Now, I don’t know if you, the reader, have ever had the pleasure of seeing or hearing of a musical by the name of Urinetown (I applaud you if you have), but I think it brings up an interesting moral dilemma that begs to be discussed.
For those unfamiliar with this show (don’t lie to me, you probably are), Urinetown is set in a time of drought that has lasted a long twenty years, and shows no signs of stopping. The town in the show has put in place a system to regulate water usage, the story highlighting one particular aspect of it: toilet regulation. Those in charge can’t let people have private household toilets, and they also can’t have people urinating in the streets, so the Urine Good Company (UGC) sets up public amenities where people need to pay a hefty fee to use the toilets there. And to combat the people’s desire to ignore the public urination laws instead of using the amenities, the penalty for getting caught doing your business anywhere but a public amenity is being sent to the mysterious “Urinetown.”
The story follows those who frequent amenity #9 as they rebel against the UGC by refusing to pay the fee, and using the washroom whenever they want. Of course, this causes conflict with the UGC, but they are eventually overthrown by the revolutionaries. It is revealed throughout the story that the UGC is buying off the legislature so they can do whatever they want and not run into the law. This includes raising amenity fines, the profits, of which, they are using to become fabulously rich, since they have given up on actually trying to find a scientific solution years ago. Furthermore, they have also paid off the police force, which is responsible for sending people to “Urinetown,” but in the words of one of the cops, “there is no Urinetown; we just kill people!”
So, the people of amenity #9 had good reason to take the UGC down, and as the show is coming to a close, things look like they’re going to be good for all in the town. This is soooooooo not the case. The hard truth is that they chose to live good and die fast, using up what little resources they had left in a short period of time, ending the show dead on the stage from dehydration and sickness. Their brief happiness ensured everyone’s death, and the viewer, despite their hate for the UGC, is forced to revaluate the positives of the company and the regime it formed. It is mentioned in a line during the closing number that the UGC was very effective in regulating water consumption, and was able to supply its employees with healthy salaries and good lives that would have lasted for quite a while if not for the revolutionaries. And even though there were people suffering, they were alive, weren’t they?
Herein lies our dilemma, dear reader (if you’re still there), because one is forced to confront two options: Have everyone be happy for a short amount of time (then suffer and die), or have the people suffer a bearable, yet constant amount for a long time and be happy rarely, and experience happiness of a lesser strength than the first option. Otherwise known throughout the show as side “what of today” and “what of tomorrow.”