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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Overclocked: Race to the Bottom

Welcome to another installment of Overclocked, in which I, your humble blogger, think too hard about things for your amusement.

Today I'd like to talk about the direction Pop Culture is taking. Without getting into too much detail, I work in a setting where I'm frequently subjected to radio stations that play whatever crap is currently most popular. Typically, this boils down to the same dozen or so songs repeated six or seven times each during the course of a day.

In retrospect, I can say I took some perverse amusement watching Rihanna, Britney Spears and Katy Perry racing to the bottom of the cultural barrel in the following timeline:

Rihanna releases Rude Boy, a song about rough sex. No euphemism either, though it's explicitness is muted (I like it when you pull my hair/I like it when you touch me there)

Britney Spears, not to be outdone, releases 3, a song about threesomes. Again, this is not veiled with innuendo. The song is explicit and obvious about what's going on.

Rihanna, affronted by this tired, played out performers' attempt to upstage her on the brazen promiscuity front, releases S&M, a song that features the lyrics "Sticks and stones may break my bones but chains and whips excite me."

And, as if to make sure nobody should doubt her cred, she takes these two songs and goes on a tour that features Chris Brown.

Katy Perry, who must have been watching this scuffle with great amusement, trumps all of them, then releases "Extraterrestrial," a song about something that rhymes with pentacle grape, and is again not hiding behind euphemism. It features the lines "You're an alien/you're just too far in/it's supernatural" and a male voice saying "I'm 'a disrobe you/then I'm 'a probe you/ I abducted you/ so I tell you what to do/ I tell you what to do."


Rihanna seems to have taken her defeat in stride, and is taking the "I never wanted to win in the first place" attitude. I say that because her latest song, Man Down, sounds an awful lot like the work of a woman who is trying to disown the reputation for writing two songs about enjoying getting roughed up in the bedroom, and then going on tour to sing the songs with an ex boyfriend who beat her up.

Which is a roundabout way of saying the song has all the trappings of attempting to be deep, without actually being deep.

Man Down is, at it's core, a ripoff of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody that is flavored with, and I'm completely serious here, The Little Drummer Boy.

No, seriously. The refrain literally goes:

Rum bum bum bum
Rum bum bum bum
Rum bum bum bum
Man down.


The basic gist of the song is a woman telling her mother that she killed a man, in public, over a minor disagreement and feels really bad about being having to hide from the law.

Which is where I point out that at least Freddy Mercury's take on this theme was that he'd done it, and would have to face some consequences.

One of the bars in the song that sees a lot of repetition is:

I didn't mean to hurt him
Could've been somebody's son
and I took his heart when
I pulled out that gun


So... if you didn't mean to hurt him, maybe you shouldn't have pulled a gun on him. Just sayin'.

I know, I know. Hindsight and all that.

Also, what is this "could've been somebody's son" nonsense? Every man is somebody's son. It's not like he sprang from the ground fully grown and ready to disagree with Rihanna about a subject she was touchy enough to kill over.

Just because he's made up doesn't mean that your narrative doesn't have to make sense.

Then again, perhaps I expect to much, because another line that sees a lot of repetition is this:

Mama, I just shot a man down
In central station
In front of a big old crowd


So maybe if she's dumb enough to shoot a man dead in front of a crowd of people, maybe we can't assume she's smart enough to know where babies come from. I guess there's some continuity there.

Speaking of repetition, there's a whole lot of that going on. The song lyrics read like an essay by a high school student who can't quite figure out how to fill up a hundred words, so she starts repeating herself. But she repeats herself inartfully, with bars like:

Look, I never thought I'd do it
Never thought I'd do it
Never thought I'd do it, oh gosh
What ever happened to me
Ever happened to me, ever happened to me
Why did I pull the trigger
Pull the trigger, pull the trigger, boom
And end a (racial epithet redacted) end a (racial epithet redacted) life so soon
When me pull the trigger, pull the trigger, pull it 'pon you
Somebody tell me what I'm gonna, what I'm gonna do

Rum bum bum bum
Rum bum bum bum
Rum bum bum bum
Me say wah man down (A weh me say)
Rum bum bum bum
Rum bum bum bum
Rum bum bum bum
When me went downtown

'Cause now I am a criminal, criminal, criminal
Oh lord have mercy now I am a criminal


So, is she a criminal? Because she's being so damn coy about it that I can't tell.

Lyrically, the song is obviously a train wreck, but it does provide some insight into the pop culture mindset. You see, most people working in pop culture as entertainers; singers, actors and the like; tend to be very high on gun control (among other things). When you write songs, you write songs you think people will connect with. You strive to achieve universal understanding.

If you're writing this song, you're idea of the universal experience is that if you have a "simple altercation" (as the lyric in the song describes it) and you have a gun, you will end up shooting somebody. Either you believe this, or you believe it will ring true with a majority of your fans. Art is truth, even bad art.

Seen in this light, it's no wonder Hollywood types want to clamp down on gun ownership. If you think that most people can identify with a mindset that would take an argument and resolve it with a hail of gunfire if only you had the weapons available, then naturally you think that human beings are too dangerous to be trusted with weapons.

I don't know how the song would have played out if Rihanna's character hadn't owned a gun. Presumably she would have reasoned with him, since the volatile addition of a firearm clearly destroyed her ability to foresee consequences for bad behavior.

Or maybe she would have just pushed him in front of a train, but that wouldn't have been a cautionary tale, since nobody thinks we should ban trains. (Some people want them to be privately run, but despite what you might have heard that's not the same thing.)

Most likely, though, she just never would have written the song at all.

Which is probably the best argument for disarmament that I can think of.