Saturday, June 18, 2016

Spring Awakening

Warning. Two things. First, I do not recommend Spring Awakening as a healthy entertainment option. Secondly, this is a rated R post. I don't normally post stuff like this, but as my kids get older, we deal with rated R subjects, and it just seems important that I put this here. Maybe I am being foolish. I may attract unsavory attention. But if kids are talking about this stuff, we should talk about it, too, lend some maturity to the conversation. End warning.

I watched Spring Awakening yesterday. It is an adaptation of a play that was written and performed in Germany in 1890 about repression and hiding and adolescent kids confused about their budding sexuality. I'm dismayed at the amount of vulgarity in it. Obviously, a play about sexuality is going to have some things deemed vulgar, but there is a tasteful way to do it, and I didn't feel like this musical got there. It reminded me of skits we would do in high school and college, but with a lot more cussing and innuendo and outright pantomime of things I'd rather not see another person do.

The things we watch and read (but especially the things we watch) have a big influence on our thinking. Even if we are intelligent enough to recognize themes and detach from the emotion of the story, we are still changed by what we see. I feel a shift in myself after watching that show, and I don't like it. The shift is more anger at tradition and time-honored norms. The norms that were challenged in that show were bad norms. I challenge those norms myself. But the cussing really bothered me. Cussing is violent.

Cussing isn't just words. Cuss words are words that contain violence in them. They are ugly names for things that can be used for violence.

Violence is not okay with me.

I suppose anger and aggression aren't objectively bad. I've been told that, and I can see how it needs to be true. But they feel objectively bad to me. 

That's not completely accurate. Not all anger/aggression is objectively bad. It has to be done a certain way. It has to be done with an eye toward improving the situation, and with respect to all involved. And it is better if the person is angry about something that displeases God, rather than just having their feelings hurt because they were slighted.

Does Spring Awakening meet all those criteria? Were these kids wanting to improve the situation? Yes, they were. They were immature and didn't know how, but over and over in the show, they express how they want to make a better world.  

Did they respect everyone involved? No, they did not. They held authority in contempt. I think that is where they got it wrong, but they were very young and didn't know what they were doing.  In Downton Abbey, there is a good contrast of this. A young socialist chauffeur marries into a wealthy family, and the family, although they have some oppressive/repressive values, receives him after some struggle. He is strident, angry, full of ugly words for the establishment, like the kids in Spring Awakening, and the Granthams roll their eyes and hate having to deal with him, but eventually love prevails and he sees that they are not bad, and that they are willing to change, although not to the extent he wishes.  He develops respect for them where he had none before.

This is important. Respect is earned. The only adult in Spring Awakening worthy of respect in my opinion is Melchior's mother.

But does that mean we cuss and froth and fight if the people we disagree with are not worthy of respect? I say no, and I believe Maria from West Side Story and the families in Romeo and Juliet agree with me.

In a situation where children are struggling, and every adult is disrespecting them and refusing to listen or be honest about what is happening (even Melchior's mother did this because of her misplaced confidence that other adults would see reason), kids will develop inappropriate and immature coping strategies. What else are they to do? The people who are supposed to teach them are violently opposing them. They must do the best they can with what they have, and it often comes out as wild defense.

When we know better, we do better, but these kids never had a chance to learn.

In West Side Story, it is two gangs of kids fighting, but Sondheim makes it clear they are fighting because of prejudice from their respective cultures.  In Romeo and Juliet, it is the same. Then you have the two beautiful children who are too good for this world and fall in love and want to find a new place, a new world where there is no hatred.

They are right. They are truly the pure ones. For all the talk of purity in our culture, purity of heart is rare.  But here you go. Here are two pure souls.

We all dream of a place like that, and often the world destroys our dreams before we get there.  We want to fight. But there is a better way. Hate increases hate. Hate can only be stopped by love. Over and over we see this in the best stories. Think of the love in Harry Potter. He struggles so hard to learn this, and eventually, when he is ready to give up everything, he is given it all. This is the paradox of love. It is taught in the Bible.  It is taught on the cross. It is taught in the Chronicles of Narnia. In Lord of the Rings. These are the best stories, because they go beyond hatred to the transforming power of love.

Shakespeare's plays are earthy, and Sondheim was known for pushing the envelope. I *really* don't like Spring Awakening because of the violent words, but I wonder. It seems accurate to me that children repressed and pushed beyond the limit would erupt into violence, violent words against the authorities, violent words and actions toward themeselves each other. The beating, the rape, the killing.

But oh me, please let's not go down that path.  Please let's not. There really is a better way, a better place. We are not in that situation. We have enough love and knowledge and liberty to build a better place. Let's not pretend we are trapped.  We aren't in bondage, even with all the crap we must deal with nowadays, we still have liberty to build an oasis of love and respect. We can make better choices and sidestep the hateful repressive people who tempt us to violence.