Sunday, January 18, 2009

Mo' money, mo' existential crises

You know, I think I know which song represents America's current mood, the mix of strange hopefulness and fear, of schadenfreude and bitterness.

"Whatever You Like" by T.I.

It's  a song about a handsome, charismatic stranger sweeping you off your feet and giving you everything you could ever want. The lyrics explicitly say that you'll never need to depend on anyone else, totally cut loose from the world around you. 

This song is made even more complicated by the video (which I can't find on Youtube at the moment), which posits the whole thing as a dream sequence, ending with the heroine resuming her duties at a demeaning fast food job with a free-loading boyfriend. T.I. positions himself as a man to make your dreams come true, but he won't actually act on that ability. The whole thing reminds me of the Mr. Show videos for Three Times One Minus One, in which the R&B duo's appearances are sentimental wish-fulfillment for the group, with the object of desire shoved back into her tragic life at the end of each video.

On top of this, on the album Paper Trail, "Whatever You Like" is sequenced to follow "Live Your Life", whose lyrics exhort people to live their life and not chase money or wish for a different life. Doesn't this sum up the great contradiction of the modern American dream? We all want to be an amazing unique success, but with that success conferred by shortcuts or outsiders and expressed in the most conformist ways.

And don't get me started on the cover versions. Weird Al's parody is a fairly straightforward transformation of T.I.'s melodramatic sentiments into a low-rent absurdity that ends up representing people's imagined fearful definition of the new "luxury". [I recently saw a Target ad which proclaimed a 19 dollar Target tie the "new power suit" and a vial of sunless tanner as the "new vacation". So our desires are transferred to acquisition, just on a more pitiful level striving to mimic the rich who can afford the real items. Why not establish our own ]

Meanwhile, Moby issued a cover version [see January 14th entry] that turns it into a piece of neurotic Euro-trash duet a la "Southside" or late '70's Iggy Pop. Our narrator sounds bored with his wealth and luxury, with the limitless opportunity paralyzing him. His relationship with his partner occasionally rises into some simulation of passion, but then pulls back from the emotion, finally sliding into inertia. They pull each other into a quicksand of meaningless sex and expensive liquor. The claims of "long as you got me you won't need nobody" sound desperate, as if each fears the other will abandon him/her for a meaningful life. It's luxury as a suicide pact, a downward spiral of consumption that will end in either spiritual or financial bankruptcy.
Yay, America!


Serena said...

We are glad that you like our blog so much. Just a big fan of the classics?

Mr. K said...

I do enjoy classic literature, even though, to be honest, I have much less time to read period these days. But between English classes and reading up on classical drama and just nerdery, I have covered a good portion of your books in the past.

Leigh Walton was the one that tipped me off to your blog. He and I went to high school together, where we were co-presidents of Latin club. So my love of classics goes way back.

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