Does this seem crazy to you?
10 October 2012, 4:08 PM
It’s just a summer song, but I find myself a trifle concerned about Call Me Maybe. I mean, it’s terrifically catchy, and pretty much a perfect pop song in a bunch of ways. The only reason I’m concerned at all, really, is that it’s a good enough song that our household actually purchased it and plays it in the car (see the music habits of YHB’s car), to much bopping and alongsinging, even by the Youngest Member. The song with the profanity in the title last summer, or that other song about putting a ring on it a few summers ago, catchy though they were, were not big hits in our household, and could be largely ignored. Well, ignored insofar as we heard them a lot everywhere we went, of course, but I did not have to wonder what sorts of messages were being absorbed.
And I should unhesitatingly state that I don’t find “Call Me Maybe” highly objectionable in its message, in the way that the ring song was. This one is mostly a straight-ahead love song. Well, sort of a love song. A lust song, anyway. If you don’t know the thing, the first-person singer throws a coin into a wishing well and then sees a hot guy. The rest of the song (the wishing well motif disappears after the second verse) describes the singer’s unrequited longing for the hot guy. It’s a depiction of a young woman, just coming into her sexual power, simultaneously advancing and retreating, vibrating between the need to make an impression and the need to appear indifferent. It’s not terribly eloquent (it’s a summer pop song, after all) but it does evoke that borderline status that I associate with the horrible post-adolescent time.
Let me be specific. On the one hand, she’s making a move: Where you think you’re goin’, baby? she says, giving him her number. She brags about being pursued by all the other guys; she tells him that she likes the way his skin shows through his ripped jeans. At the same time, she’s putting up a front of ambivalence, of coolness, of, well, of not-being-desperate. The song, after all, is “Call Me Maybe”, not “Call Me Tonight”. She says she wasn’t looking for this, and she emphasizes that she doesn’t actually know him, and that frankly, it’s a bit crazy, so what the heck, maybe call her, maybe don’t.
At the same time, there is, to my ears, an undercurrent of real longing. The most memorable line of the song is this: Before you came into my life/I missed you so bad/and you should know that. This, unlike most of the rest of the bubblegum, is actually evocative: the sense that a love object fills an unsuspected emptiness. This is, perhaps, why she finds it hard to look at him—yes, it’s because he so hot, but surely that would make him easy on the eyes. I take it that (as in my memories, at any rate, of unrequited post-adolescent crushes) looking at the love object brings up that whole mess of longing that is so hard to deal with emotionally, and makes it hard to concentrate on anything else.
And here’s my problem: my Perfect Non-Reader is eleven and a half. She will shortly have a crush on someone, probably a boy, possibly to the point where it’s hard to look right at him. That desperate desire, that horrific mix of hormones and romance and icky old life, will get in her way. And I don’t want her to think that the right way to deal with it is the mix of braggadocio and feigned indifference that the narrator of the song pulls off. It’s a familiar mix, one that was thought in my proverbial to be peculiar to boys. I emulated it, along with pretty nearly everyone else—heck, I emulated that Laid-back Lothario business even when I really was indifferent, because that was how I thought grown men acted. I was trying to be cool. And how did I learn how to be cool? From pop music, of course.
OK, here’s something from high culture for y’all folks that got cultchah. After a performance of Twelfth Night this summer, I mentioned to my Perfect Non-Reader that the fellow who played the Duke was a friend of mine. She said that he was really good, and that in particular she admired his portrayal of somebody in love. Now, I think that part of the joke in the play is that the Duke thinks he is in love with Olivia, and he acts like he thinks somebody in love with Olivia should act, but in point of fact, he isn’t in love with Olivia at all. That’s the joke. Only, when you are eleven, you don’t know that it’s a joke; for all you know, that’s what love is.
I want my children to enjoy Shakespeare; I don’t want them to emulate Romeo and Juliet. I want my children to enjoy pop music; I don’t want them to emulate the narrating character of “Call Me, Maybe”. I’m not worried about the Juliet thing, not just because of the whole tale of woe business, but because it’s easier to talk to my kids when we aren’t all dancing and singing.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,