On August 31, 2019 I went and attended Dear Evan Hansen at The Kennedy Center. The smash Broadway musical deals with a lot of complex themes about social media. This post is just a reflection on the lessons from Dear Evan Hansen as I consider the takeaways.
“Even when the dark comes crashing through, and when you need a friend to carry you, when you’re broken on the ground you will be found.”
“Dear Evan Hansen, today is going to be a great day and here’s why: because today at least you’re you and, well, that’s enough.“
Evan’s final letter to himself
Dear Evan Hansen advertisement at The Kennedy Center
On Saturday night I went to The Kennedy Center and saw the 2017 Tony Award winner for Best Musical and smash Broadway hit called Dear Evan Hansen. The musical was sold out and as I walked into The Kennedy Center I was actually hit up by some people asking if I had an extra ticket to sell. That is the first time something like that happened whenever I saw a Broadway musical. Dear Evan Hansen was written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who are being described as a new Rogers and Hammerstein. In their 30’s these University of Michigan alumni have written other musical scores for film including The Greatest Showman and LaLa Land. This musical put Ben Platt on the map after he was in the Book of Mormon. Its been a sensation that is popular with young people. By the way this is the first time I attended a Broadway show seeing some people wear shorts to the theater. I felt a little overdressed wearing a tie.
Dear Evan Hansen is a musical that touches on modern themes of the 21st century. It addresses issues such as mental illness, social media, suicide, bullying, loneliness, growing up with social media and honesty. Dear Evan Hansen is a story about a letter that was never meant to be seen, a lie that was never meant to be told, and a life Evan never dreamed of having. All of this would give Evan the one thing he has always wanted – an opportunity to connect. Here is a brief summary of the plot. Evan Hansen is a teenager being raised by a single Mom overwhelmed with work and school while dealing with social anxiety. His counselor wants Even to write letters to himself to build up his self esteem. Evan wants to have friends and be connected. So he writes a letter to himself in the library and Connor Murphy, a teenager with issues and into drugs who is a bully, reads the note. He also sees Evan’s comments about his sister Zoe Murphy and he runs with Evan’s private note. Evan pleads for the note to be kept private, and after Connor flees he commits suicide with Evan’s note in his pocket. The Conner family wants to meet with Evan and explain to him that Connor died with this note to Evan Hansen in his pocket. The Murphy’s think that Connor and Evan are friends and are dealing with grief and mixed emotions about their son’s suicide. Evan tells them they were friends and starts to fuel this narrative which the family finds comforting. With an acquaintance false emails that are back dated are created to show this friendship. Evan starts to get the life he wanted. He starts to get friends, the family he wants and eventually his girlfriend. Evan gives this speech about Connor and loneliness for this project called The Connor Foundation which goes viral on social media and Evan’s name takes off. As the lie that Evan told grows he becomes trapped by the narrative. He has access to things that previously he didn’t and he can’t let it go. Eventually Evan comes clean to his own mother who learns how he attempted suicide and was lonely, as she was tied up in her own life. The Murphy family is disappointed that they were mislead, but eventually things work out. Evan overcomes his anxiety and he realizes that life will go well. There are a number of themes dealing with social media that this blog would like to reflect on.
Social Media and Mental Illness
Evan Hansen in the musical is an individual who has social anxiety. One of the issues that I reflected on is how social media and amplify mental illness in some ways. Social media can make such situations worse and far more challenging. If you are struggling to fit in how do you deal with social media which can be challenging? Younger people today in my view have a far more challenging world because of social media than many previous generations. Social media can contribute to more problems especially with issues such as online bullying, awkward social situation and more. One other thought is that many younger people are dealing with mental illness these days. And issues like depression, anxiety, bi-polar and much more can be serious issues for teenagers.
The Importance of Being Honest
In the musical Evan Hansen one of the themes is honesty. It deals with the importance of being honest. Evan Hansen feeds a false narrative that grows and grows and gets out of control. He becomes trapped in his lies especially as he writes more emails to prove a false friendship with Connor Murphy. The best policy in life is that of honesty. One of the problems with lying is that you have to remember the lie and maintain it. It can be exhausting trying to keep up the false story. Honesty is good for all people as lying can also harm people. In this story he Murphy family was also hurt as they were in a state of grief and Evan said quite a bit that was not true. Dear Evan Hansen reminds us that in the age of social media being dishonest can have far reaching consequences.
Should Everything Be on Social Media?
Here is another point to consider. Should everything in a person’s life be posted on social media? Should you be updating Facebook or Instagram with every little detail? Who you are dating? Where you are at? Even details about what you are eating? Sometimes what strikes me about social media is that people are posting about this life that they want to project, and yet their own life can be in a state of chaos. Rebellious kids, alcoholism, depression, having blended families as the result of breakdowns. All this can misleading. Sometimes it puzzles me when I know some families and I see what they post instead. Likewise after blogging for a while I have come to realize that some material should be on social media and other situations should not. There are many people who use social media to affirm their lifestyle or way of life. I never want to be the person who wants to do that. After all can you easily have a friendship with a person who you met on social media? Yes and no, will they accept you for who you are or who they want you to be? That is another challenge that social media brings to people. The internet’s biggest problem in my view is that it can create echo chambers and people fall into that trap.
Situations Can Get Out of Control on Social Media
Dear Evan Hansen is a reminder of how situations can get out of control on social media. It shows the problem of instant fame and fandom. There are a lot of narcissists in the world today and one problem with the internet is that it gives everyone a platform and it begs the question…should they? There are a lot of people who are being used on the internet which troubles me deeply. But have you noticed on social media that there have been situations where several people with large platforms have committed or planned suicide? You can read about that here, here and here. Personally I wonder if the fame and fandom were contributing factors to that tragic end. But there are times that social media can get out of control and that is quite frightening. Plus if that happens when a person is being dishonest that creates more problems as well. With social media comes a lot of responsibility.
Social Media Can Isolate and Leave People Lonely…
One of the drawbacks to social media is that it can leave you lonely. Social media can also cheapen friendship and life in many ways. Having people who come in and out is problematic. Also how reliable can such casual contacts be? When your life is hard or you are in a place of suffering will those people be there for you? Now here is a game changer I predict that this issue will get worse in time. As we enter the age of the mega city and the divide between urban and rural grows loneliness will increase substantially. I have heard from some friends who lived in New York City and they have told me about how lonely it can be there. People move in and out and community is in such flux. This is also true for other urban areas such as Chicago, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Seattle. Where I live in the Washington, D.C. area do you know how many neighbors I have had over the last 12 years? I want to saw its been five or six. Milwaukee and where I grew up in Fresno, California has been different. There the community stays intact and when someone moves into the neighborhood that is a big development and news. But social media can leave people lonely. I was thinking of this in the song “Waving Through a Window.”
…And in Other Instances Social Media Can Connect People
And then there is this flip side as well which makes it complex. Social media can connect people. It can bridge nations, culture and more if people let it. For myself its led to connections here in the United States that have been interesting. Its important to keep things in perspective at all times. Social media can create platforms to allow people to unite. Do you like to grow a certain form of tulips chances are there are mediums that allow you to engage other gardeners who take passion in that. Like to brew beer for a hobby I do know there are platforms that exist. Take any hobby, interest or more and there is social media addressing it. That can be neat in many ways.
Final Thoughts…My Mom and Dad and Theater
As I close this post out I want to spend some time reflecting on my Mom and Dad. I lost both of my parents in 2017 and 2018 back to back. They died much sooner than I thought I would lose them and I am still processing that loss. There are many times I use this blog as a journal to write about grief or loss. My parents felt strongly about musical theater and plays. Mom told me repeatedly about seeing Ethel Merman in Chicago when she was growing up in Call Me Madam. She took my sister to see The Best Little Whorehosue in Texas which was even joked about at Mom’s wake. When I was in junior high in Fresno, California Mom and Dad took me to Los Angeles to see Les Miserables. Both of them explained how important it is to be cultured, educated, and appreciation for the arts. This grew on me over the years and especially in the loss of my parents has become even more important. Dear Evan Hansen is a musical aimed at younger people. And when I was at The Kennedy Center it seemed like most of the people there were young. But Mom and Dad would want me to go see plays and musical theater. I noticed at The Kennedy Center that To Kill a Mockingbird is coming and that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats is playing later in September. My family saw Cats in San Francisco. Mom adored it and loved the music, dancing and costumes. So in honor of my parents I am going to look into getting a ticket for Cats and somehow, someway I know Mom and Dad would smile on me in knowing that I took what they believed to heart.