Bunkerville: Humor and the Post-Apocalypse

by Audrey Bowers, Ball State University

Bunkerville is a satirical, post-apocalyptic musical created by Mark Sonnenblick and Brendan Ternus. The musical was performed on Ball State’s campus in the Fall of 2017, running from October 20th – 28th. Bunkerville is about a journalist named Steve who reports the latest news of the underground bunker in which he lives. His main desire is to leave the bunker someday and to win the Golden Pen, which is the highest award that a journalist can receive. Steve is very hardworking and motivated, but there’s one problem: each and every one of his co-workers hate him because he’s self-centered. In an attempt to get rid of him once and for all, they fake an announcement from a living, breathing person above ground, which sends Steve on a journey to report from the surface. There he meets a violent woman named Fluffy carrying a machine gun, mutants who were created from the nuclear holocaust, and eventually a woman named Grace and the mother earth cult of which she is a member.

Steve discovers that this cult wants to launch a nuclear weapon at Bunkerville, his beloved home, because of the technology that the underground bunker uses. The mother earth cult doesn’t like the technology because it had fueled the apocalypse and because they had to deal with the feces from Bunkerville’s plumbing. The musical follows Steve in his pursuit of finding the truth about who he is, the people he works with, and the people he meets along the way as he explores the world outside of the bunker.

The musical handles the post-apocalyptic world in humorous ways by commenting on contemporary workplaces and stereotypes within the post-apocalyptic genre itself, such as a lack of diversity in main characters. The workplace at the beginning of the musical is oddly similar to some of the workplaces that we have in our own time, yet it is uncanny because it is underground. The characters who work in the news room do not seem to have any hope at all due to an announcement that it might not ever actually be safe to leave the bunker. This is humorous because what news is there to be covered after the end of the world? It doesn’t seem like there is much, but Steve is ever so eager to report on anything and everything anyways. This shows the role of work in our every day lives, never ending even after the fact that the world has ended.

Steve is a mediocre Caucasian male, a figure who is featured quite often in post-apocalyptic literature and fiction. The narrators, three women who are dressed up as if they were from World War II, joked about how they could’ve had a diverse character or a young strong heroine, but they settled for the main character Steve who is, quite frankly, your average conceited white male. There are many post-apocalyptic movies with white male leads such as Mad Max, Zombieland, and 28 Days Later.

In this way, the play is satirizing and critiquing a common trope in post-apocalyptic entertainment, which would be lack of diversity. It’s meant to make people laugh because of its truth while not necessarily having to confront that truth or do anything to change it. It also satirizes capitalism by how these people are still working, even when the world as we once knew it doesn’t exist. It also satirizes nuclear fallout by saying that there’s not much that these characters can do in this situation.

The musical was full of puns, strange body language, and music that, overall, did not force audience members to think about the complex issues that the musical portrayed. A distinct lyric at the beginning of the musical was about preparing for a nuclear bomb: “put your head between your knees and kiss your ass goodbye.” Being exploded to pieces by a nuclear bomb is not something that anyone would enjoy. This leads to the question: why someone would want to satirize such a serious event?

Even though Bunkerville is not about the zombie apocalypse but rather about nuclear fallout, Stephanie Boluk and Wylie Lenz’s theory on zombie apocalypses is still applicable because similar anxieties that are found in zombie apocalypse fictions are also applicable to the circumstances of nuclear fallout: “It’s not so much that the zombie apocalypse encapsulates anxieties about race, or the atom bomb, or recent financial meltdown; it’s that the zombie encapsulates anxieties about race and the atom bomb and the recent financial meltdown” (Boluk and Lenz 9). Laughing at apocalyptic events, such as nuclear fallout, can easily mask the underlying anxieties that apocalyptic fiction explores by turning it into a joke rather than a serious and deadly possibility.

Bunkerville specifically addresses issues of race, capitalism, and nuclear fallout and the anxieties that come along with these topics by playing with tropes of the post-apocalyptic genre. The culmination of the musical leaves viewers wondering how they could laugh at such atrocious events. At first, laughing at nuclear fallout feels like a helpful coping mechanism, yet laughing will not actually be helpful when such an event arises. This is what viewers should reflect upon after leaving their theatre seats rather than how humorous the show was.

Bunkerville’s satirizing of the post-apocalypse and very real events happening in history such as the Cold War is inappropriate due to this country’s history and also due to current events that could lead to a present-day nuclear fallout. Rather than prompting viewers to take action, it soothes anxiety, provides comfort, and delivers an escape from modern-day anxieties of nuclear war. The production is continually playful about everything, including even its ending when the female narrators admit that they aren’t quite sure what happened to Steve and Fluffy or if they actually went through this ordeal in the first place. In the end, we are left with thinking that this story might not have actually happened in the first place due to this lack of resolution. As a result, viewers may feel like such an apocalypse is very unlikely to happen because of the level of humor, sarcasm, and fictionalization of the musical. This is not the kind of art that will lead viewers to do anything to better the world in which they live.

 

Works Cited

Boluk, Stephanie, and Wylie Lenz. Generation Zombie: Essays on the Living Dead in Modern

Culture. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland, 2011. Print.

Sonnenblick, Ternus. Bunkerville. 2017.