I recently watched the new Tim Burton version of Alice in Wonderland (loved it, by the way!) and I have been listening to my musical soundtracks, including Wicked and Monty Python’s Spamalot, and one thing that has become clear to me is that we live in an age of Deconstructionism. It’s all around us, it has become a part of the way we view the world and has changed the way we think about things. Deconstructionism, for those of you who have not recently had a Literary Criticism class, is a philosophy dealing with, almost literally, ‘deconstructing’ the world around us. This philosophy involves questioning all assumptions and breaking things apart into their most basic forms to see why they are the way they are. It also deals with recognizing that everything is constructed, and can therefore be taken apart, which means that it has a lot of self-referencing material, to make the audience aware of the fact that life is constructed.
Wicked and this new Alice in Wonderland are prime examples of Deconstructionism, as they take classic stories that we are all already familiar with (The Wizard of Oz and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, respectively) and reimagines the story in a completely different way. It challenges the assumptions of the audience, forcing them to look at things in a new way. With Wicked, it takes the assumption of ‘who is the heroine and who is the villain’ and deconstructs it, takes it apart. Wicked is the story of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, but by making her the protagonist, and telling her story before she became the Wicked Witch, she becomes the sympathetic character, our heroine. Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland does something similar, it retells the classic story, but in a totally different way, challenging our preconceived notions about what the story is.
Spamalot, on the other hand, deconstructs not only the traditional legend of King Arthur and his quest for the Holy Grail, but it tears apart the Broadway musical as well. Each of the songs in the musical are parodies of typical Broadway songs, and some are even so self-referential that the audience realizes that the Broadway musical, as an art form, is a constructed version of reality. One of my favorite songs is called “The Song That Goes Like This”, the lyrics describe all of the clichés of Broadway songs while the two actors sing a song that mimics those self-same clichés. For example they sing, “I’ll sing it in your face , While we both embrace, And then we change the key, Now we’re into E! *ahem* That’s awfully high for me, But as everyone can see ,We should have stayed in D, For this is our song that goes like this! ” As we enjoy this song, we realize just how constructed most Broadway musicals are, and by extension, just how constructed most our relationships in life are.
But these three examples are not the only ones. I see it all around me, in television and in movies, and if you pay attention, you’ll start to see it everywhere, as well. Characters who make reference to clichés while they are acting them out, revisitation of classic fairy tales (like Shrek or Hoodwinked did), it’s all over the place. And that raises the question, what kind of society are we when everything has been deconstructed? It seems like more and more of the newest movies coming out are simply deconstructions of previous films or novels or ideas. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I personally loved the new Alice in Wonderland, I loved the new Batman movies, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, both great deconstructions of the Batman legend. I just wonder, Where do we go from here? What stories are there left to be deconstructed? And when do we start constructing new stories for future generations to deconstruct?