SHIT! The Musical
a review by Marissa Putnam, New York Times
“Shit. It’s everywhere. In the air you breathe. In the water you drink. Yes, you’re full of it. And not just metaphorically.”
Thus begins Rudolph Eisenberg’s newest Broadway production, SHIT! The Musical Based on his well-received documentary of the same name released last year, SHIT! The Musical explores Eisenberg’s philosophy of elegant nihilism, with a scatological flare that will make you laugh as much as it nauseates. Yes, the rumors are true: you will see actors leave steaming piles, live on stage.
But that is the point you see. “Life is shit,” lead actor Jared Cantwell intones, echoing Eisenberg’s words from the documentary. “You are shit. Your mother shat on you when she gave birth. You can’t escape it. Shit is everywhere.”
If this does not sound uplifting, it’s because that is the point. Eisenberg has no need for transcendence or beauty. While some artists look for the silver lining in the baser aspects of life, SHIT! takes a different approach: there is no silver lining, because the human species is a disgusting aberration, a fluke, a blight on the face of Mother Earth. There is no catharsis in SHIT!, except for perhaps the actors’ whose bowel movements are the focal point of the show. No, what we get is a rumination on mankind’s insignificance in an uncaring universe that could snuff out all existence if it chose to.
SHIT! wallows in the gutter. It revels in it. The gutter is the point, you see. “We are nothing,” Eisenberg told Variety last week. “You, sitting right there asking me questions. Me, sitting here, answering them. It’s all pointless. At the end of the day, we’re no better than the shit that comes out of us. Worse, actually, because the shit at least fertilizes the soil. We just consume, consume, consume.”
Ending with an ode to depopulation, SHIT! will make you laugh at the same time you seriously contemplate suicide. Which again, to Eisenberg, is the entire point. It’s a hysterical, disgusting, and smelly production that will make you think nasty thoughts about yourself and your man. And in a world with too much insincere, cloying mawkishness, SHIT!’s subversive honesty is a refreshing blast of hot air right in your face.
SHIT! The Musical plays at the American Airlines Theater this Thursday at 8:00 p.m.
* * *
Do you feel insignificant against the weight of the universe? Does the vastness of the cosmos and the uncaring nature of nature make you feel like a little speck on the ass-end of existence?
If not, why not? What’s your problem?
You are made of stardust, and that’s beautiful, except for the fact that you’re nothing and nothing matters in the end, so do whatever you want so you can become another bit of stardust floating in the ether.
This is deep, philosophical stuff, because weird black science guy in a vest and creepy white science guy in a lab coat said so on TV.
* * *
I was psyched to see 28 Days Later after catching the trailer at some point in 2002. It looked like a zombie movie with style: A guy wakes up in a London hospital to find the entire city abandoned save for a horde of bloodthirsty zombies? And these zombies weren’t slow-moving, shambolic wrecks, but could really book it after their prey?
Sign me up!
The movie itself was pretty fun. Blood, yes. Fast-paced, sure. And highly stylized. I appreciated that. Except the denouement left me cold, as the movie ground to a halt in the second half. Our protagonist and the woman and little girl he travels with find a bunch of British military guys in a relatively secure safehouse. All is well and good, save for their zombified comrade they keep chained up in the yard. But here’s where the movie lost me: the soldiers decide to have their way with the woman and young girl, and when the hero objects, they try to get rid of him.
You see, the humans are the real bad guys.
This is such a boring trope that it’s become a parody. And while I don’t think it’s exclusive to the zombie genre, it seems very prevalent in it. I’m not sure if we can blame George Romero for this, as I have not seen Night of the Living Dead and its subsequent sequels save for Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, but that basically had the same message. This is also the reason why I never bothered watching The Walking Dead. The title refers to the human survivors, man! Don’t you get it? It’s like Lord of the Flies, but with zombies! Our nature is bad, and we’ll always do the wrong thing in a crisis.
As an aside, I read some of The Walking Dead comics my sister let me borrow when the show came out, and I found it a stellar example of comic books being the medium for writers who can’t write to find work. The characters were so unlikeable and made the stupidest decisions possible that it took me completely out of the story.
I’m not against subtext or symbolism in fiction. In fact, I’m all for it. Most of the best writing has a depth beyond “Something happened, and then something else happened, and isn’t that cool?” But when the subtext is uniformly so negative, it’s hard not to discern a sinister motive behind the nastiness.
* * *
You have to ask yourself why this sort of gloomy despair and utter contempt for humanity’s potential for virtue is the prevailing norm among so much of our culture. The powers that be have a hard-on to make us feel like we, and nothing we do, matters?
What’s the end game?
Like so much else about the twenty-first century, it takes Biblical precepts, inverts them, and presents them as virtue. Life is not a precious gift, but a virus on the natural world. There is no immortal soul, so do whatever it takes to acquire worldly pleasures, riches, and power. What you do in life has no consequences after you die, so if you can get away with it, go for it. Do what thou wilt.
Even if you are not a Christian, you live in a culture that until fairly recently was Christian, and it had been good to you. It also created great art, literature, music, and architecture. This is because the people who made this art, literature, music, and architecture were searching for something more than . . . well . . . shit.
Their eyes were up to the heavens, and not down in the sewer.
If you take away the ineffable, the inevitable result is a celebration of the more fecal aspects of our nature.
Science gets into the act as well. Popularizers of the “IFLS!” crowd enjoy nothing more than rubbing your supposed insignificance in your faces. It leads one to wonder if, life is as meaningless as these purveyors of nihilism like to say, why do any of them bother staying alive? And don’t give me the “inborn instinct for self-preservation as an evolutionary survival mechanism” nonsense, because these same people push plenty of self-destructive behaviors on the rest of us.
In fact, a lot of these people make large sums of money peddling despair. “Don’t reproduce, or the Earth will boil us all to death!” they warn, or something like it, while jetting from conference to conference in their private jets.
So they’re hypocrites. Great, I’m glad we’ve gotten that out of the way. But the question, as always, remains why?
Why do we have a culture that celebrates your meaningless and death? Why are you supposed to do with less and be happy about it? Why are you not supposed to have children and, in fact, voluntarily go extinct?
What are they up to? And why do they smuggle these messages into our stories?
Why are we the real monsters?