The Four Sublime States of "Hairspray"

by Shen Shi'an, The Buddhist Channel, Aug 25, 2007

Dharma-Inspired Movie Review:

Singapore -- In a way, the musical movie "Hairspray" is a joyous and generous celebration of the Four Sublime States (also known as the "Four Immeasurables" in Buddhism) in the form of song and dance. It tells the story of a young girl called Tracy (played by Nicki Blonsky), who dreams of singing and dancing on a TV variety show.

There is essentially no big problem to fulfilling her dream, other than those who see her as a "big" problem. Well, Tracy is of above-average size. Yet she is as big-hearted as she is big, and she does sing and dance well. Eventually, she wins the hearts of the audience, much to the self-inflicted chagrin of those who ostracised her.

With her infectious goodwill, Tracy convinces her mother (played by John Travolta!), who is even bigger than her, to come out of her shell of low self-esteem. Brimming with bubbly positivity, she succeeds in doing so. And yes, it's a musical after all. With new found confidence, her mother sings and dances with everyone by the end of the show.

The movie also tackles the issue of racism, for "integration, not segregation" - for the right for both the black and white to sing and dance on the same show and stage. As a placard in protest reminds, of the state of TVs back in the sixties, "TV is black and white!" Which is interesting, reminding us that TVs have high definition of resolution and colour these days. Racism by colour (or anything else) is just so unfair, uncool and out of date.

Now how do the Four Sublime States come into the picture? The first state is loving-kindness (metta: which counters anger). With little ill will, even to those against her, Tracy embodies it well. The second state is compassion (karuna: which counters cruelty). Seeing her mother suffering from inferiority complex, she did whatever she could to help.

The third state is rejoice in the merits of others (mudita: which counters jealousy). Though with hopes of wining a dance competition, a black girl wins instead - but she is just as jubilant for her victory. The fourth quality is equanimity (upekkha: which counters inequality). She enthusiastically stands up for the right for all to sing and dance together, regardless of colour... and size!