Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Reality, the Musical

I'm sitting here watching Scrubs as I write this which, while it's not one of my usual shows, is one that I enjoy a good bit when I do get a chance to watch. My warped sense of humor as well as my extremely visual sense of ... well, of everything, makes me a good fit for shows that so flawlessly blend nonsense, keen wit, good writing, sharp delivery, and slapstick to make both entertainment and a point. Currently on my television screen, the creepy janitor is dangling half naked outside a window suspended by the speedo that he's wearing, but the episode that came on just before this one actually touched on the issues of religion, honesty in relationships, parenthood, and childhood trauma. And it was funny! And not really in a sick and evil sort of way, as I really don't appreciate, get, or enjoy genuinely mean humor, but in a intelligent silliness sort of way. It's amazing that because the show engaged me in a less threatening way, through use of effective theatrical diversions, I was more relaxed, and therefore more easily receptive to the more serious messages the show had to offer.

Earlier today, I posted my most recent podcast, which was an interview with the author of Love Jerry-- the so-called "pedophile musical" I heard about just last week. The interview, while obviously about a heavy subject, was a wonderful experience for me and in the end of the interview, Megan thanked me for approaching her work with an open mind and said how refreshing it was to be able to actually talk about the play without having to constantly defend it. It's so important to me that each person who is a guest on my podcast look at is as having been a positive experience, and being 6 for 6 in that regard feels good.

Megan is heartfelt, friendly, thoughtful, intelligent, and clearly committed to being a part of the solution to end child sexual abuse, in whatever ways she can. People have made issues of three key facts about the play that could potentially be objectionable: 1) It's a musical, and quite a few people find that inappropriate; 2) Jerry is not demonized in the play, and rather than being presented as the manifestation of pure evil is offered up as a very flawed human whose horrible choices devastate his family's life as well as his own; and 3) A handful of people have proclaimed that child sexual abuse is not an appropriate topic for public entertainment.

Which brings up quite a few other elements, to my view. For starters, Megan made clear that this is not a musical in the style of Oklahoma or Li'l Abner. This is a play in which acoustic, natural, folk-style music is used as a way for the characters to express heartfelt emotions and truths that might not come out in any other way. That kind of music not only expresses a kind of emotion and sincerity that is difficult to express in any other way, but it provides a less threatening context into which to place an otherwise unsettling exploration of a terrifying social plague. It, in some ways, makes an intimate exploration of such an intense issue a little more palatable in the end.

Megan conducted a good bit of research on and interviews with actual sexual offenders and child molesters as part of her preparation for this play. One of the things that struck her was how human they seemed-- these were not creepy and sinister characters barren of emotion, living in solitude under the social radar, without family and community connections. Instead, they were people with families, dreams, feelings, fears, and worries-- people who would not stand out in a crowd as people to avoid. See, as long as we, as a society, continue to expect those who abuse our children to be dark and looming characters, we will miss out on the true threat to our children. Most sexual abuse is not by openly disturbed or threatening people. It's almost always someone the child knows-- a family member, trusted adult, or teacher. The real threat to our children isn't secretive and lurking people, as much as it is secretive and lurking ideas in our society regarding how we address sexual abuse when it does happen.

Which brings me to the question of what is or isn't an appropriate topic to address through theater. See, I am a big fan of the arts as a personal diversion, as well as of the arts as a way of working to effect dramatic cultural change. I grew up in the theater, performing on stage as a singer, dancer, actor, and musician. I understand how the experience of an artistic project, both as a participant and as a spectator, can change your heart and open your mind to new possibilities. Addressing sexual abuse as an issue, and only an theoretical and intellectual issue, it is far too easy to remove the issue from its' context, to throw away the humanity of the abuser as we address criminal acts, and to assault the epidemic with platitudes, narrow-minded (albeit well-intentioned) anger, and a completely useless rage against what is clearly an injustice. This does nobody any good, least of all the person who was abused, or whose child was abused, for whom platitudes are meaningless and the offender is often more human than their heart would have ever preferred. It's far too easy for people to theorize about what is or isn't an appropriate forum to discuss child sexual abuse when their own lives have never been touched, either through their own experiences or those of someone they love, by the personal and emotional devastation that child abuse leaves in its' wake. Those who have been through it are less likely to be interested in arguments about where and when sexual abuse should be discussed... they just want to see the discussion happening.

Megan brought up a particularly powerful point during our conversation-- a point that has replayed itself on the spectacular backdrop of my far-too-intense imagination over the last few days. We repress this, refuse to discuss it, and expect people to heal from their sexual-abuse-inflicted wounds quietly and without great fanfare precisely because it is a topic we're scared of. We can't define it in terms of genetics, microbiology, or a cure, so we are scared to stand face to face with what we can't control. If this were polio, or bird flu, or any other definable illness that was affecting one out of three girls and one out of six boys in this country, it would be on the cover of the papers every single day until we had found a solution. Sadly, I think our head-in-the-sand stupidity with regard to sexual abuse goes even deeper than that, as erectile dysfunction and frickin' male pattern baldness often get more play in the press than the violation of our children. (Of course, we plaster sexually abused children all over the media when they are killed by their abusers, which makes it easier to demonize the abuser, but what about the thousands of others who live daily with their scars? But, alas, that's another blogpost for another day.) Where are our priorities, people? Why is it that when someone makes an honest effort to address a societal epidemic, we tear her apart, assuming it's a perversion of reality, when it is sadly, horrifyingly, and inexcusably likely to be one of the most honest and genuine looks at sexual abuse to date? Sad, horrifying, and inexcusable not because she addressed this issue in the format of a musical that does not make the bad guy a monster, but sad, horrifying, and inexcusable because WE as a society have, in some way, allowed it to become (and continue to allow it to be) the epidemic that it is, through our own silence and unwillingness to be gently led out of our comfort zones.

Earlier today, I did a google search to find any press or blog coverage about Love Jerry. What I found was, in most cases, a collection of the most ridiculous, misguided, misinformed, irrational, knee-jerk reactions I've ever seen in regard to a topic. Bloggers, it's just a little too easy to fire off at the mouth, or the keyboard, as the case may be, without having ANY IDEA what we're talking about. Why do we do that? I'll admit, when I first heard about this play, my first reaction was that it must necessarily be an atrocity. But the first sentence I fired off about it wasn't in a blog post; it was in an email to the author of the play, to find out from the delightfully open and sincere horse's mouth what the real deal was. Do a technorati search, or some other blog search, on "Love Jerry" or "pedophile musical." I dare you. And then prepare to cringe, as you read what would be a ridiculously funny series of idiotic tirades by people who don't know anything about it, except for the fact that real ignorance is rarely ever funny. Pull your heads out of the sand of your self-presumed righteousness, and face the facts that we REALLY need to have open and honest discussions about what is happening to our children if we are ever to have any hope of truly protecting them. And please, if you have no idea what it is like to be a survivor of sexual abuse, a parent, or a friend of one, listen in intently on the discussion, contributing only when you feel you have something to say that brings a greater truth to light for the benefit of our society. Don't pretend to speak for the little people; chances are you aren't really speaking for them in the first place. And most of the adult survivors can speak for themselves quite nicely, thank you.

In other news, south clearly trumps north, according to googlefight. So there.

Also, listenership is up, thank you very much to the nice podcasters out there sharing about what I'm doing! And as exciting as the growing stats (particularly 1st day posting stats) are to me, they are not the true indicator of whether or not I have arrived as a podcaster-- I got my first piece of slightly inappropriate email feedback over the weekend. SCORE! From a guy. Who liked my accent. (What is UP with you Great Lakes states freaks? Seriously!) Truthfully, though, it made me smile on an otherwise boring day, so whatever. Also, today I noticed that I had my first review on iTunes-- 5 stars and a nice comment. Unfortunately, the review was written by my dad, and referenced my "sultry, southern drawl."



I think I'm going to shove a bottle brush in one ear and out the other and scrub hard until that reference has been completely and totally erased from my brain.

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