of Public Health at City University of New York (CUNY) and one of the leading public health policy experts for the Hispanic community in the country. On November 10, Aguirre-Molina published an open letter addressed to Miranda through the National Institute of Latino Politics (NiLP) in New York criticizing him for “getting publically smashed drunk in the name of comedy”, a decision that “risks its reputation as an example for the Latino community."
“For me, and many others, you are the personification of what makes us proud Latinos/as, and Puerto Ricans”, writes Aguirre-Moline, in a mix of indignation and admiration feelings. “Yet it's more than pride that you inspire: it's about how you embrace and celebrate your roots; it's how you're a champion for social justice; and, how you have reassured many of us that in spite of the injustice that abounds, young people have a remarkable role model to emulate. You have inspired and reaffirmed the value of young people of colour who see themselves in your work and music. So why in hell are you taking the risk of obliterating everything that is good and genuine in you by getting publically smashed drunk in the name of comedy on Comedy Central's Drunk History??!!”, she insists.
A growing problem among Latinos
In her letter to Miranda, Aguirre-Molina recalls that alcoholism is a growing problem among Latinos in the United States, especially among the Puerto Rican community, for whom Miranda is a reference model. Until now, alcohol was a growing problem among Latino men, although it is also beginning to affect women, says the expert.
"Hispanics generally tend to drink less than non-Hispanic Whites. But among those who choose to drink, Hispanics have a tendency to consume alcohol in higher volumes. " , according to a study carried out by the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, (NIH). About 9.5 percent of Hispanics will have alcohol dependence at some point in their lives, as compared with about 13.8 percent of non-Hispanic Whites. But 33 percent of Hispanics who become alcohol dependent have recurrent or persistent problems compared with 22.8 percent of nonHispanic, says the NIH. The situation will probably aggravate in the future, considering that Latinos are the fastest growing demographic in the country. Today, Latinos represent 17% of the American population, about 50 million people.
“ You are indeed worthy of a MacArthur "genius" award, but being a genius means being smarter than putting at risk your acclaim and credibility by endorsing or demonstrating that being drunk is okay, fun, and something a credible role model would engage in.” writes Aguirre-Molina. The Health Expert then asked Miranda to be more thoughtful, considering his “great influence on our young people”.
Drinking more to be integrated?
Among the reasons to explain the surge of alcohol consumption among Latinos, the NIH points to Acculturation - the process of adapting to the beliefs, values, and behaviours of a new culture. “A critical factor in predicting drinking patterns in the Hispanic community is level of acculturation. Living and working in the United States, raising families here, speaking English, and above all, getting an American education all contribute to adapting to American culture. But as acculturation levels increase, so can alcohol consumption”, says the NIH report. The evidence is clear especially among women. In traditional Hispanic culture, women typically do not drink alcohol outside of small family gatherings or other private settings
Perhaps Miranda himself is a good example of Acculturation. Born in a Puerto Rican neighborhood in Washington Heights, in the Upper Manhattan, Miranda is an evident example of success in adapting to American – or Western – culture, as he keeps a “casual” relationship with alcohol, like many American people his age, or younger.
“ I think that's it. My drunken historical ramblings will be your entertainment at last. Love you. Bye”, he joked in a Tweet, after shooting the Hamilton episode drunk. There was no sign at all of bad conscience for showing himself drunk publically in front of his Latino fans.
Derek Waters’s Drunk History was launched in 2013 and since then it has not received many negative reviews for the abuse of alcohol, perhaps because it is never been mainstream. Waters uses alcohol so that narrator actors get disinhibited when explaining historical anecdotes from a specific location in the United States. “I want them to be likeable and non-sober”, he said in many interviews. In fact, Waters came up with the idea of creating Drunk History while he was having drinks with a friend and having a confusing conversation about musician Otis Redding. "People always get drunk and talk about music. So I thought, what’s something people don’t usually get drunk and talk about?, Waters explained on several occasions.
3) I drank 3/4 of a bottle of honey whiskey as I narrated.
(along w A LOT of water.)
DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) 12 de agosto de 2016
6) I think that's it. My drunken historical ramblings will be your entertainment at last. Love you. Bye.
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) 12 de agosto de 2016
Some critics complain the TV show is 'unpredictable': some episodes can be hilarious, other can be boring. Because – like what happens in bars - some drunk people can be funny, but others can be a bore. "Now the narrators don’t drink until I get there. It helps me know what level of drunk they are. In the past, they would sometimes be a little too drunk if they drink without me. So that's a big change.", Waters said in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter. In the interview, Waters also informs the fans that Miranda “does not barf in the episode”.
A lesson in storytelling
Miranda doesn’t seem very concerned on damaging his reputation by showing himself drunk on TV, neither on his impact on the Latino youth. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he doesn’t take seriously his role of being an example to follow for the Latino community. He also keeps his engagement with the Puerto Rican issues, especially in lobbying to help Puerto Rico to restructure its 70 billion dollar debt, and to improve the island’s terrible economic situation. “I don’t know what else to do when your people are suffering and you have a giant light on you. All you want to do is just take the light and reflect it on them,” he said, as he spoke of his strong ties to Vega Alta in an interview with the NBC.
Miranda sees himself as an artist, and as an artist he is aware of the weight of history to understand how the world works today. In May 2016, the actor visited Philadelphia to give a speech to the students of Penn University, in which he apologized for not including our city in the plot of Hamilton, despite being a Founding Father. The whole script of his Broadway musical happens in New York, except a brief mention to the Liberty Bell). In his talk with Penn University students, Miranda also emphasized the importance of choosing well the story you are going to tell, because “Every story you choose to tell, by necessity, omits others from the larger narrative,” Miranda said, as quoted in Entertainment Weekly. "This act of choosing the stories we tell versus the stories we leave out, will reverberate across the rest of your life. Don’t believe me?", he said.
Miranda's life lesson to Penn's students can be applied to understand the history of US political history. For his musical, Miranda chose a particular story to tell us about the figure of Alexander Hamilton, so did the Democrat and Republican parties. "Perhaps the first cosmopolitan elite in American history was Alexander Hamilton: an immigrant, an urbanite, a friend of the rich, at home in political, financial and journalistic circles of power. Hamilton created the American system of public and private banking, and for two centuries he was a hero to conservatives, while his arch-rival Thomas Jefferson, founder of the Democratic Party, was taken as the champion of the common man”, wrote George Packer in the New Yorker last October.
"State a moral case to a ploughman and a professor. The former will decide it as well, and often better than the latter, because he has not been led astray by the artificial rules”, Jefferson once wrote. “But Democrats now embrace Hamilton for his immigrant background [he was born on the island of Nevis] and his ideas of activist government”, reminds us George Packer. Instead, the Hamilton who distrusted popular democracy is now overlooked or accepted – “after all, today’s cosmopolitan élites similarly distrust the passions of their less educated compatriots”. These elites are the ones that enjoyed Miranda’s musical. “Meanwhile, far from Broadway, Jefferson’s ploughmen are lining up at Trump rallies”, concludes Packer.