Thursday, May 5, 2011

Last night I went to see "Hair," and it was fantastic.  Seriously.  I'm often a little disappointed in the casts of the touring shows that come to my local theater; for "Rent," for example, aside from the two male leads, they had clearly sent out the B team.  Not so for "Hair."  This cast is amazing - so much energy, so much crowd interaction, so much emotion, such great voices.  It's a completely crazy musical, with very little plot, but that's part of the point.

I ran into someone I knew there, who noted that there isn't really a musical for this decade the way this one represented the 60's, or "Rent" the 90s.  I found myself wondering what sort of ethos would be captured in a musical about the last ten years.  We've been at war through this entire decade, but I don't sense that it has touched most of us in anything approaching the same way that the Vietnam war affected that generation.  Personally, I feel distant and uninvolved most of the time, and I don't think I'm alone in that.  Maybe that's why there isn't a musical for the 2000s: it would be fairly difficult to portray apathy in a compelling way.

Hello, cynical.  Maybe I just feel this way because I did relate so strongly to "Rent," because I was so pulled in by "Hair" even though I didn't relate.  There is something in the struggle in both of those musicals that makes me wonder, what is the struggle now?  What is the identity that young people are trying to forge for themselves in this time?  How are teens and 20-somethings differentiating themselves from the norms of society now?

I work with teens and 20-somethings a lot, and am not all that far past that bracket myself, so I could name some broad themes.  But one of the things that I see in society right now is that societal norms themselves have been/are being dismantled.  Transience is expected - not just geographically, but also in terms of social groups, schooling, career, living situation, relationships, even morality.  I generally look at the lack of strict boundaries as a good thing, but I also see the uncertainty it can create, the way it presents so many potential paths that it becomes hard to make any decisions at all.

I remember when I returned from living in Ukraine for a few months in 1997.  I had gotten used to shopping in the tiny markets where, if you wanted peanut butter, there was one kind.  If you wanted bread, you might be able to choose between white and rye.  If you wanted milk, it was there on the counter (yes, counter...I didn't drink a lot of milk there), and there was no such thing as skim or 2%, let alone soy or flavored.  When I came back to the U.S., it took months before I could step into a grocery store without going into complete overstimulation mode.  There were just so many choices!  I no longer felt equipped to decide between 200 breakfast cereals.  It was too much.

In some ways my career - this crazy ministry vocation - has made life easier on me than some.  My path, at least in that area, is relatively stable and directed.  But I wonder sometimes if life for many of the people I encounter feels a little like a grocery store did when I came back from Ukraine, when even one section presents an overwhelming number of options, and the whole store just feels like a maze they have no idea how to get through.  It's not an easy world we live in these days.  

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