Saturday, July 29, 2017

Dear Evan Hansen

This musical will forcibly draw tears from your tear ducts. It will wrench the feelings straight out of your heart and condense them on your face as salt water.

Evan Hansen (protagonist) is a high school senior, and socially anxious to a degree that projects out to the last seat in the theater. He has usual high school senior worries --- college applications, trying to make friends, talking to his crush --- and some unusual ones; when a classmate commits suicide, he finds himself drawn into an increasingly elaborate construction of a false past friendship, because it helps him form actual current friendships. But they're based on lies, so how real are they?

End synopsis.

The titular protagonist is achingly lonely and isolated, despite being surrounded by social media (figuratively "surrounded" in the usual psychological sense; literally "surrounded" in the staging, with screens projected everywhere). This highlights the now-trite observation that we are more interconnected (in terms of data transfer) and less connected (social constructs like friendship) nowadays.

I have a lot of thoughts about why this musical is so deeply affecting, and why it has its hooks in my mind so firmly, but they're not coherent and to some extent it's just: I'm wired this way, catchy music is catchy, the story feels both timely and realistic. No flying across the stage or magic, and the least-realistic part is perhaps that people break into coordinated song mid-conversation, but... let's posit that in my mind, this often happens anyway. So perhaps "realistic" is not as accurate as "realistic to the mental reality I inhabit", which: ditto for the ideas about isolation, connectivity, the endless rehashing of previous social interactions. (Though I think I carry them off with a lot less outwards anxiety than Evan.)

On the topic of mistakes made publicly and online --- which form the core of the spiraling-out-of-control plot --- I completely agree with Scott Alexander, who wrote that it's "bizarre that we dare to talk at all when we know every word we say is logged and the future may be less forgiving than the past."

It's not clear what will happen after the plot is over, in the world of Dear Evan Hansen, and somehow the plot is so catchy, the ideas explored are so deeply captivating, that my mind has never wondered over to the area of: hey, what happens after the curtain is lowered? I don't know and can't hypothesize; everything is so utterly messed-up, and there is no hope of redemption; if there is any moral at all, it's that we should all have a short memory for bad things and a long memory for good ones, and absolutely no engagement with social media at all.

... welcome to my personal blog! Wonder of wonders, irony of ironies.

This post's theme word is pudency (n), "modesty, bashfulness." Is it a social anxiety disorder or just a profusion of pudency?

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