Sunday, April 5, 2009

A critical look at Avenue Q

I very much liked Avenue Q when it came out 5 or so years ago. It seemed witty, intelligent, and socially relevant - even if it was rather vulgar. Not to mention, it was pretty funny. I hadn't heard it in a while, though, so today I pulled out (or rather, clicked up) the soundtrack.

It was... less than impressive. Avenue Q just wasn't quite how I'd remembered it.

It's not the pervasive sex, or the overall message (which is okay, I suppose), or the gay storyline (which was handled fairly well) or anything big like that. It's more that, despite purporting to be different, to attack societal stereotypes, Avenue Q fall into them on a regular basis. Take, say, racism:

Now, they're obviously not in favor of racism. But they seem to think that acknowledging racism it makes it just fine in small amounts. There's definitely something wrong with this - thinking that 'mexican busboy's should learn to speak goddamn english" also causes you to not want to hire them, for example. The question, of course, is whether the satire is honest (the song is truthful) or whether the joke is on micro-racism itself. A quick check around the Internet shows that everyone else is uncomfortable too - which shows that it is definitely a problem. Come to think of it, Avenue Q seems to have a real problem with people generally:

Now, when I first heard this, I thought it was hilarious. (I was a good deal more cynical and angry back then.) But seeing someone suffer shouldn't make you feel good! It should make you feel worse. It's not even worth laughing about. And I don't think there's a good argument here (as there was with 'Everyone's a Little Bit Racist') that they are really making fun of people who laugh at others. It's more of a black humor sort of feeling, minus the subtlety that would make it work as such.

But it's the women that are the most offensive, and not in an empowering way. Lucy is a Slut (with a capital S). Ha. Then, she becomes a born-again Christian. Double ha. The big question is, of course, what's wrong with any of those? Shouldn't she be able to do what she wants? But she moves from bad to bad, and it seemingly escapes any commentary.

Kate Monster has many redeeming qualities (and an actual purpose!), but she apparently needs a boyfriend to really complete her life. Lovely.

Worst of all is Gary Coleman. (Who is played by a female singer, if you didn't know.) When I first saw Avenue Q, this seemed quirky, fun, different. Now, it just seems like they're saying, "Look at this loser. He's such a loser, he's no better than a woman." After all, the writers have stated that Coleman was supposed to be a symbol of failure. Apparently, failure is synonymous with being female.

What do you think? Perhaps I'm over-thinking this. Or perhaps I'm just too dense to truly see between the lines. But just I couldn't help but be disappointed and sad at listening to Avenue Q.


Unknown said...

I loved Avenue Q, honestly. I think it said a lot of things out loud that everyone thinks and no one has the balls to acknowledge. Like the Schadenfreude song and the racism song.

The one thing that I couldn't stand? In the opening song "It Sucks To Be Me" Kate Monster's reason her life sucks is that she has no boyfriend. Oh look, another woman character desperate to be married and needing a man to complete her life. Barf.

Aviva DV said...

I get where you're coming from Brianna, but I kind of feel like Avenue Q is just too ridiculous to be offensive. Or, at least, I'm not offended by it -- even though I obviously don't condone racism, sexism, seeing people suffer, etc. There's absolutely no question that all of the show's songs are completely over-the-top, and it's pretty unlikely that anyone watching the show would take anything that they say seriously. What Avenue Q does do is put into words some of the things that people often think in their heads but don't say out loud...holding a mirror up on our society and its drawbacks and prejudices. By making it all one big joke.

It goes back to the central issue of the tenuous relationship between humor and political correctness. What's going too far? Can you be funny without pushing boundaries? Are there some boundaries that just shouldn't be crossed, or is everything fair game? Is there a way to be funny--and possibly a bit offensive--but still be respectful of what or whomever is the butt of your jokes?

agent truckstop said...

what i find kind of shocking is that you managed to review the negative stereotypes on Avenue Q and not once mention Christmas Eve, who was the most offensive of all - racially as well as gender-wise. did you miss that part?