Do better.

So, we saw Shrek: The Musical today at the high school. It was totally impressive in terms of production. The music, the acting, the singing, the costumes, sets, lighting — it was all better than any other school performance I’ve ever seen and better even than some “professional” productions. I was actually pretty blown away by the talent in our little town.
As a show, however? A wicked bummer. Admittedly, I’d never seen or heard or read anything about the musical. I’d always found the premise of the movie a little off-putting (You’re beautiful to me because I love you, but you’re pretty much hideous to everyone else (when Fiona is an ogre)/I’m falling in love with you, despite your looks (when she’s a “beautiful princess”)  and I suspected this theme would carry through to the musical. But what I didn’t expect was just how actually offensive and hateful some of the lyrics would be.
Like these lyrics from “Don’t Let Me Go”:
You and me, we belong together.
Like butter and grits,
Like kibbles and bits,
Like yin and yang,
Sturm and Drang,
Like Eng and Chang, attached at the hip
But not an old lady hip that might break
I’m gonna be on you like a fat kid on cake!
I mean, the conjoined twins joke aside (which is pretty crappy) there’s a “fat kid on cake” joke. Really? The best they could come up with to draw a laugh was to perpetuate the stereotype that fat kids can’t stay away from baked goods? (And, not for nothing, but my kid, whom the school nurse seems to think is underweight — a blog post for another day — loves cake more than anyone I’ve ever met.)
Then there’s this one from the same song:
DONKEY (spoken):
Like Cupid and Psyche, like pop rocks and Mikey,
we’ll stick together like that Velcro stuff, I’m the fuzzy side; you’ll be the spiky.
Ooh! Like little kids and pajamas with those funny things at the bottom, you know, feeties.
Like donuts and’ oh, what goes with donuts’
DONKEY:
Donuts and diabetes!
Do I really need to unpack this one? Two things inextricably linked? Kids and footie pjs. The two sides of Velcro. A pastry and a disease. Obviously.
And here’s this from “When Words Fail”:
Oh look the moon
Is out tonight
You remind me of that moon
Because it’s big and bright
And by big I don’t mean chubby
Obviously you’re not fat
But your personality is biggish
Is what I meant by that
Sorry ’bout that fat thing,
I’m on the hefty side myself
I have to blame the gene pool
Ok, first of all, if he’s talking about loving her for who she is and finding her beautiful inside and out, why is he obsessed with describing her physicality? I thought it didn’t matter. I thought that was the message. And second of all, why is fat an insult? (I mean, this is rhetorical; I know why the world thinks fat is an insult.) Why wouldn’t he have called her a redhead by mistake and tried to wiggle his way out of that? And why does he have to qualify his calling her fat by calling himself fat, too? And why does her personality have to biggish? Why ish? why can’t she have a big personality and have that be admired? Again, all rhetorical. I get it.
And then, finally, in “Finale”, Fiona says:
You take me as I am
Love me as I look
Standing here in all my glory
I am sweetness
I am bratty
I’m a princess
I’m a fatty
I’m a mess of contradictions in a dress
I’m glad you’ve gotten to a point where you’re cool with who you are, Fiona. Except you haven’t. You’re cool because someone loves you anyway. Despite your perceived hideousness. And that doesn’t give you the kind of ownership over “fatty” that I say needs to exist before you use it so cavalierly. There’s way too much body hatred, way too many insults, way too little self-acceptance in the lyrics of this show for anyone to be at the point where owning “fatty” as a self-description feels ok to someone who actually is one.
Obviously, there’s a lot more in the lyrics that are problematic, too, (like when the Big, Bad Wolf laments being called a “hot ‘n tranny mess”) and I think we’re all expected to overlook it because it’s a cute show for kids. Right.
So, again. I enjoyed myself today. My kid and his pals enjoyed themselves, too. And the high schoolers and everyone involved in the production did a stunning job. But y’know, shame on you, writer of the book and lyrics. Do better.
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