If you've turned on a TV or the radio in the past three months, you've heard these songs.
My argument is essentially, not to put too fine a point on it, that these two songs represent Everything That Is Wrong With Everything in the Year 2012.
(in a metaphysical sense.)
Here we go.
The song: The Lumineers, "Ho Hey"; 2012
This one I'll attribute to "high pop culture", as in pop culture that wants to pretend its not, because it's the one you're far more likely to hear on any given Adult Contemporary radio station and because it's a song they use in commercials for things like Bing which advertisers want to sell to people who think they are smart and original and important.
Alas there is nothing smart, original, or important about this song or its video, which to my mind represents the worst of what I have previously called "this retrograde morass we call 'Pinterest'".
The twinkling lights. The hobo-chic theme. The sweet, light lyrics that crumble under the slightest examination. The girl who appears to be there to do nothing but wear a dress from ModCloth and look cute in a non-threatening way.
The way everyone just looks so happy to be there, enjoying the simple pleasures of life, and how they are probably going to go drink some craft cocktails and eat some farm-to-table BLTs after this random neo-bluegrass concert that they happened to stumble across.
The SEPIA TONES.
A few months ago a friend of mine said something which has stuck with me ever since: "that's the thing with cliche people, is that they have no idea how fucking cliche they are."
I think about that a lot when I sit around and wonder if I'm the crazy one for wanting more than simple pleasures, for wanting to wear tacky jewelry and put things in my house that are not "classy" and "so retro", for not really caring about microbreweries. For not wanting my life to shrink down to Mason jars and vintage wedding dresses.
I want to be afraid. I don't want to run from it into the arms of a skinny man who is actually wearing suspenders and a stupid hat.
The song: Ke$ha, "Die Young"; 2012
And then there's impulse, which I have written about before: the let's-laugh-in-the-face-of-death-and-have-another-two-dollar-Long-Island thing, which is more typical of "low pop culture" and is also in my opinion a lot more fun.
But, at the end of the day, it's still an impulse based on fear. It's the other side of the way people face fear, by putting up their dukes instead of putting up shots of their food on Instagram.
What struck me when I first heard this song was that, on paper, it's a theoretical: "Let's make the most of the night like we're gonna die young". As if we are going to die young.
When you finish listening to the song, however, and take away from it whatever you are going to, it's likely to be simply, "we're gonna die young." Not a whole lot of if in it.
At the back of our minds, I think many of us believe this.
Cliche people have no idea how fucking cliche they are. But that's okay, because that would be an impossible paradox, similar to how it's nearly impossible to actually figure out what is going on in a culture without the benefit of at least some years distance. I'm only an amateur student of history, but what seems clear enough to me is that every Culture has itself convinced that IT is the most technologically advanced, the most aesthetically sophisticated, simply the best as compared to those stupid people in the past -- with the one major blind spot always being that every Culture ALWAYS winds up being "those stupid people in the past" to some other Culture.
We can't see how stupid we are going to look in the future, for one thing it would be like seeing the back of your head or going back in time and marrying your own grandmother, and for another nobody would be able to get out of bed in the morning.
And! We can never go back, we can only go forward. I certainly don't know what 2013 will look like. But I wish, my one fervent wish, that we could somehow return to the exploratory spirit of the 1990s.
I wish we could all, collectively, turn outward again.
I wish our heroes could be Jean-Luc Picard and Fox Mulder, people who confront the unknown and the scary with questions and with a tinge of excitement.
(Instead of our hero being, apparently, Donald Draper who, HELLO, I love that show as much as the next person but seriously Donald Draper represents everything that is wrong and bad with American culture, he is an ANTIhero.)
In conclusion, Jean-Luc Picard and Fox Mulder don't give a shit about your local craft-brewed moonshine OR your two dollar Long Island, because they are not afraid.