Monday, July 21, 2014

Post Peak-Oil Men and the Full Monty

We're theatre people - sort of. We definitely enjoy going to the theatre - the whole family (and my daughters have grown up as both audience members and performers, and behave better at the theatre than some adults) - but we are also involved in other ways. I prefer to be backstage, helping with costuming and make-up, or as part of the theatre crew, ushering or manning the snack bar. Deus Ex Machina and my girls enjoy all aspects of the theatre, including being onstage.

This summer, Deus Ex Machina is performing in the stage production of The Full Monty. My daughters (the youngest of whom is eleven) have participated in the production in a variety of ways, including going to most of the rehearsals with their dad and helping with sewing costumes. My oldest teen helped the choreographer teach the dance steps to the performers, and she is an usher. All three of them have seen the performances multiple times.

Yes, there is male nudity. Yes, there is a lot of language (although I'm a little embarrassed to admit nothing they don't hear from their sailor-mouthed mother). Yes, for the most part, it is an adult-themed production. There are a lot of adult issues that I would rather not expose my children to (including about half of what they saw in Vegas recently), but none of the issues in The Full Monty are things from which they have been sheltered. It's life.

One of the first evenings we were at the show, as we were leaving, one of the audience members (a twenty-something young woman, who was probably a college student, and most definitely not a parent), saw my kids and immediately passed judgment. Her comment was something like, "Some one brought their kids!?!"

I looked at her and said, "Their father is in the show."

She shut up, real fast, and looked appropriately abashed at loudly exclaiming her moral superiority ... and getting caught not knowing nearly as much as she thought she knew, but even if my children's father wasn't in the production, her comment was from a complete place of ignorance.

What bothers me is that the people who are forming these opinions about who should see this production based solely on the fact that there is nudity and swearing must be missing the point of the play. The play is not *about* men who get naked, although the men most certainly do get naked (in the end), and it is not *about* strippers, although there are a few scenes in which men are stripping.

The story is about empowerment. It is about a society that forces men to define their own worth by the job they have or the amount of money they make. It is about men who, in the beginning believe themselves to be "scrap" (the title of the first song in the play), but realize through the course of the story that they actually do have some worth, and not just because they are willing to disrobe in front of a throng of their peers. It's about relationships and gender roles and parenting and friendship and so many nuances of who we are and what we believe ourselves to be that for some person to decide that my children being there is inappropriate shows that she, clearly, missed the point. Take out the nudity and the language and what you have is a story that we should all be hearing - we are worth more than what we do or the money we make.

I have loved this story since I saw the movie (on which the play is based), and when I started listening to the music, I knew I would love the stage production as much as I loved the movie - and I do. My children and I have discussed - at length - what the story is about, and yes, they have now seen men prancing around stage in g-strings and fully naked men (backlit so that their parts are obscured in shadow) on stage. So what? If exposing them to that makes me a bad parent ... well, that's a personal opinion, and there are a lot worse things I could do that are socially acceptable (like allowing my children to eat fast food or watch unrestricted hours of commercial television or go to the Mall unsupervised).

The most important part of the story, though, is what the loss of their jobs does to the men, and that's the part of the story that I really want my daughters to understand.

Several years ago, back when she was still writing at Casaubon's Book, Sharon Astyk had a wonderful piece about gender reactions to hard times. She pointed out that women are often better equipped to handle sudden poverty than men are, and her point in writing the piece was to say that as we slide further into resource depletion men's (and women's, but more so men's) roles in society will change. She argues that men should be redefining themselves, now, to move more into the informal economy and away from these roles defined by their jobs.

As is depicted in the play, The Full Monty, men's esteems are intricately linked to what they do for a living, but when that what they do is challenged by economic collapse, that is, when men lose their jobs, their livelihoods, and, ultimately, their identities, they may find it very difficult to swim out of the mire in which they find themselves. Deus Ex Machina is an engineer, by trade. But he is so much more than his job, and if something happened and he wasn't working as an engineer anymore, I would be heart-broken if he suddenly believed himself worthless. There's so much more to him than being an "engineer", and his worth, as a living being and to our family, far exceeds any numerical values.

This is what I want my daughters to know, and what I want them to learn from The Full Monty, and why I am so thrilled to allow them to see the production. I want them to be able to know that a job does not a person make, and money does not a life build.

For the record, I also took my thirteen year old daughter to see Hair, which has sex, drugs, Rock and Roll, and full frontal nudity, but it's not about those things. It is about a young man's struggle between doing what society expects of him and following his personal moral ideologies.

Sometimes we have look beyond the presentation and listen to the message. That's also what I want my children to learn.


  1. Lovely post, thanks for your thoughts.

  2. I loved the film! Watched it several times. When I took my girls to see Titanic I had to explain the partial nude scene in advance. I talked with them about how artists use nude models, etc. While I wasn't happy about the car/sex scene, we visited about that later. We don't swear much here, so we'd have talked about that...