Loyalty is a tricky thing. In most cases, loyalty is regarded as an unalloyed good. Those who display loyalty are lauded for their virtuousness. The more loyal someone is, the better they are regarded. And as this song starts, it goes over this ground: First the Artful Dodger declares his undying loyalty to Nancy, the object of his puppy dog crush. Then Nancy opens up and displays some maternal love towards Oliver, before Oliver returns the affection by pledging to do a collection of silly things. At this stage in the song, the promises are mostly mild and harmless - requests to wear a daffodil or to paint one's face blue. But there is a hint of danger as well when Nancy asks the Dodger if he would fight her Bill, a brutal man who abuses, and eventually murders her.
But loyalty has a darker side too, and the song confronts this squarely when Fagin joins in, asking his collection of juvenile thieves if they would risk the hangman's noose for him. He commands their loyalty by providing them with something of a home, but it is a twisted home, only marginally better than the terrible conditions found in the orphanages of the day. And given the nature of the legal system of the day, Fagin is very definitely asking his boys to risk a death sentence on his behalf. His boys are loyal to Fagin, and Fagin abuses that loyalty for his own benefit.
We see this kind of abuse of loyalty quite a bit in our world. Scientology, as evidenced by the recent documentary Going Clear, demands absolute loyalty from its followers, many of whom jump at the chance to sign purportedly irrevocable billion year contracts. But just to be sure, the Church of Scientology declares those who defect to be "suppressive persons" who are "fair game" to be harassed and hunted for their temerity to leave the organization. This pattern is repeated all over our culture - those who seek a sense of belonging pledge their loyalty to the fraudulent organizations that make up the "Men's Rights Movement", or join loose but rabid groups like GamerGate or the "Sad Puppy" coterie of Hugo ballot-stuffers. And those groups abuse that loyalty, and in many cases seek to punish those who defect. Unquestioned loyalty to a cause or a group will often take one places they didn't expect, and once there, it becomes hard to extricate oneself from them.
Loyalty is good up to a point. The danger is that too much unquestioning loyalty becomes a recipe that allows the vile organizations that inhabit the corners of the internet to prey upon those who think they are doing the right thing by offering their fealty to them. As with all good art, Oliver! had lessons to teach those astute enough to understand them. It is unfortunate that so many people seem to be unable to do so.
As a side note, although the role of Oliver was played by Mark Lester, he apparently could not sing, and so all of his singing was done by Kathe Green, the music directors's daughter. Given that he really couldn't dance and wasn't a particularly good actor, how he was cast in the lead role of a movie musical is a mystery to me.
Subsequent Musical Monday: Legend of Korra Theme
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