I gave Dan his belated anniversary present on Saturday night. For our sixth anniversary, I gave him tickets to see Spamalot, which was making a stop in Seattle on its national tour. Ever since its first appearance on Broadway, Dan has been anxious to see a performance, and he finally had his chance this weekend.
We re-watched the movie in all its ridiculousness to prepare for the show. Those familiar with the cult-classic will fondly recall such vivid phrases as “I fart in your general direction” and the ever memorable “I’m not dead yet.”
If you lack taste and moral decency enough to love the movie, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy the musical. The writers made some clever additions to the script that tied the plot together a lot better (which helps the English teacher in me rest easier), and a new scene referencing the need to have Jews in any successful Broadway show had Dan and I rolling in the aisles. Also, if you didn’t think the French taunting scene could get any more disturbing or over the top, you were wrong (click here to see a decent re-enactment of the original with legos).
While I didn’t intend to write a review of the show here, I suppose one can’t exactly help remarking on the overall success of the production. My overall intent here is to draw attention to something that happened mostly during intermission, when the actors weren’t on the stage and people weren’t focused on medieval knights parading around with coconuts. Instead, the show was taking place in the audience.
Once the curtain went down and the lights went up, I watched as all around me, people immediately removed their concealed cell phones and computer like devices. The man sitting next to me produced a phone/pda device that was truly astounding in its technological advancements. Within a short amount of time, he was busily watching a bootlegged copy of the Transformers movie on its mini screen. Two rows over, a couple were playing on their hand-held Nintendo. I saw a Mario like creature jumping around the screen. Three seats to my left, a man produced his cell phone and began talking very loudly to someone, who I immediately understood was sitting on the other side of the theater. He began waving to her, and she waved in return, and they resumed their conversation for several minutes during the fifteen minute intermission.
It never occurred to these people to get up and walk to each other, stretch their legs perhaps, and engage in some form of actual human interaction. Instead, they all relied on their personal entertainment devices to continue what the stage before them had temporarily suspended.
Dan and I sat there dumbfounded, mouths agape, watching the people around us in this new performance, much more shocking than the one we’d seen on the stage. Part of us had the “we’re not in Kansas any more Toto” response, since this sort of thing never happened to us in Vermont. Leave it to Seattlites to bring their computers to the theater.
I won’t be the one to cast the first stone here. I’m notorious for getting out my Palm Device while in the grocery line or while waiting to get my car serviced. In addition, books serve as my ultimate form of time killers. I’m rarely outside of 10 feet from one that I could dive into for a good hour or two. Dan jokes that we have piles of books in every room, incase I happen to stop there and need something to occupy myself.
We want to be continually entertained, and our little, portable, digital devices allow us to never interrupt the constant stream of images that distract us from the worries and thoughts of life. Seattle isn’t a unique place in this aspect, we just happen to be a little more technologically savvy than the rest of the country. It’s not even a matter of the time we live in, even though Baby Boomers love to point the finger at Gen-Xers as the entertainment junkies.
My pastor seems to have this issue at heart at the moment as well, since his most recent blog post addresses a variation on the topic. He comments on how people can’t seem to unplug their electronics while on vacation these days. It’s harder and harder for people to truly go on vacation. Click here to read the post.
Even though it seems like the problem is new to our generation, the struggle is as old as mankind itself. Back in the 17th century, long before the invention of mobile phones and Ipods, French philosopher Blaise Pascal recognized the root of this problem: “I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber” (Pensees, II, 139). He means that we turn to noise and amusement to distract ourselves from the sorry fact that we can’t stand to be alone with our own thoughts. We seek diversion from ourselves and our sinful nature.
There’s a bit of irony in my Spamalot situation, and I doubt anybody in the crowd picked it up but the nerdy English instructor in the back of the theater. The word SPAM, in its modern meaning, refers to unsolicited e-mail, pictures, videos, or text that clogs up ones digital devices. Basically, SPAM keeps our computers so busy that they can’t function properly. It’s a word that got it’s meaning from a Monty Python skit about the canned meat SPAM, and a restaurant that only serves it. In the skit, we’re inundated with all Spam, all the time (click here to watch it online). At the theater, watching the show Spamalot, and during the intermission, people were “spamming” themselves, to the extent that one wonders if they’re too clogged up with SPAM to do anything else worthwhile with their lives.
Do you SPAM a lot, too much perhaps?