Chicago is a wonderfully entertaining musical film. It is also a morally execrable tale, a story where the bad guys win, villainy is celebrated and where good people are laughed at or ignored. Whenever I see it or movies like it, I feel ashamed at enjoying songs which celebrate such outrageous messages.
There only two good people in the musical. The first is one of the women on Murderer’s Row, a Hungarian immigrant who swears her innocence – and likely is innocent – but ends up hanging anyway, as she is a foreigner with no fancy lawyers to help her. Meanwhile, the two female “stars”, who are guilty as sin, get off scot-free and become famous entertainers who make oodles of cash.
Then there is the man, Amos the husband. Unlike the male “hero” Billy Flynn, a narcissistic and unethical lawyer who cares about nothing except making money, Amos is a genuinely good person. He tries to protect his wife throughout the movie, collects money for her defense and is even willing to help raise the (nonexistent) child his unfaithful wife claims she had out of wedlock. But as is the general tone of the movie, Amos is a punching bag for jokes, ridicule and outright contempt.
The most heartfelt song of the movie, “Mister Cellophane“, has Amos sadly lamenting his fate, as a man who no-one notices and no-one really cares about – a chump, a sucker, at once invisible and taken for granted by all.
We all know people like Amos; I myself have known quite a few in my life. These are the genuine article of good people – the kind who would help you move at a moment’s notice, defend you if you needed it and give you a loan even if you never pay back. They’re there to celebrate when good things happen or be a shoulder to cry on when the reverse occurs.
But for whatever reason – lack of social skills, attractiveness, or what-have-you – their social capital, especially with the ladies, is precisely zero. Many constantly help out women in the forlorn hope that they will notice what’s right in front of them, that they’ll pick him, the “nice guy”, over the Billy Flynns of the world.
It’s here that many women will object: I don’t find him attractive, or don’t like him “in that way”! He isn’t entitled to me just because he helps me out!
My response is simple: Of course not. No-one “deserves” anyone. We are all, men and women, autonomous human beings with moral agency, with our own wants, desires and needs. None of us are prizes to be handed out at a fair for good behavior. Respect and affection is something that needs to be earned from the other, not “deserved”.
I’m saying something else: Amos doesn’t have to remain invisible. All the things he lacks – social skills, attractiveness to women, visible masculinity – are all things which can be cultivated and taught. Maybe Amos won’t become a “player”, but he can certainly go from being a chump to a good man of value. Contrary to common myth, men are made, not born, and Amos is no exception.
I think it is in the interest of men, women and society in general, that we start to help out the Amoses of the world before they give up on life or descend into misery and self-hatred – something which I’ve seen and which can be very ugly. Unless we want to live in a world dominated by Billy Flynns, it behooves us to turn the Mister Cellophanes into Mister Visibles.
So how do we do that? I have my own ideas, which I will discuss in later posts. But I want to hear from you:
How would you help Mister Cellophane?