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A Society Without Standards

Mary LambertI would sooner be dragged through the fires of hell twice than watch any of the ridiculous, self-congratulatory Hollywood awards shows, so I did not see the Beyonce performance everyone is talking about today. I gather from Mollie Hemingway’s excellent article that Beyonce, a woman who has made a fortune by a) looking pretty, b) singing, and c) dancing on stage with women dressed up as sex objects is now calling herself a feminist. Apparently, you can do literally anything and call yourself a feminist these days.

It got me thinking about a conversation I had with a friend who’s slightly older than I am who relayed that at his workplace, they often got together socially on Friday evenings to have a “movie night.” One of these nights he got to choose the movie and he selected the 80s classic Heathers about high school cliques gone awry. Later, this friend relayed to me that the movie flopped with the under-25 crowd that was present for a simple reason: “These kids now don’t even have a frame of reference for that move – there’s no such thing as social strata anymore. There’s no jocks, no drama geeks, no band nerds, no stoners, it’s all just the same nowadays, just one amalgamated mass of indifference.”

All of this came bubbling to the top as I was driving around with my 13 year old son this weekend listening to the horrible music that comes on his favorite pop station and I heard a song that caused me more old-man-dismay than any other I’d ever heard. Shazam informed me that the name of the song was “Secrets” by someone named Mary Lambert. For those of you who are fortunate enough to have never heard of either, please don’t make the mistake of loading this song on your Spotify or iTunes – it has nothing to recommend it musically to anyone over the age of 15; however, the lyrics are as follows:

I’ve got bi-polar disorder
My s***’s not in order
I’m overweight
I’m always late
I’ve got too many things to say
I rock mom jeans, cat earrings
Extrapolate my feelings
My family is dysfunctional
But we have a good time killing each other[Pre-Chorus:]
They tell us from the time we’re young
To hide the things that we don’t like about ourselves
Inside ourselves
I know I’m not the only one who spent so long attempting to be someone else
Well I’m over it[Chorus:]
I don’t care if the world knows what my secrets are (secrets are)
I don’t care if the world knows what my secrets are (secrets are) So-o-o-o-o what
So what
So what
So whatI can’t think straight, I’m so gay
Sometimes I cry a whole day
I care a lot, use an analog clock
And never know when to stop
And I’m passive, aggressive
I’m scared of the dark and the dentist
I love my butt and won’t shut up
And I never really grew up[Pre-Chorus]They tell us from the time we’re young
To hide the things that we don’t like about ourselves
Inside ourselves
I know I’m not the only one who spent so long attempting to be someone else
Well I’m over it[Chorus:]
I don’t care if the world knows what my secrets are (secrets are)
I don’t care if the world knows what my secrets are (secrets are)
So what
So what
So what
So what
I don’t care if the world knows what my secrets are (secrets are)
I don’t care if the world knows what my secrets are (secrets are)
So what
So what
So what
So what(I don’t care if the world knows what my secrets are)
So what
So what
So what
So what

I know a lot of parents are concerned about sex, drugs, and violent themes in music. There’s definitely something to that. Personally, I find that a lot of that is really just playing off the rebellion inherent in adolescence which tends to fade away as people grow up, get married, and have kids of their own. On the other hand, I find this ridiculous leveling attitude to be infinitely more corrosive to a well-ordered society – this notion that there is no such thing as good or bad in terms of anything, whether it be appearance, behavior, personality, or achievement. There is only different and equally good. And while promiscuity, drugs, and violent culture are definitely dangerous and shouldn’t be encouraged especially in young people, they tend to be largely (albeit not entirely) transient dangers in the grand scheme of life. The effacement of the ideal of a successful and productive member of society is a much more permanent danger, because this ideal is what ultimately succeeds in pulling most people out of the wasteful rebellions of their youth, at least eventually. If that ideal dies, much of society’s ability to ensure order through the enforcement of social norms dies with it, and order must increasingly be enforced instead by an overbearing and increasingly well-armed state. The experience of Ferguson cries out against this as a viable solution.

I realize that this specific complaint walks a very narrow line. Marching to the beat of your own drummer, at least to a certain extent, is a uniquely American ideal, and one that largely gave birth to our nation and our national identity. However, there is a difference between channeling inventiveness and even eccentricity into productive living and the celebration, as in the song above, of total indifference towards personal improvement or meaningful contribution to society. Maybe instead of saying that we should hide the things we don’t like about ourselves, we could say that we can make at least an effort to change those things about ourselves? Loudly telling people to just be happy with the results of their bad personal choices and expecting society to find you equally likeable/attractive/charming no matter what your personal attributes are is no kind of answer at all.

Mary Lambert, whoever she is, appears to have been the one in ten million who stumbled bass ackwards into fame and celebrity despite marginal talent, so it’s fine for her that she can brag about being lazy and not care about the effects of antisocial tendencies; for most people, following this life advice is a good way to perennial employment at minimum wage (combined with inevitable tiresome wheedling about how the government should make sure that you’re better compensated for your special unique snowflakiness).

It’s a real sickness that we have as a society that Mary Lambert is apparently a positive and uplifting figure while the guy who wrote this article (pervasive language warning but read it anyway) is reviled as a jerk, even though following his advice will inevitably make you a more successful and happy person in the long run. Because God help us if we reach the point as a country that even the people who sign paychecks don’t care (or, worse, are not permitted by law to care) about even minimal efforts to conform to social norms or cohesion anymore. Because when the day comes that “I suck and I don’t care” is valued equally with “I’m going to try to make myself a better person and thereby a better life for my family”, then “I suck and I don’t care” is going to be the path that almost everyone chooses.

Your guess as to how all that will inevitably turn out.

 

 

 

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