Grumpy Old Cynic’s Corner

Just to be clear: I have no serious objection to feel-good songs as such. The occasional triumphant anthem of self-empowerment is fine by me! Let’s all jump around and pump our fists and shout about how awesome we are/everything is/etc.! Boo-ya! Woohoo! W00T! Sometimes, a big old We Are the Champions moment is just what the doctor ordered. You just need the thunder of it, the bombast, the grandeur, the uplift, etc.

That last bit wasn’t even sarcastic.

There’s a recent trend in triumphant self-empowerment anthems that’s beginning to get on my last nerve (probably because of that ubiquitous Surface commercial). I think of it has Shrill Exultation, and it is as annoying as it is pervasive. It is painful to me. Consider the following examples (beginning with the soundtrack for that damn commercial).

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit C

Why am I so cranky about these songs? I’m not sure. I cannot deny the skill with which they are created (as pieces of production work, certainly). I have no need to question their sincerity. They are showy, big, and straightforwardly self- and other-affirming. These are the things we tell ourselves in the dark when we are teenagers and our First True Love dumps us for someone else. This is how we wash that $gendered person out of our hair (and then go to a LOUD party to celebrate being single). This is how we overcome the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (or at least the snark and meanness of a day among hostile others) These songs are natural in a culture in which certain experiences are expected to be devastating, and in which certain forms of life seem to require the attitude they represent. I certainly do believe that it’s important for people to be able to think well of themselves, and to be able to do so in the face of circumstances that might have them feel quite the opposite.

Just the same, these songs irritate me. Perhaps it’s their structure, the way they build to ever-increasing levels of HIGH NOTE. Listening to them is like feeling a pressure build up inside my skull. They are unremittingly loud and relentless, and sometimes their triumph feels less like a flight away from whatever might pull a person down and more like the heel of a boot on an enemy’s skull.

That boot is really shiny. Its heel is stiletto-sharp.


About L. M. Bernhardt

For a good long while (15 years or so), I taught philosophy at a little private university in northwest IA, and occasionally branched out into playing music, dabbling in photography, experimenting with food, and writing nonsense on my blog. The philosophy teaching part ended in 2017 (program elimination via prioritization), but never fear! I've just finished my MLIS at San Jose State University, and I'm currently on the market looking for new adventures in either philosophy or LIS. For now, I labor at a fairly interesting administrative job in order to support my dogs in the lavish manner to which they've become accustomed.
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