A Feminist Analysis of Annie Get Your Gun
2013-07-22, 8:30 a.m.
So this weekend I saw Annie Get Your Gun for the first time. I'd heard "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better" on a Broadway hits album my parents had growing up, love it, and was looking forward to seeing it in person. And the production I saw was based off of the 1999 updated version (see above Wikipedia link), i.e. the "Less Racist And Sexist" version. Thank goodness.
Anyway...I thought it was an interesting, albeit kinda weird (though improved!) take on things. Annie is clearly the best shooter in the show, or at least slightly better than Frank, even though Frank is older and a dude and stuff like that. The show makes it clear that Annie's shooting is the one big thing in her life that she is naturally extremely good at. Other than that, she's not really into doing "ladylike" behavior--her wardrobe does improve throughout the two acts, but her demeanor pretty much stays down home friendly country girl. Which she admits kind of makes it hard to have a love life. Annie's first impulse, much like a dude's (or I suspect, is supposed to be like a dude's), is to show off her skills. She assumes, reasonably, that her fella should be proud of her for that. And really, shouldn't he be? Throughout the show, she wants to have Frank share in her awesome with her, and most of the time, he is not so good at that.
Even though she is clearly bowled over at first sight by Frank, and hormones are clearly racing, she still outshoots him in their first competition just fine. She gets hired as a "second assistant" to Frank (he already has a pretty poser, Dolly, as first assistant), but it seems clear that Buffalo Bill and manager Charlie are just sneaking her in and plan on unveiling her later on. Which they do--Annie works out her own shooting-from-a-spinning-wheel(!!!) trick, gets her own poster, and does her own act in the show. Which is, of course, a smashing success and earns the show a financial backer AND gets Annie a new adopted dad(!!!) in Sitting Bull all at once. Frank, of course, does the Dude's Butthurt Ego thing and runs off to join the rival circus act instead. As you do, because how dare the chick that you're considering marrying be better at your job than you are.
I can't say I was really feeling Frank and Annie's relationship as such in Act 1. It's...kinda thrown in there, I guess? It didn't really start to work for me until the end of the show when they were both acting as equals again, and in most of Act 1 she's still a lower rung down on the ladder or whatever. Plus there's the song (done multiple times) about how Frank wants to marry some girl who wears white gloves and is afraid of mice. Annie is all, "The mice would faint at the sight of me." Or she'd shoot 'em, which seems even more appropriate to me, hah. Anyway, despite Frank's stated "I want a stereotypical lady" thing, he kind of goes for Annie enough to debate marrying her anyway.
In Act 2, Annie's gone on a European tour with the show. The show is broke except for Annie's very fancy international jeweled medals, which she makes sure to wear on her fancy dress at the party she's going to see Frank at. Frank also trots out his own medals, received...wherever, but I guess they are less expensive. Both rival shows join together--well, first they're doing it because they assume the other show has more money (surprise! Show business means you're broke even if you're a hit!), but really it just becomes a barefaced excuse to hook Frank and Annie up again. Annie ends up agreeing to sell her medals to keep the two shows afloat, and then sings a song about how all she needs is nature or whatever....
Then she gets back together with Frank and does a counterpoint duet with him. He claims to want a simple wedding and she claims to want one with all the trimmings....which not only completely doesn't fit with the song Annie just sang otherwise, but doesn't make sense with her character in general. Shouldn't Frank be the one who wants to show off? Though to be fair, the song does have Annie pointing out that she'll swear to love and honor, but NOT obey. Anyway, despite the wrongness of most of the song, it's actually a very good duet and finally got me into them as a pairing...if they're arguing. Because that's where it works. Except they break up once again and decide to have another shootoff to prove who's best, which is where "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better" comes in (and is awesome).
This was the point where I whispered to my mom during the show, "I hope they don't fuck up the ending."
Dolly is caught fixing Annie's gun so that it will no longer aim properly....and much to my sadness. "Papa" Sitting Bull and manager Charlie figure that Annie can't catch her man unless she loses and leave it be. Because you know men, they get all butthurt about shit like that. And sure 'nuff, Annie can't aim with that gun and is totally thrown off by it.
I am told via the Internet (I honestly don't want to watch otherwise) that in the original version, Annie loses so that Frank can be the manliest of men and she can catch and keep him. But in the 1999 revised version, Frank is all, "Here, take my gun for luck instead. And let's throw out her first few shots and try this again." Annie gets five in a row, and Frank with his other gun gets five in a row. And then the other menfolks are pointing out from the sidelines that Annie better lose with the bad gun...So she shoots with the bad gun, misses five times, and sadly/resignedly is all "You win, you're the man, Frank, whatever, you're superior." And I am just...ugh..
But in the new version, Frank deliberately misses his next five shots, tying up the match. Everybody wins! And I was so proud of Frank in that moment! I really wasn't into the dude until that moment. How sweet of him! How lovely that he finally accepts that Annie's an equal. That he wants her to have her shot and doesn't want to "win easy." In that moment, I am finally fine with the relationship. And we're told that they live "squabblingly ever after," which is totally appropriate. I like to think that in a continuing fictional world, Frank and Annie do their own shooting shows every night and then have a shootout/competition every night, with the shows keeping a tally of who wins. That seems like something they would enjoy.
Though it bothers me that it had to go there with Annie being brought down--or more specifically told by her loved ones that she had to play dumb and weak to catch a man or whatever. Yeah, yeah, I know that's kind of how the times went in the period of time that this was created in--but heck, in real life Frank was just fine with Annie being awesome (again, go check the Wikipedia). Maybe they thought the battle of the sexes couldn't handle that in 1950, even thought it was fine in Annie's time.