Dear Evan Hansen, Here are 13 Reasons Why...

Dear Evan Hansen, Here are 13 Reasons Why...
*Spoiler Alert
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Ben Platt as Evan Hansen, photo by Matthew Murphy
Like many, I instantly fell in love with the new musical "Dear Evan Hansen". I passively listened to the music for about a month just enjoying the melody, guitar riffs, and lyrics. I started to piece the story together, but I didn't really pay attention to the theme until I binged on the show "13 Reasons Why" on Netflix, a show that hit me hard as a father, as a male, and as an overall human being. I jumped back into the music of Evan Hansen and the pain took root. 

Both Evan Hansen and 13 Reasons tackle teenage suicide, a theme that is not new, but has struck a chord in me as of late. Suicide is lonely, a personified version of Zeno's paradox (the belief that two objects never really touch). The choice of suicide as presented in both of these shows is a result of invisible person-hood. Connor Murphy (Dear Evan Hansen) and Hannah Baker (13 Reasons Why) feel invisible for different reasons. While Hannah leaves behind tapes expressing "13 reasons" why she took her life, it was ultimately due to her traumatizing rape that isolated her identity. And with mystery surrounding Connor's death, we can infer from Evan's own failed suicide attempt that Connor isolated himself because he felt misunderstood and thought would be able to "disappear" without anyone truly noticing. 

My soul weeps for these characters because they resonate with so many real people. The popularity for Evan Hansen is not just due to the catchy beats or well rounded acting, but to the fact that people really do feel invisible. In a world of 8 billion? How can that be? 

The question that these shows ask is; "Do we matter?" With so many people in the world, it's easy to feel that your own uniqueness is drowned out. We look to imitate not the people with the best qualities, morals, or courage, but the ones who are most popular simply because they are not invisible to anyone. They are seen! Yet, even the most celebrated may still fall into this isolation (I.e. Robin Williams, Michael Jackson, Richard Simmons).  

Underneath the invisibility cloak that the world throws on us, our inner selves still define our existence, expressing our identity through "spiritualized matter". We cannot see that which is invisible unless through that which is visible, namely our own bodies. Hanna's suicide is presented as a release of invisible pain, something that she quietly (almost peacefully even) drifts away from. It showcases life as a prison sentence and the body as the incarceration of the mind, but never discusses the spiritual. Even Evan Hansen avoids the the spiritual element of the human person. That's where my pain sat for several weeks. I understand that religion has become tainted for so many, but you don't have to be religious to know that there is something hidden deep inside of you that cannot really be explained. There is an energy source that, rather than isolating us, intimately connects us. Call it your soul, spirit, God, or authentic self, but something is there that sets us apart. 

"Dear Evan Hansen's" solution to suicide: a stable support network. Evan starts a campaign for Connor to remind people that "no one deserves to disappear", playing on invisible person-hood. The campaign goes viral and inspires thousands. "13 Reasons Why's" solution to suicide: standing up against the culture of rape. The transformative hero of the show, Clay, literally stands up to Hannah's rapist and secures a confession from him after taking a brutal beating. 

There comes a responsibility when watching these shows, to not allow suicide to appear glamorous (as in the show Heathers). 13 Reasons portrays suicide as a way to get revenge on your enemies and Evan Hansen showcases it as a way to capitalize on one's own anxiety. We must remember that even if we feel invisible, we are not. We should draw out the invisible spirit of our uniquely unrepeatable selves. It is through our physicality that our invisible identity is seen. The best parts of us are hidden, only to be revealed through our physical choices, voices, actions, expressions, ideas, etc. 

Suicide is lonely. You are not alone. You are loved, whether you feel it or not. Open up your invisible wounds to several people you trust, not just one person, that way you don't put the weight of your existence on the response of someone who may not understand how you feel. Build a support network and remind yourself that you matter. No one deserves to disappear. Life is a tragically beautiful play and you have your role in it. Ask what it is. You may not fulfill that role for many years from now, but you can never bask in the spotlight of your destiny if you skip rehearsal.  

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