Monday, August 23, 2010

Puerile desire and the cuteness of "WHHHHY?"

[Welcome, readers from 33 1/3!]

There are a lot of f-bombs in this post. Just saying.

Puerility is a powerful mode for a number of the authors I study, so you can imagine my delight when the internets deposited the following gem before me:

We learn that there is going to be no claim to dignity from the very first line, even before the endlessly catchy refrain:
I see you driving 'round town with the girl I love, and I'm like, "Fuck you!"

"I'm like" lets us know before we even arrive that this will be no haughty drama; no grand passion; no cold, dignified rage. It acknowledges at once the immaturity of responding to heartbreak with "Fuck you!" The song subtly clues us into the conjectural status of the "gold-digger" theory of rejection as well: "I guess the change in my pocket wasn't enough." Translation: you must have rejected me because you're a venal, flat stereotype of a woman. Cee Lo indulges in the most simplistic of interpretations, the one that makes a rejection into something other than a real rejection. There's a vicious pleasure and satisfaction in facile interpretations (viz. cable news), and Cee Lo both embraces that pleasure and acknowledges it for what it is: puerility.

As Kevin points out, the song's "fuck you" is universal ("fuck you and fuck her too"--which is to say, fuck everybody). The song's first sentence lets us think the addressee is a competitor for a woman's affections, but it quickly slips back and forth between addressing the competitor and addressing the woman herself. Eventually the universe of the song expands to include an appeal to "Mamma," whereupon the singer is once again denied and handed off to "Dad," in a deft Freudian disciplinary gesture.

The song invokes a queer triangulation of desire (of the woman, of the competitor), but despite the proliferation of f-bombs, in the end it is not an adult song at all but a childish immersion in polymorphous desire. This is why it makes perfect sense that a key metaphor revolves around more or less awesome video game consoles ("Xbox" versus "Atari"), why it "ain't fair" seems like a valid complaint, and why the bridge devolves into explicit (and hilarious) whining, an actual tantrum. By the end of this bridge all pretense that the gold-digger theory could have actually been valid has been abandoned in favor of the open, raw howl of "WHHHHY?" He doesn't know why. It's all a free-flowing libidinal soup now.

The clever lyric video supports the polymorphous libido of the song by refusing distinctions between reasonable and unreasonable, important and unimportant, figure and ground. Every last word of the song is printed before our eyes, in time, including backup vocals and non-words like "OOO, OOO, OOOO" and "UH." (Follow the bouncing ball?)

This is perhaps the best use of puerility I've seen in a while, and like some of Mark Twain's funniest rants, it's characterized by an unusual energy, a full-fledgedness that's hilarious, in part, because it's so very cute--an impotent, multidirectional, adorable rage. This is how the song manages to be intense and light at the same time, angry and hilarious--like some of Twain's less sporting pot-shots at the literary lights of a previous generation. It's indulgent, childishly so, and that's what makes it appealing.

As with Twain, there's a dark dimension to this humor as well. First, it depends on our willingness to take childish anguish lightly, and to laugh at what is intensely, if incoherently, felt. And second, puerility (that is, the tantrum of the male child) here becomes the humorous grounds for perpetuating a deeply misogynistic narrative. She isn't really a gold-digger, no, but Cee Lo gets to say she is, over and over, and we'll laugh at it, because puerility excuses it. Female desire is reduced to a cipher for our amusement. There's no resolving this, I don't think. Humor always has its undertow.

[Update as of 9/1/2010.]

I know this is absolutely pathological, but I'm a little bothered that the apostrophe in front of "round" is pointed in the wrong direction. Someone didn't override smart quotes?

Also, it strikes me as ingenious that the video emulates film stock, but I'm not sure why.

On cuteness:
Ngai, Sianne. "The Cuteness of the Avant-Garde." Critical Inquiry 31.4 (Summer 2004): 811-47. Print.

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