What happens when you search for musicals and their characters?

One of the useful things on the internet is Google search, the popular search engine which knows all and can answer any question asked of it – sort of like a digitised Stephen Fry. The words ‘I’ll Google it!’ are often to be heard during a conversation, as it’s the go-to tool for seeking out information, but the results can sometimes be surprising.

There’s a game going around in which you enter your name into the Google search bar, followed by the words ‘is a’, and wait to see what the most common search term is in connection with said name. When I typed in ‘Julie is a…’ for example, I discovered that the most common phrase for my name is ‘Julie is a police officer who finds that’. Apparently it’s part of a Sociology study flashcard which asks ‘Julie is a police officer who finds that, wherever she goes in her small town, people seem to think of her as a cop. Julie is experiencing the effects of which of the following?’. This was closely followed by ‘Julie is a real hypochondriac’ and ‘Julie is a tv set’. Obviously! It got me to thinking though…what would Google come up with if I used this game to search for well-known musicals?

It didn’t yield interesting or funny results for every show I searched. Some, like Evita, The Commitments, The Sound of Music, Les Miserables and Miss Saigon, merely came back with the question of what it was about or if it was a true story, while others referred to the names in connection to their non-musical form, such as with The Book of Mormon. Certain shows returned very different answers however. Let’s take a look at a few:

The Wizard of Oz is a…
The terms ‘metaphor’ and ‘allegory’ are the two most closely connected to The Wizard of Oz when searched through Google, and when you dig a little deeper, the reason why is clear. MGM’s 1939 film was adapted from the original novel by L. Frank Baum, and the stage musical was subsequently born out of this, but theatre fans may not be aware that this classic children’s story is at the heart of a still-raging debate over whether it is a simple fantasy tale or a veiled parable of the issues of the US at the time. The Wizard of Oz is often studied by economical and political students, as the book has been interpreted as an commentary on the economic depression of 19th century America and the rising philosophy of Populism. This was first claimed by a high school teacher named Henry Littlefield in an article published in 1964. Does Dorothy represent the Everyday American? Does the yellow brick road symbolize the gold standard, while Dorothy’s silver slippers (changed to ruby for the film) stand for the silver which the Populist’s wanted to also be used as money? Is the Emerald City Washington and the Wizard the President? If you look at The Wizard of Oz in this way then there are many variables which allow it to work as a monetary allegory, but many have argued against the belief that Baum actually wrote the story with this intent. Indeed it also works as a metaphor for life – after all, there’s no place like home – and has been adopted by the gay community who identify with the ‘misfit’ characters and the idea of accepting who you are. There’s no right or wrong answer here, different people find different subtexts within Baum’s story, but it’s interesting that this idea of The Wizard of Oz standing as a metaphor for something else is its closest association.

The Lion King is a…
The popular stage musical is of course an adaption of Disney’s 1994 animated film, every theatre fan must know this, but will you also see the connection if I mention the name Kimba? A lot of people do apparently, as Google’s most searched phrase for ‘The Lion King is a’ is completed by ‘copy of Kimba’. Kimba The White Lion was a Japanese TV series (originally known as Jungle Emperor)  by Osuma Tezuka featuring, surprisingly, a white lion cub called Kimba as the main character. His mother, pregnant with Kimba, is abducted from Africa following the murder of lion king Caesar and Kimba must return to Africa and learn to be a good king. Hmmmm. Pretty much every character in Kimba has a corresponding version in The Lion King, including villain Claw and his hyena henchman, wise parrot Pauley and baboon advisor Dan’l. There’s also similarities in such scenes as the stampede, eating bugs, and most notably, the opening sequence which features the image of a grown lion standing proudly on a jutting rock – seriously, look it up! Other revelations which damn Disney as having stolen Kimba and reworked it as The Lion King include the fact that Simba was originally conceived as a white lion, and actor Matthew Broderick (who voiced grown-up Simba in the film) being quoted as saying that he initially understood he was being hired as a voice actor for a remake of Kimba The White Lion. Disney denies they plagiarised Kimba and insist they weren’t even aware of it when working on The Lion King, a stance which has been accepted by some and disbelieved by others. There are too many similarities to completely dismiss a connection between the two, but perhaps it was a tribute to the original series, or perhaps they had expected to get the rights to Kimba…who knows. Judging by the results of this Google search though, there are plenty of people out there who are keen to find out the truth about Simba and Kimba.

The Phantom of the Opera is a…
Not accused of plagiarism, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical is however believed to be a re-make of The Beggar’s Opera by some, according to Google’s search bar. The Beggar’s Opera originated as a ballad opera in 1728, written by John Gay, and was subsequently turned into a film in 1953, starring Laurence Olivier in his first and only film musical. Why some have likened the plot concerning a beggar who composes an opera and the real-life highwayman who is the hero of it to that of The Phantom of the Opera is beyond me, to be fair. It is most strongly linked to the musical above all else however, at least as far as Google is concerned.

I did find it amusing to see what happened when simply ‘The Phantom is a’ was typed into the search bar. According to Google, most people are thinking of the comic book character of the same name rather than Gaston Leroux’s disfigured genius, as ‘The Phantom is a superhero’ is what pops up first. After that, I tried some other iconic characters from musicals and found some unexpected, and often hilarious results. Most people seem to think that Eponine in Les Miserables is a prostitute for instance, and that Enjolras is asexual. Indeed, there are a great number of both academic and fan analysis’ of the relationship between him and Grantaire in exploration of this. Wicked’s Elphaba is also an hermaphrodite, a result which I must admit both surprised and amused me. Having not read the Wicked novels by Gregory Maguire  I was unaware of this rumoured notion that Elphaba has both male and female genitalia, but apparently it has been discussed at length because of certain lines in the book that hints at this, such as in the description of her birth and the ‘shadow around her groin’ as noticed by Fiyero. Similarly hilarious is that Simba is considered a ‘hot lion’, with the Google search revealing that there are multiple blogs and forum posts discussing the sexual attractiveness of Simba. Yes. Simba. An animated lion. It has even extended to the extreme of fan fiction in which people have created stories about Simba’s sexual exploits. A creepily-imagined tale about a gay threesome to satisfy his kingly urges was particularly disturbing. Oh yes…it is actually a real thing!

There are many more musicals and characters out there which most likely render further unexpected results in connection to online searches. Why not try googling some yourself and see what you find?

By Julie Robinson: @missjulie25

Thursday 25th September 2014


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