Saturday, August 11, 2018

Theatre Thoughts - Be More Chill: A Strangely Accurate Analysis of the (Modern) High School Experience

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By: Emma B.

Editor’s note: This is the first article in a series about musicals both the popular and the little known shows.
Part 2: Theatre Thoughts - An Analysis: Grease: Pretty Music Disguised as a Good Musical
Part 3: Theatre Thoughts - The Great Comet Of 1812 + Dear Evan Hansen & The Portrayal Of Mental Health In Musical Theatre

Be More Chill is a musical about high school. Unapologetically about the modern high school. However instead of filling the script with dumb jokes about emojis, Be More Chill gives high schoolers a chance to work through two issues that a teenager faces, the issue of popularity and fitting in. It also gives high schoolers something they normally never get.
It gives high schoolers the fantasy of being able to be amazing and cool in a moment. Yet it also warns high schoolers of the extreme desires of trying to fit in and be part of an identity that isn’t yours. This musical also shows how, surprisingly, both extremes intersect.
And how really; it doesn’t really matter.

The Basics
The basic premise of this musical is that a boy named Jeremy Heere comes into contact with a device known as a Super Quantum Unit Intel Processor or a S.Q.U.I.P. for short. This device starts telling Jeremy how to live his life so that he’ll be popular and more specifically win over the affections of a young girl named Christine.
Now with that premise alone, it doesn’t sound like anything particularly special, just another cute Off-Broadway show. However, where this show starts to gain a new level of narrative depth is not only how the characters interact with each other but how the theme of negative messages in your head begins to come to the forefront.

The Story:
Jeremy’s conflict throughout the show is more than anything a struggle of uniqueness versus popularity and how it affects him and the people around him.
It starts off with Jeremy incredibly insecure about his identity only to then discover the S.Q.U.I.P. through one of the more popular and well-respected boys in his school. His name is Rich. The audience later learns that Rich has a truckload of insecurities as well.
This leads to the theme of voices guiding you during your life and how during high school, the voices in your head can often mislead you in pretty negative directions.
This internal conflict within Jeremy is personified within two characters, Jeremy’s best friend Michael Melle and the S.Q.U.I.P. itself. It is how Jeremy interacts with these two characters that starts to paint his narrative development throughout the show.  

Michael in the Bathroom
Michael Melle personifies two painful elements throughout high school existence, the need to cling to the past despite growing popularity as well as abandoned friendships.
At the beginning of the show, he acts as the supportive best friend of Jeremy who reassures him that he’s okay. In the song Two Player Game Jeremy furthers this point in the line, “Guys like us are cool in college.”  He even tells Jeremy not to believe Rich’s rumors about the S.Q.U.I.P.
However once Jeremy takes the S.Q.U.I.P. pill, the pill starts the slow and painful process of separating Jeremy and Michael. It starts convincing Jeremy that Michael doesn’t care and is only weighing him down. This clearly hurts Jeremy but he blindly conforms to The S.Q.U.I.P. for popularity and also because he thinks getting Christine will solve all his problems.
All of this comes to a head about halfway through the show when Michael confronts him and when Jeremy ignores his warnings about the S.Q.U.I.P and how dangerous it is. Michael breaks down.
In my opinion, this shows, in surprisingly accurate detail, how painful it can be when friends leave you and you do not completely understand why. It makes Michael a relatable character in ways that he wasn’t before. However, it also balances Jeremy’s character.
Yes, in that moment Jeremy is supposed to be so lost that he looks awful yet because of Jeremy’s insecurities and heartbreak over not getting Christine we’re willing to forgive him later when he comes around and makes up with Michael.
I think, this reflects how teenage friendships can be. Teens can care about each other yet can be so lost in nonsense that they forget what’s important. I think this is what makes Michael and Jeremy making up later all the more satisfying. Which brings me to the other primary narrative voice throughout the play, the S.Q.U.I.P.

The S.Q.U.I.P.
I think the S.Q.U.I.P. is the metaphorical embodiment of insecurity. Whenever the S.Q.U.I.P. is mentioned in the show everything in the soundtrack becomes very computerized and technical. The S.Q.U.I.P. itself speaks with very technical terms with little emotion. It is commanding and as the show goes on, it finds more and more ways to take control of Jeremy and those who he cares about.
And yet despite all of that, it isn’t always right about things and I think that is the brutal irony of the S.Q.U.I.P.
Much like real-life insecurities, it seemingly calculates every possible variable and starts altering your life to make things seem better and yet it doesn’t always make things better, in fact most times it doesn’t.
Toward the beginning of the show, The S.Q.U.I.P. only gives Jeremy something of a confidence boost, giving him only small nudges in the direction it thinks he should go. Jeremy becomes more obedient after he disobeyed The S.Q.U.I.P. once. The disobedience? Jeremy simply wanted hang out with his friend.
After Christine, Jeremy’s crush flat-out rejects him in favor of another boy the S.Q.U.I.P. goes into complete overdrive. it pushes Jeremy into befriending the popular girls in school and abandoning Michael. All of this ultimately leads to Jeremy losing his friend and scaring away his love interest. It’s only when he realizes that The S.Q.U.I.P. is just using him and his class to infect everyone with its programming that Jeremy starts fighting back.

Warning: Spoiler Alert! If you don’t want to know what happens to the S.Q.U.I.P. skip to the next section of this article: In Summary.

This idea of the S.Q.U.I.P. embodying insecurity is further supported by the fact that Mountain Dew Red and Jeremy with Michael embracing his inner nerd is what ends up destroying The S.Q.U.I.P.  

In Summary
I think Be More Chill is an amazing allegory for teenage insecurity. Whether it be figuring out your sexuality, trying to be popular or keeping friends, it doesn’t matter. Being a teenager is hard and something coming along and seemingly providing all the answers is a teenager’s perfect fantasy. However, what makes Be More Chill good is that not only that is it a funny musical but that it also points out the flaws in such a fantasy.
I think, it points out that if we give up ourselves for popularity, we’re not really human anymore. We’re just a shell of our former selves which at the end of the day, is just as unhealthy as anything else.
The show also points out that hearing so many conflicting voices in your head is completely normal but the most important voice in your head is your own.
So go out there, play video games and live your life. Ultimately the voices in your head don’t define you, your thoughts can’t control you. Only you making smart and well-guided choices can control who you are.


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