Better Late Than Never: Avenue Q

My original plan for this weekend was to write a detailed comparison of the role the military plays in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe. Due to… circumstances… that did not happen. I typically write my blog entries in advanced and schedule them to post a little after midnight on Saturday (I’ve since deleted my empty blog post). Currently, I am writing on a heavily delayed train on its way to Boston from New York, so you’re getting something related to that.


I had a lovely weekend in New York, went to some amazing eateries, took in a show… Now, I would tell you about the food, but since I am woefully unqualified for that, I’m going to talk about the show we saw: Avenue Q. Avenue Q happens to be one of my favorite broadway shows. I first saw it in high school with my mom (awkward!) and this weekend saw it again with my fiancé, my brother, and his girlfriend.


The concept behind Avenue Q is a Sesame Street for grown ups; something that will teach the lessons we wished we learned as we grew into adults. It utilizes standard tropes from Sesame Street to look at racism, sex and relationships, and finding yourself in your 20s.


Before I continue, I should mention that the show absolutely has content NOT suitable for all ages. For example, some of the songs included are: “It Sucks to Be Me”, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”, “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love)”, and (everyone’s favorite) “The Internet Is for Porn”. So, while the show does try to emulate Sesame Street, it is very much for ADULTS. I cannot stress this enough. This show is NOT appropriate for children! DO NOT BRING CHILDREN.


Now, moving on, Avenue Q is currently celebrating its 15th Anniversary (thats 15 years of shows both on and off Broadway), which means it premiered in 2003. As I said above, I first saw Avenue Q in 2007 with my mom. I was in high school at the time, in New York looking at colleges and planning to study Technical Theatre. At that time, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with politics and I found some of the songs as shocking as they were funny (still kinda do, to be honest). But, in 2018, at a time of great unrest when prejudice, bigotry, and misogyny seem to be rampant, there were some moments that were just plain cringy. (And some that weren’t necessarily cringy, but I found personally problematic.)


The thing to keep in mind (something that my brother, his girlfriend, and my fiancé agree on) is that it is important to remember that the show was written and premiered at a very different time for the American economy and politics. So, while a lot of what is said is still poignant and applicable, there are a lot of places where the message is no longer so relevant.


Let’s start with the most cringy and problematic: “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”. The point of the song is that since everyone is a little bit racist, we shouldn’t be overly sensitive about other people’s slip-ups, instead trying to focus on who the person is and their actions, and getting along. In 2018, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” has become the excuse for a number of deplorable acts. Instead of using such a message as a way to bring people together, it is being used to create larger divides. This is a huge problem currently facing our country. So, while the song is still funny, I definitely felt cringy listening and laughing, knowing what I do about the world and our country right now.


Another topic I found problematic was the treatment of gay character, Rod. Rod is a Republican and an Investment Banker who is deeply closeted. His roommate, Nicky, tells him, in song that “If [he] Were Gay”, that “would be okay”, but reminds him at every turn that Nicky is absolutely not gay. Later, when talking to another character, the Japanese Social Worker Christmas Eve, she tells him that a republican investment banker would be an absolutely useless homosexual. The overall message is one of acceptance, but the way the show handles it has become somewhat antiquated. Since Avenue Q‘s inception, Gay Marriage has been legalized in the United States while the spectrum of gender and sexuality has become the greater issue. While I’m sure many still struggle with coming out, it’s an old fashioned idea that you have to be a certain way to be gay (beyond being sexually attracted to the same gender you are).


Another issue that had me prickly comes in “The Internet is for Porn”. I love this song and think it’s hilarious, but was disappointed that not even any subtle changes had been made to the choreography. It just demonstrates a bigger issue with how women are treated. While it matches that era as well as some parts of the country now, it’s not something I’d expect in New York. In the song, the lead female, Kate Monster, thinks recluse Trekkie Monster is a pervert for watching porn, and is horrified when all her male neighbors admit to watching porn regularly.


My first issue is that I feel like by now this is more or less common knowledge. It has nothing to do with relationships or sexuality, it’s just a fact that many (if not most) people have watched or read or seen something pornographic. My second issue is that it does not recognize that women are just as likely to partake. In more recent years (and thanks to shows such as Sex and the City), it has become recognized that women are just as sexual as men.


That actually brings me to another character, Lucy the Slut. Lucy is a woman who regularly partakes in casual sex and serves as a major temptress for all the straight men in the show. In the last fifteen years, slut shaming has become unacceptable and many women are refusing to apologize for their sexuality. In general, the attitudes towards women reflect the social politics of 2003. The most progressive idea is that while Kate Monster wants a boyfriend, her real dream isn’t just to get married, but to open a school and be a successful career woman. That just doesn’t cut it in 2018.


I can and always will appreciate what its doing. Avenue Q broke boundaries and made statements and did some really great things (and there are puppets!). It provides important commentaries and is technically brilliant, but so much of it is no longer relevant. It’s like watching a movie made in the 1950s, but because it’s still so recent it’s difficult to create that separation of time and benefit of hindsight.


What we really need is an update, something that teaches the lessons that are relevant now. We need a show that examines the current millennial struggles and priorities, looks at race and gender tensions, and gives a voice to different members of the LGBTQ+ community.  We need a show that uses a different celebrity; Gary Coleman is dead, it’s just sad now.


I have neither the wit nor musical talent to write a proper update, but I maintain it can be done! The way creative content is produced and distributed these days is drastically different. Why can’t we have a new episode of this grown-up Sesame Street? We can always use new ways to explore important messages and, let’s face it, the world needs more puppets.

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