Hairspray is my go-to feel-good film. It is a bright, exuberant and energetic film that has a heart unlike any other film that came before it, and possibly unlike anything we will see again.
But in my late night watching of this film, a thought occurred to me, a thought that means I may never view this film quite the same way again. You see, Hairspray, for all it's happiness and positive vibes, is subtly a story of conformity and manipulation.
I know what I just said, and I stand by it too. Above is pictured the 'Council' of the Corny Collins show. Now, a little history for you. This show is set in the early 1960s. JFK is still in office and the Civil Rights Movement is well underway, but this show has yet to integrate. Instead, this problem is solved by a monthly 'Negro Day' installment on the Corny Collins show, broadcast on the last Tuesday of every month.
During the finale number, 'You Can't Stop the Beat,' Inez Stubbs, a colored girl (daughter of Motormouth Maybelle, who is in turn the host of the 'Negro Day' segment) wins the Miss Teenage Hairspray Pageant, beating out Amber Von Tussle, the three-time-winner who is both white and against integration, a belief instilled in her by her mother Velma Von Tussle.
With a colored girl winning the pageant, she is awarded the position of lead dancer on the Corny Collins show, an act which is then used by host and Civil Rights supporter Corny Collins to integrate the show.
Everyone (except the Von Tussles) is happy. The colored people are happy (obviously), Mr. Collins is happy, and the white Council members are happy too.
In the below video, you can see that the White Council Members are happy to be mixed in with the African-American members.
Of course, there is little problem with two races being happy that they are integrated. The problem is the reason the white members have, or rather, the lack thereof...
The following video takes place about thirty minutes into the film, before the Corny Collins show is integrated. Watch from the three-minute-mark:
The deciding point of Tracy Turnblad's audition for the Corny Collins council is when she announces that she would happily swim in an integrated pool. She claims it to be the new frontier, while Velma Von Tussle insists that it isn't the case in Baltimore.
From this point on, the council agrees with Velma and begins intimidating Tracy. This is the same council that only one hour of film later, without any major character development, would accept (happily so) the integration of this show.
Okay, but what are you getting at?
It seems that the council members are, how do I put this, 'wishy-washy.' They go which ever way the tide is going, and whenever society's beliefs change, they do too.
Now, I'm not at all endorsing their decidedly terrible opinions on Civil Rights, but in their conformity, they are essentially proving themselves to be a part of the societal hive-mind, incapable of breaking free and instead allowing society to define them.
Even Velma Von Tussle, the film's puppeteer-antagonist and mother of primary antagonist Amber Von Tussle (think Emperor Palpatine to Darth Vader, or Supreme Leader Snoke to Kylo Ren, Star Wars) is less morally-murky in respect to the council, as she stands by her opinion (no matter how bloody awful it is).
Or, you know, I'm wrong, and they're just background characters who react accordingly to the film's climax.
Whatever floats your boat.