Sociological Political Incorrectness in My Fair Lady

         My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor in 1964, was based on the 1913 play Pygmalion, written by George Bernard Shaw. The movie portrays Eliza Doolittle (played by Audrey Hepburn) and her transformation from a sad little flower girl for pennies to royal status. Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison), with a little help from Colonel Hugh Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White), is the mentor and sometimes dictator who led Eliza to this change. Professor Higgins' mother, Mrs. Higgins (Gladys Cooper) seems to be the only voice of reason throughout the entire story. Eliza's low-class behaviors and accent gradually diminish to the point where she is actually mistaken for royalty. Professor Higgins and Colonel Pickering are so proud of themselves that they forgot to give Eliza any credit, and she storms off into the waiting arms of Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Jeremy Brett).

         The troubling part of this whole story is that it could not be made in the politically correct society we live in today. Imagine if Eliza were a woman who spoke very poor English from the inner-city housing projects. Suppose the story were centered on a woman from the South who acted like the stereotypical southern "redneck" with the corresponding accent? This movie would be an outright scandal, and everyone involved would possibly be black-balled by the PC capital located in Hollywood.

         This movie could never be brought up to date; it is fun laughing at the "simple little British flower girl." But it would not be funny to laugh at the "simple little southern girl from the trailer park." And it is quite sad because a modern adaptation of this movie could be amazing. The simplicity of the world in 1913 (pre-World War one), and the much stricter class system are two key components to the acceptance of the story.

         The story in the current form could not be redone today without a female or minority in the role of Professor Higgins. However, the premise of a mentor "teaching" someone to be more acceptable has been done time and time again. Bringing Down the House, directed in 2003 by Adam Shankman, and Saved!, directed by Brian Dannelly, just two very modern examples of a female, minority or both indoctrinating the "unacceptable" to the "cool and acceptable." Even modern shows such as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy show members of a minority demonstrating how they can make one more acceptable in their culture.

         The beauty of this story is the outright humor that can be found in the innate truth of it. The fact is that society does look on people that speak correctly and dress appropriately more favorably. But sadly, it is not politically correct to say that in the way that Pygmalion and its musical version, My Fair Lady did; therefore, we may never see another story or musical that endears itself us as these have.

Christian F. Runyon

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