At Day’s End: Celebrating Stupidity, the Musical

Written by Bowen Craig
Illustrated by Chris Bassett

I think it started with Paris Hilton. She got famous for accidentally/clearly-on-purpose releasing a sex tape. Before that, she was just your average, everyday millionaire hotel heiress. After showing the world video proof that she does something that everyone else also does, she suddenly became someone whose life we’re supposed to envy; not because she’s rich enough to buy the planet Neptune, which is an understandable reason for jealousy, but because she’s an idiot and idiots now get a lot of air time.
Once upon a time people had to actually DO SOMETHING before we, the adoring public, felt the need to shower them with praise and immortalize their accomplishments. It’s true. Recently, however, our celebration of the noncomplishments of the mundane middle has grown to scary proportions. And, once TV producers realized that we were actually willing to pay money to watch the unwashed masses wallow in their horrid unwashedness, the idea erupted and oozed all over creation like a volcanic eruption of tackiness. The lava of normality spewed and ran down the mountain of entertainment so quickly that, much like a Pompeian with one leg, we couldn’t outrun it even if we wanted to. And clearly, we don’t. We love it. I’m just not sure why.
I saw an ad for a stage show the other day called “Motherhood the Musical.” My first impulse was to get some hurried notes down in my little pad and then run home and write some jokes and a lengthy rant about how far we’ve slipped as a people and what the philosophical underpinnings of this phenomenon really means. But somewhere on the staircase leading to my apartment, right past the used diaper that’s been there since last year, I had a slight change of heart. But, right after realizing that I need to move, my heart changed back. Oh, I’m going to make fun of the existence of “Motherhood, the Musical,” and in multiple ways. I’m going to point out how unbelievably boring this is as a concept for a play – how it’s one step away from “Fishing, the Musical” or “Tax Law, the Drama Continues.” And I’m going to tackle the really sad aspect of this that parallels a lot of our pop culture phenomena these days – the sensationalizing of the mundane.
We used to see plays and movies about big events: the French Revolution, love and human compassion in the midst of horrible tragedy like WWII-era occupied France or Civil War Virginia, the intrigue and plotting of upper crust Romans’ build-up to repeatedly stabbing Julius Caesar on the senate floor, the life and death of Jesus Christ (with or without choreographed dance numbers), or Moses or Gandhi, or some other great person who did great things. Granted, all of our theatre hasn’t been like that. There’ve been some slice-of-life pieces that didn’t center around big events but stood the test of time; “Oklahoma!” for example. Nothing huge happened in that enduring musical, but (and here’s the rub) it at least showed us what life was like in a different place and time. And sure, life probably had a little less singing and dancing during the actual Great Depression, but at least it did, on some level, teach us something, show us something different, and entertain us at the same time. “Motherhood, the Musical” is a lot like reality TV. It’s just us…watching us…being us…
Motherhood is already probably the best thing anyone can ever do in life. That doesn’t mean that it’s stage-worthy. Motherhood used to be its own reward. Now it gets a script and auditions.
Watching OB-GYNs dance and sing on stage should never happen (“I Want to Hold You, But Don’t Ask Me Where That Hand Has Been Today, Honey”-act two, scene three). A frustrated couple trying new “intimate partner” positions that have been proven to increase the odds of ovum fertilization isn’t an action that needs its own chorus (“Let’s Take All The Fun Out Of Sex”—act one, scene two). A newborn fetus with umbilical cord still attached, lamenting the loss of his comfy space in a bluesy number with a heartfelt fetal harmonica solo isn’t something we should pay to see (“It’s Cold Out Here/What Happened To My Goo?”—finale, right before the encore).
“Motherhood, the Musical?” Come on. People used to have kids. Now we need validation for what we used to just do. “Filling out Your Own Tax Forms, the Animated Series,” and Walking Your Dog, the novella; these things are on the way. This is our version of the last days of Rome, our “let them eat cake” moment in time.
“Cumulous Clouds, the Avengers of the Sky” probably won’t be a hit Fox show anytime soon, but is it really any dumber than the fact that we want to watch celebrities dance? “Traffic Helicopters, the Untold Story” might not be a hard-charging look at the crazy, mixed up world of flying in a metal box without doors and looking down, but is it really celebrating anything more exciting than the work-out regiment and gossip routines of NBA trophy wives?
Celebrating people who’ve accomplished something, anything, is way better than our nightly homages to loserdom. I think the appeal of reality shows and Hollywood and Broadway reveling in the trite and mundane is this: A) the fun of watching the village idiot fall down (which isn’t new, except now the idiots are millionaires, that part is new), and B) it makes you feel better about your own mundanity. That’s it. Sure my job has no future, my wife is sleeping with the guy who fixes our air conditioner and my kids ask Santa every year to be adopted by Vietnamese yak herders, but at least I’m not living on the Jersey Shore with those morons.
Believe it or not, I’m an optimist. I still think we can turn this ship around before we go over the rushing waterfall of history. America has weathered some rough patches before, but we’ve never had to deal with celebrating the stupid as much as we do now. Oh, don’t get me wrong, we’ve had stupid. We’ve always had stupid. We didn’t invent stupid. We may have perfected it and marketed it with brightly colored lights and movie stars with big hair and perfect teeth, but stupid has been around since the first caveman tripped over a rock and fell down. His buddies laughed and then one of them thought it would be funny to push the unlucky guy back down again. His buddies laughed again and so he pushed the guy back down a third time, not noticing the approaching pride of saber tooth tigers that only noticed the cavemen because they wouldn’t stop laughing. Stupid ain’t new. But it used to be appropriately made fun, not honored, not revered, not awarded its own brand of camouflage tea cups.
There used to be a concept that, as much as it pains me to say it, needs to be brought back – shame. Other countries still have shame. Japan gets it. The return of shame may not the best solution. I’d rather this not be the solution. And, hopefully, it’ll only be a temporary salve. But dear God, we need more shame right about now. Family, school, neighbors, religion used to imbue us all with a wagon-load of full-on shamey-shame-shame before we left the house in the morning. Shame used to be as much a part of the standard American breakfast as the egg. It helped breakfast become the most important meal of the day. Lunch, with its relative lack of shame, is less important. By dinner we’re too tired to shame now. Instead we just gulp down some fast food, plop on the couch and see what the Kardashians are up to. There have always been some shameless people out there, but they used to get judged, mercilessly.
Let’s go back in time just a little bit – not so far back that we land in an era where we all had leprosy and 35 was considered death bed age – but just a bit, to a time when we reserved the word “hero” for people who did something worthwhile, or at least people who could actually sing and dance. Let’s go back to an epoch where there needed to at least be an interesting historical plotline before a TV pilot got the green light and funding. Hell, let’s just go back to the era before reality TV. Trust me, America, we’ll still be entertained. Our mind bellies will still be full. We’ll just add a tablespoon of ambition and a few healthy dashes of shame to the breakfast mix…and it’ll taste delicious.