The other night, I watched the documentary “Mortified Nation.” A film about the stage show “Mortified” which, if you haven’t heard of, is basically a platform for adults to share their childhood writings with an audience of strangers. “Mortified Nation” combines performance footage from various shows with details on conception, implementation and production. In the opening scene, a teenager talks about her own private writings in her diary. She discusses this sacred book with reverence and questions; why would ANYONE want to read journal entries out loud to a room full of strangers? And you might be thinking the same thing. Yes, the stories shared by various performers throughout the film were embarrassing but they were also hilarious, deeply relatable and a gentle reminder that no matter who we become, when you get right down to it, we all came from the same place. A childhood where everything that happened was of grave importance when funnelled through a limited life experience.
After reading “The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth,” this documentary really resonated with me both as a reminder of how we should be relating to teens and the emerging geek chic culture which Robinson discusses. As adults, it is easy to brush off the feelings and worries of children as unimportant. But “Mortified” literally spotlights some of the most important moments in these young lives. The performer embodies the younger version of themselves where first kisses, crushes, hatred were BIG. They grapple with emerging sexuality and conflicts with parents and we can relate. Yet, too often, put a real live teen in front of us with these same struggles and we think “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, kid.” Young adults are starting to celebrate themselves (and the dorky childhoods that begot them) and serving as perfect examples for Robinson’s “quirk theory”–the characteristics that make your life terrible as a teen earn you accolades as an adult. For participants of “Mortified” these accolades are real, quantifiable celebrations like applause and laughter. Unsurprisingly, people go to these shows and leave wanting to participate. They want to share the shame. And I’ll be honest, watching the documentary made me want to do the same.
I’m much too flighty to have ever kept extended written accounts of my life. I’m always jealous of the people who have boxes full of nostalgia hidden under their bed. (The mormons are the best at this, aren’t they? Shout out to y’all!) Unfortunately, I’ve moved a lot and every so often I just get an unquenchable urge to throw shit away. I would also rather tell people my secrets then keep them under lock and key. Even an old online journal, tucked away in a forgotten corner of the internet, is gone. Kept for over four years, it would have made some great “Mortified” fodder. My account of every teenage first has disappeared into the ether of now defunct websites from the early aughts. To be real, thinking about it bums me out…more than it maybe should. Of course, I am me –I should know how I felt during those years (which were BIG years: I lived abroad, went to proms, had a couple boyfriends, got into college, won some speech things…lost my dad) but going back to THE exact moment where the emotions, good or bad, had bubbled up to a boiling point so dire that you had to get them out or risk implosion–is different. And I think it’s ok for those of us who didn’t set out to be great life historians to be a little sad we can’t go back. At least not in the same way our peers can who were and are.
I also wonder what “Mortified” would look like in subsequent generations. Now, more than ever before, we are all curators of a very public scrapbook of our own lives. Key word here being public. The “Mortified” performances are so raw because they ARE those secrets we once thought we would die if anyone uncovered. As one performer noted, “ If you’ve got something you feel like you would kill yourself if people found out, there’s no way you can hold on to that.” The advent of social media has completely turned this on it’s head. We are a culture who shares everything–and our youth are not excluded from this practice. We also adapt our accounts for audience. Admit it, we are all guilty of this. Myself included. When I look back at the online scrapbook I’m creating through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. in say, 10 years; will I see various vignettes of the most important moments in my life? Or will I see the moments I thought others would believe were the most important? The moments which would gain me instant gratification through immediate and public peer approval? Perhaps THIS is the very thing that will mortify us in the future. Only time will tell.
Do you have embarrassing journals, letters, song lyrics from your past? Would you ever read them to a room full of strangers? If you’re in the mood for a hearty laugh with a shot to the arm of empathy, I wholeheartedly recommend this documentary, which is now streaming on Netflix.
(Picture of my high school via here. I love that it looks like a faded postcard. Embarrassing high school photos via Facebook by way of Rachel and Matt. : )