Litigious much?

Don’t get me wrong — I find spite to be an incredibly motivational force. This is perhaps best exemplified by the time I got in an Internet fight in a  Globe & Mail comment thread. When the person I was calmly explaining my research too told me to buzz off and publish about Alpha Flight if I’m so smart, I did.

So I’m not discounting the power of a healthy dose of spite to make someone put up a fight and do Productive Things.

However, I’d like to point out a disturbing trend that I’ve noticed in some of my recent car radio listening sessions. First, we have this excerpt from Toby Keith’s “How Do You Like Me Now!?“:

I was always the crazy one
I broke into the stadium
And I wrote your number on the 50 yard line
You were always the perfect one
And the valedictorian, so
Under your number I wrote “call for a good time”

I only wanted to catch your attention
But you overlooked me somehow
Besides you had too many boyfriends to mention
And I played my guitar too loud.

How do you like me now?
How do you like me now,
Now that I’m on my way?
Do you still think I’m crazy
Standin’ here today?
I couldn’t make you love me
But I always dreamed about living in your radio
How do you like me now?

When I took off to Tennessee
I heard that you made fun of me
Never imagined I’d make it this far
Then you married into money, girl
Ain’t it a cruel and funny world?
He took your dreams and tore them apart.

He never comes home
And you’re always alone
And your kids hear you cryin’ down the hall
Alarm clock starts ringin’
Who could that be singin’?
It’s me, baby, with your wake up call!

So, that happened. (Although, in the music video, I would say that the chick gets the final — albeit unvoiced — say, as the final clip shows her rolling her eyes at his theatrics.)

On the one hand, we have a fitting story of comeuppance for a chick who made fun of an aspiring guitarist. (In the music video, she is a cheerleader surrounded by her teammates who laughs at the little hipster guitarist’s advances – though this exchange is not reflected in the lyrics.)

However, another interpretation tells us that her crimes were being smart (valedictorian), being “perfect,” being popular (too many boyfriends), and being harassed by some vandal who painted her phone number across the football field. For shame!

And the punishment totally fits the crime — for ignoring someone who was harassing her, she is alone and crying while the guitarist makes it big (at the end of the music video, he gets all the cheerleaders, and a limo) and invades her home through soundwaves (“living in your radio”).

Wait, what?

Something similar happens in Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boi:”

He was a boy
She was a girl
Can I make it anymore obvious?
He was a punk.
She did ballet.
What more can I say?
He wanted her.
She’d never tell.
Secretly she wanted him as well.
And all of her friends
Stuck up their nose.
They had a problem with his baggy clothes.

He was a skater boy, she said see ya later boy.
He wasn’t good enough for her.
She had a pretty face but her head was up in space.
She needed to come back down to earth.

Five years from now, she sits at home feeding the baby, she’s all alone.
She turns on TV and guess who she sees?
Skater boy rockin’ up MTV.
She calls up her friends.
They already know
And they’ve all got tickets to see his show.
She tags along, stands in the crowd.
Looks up at the man that she turned down.

He was a skater boy, she said see ya later boy.
He wasn’t good enough for her.
Now he’s a superstar
Slammin’ on his guitar
Does your pretty face see what he’s worth?

Sorry girl but you missed out.
Well tough luck that boy’s mine now.
We are more than just good friends.
This is how the story ends.
Too bad that you couldn’t see…
See the man that boy could be.
There is more than meets the eye,
I see the soul that is inside.

Again, the penalty for being “pretty” is to be left at home, alone, with her kid later in life. (And, again, as the music video shows, the vandals win!)

On the one hand, encouraging someone to see past appearances and ignore peer pressure are benevolent in a fairly straightforward way.

However, the neener neener neener of “I got with the rock star, you got stuck alone with a baby” attitude complicates this supposed nice-ness in a way that is, frankly, rude and unnecessary (but so much fun to appreciate vicariously).

Now, I’m not pinning this unrequited love strictly on the dude-class of person. But those are the two most salient examples I have of when “no means no” is challenged because of “what if…” Everybody made their choices, now can they live in peace?! Nope. Neener neener neener.

An excerpt from Taylor Swift’s “Mean” will demonstrate the classy lady response to adversity:

You, with your words like knives
And swords and weapons that you use against me
You have knocked me off my feet again
Got me feeling like I’m nothing
You, with your voice like nails on a chalkboard
Calling me out when I’m wounded
You picking on the weaker man

I bet you got pushed around
Somebody made you cold
But the cycle ends right now
Cause you can’t lead me down that road
And you don’t know, what you don’t know…

Someday I’ll be living in a big ol’ city
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Why you gotta be so mean?

And I can see you years from now in a bar
Talking over a football game
With that same big loud opinion
But nobody’s listening
Washed up and ranting about the same old bitter things
Drunk and grumbling on about how I can’t sing
But all you are is mean

All you are is mean
And a liar, and pathetic, and alone in life
And mean, and mean, and mean, and mean

This is a particularly fascinating moment of cognitive dissonance, where she promises not to go down the road of bullying, and ends up saying “you are… mean / and a liar, and pathetic, and alone in life.” Message received! As long as you have a microphone, you have the power to get back at all those naysayers.

(Other than the amazing goat cameo, the music video shows a football team picking on a dude in a bow-tie, Taylor Swift jammin’ on the banjo, Taylor Swift tied up in front of a train, a gaggle of meansters at the mall picking on the Cheesey Cheddar mascot, and three girls in pink bows excluding the fourth girl with her blue bow from their lunch table.)

Again, I am all for sticking it to people. And I guess there’s no better way to stick it than to write a really catchy song about how someone was so wrong about you.

The thing that freaks me out is the widely accepted, taken-for-granted attitude of getting back at people. The moral here seems to be that REVENGE IS A DISH BEST SERVED THROUGH RADIO AND MTV AND YOUTUBE!

The United States (yes, yes, Avril Lavigne is Canadian) is well known for its litigious society. “I’ll sue you!” is a phrase backed by lawsuits so commonly that there are websites devoted to frivolous lawsuits (and Google auto complete knew what I was looking for before I did!).

This juvenile (in the sense of immature — not in the age-based sense, since age is just a number and stupidity is an equal opportunity disadvantager) approach to problem-solving is reflected and reinforced by songs and a culture where suing someone is the answer, instead of, I don’t know, going on to be a productive and empowered member of society? There have been lawsuits that have led to important social changes, that is for sure, but singing about how you are going to get back at someone by being famous doesn’t contribute much in the way of civil rights, social justice, or realistic problem-solving. It does do a lot to inspire vengeful urges, though (at least in me!).

Despair not! There is hope, according to the motivational song “Hero” (couldn’t find an official music video) by Superchicks:

No one sits with him, he doesn’t fit in,
But we feel like we do when we make fun of him,
‘Cause you want to belong, do you go along?
‘Cause his pain is the price paid for you to belong
It’s not like you hate him or want him to die,
But maybe he goes home and thinks suicide,
Or he comes back to school with a gun at his side,
Any kindness from you might have saved his life…

Heroes are made when you make a choice…

You could be a hero,
Heroes do what’s right,
You could be a hero,
You might save a life,
You could be a hero, you could join the fight,
For what’s right, for what’s right, for what’s right…

No one talks to her, she feels so alone,
She’s in too much pain to survive on her own,
The hurt she can’t handle overflows to a knife,
She writes on her arm, wants to give up her life,
Each day she goes on is a day that she is brave,
Fighting the lie that giving up is the way,
Each moment of courage her own life she saves,
When she throws the pills out, a hero is made…

No one talks to him about how he lives,
He thinks that the choices he makes are just his,
Doesn’t know he’s a leader with the way he behaves,
And others will follow the choices he’s made,
He lives on the edge, he’s old enough to decide,
His brother who wants to be him is just nine,
He can do what he wants because it’s his right,
The choices he makes change a nine-year-old’s life…

Little Mikey-Dee was the one in class
Who everyday got brutally harassed
This went on for years
Till he decided that never again would he shed another tear
So he walked through the door
And grabbed the .44 out of his father’s dresser drawer
He said ‘I can’t take life no more’
And like that a life can be lost
But this ain’t even about that
All of us just sat back and watched it happen
Thinking its not our responsibility
To solve a problem that isn’t even about me
This is our problem.
This is just one of the daily scenarios
In which we choose to close our eyes
Instead of doing the right thing
If we make a choice and be the voice
For those who won’t speak up for themselves
How many lives would be saved, changed, rearranged?
Now it’s our time to pick a side.
So don’t keep walking by not wanting to intervene,
Cause you just want to exist and never be seen.
So lets wake up, change the world
Our time is now.

Then again, the moral I took away from Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was that you shouldn’t pick favorites or they will get eaten by a goat (and they might kind of deserve it for running their mouths about bowing corn), so I might be wrong in my assessment of all of these songs, lyrics, and music videos.

Share your opinions in the comments – but know that if you cross me, I might write an encyclopedia entry about my interpretation. Neener neener neener.

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