Paint It, Rebecca
The Collapse of Culture and the Pursuit of Tainted Fame
By: Joe

Rebecca Black and her "breakout" "hit," "Friday" have now definitely received more than enough recognition to be considered a legitimate entry in pop culture history and she'll totally get a segment devoted to her on VH1's "I Love the 2010s." But should this have happened? And why exactly did it? Huh? Well?

I would argue that Rebecca Black's success(?) is a perfect example of the sad state of our culture: how the things we currently champion, idolize, and aspire to don't deserve our adoration and how our dedication to admiring and emulating fame and the famous only further cheapens our culture and ourselves.

But before I get to that, let's talk about this.

Part One
The Three Trials

The debates about Rebecca Black's "Friday" that I've seen in most articles tend to dwell on the following issues in reference to the many harsh comments that the public has leveled against the song:

1. Is it truly the worst song ever?

2. Aren't "real" pop stars churning out dreck of a similar quality?

3. Shouldn't people curb or at least be ashamed of the striking amount of hatred they've been directing towards a 13-year old girl and a simple little song about young people doing young people things?

These are smaller questions that touch upon, but fail to get to the heart of the (anti-)cultural phenomenon that is Rebecca Black's "Friday" and, yes, loads of people have analyzed these issues already, but I'll address them myself as they're useful stepping stones toward my argument. So:

1. No, of course it's not the worst song ever. What about "London Bridge" by Fergie or Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime?" I genuinely do find both of these songs to be worse than "Friday," but, that said, let's be realistic here; the worst song ever would never have reached such heights of popularity. Because so many people think they have something worth expressing and because the internet allows them to do it, some digging around in the seedy back alleys of YouTube or MySpace will turn up no shortage of nearly literally unlistenable stuff (though, quite frankly, "Wonderful Christmastime" already pretty well fits the bill for me there). What I'm saying is that "Friday" is competent enough garbage that it doesn't offend in a debilitating manner. The worst song ever is something like a series of discordant, atonal, rhythmless shrieks, bangs, and screeches. There's probably a Sonic Youth B-side that fits the bill.

The bottom line is that "Friday" is bad, but it's not bad to the point of being painful. It is, on the contrary, bad enough for people to form a love-hatred of it, bad enough that it's got over 110 million views - I repeat: over 110 million views - on YouTube, and bad enough that people will actually pay money to listen to it being bad. The real worst song ever would probably just be ignored. Unless it killed someone or something.

In a battle of classlessness, I truly don't know who would prevail.

2. Yes, pop stars often are making music nearly as bad as Rebecca Black's breakout hit. What about "London Bridge" by Fergie or Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime?" However, there are important aspects to "Friday" that make it stand out when compared to your average pop awfulness and, to tie this together with the previous point, it's these aspects that make the song so popularly hateable:

REASON A: The lyrics are intensely amateurish. I would argue that this is the main cause of "Friday" receiving all the attention it has. The video has garnered a share of the mockery, but, as far as pop goes, it's frighteningly adequate. No, the real star here is the lyrics, which are so absurd that almost the whole song is quotable (and many people instantly recognize where the quotes come from). But, wait, aren't the lyrics in bigger budget pop just as stupid? Well, as a general rule, yes and no.

Let's take "London Bridge" since I already brought it up. The chorus contains the lyric "How come every time you come around my London, London Bridge wanna go down?" which is painfully stupid and really shouldn't be gotten away with. It's a lazy bit of writing that sounds as though someone couldn't be bothered to make the words fit the song's tempo so they decided "How about she just says 'London' twice in a row? It's fine." It's not fine, really, but what the lyric does do is hides - not well, in my opinion, but nevertheless - hides its stupidity behind vague sexual innuendo. Where is the London Bridge located on the female anatomy? And just how does one go about making it go down?

This is a good illustration of how pop gets away with its dumbness. Often the ideas and words are really simplistic, but they're shielded by a thick coating of pizazz. Rhyming is a good bit of misdirection because most brains think rhyming is nice and we appreciate it if something rhymes even if it's brain-dead subject matter ("I'm such a lady but I'm a dancing like a ho. And you know we don't give a fuck so here we go.") Another easy thing to do is be all metaphorical. I think there's been a bit of a trend lately (that I blame "Umbrella" for) of basing entire songs on nouns by using vague, sweeping terms. "Firework" by Katy Perry and "Parachute" by Cheryl Cole are two examples where we are referring to people as fireworks and parachutes. They're far from perfectly executed metaphors, but there's certainly more style in Katy saying "you're a firework" over something literal, like, say, "you're really good." It's also easy to hide lyrical stupidity behind sexiness. Fergie gets double points with her horrible "my London Bridge wanna go down" lyric because it's a vague metaphor that will forever remain a mystery, but it's also clearly meant to be sexy or sex-related (For further work in the field of undefined metaphorical innuendo, see: "Humps, My" by Peas, The Black Eyed.) The sexy factor obviously also extends to videos and, case in point, "London Bridge" features Fergie sprawled out over a pool table and grinding against a defenseless member of the Queen's Guard.

The problem with "Friday" is that it doesn't do any of these things whatsoever. It doesn't rhyme, it ain't sexy (which is fair enough - she's 13), and the lyrics are way too straightforward and simplistic to not be noticed. It tells us a really mundane story: Rebecca does her morning routine, then she goes to wait for the bus, then she gets in a car with her friends, she appreciates Friday, they drive on a highway, she explains some of the days of the week to us, then a rapper shows up for no reason, and then Rebecca appreciates Friday some more. There's more to it though because the lyrics aren't as straightforward as they seem; they're also bizarre and totally unrelatable.

Rebecca tells us her morning routine, but it's got the line "Gotta have my bowl, gotta have cereal." Why mention just the bowl and the cereal? For proper cereal one also requires a spoon and, quite probably, milk. It sounds like I'm just making fun of the lyric for the sake of it, but it really is odd and confused on a fundamental level, which makes it one of the many lines people point out. I don't know if everyone thinks of why they find this lyric funny, but they do find it as such nonetheless. Moving on, we have "Gotta get down to the bus stop. Gotta catch my bus. I see my friends." This is both stupidly simple and entirely nonsensical. The video implies that Rebecca decides to skip school altogether. She was waiting for the bus, but then she saw her friends so screw it! It's another failing of the lyrics that they don't even really make sense without the video to complement them. If you hear the song without the video, it's unclear why she's talking about the bus and then she's talking about seeing her friends, following which she goes into her rambles about front seats and back seats. Without the video we might be left wondering if she's still talking about a bus here. Are her friends on the seats of the bus? How come there's only one front seat and one back seat? Is this the short bus? Hmm?

Which seat can I take...TO DEATH?

Speaking of which, the most important lyric is, of course, "Kickin' in the front seat, sittin' in the back seat. Gotta make my mind up, which seat can I take?" This one is stunning because, again, one, it details the events in a pathetically simplistic manner and, furthermore, it's a completely foreign concept. Who the hell thinks that deeply about where they're gonna sit? Why did "songwriter"/"rapper"/producer Patrice Wilson think that this concept was such a brilliant one that it was worth returning to three times over the course of the song? It's the classic case of someone with minimal writing ability thinking they can do something, i.e., "I can write a song about teenagers doing teenage stuff," but, in reality, they aren't nearly aware or observant enough to pull it off. Maybe he was trying to reference the notion of kids sometimes having small fights over sitting shotgun, but the lyric implies that Rebecca has access to either seat and it's just some kind of weird personal battle on her part. It's also worth mentioning that none of Rebecca's friends are actually old enough to drive, which further exacerbates how this lyric manages to resonate with approximately nobody.

I find that presenting the content of a pop song in an intellectualized manner is a really easy way to demonstrate just how damned stupid it really is and a friend of mine, Jon Dadley, wrote this, which I find hilarious:

"The hardest decision I had to make recently was whether to sit in the front of the car or the back of the car. There were pros and cons for both but either way I was amongst friends."

It's a thoroughly alien issue, to the point that Rebecca herself has mocked it in one of the videos she did for Funny or Die's Black Friday (which I'll discuss in greater detail later).

Moving on to the bridge, we get the famous breakdown where we learn what days come before and after Friday. We can all relate to this - I've lived through these days many a time in the past myself - but the straightforwardness of it all makes it so mockworthy. (Also, it pulls the "London Bridge" thing of repeating words in a row seemingly just out of laziness.) Few big budget pop songs ever get this blunt and boring, but it does happen. The best examples I can think of are:

"Rio" by Duran Duran, which has the lyric "You mean so much to me, like a birthday or a pretty view." But this has the benefit of being a pretty cool (if cheesy) song and the chorus is really catchy, which helps to overshadow the lyrics, which are pretty consistently laughable. (For further work in the field of largely stupid songs hiding behind a bitchin' chorus, see: "Umbrella" by Rihanna.)

"Telephone" by Lady Gaga has "Hello, hello, baby you called, I can't hear a thing/I have got no service in the club you see, see/What-what-what did you say, oh, you're breaking up on me/Sorry, I cannot hear you, I'm kinda busy." I've seen an article reference this lyric precisely to compare it to "Friday" as an example of how "real" pop is stupid too. Fine. But what Lady Gaga puts out is nothing if not stylized. You get the feeling that she kind of knows these lyrics are silly and it's fine if you know it too. She's just got the star power to make silly lyrics sound cool. Rebecca Black, on the other hand, has a nasally voice which is autotuned to hell.

"Life" by Des'ree, a late nineties song which a friend recently brought to my attention has the lyric "I don't want to see a ghost/It's the sight that I fear most/I'd rather have a piece of toast/Watch the evening news." This lyric is bad enough that it didn't entirely get away with it and won "worst ever pop lyric" in a BBC poll, so, hey, well spotted, England. Worryingly, it still made it to number one in Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain (perhaps due to the language barrier). I'll come back to this issue of how other cultures perceive English-language poppery so don't you forget it!

"Life" is perhaps an exception, but, whatever, it's British, who cares? The other two songs have a lot more going for them than "Friday." "Rio" has all kinds of crazy synth to distract you with; "Telephone" is all loud and danceable and has some lyrics that she says really fast that sound cool and the video in itself is its own topic of discussion. "Friday" is just "eh." In terms of the tune, it's basically just a middle of the road song with a standard chord progression. Finding none of the things a more talented (or at least financially stable) producer and/or performer would've put into the song were they involved, we can't help but latch onto its absurdities.

REASON B: This is sort of just an extension of Reason A, but the other thing bigtime pop has going for it is the glitz and glamor and money of it all. A big part of why we let pop music get away with its silliness is that it looks and sounds glossy and refined and like what we've been conditioned to believe "professional" looks and sounds like. To return to "London Bridge," there's a lot of evidence out there pointing to Fergie, in reality, being a near-corpse, but we live in an amazing future where her parts can be replaced and refurbished and she can be make-upped and computer-altered until she approximates something you might considering doing it with on a pool table.

More genuinely we can discuss autotuning, which is a technology that can literally just plain make things sound better. These days, it's pervasive in pop music and, in the right hands, it can add an interesting effect or subtly touch up a bit of a song (maybe even without the public noticing). But it's at a point where it's being abused. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, technology and money and tweaking mean that a pretty bad song from a fairly talentless person can get doctored all over and (arguably unfairly) manage to actually sound pretty good. And when this technology trickles down to people who don't have the talent, the money, or both of these things, the results are bad. Very noticeably so.

An example of technology being overused and then abused once it falls into the wrong hands is CGI in the film industry. CGI can be used sparingly and to great effect (I think Batman Begins is a good example of this), but it's now so ever-present that then Robert Rodriguez finds out about it and makes movies out of his basement that look like crappy cartoons that some real life people accidentally stumbled onto the set of. Technology has made color correction a staple as well. Do a Google search for "orange and teal" and you'll see multiple internet people complaining about the overuse of this kind of color correction where the two aforementioned colors get jacked way up on nearly every new Hollywood film to give environments a clean, futuristic look and to make people's skin tones (at least white people's skin tones) pop out at you. This might've seemed like a good idea at one time, but, just like a reappropriated racial slur, when you overuse orange and teal, eventually the wrong people start using it too and we end up with Michael Bay and his team of people on a mission to destroy cinema once and for all making Shia LeBeouf look like an oompa-loompa in a futuristic locker room world.

To return to autotuning, "Friday" has neither the money nor the talent for it to work. I'd venture to say Kanye West's autotuning equipment makes the technology at Ark Music Factory (the little studio that slapped "Friday" together) look like an Amiga, which probably accounts for why Rebecca's voice ends up sounding not tweaked nor stylized, but straight-up robotic. Also, the people at Ark don't have the most refined ears, I'd warrant, so they seem to have lazily applied it to every single bit of Rebecca's vocals. And, all of that aside, they still couldn't hide how grating Rebecca's not-exactly-star-quality voice sounds when she says the word "Friday."

The autotuning can stand in for everything else wrong with "Friday" - it all smacks of a production trying to emulate more big name entertainment, but without having the abundance of cash or talent (or, at least, the understanding of pop music and the business behind it) that comes with professional pop. I do want to again mention the video briefly, however, because it's sort of the exception to this. Like I said before, "Friday" gets mocked far more for its lyrics. It's really the song we're making fun of because the frightening thing is that the video is actually not bad. The low points are, one, the highway scene which looks as fake as it is and, two, the behavior of Rebecca's friends (and sometimes Rebecca) because they come off like awkward thirteen year olds. Which makes sense because you can't green screen away the pains of adolescence! Ha ha!

3. You may have forgotten that I was in the midst of a list, but I was so let's address the last issue. Should people feel badly about using the internet to say hateful things to a 13-year old? Yeah, probably. I mean people have made (I can only assume half-hearted) death threats toward Rebecca (through the most powerful of all communicative media: the YouTube comment) and have told her to pick up an anorexia habit and stuff like that so, yeah, it's pretty awful.1 But it's also pretty typical of the internet. Of course she doesn't deserve it and I am not saying it's justified, but the internet doesn't care how old you are, if you have a disability, or if you were/are a POW - if you do something odd or stupid and you put it out there, people will make fun of you, and mercilessly so.

So should the internet stop being so mean? Sure, yes. But are they going to? Certainly not. And when I say "the internet" I truly mean "the world." The internet is just a landfill for society to anonymously dump its inherent awfulness into. Taking into consideration the video's astronomical view count as well as the fact that I know multiple people from various cultures living in different places around the world who are familiar with the song (and, furthermore, that the first friend who sent it to me sent me a link to it on Youku, China's sort-of-YouTube equivalent), I think it's safe to say that this is now worldwide mockery of Rebecca Black - not just American mockery. But we did start it.

So I've addressed the three big "Friday" issues, but there's something bigger behind all of this and everything I've talked about will help to illustrate this. I keep seeing people refer to "Friday" as a sad, unintentional indictment on the current state of the pop music industry, which, yeah, I suppose it is. But the thing is that pop music is just one facet of pop culture. And pop culture makes up a very large portion of culture, period. So what I'm saying is that "Friday" by Rebecca Black is a fairly appropriate representation of American culture as it stands right now. And it's looking pretty crappy.

1 After putting this article up, I found out that the most recent news on the Rebecca Black front is that police have been investigating some evidently more sincere sounding death threats Rebecca's received by e-mail and phone, which all the more makes me wonder if people really consider what exactly they hate so much about her and her song or why it pushes them to be angry enough to (or even to pretend to) threaten a girl's life. It also all the more makes me question the benefits of being the kind of famous Rebecca has become. (Incidentally, the picture of the death chair with the caption above was just supposed to be a non-sequitur that I wrote before I knew of these threats.)

Part Two
Childhood is a Journey (but Fame is Easier)

Fun fun fun fun.

As evidenced in the examples I've presented, "Friday" is the product of people attempting to ape what they see in music videos by famous pop stars, but without having the talent or cash to make it work. I want to make it clear that I'm not trying to claim pop music is some hugely refined institution that no mere plebian could hope to replicate - far from it. In fact, I'm saying almost the opposite. Pop music and, well, pop everything else is mostly really dumb and incidental. This is not an extremely recent thing; I mean, there were those Beach Party movies already in the early sixties. Pop gets away with being dumb because it's down to a system of smoke and mirrors and rhyming and autotuning and innuendo and girls wearing skimpy clothing so that it can really do whatever it wants because it's all packaged in mind-numbing glossiness. "Friday" even tries to do all the stuff your average pop song does - it's about partying, it's got cars in it, it's autotuned, and a rapper shows up halfway through to do a bridge nobody remembers later. The only reason Rebecca gets so much vitriol for her attempt at it is that the problems with her song - the stupidly simple lyrics to name the chief one - jar with the glitz we're used to and stick out so obviously that even someone who thinks Twilight is an example of good literature can recognize there's something dumb going on. This is why "Friday" is so eminently mockable: it's stupid in a way we can all understand.

But this is where I need to once more return to the actual video because it's fairly frightening to me that I realized that, after watching it a few times, my brain said to me "Well, the video's actually not that bad." This means I've accepted the stupid pop videos I see as generally "fine." I can even think of a video that, content-wise, doesn't seem too far off from "Friday" and it's "AM to PM" by Christina Milian. But I didn't much care about the vapidity of that video because Christina Milian is super hot (or, to be consistent, is at least made to look super hot). Vanessa Hudgens' "Sneakernight" covers roughly the same subject matter as well, only with more innuendo, hot pants, and marketing of shoes. Do you see what I'm getting at here? "Friday," especially the video, is, as many others have argued, not that bad. But that in no way means it's good. Rather, it means we should be worried about the state of our culture that we're coming to the defense of a piece of crap by going "But, look! Everything else is crap too!" We shouldn't just sit back and let dumbness wash over us. "Friday" might be obviously dumb, but a lot of stuff we're told is worth our time is almost equally as dumb, if not, at times, dumber. We should be more critical of things and realize that how famous and cash-backed they are shouldn't necessarily pervert our judgment. (As an example, I truly do believe that the video for Katy Perry's "Firework" is far, far stupider than that of "Friday" and am shocked that it hasn't been lauded as a piece of unintentional comedic brilliance.)

To reiterate, pop culture has been by and large stupid for a good, long while. But what this era has ushered in is a clear indication that so many of us want nothing more than to be recognized as a noteworthy part of this stupid culture, caring little about how we get there. The thing is that I can see kids being enraptured with the idea of being famous; kids are stupid and easily distracted by shiny, noisy things. Unfortunately, another misguided thing we do in our country is inform our children that they're special. All our shows and movies and music confirm this telling us to follow our dreams and not bend to the pressure of others and that at the end we'll win the football game and marry Matthew McConaughey. But the truth of it is this: you might not. In fact, you probably won't.

But, like I said, I forgive kids for being starry eyed and stupid. However, we've gotten to a point where parents also believe in the uniqueness of their children. And to frightening extremes. Only during these past few decades could the idea of indigo children gain such recognition. For those of you unaware, an indigo child is a kid who has special...unusual...powers...or something. It's a vague label to slap on your kid so that they and you, by proxy, feel special and superior to other kids (and parents). Apparently being an indigo child can mean anything from being able to do paranormal junk to just being more confident! In other words, it's total garbage, but we live in a society where this kind of thing will get TV coverage. So of course we're in a society where a teenager tells her mother she wants to be a pop star, resulting in the mom willingly lobbing a couple thousand greenbacks in the direction of a less-than-stellar writer/producer to produce a song and video for the girl. Let's be frank: in this country, we might as well acknowledge that "special" is interchangeable with "will be famous" so when your nasally-voiced little daughter wants to do a pop song, you pony up the cash for it.

Indigo children can be recognized by the common feature of being regular ugly kids.

I haven't raised a single fetus in my life so I can't pretend to really know how to cultivate a kid's hopes and dreams. Of course it'd be terrible to just shoot down every whim a kid has by informing them that they're going to grow up to work in a bottling plant and like it, but there really should be a point at which you're able to tell your child that it will be better for both of you if she just goes and does her homework. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's The Office and Extras are both shows with a lead character struggling to grasp onto any modicum of fame that he can. The former ends with a speech from the character David Brent about how, regardless of what level we're at or field we're in, we all make a difference.2 In other words, there's pride to be found in being a working schlub. It's greatly important that one be happy with what one does, but one should recognize that that might not be being the next Justin Bieber. And one's parents should perhaps have the foresight to recognize this as well (preferably before you drop a couple thou on the little failure).

But that's just it, isn't it? Rebecca didn't fail, did she? Did she? I'm not so sure anymore. She has, at this point, actually made several thousand dollars from people buying the song and she's surpassed Lady Gaga and her idol Justin Bieber's most recent YouTube releases with her 110 million+ views (along with an also impressive 2 million+ "Dislikes"). So whatever money her mom spent should have been made back (though Rebecca claimed on Leno to be donating it all to Japan and her school, which I guess is just darling if true) and Rebecca's more famous than she could ever imagine.3 Justin Bieber even mockingly sang a snippet of her song on stage one time and Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, and The Roots did a televised performance of her show, thus putting far more talent and production behind the song than it really ever deserved. Wow!!!

But what the hell does this all mean?

2 Have I not noticed that both of these productions come from someone who managed to achieve some level of fame? Surely, I have! But Ricky Gervais is a funny and talented writer, while you might not be.

3 One could argue that whatever supposed damage "Friday" is doing to pop culture or just plain culture culture is moot considering that, ultimately, since it's generating aid for people in need of it, it's basically garbage for the good. I suppose so, but, then again, people could also just give money to Japan of their own volition. Rebecca does come off seeming like a very decent sort, however. This, combined with her being a teen caught up in fame she could have never really anticipated means that I feel like I actually have precious little beef with Rebecca and her role within this whole debacle.

Part Three
Under the Media

Teamwork got us here.

I believe that, at least when this all started, we, the public, just saw "Friday" as a laughably bad piece of junk and we made it our business, as a society of jerks who desire to have their voices heard in any manner possible, to tear the girl apart using the web as our shared soapbox (because it probably feels less satisfying to yell directly in a 13-year old girl's face that you hope she dies). But then the media got involved.

The stunning thing to me about the whole media shitstorm surrounding "Friday" is that the higher profile outlets seem to have taken it upon themselves to be protective supporters of Rebecca. I find it very interesting because, if we accept the deluge of beligerent comments and the stunning amount of "Dislikes" (currently 2,280,481) vs. "Likes" (307,626) on the YouTube video as the opinion of the general public, it means that the media seems to be almost entirely at odds with us. We're raving, hateful lunatics while they're the voice of reason letting Rebecca know that she's really not that bad and that they find the song catchy even if we don't and that they'd love to see her get to do a duet with Justin Bieber. Good Morning America particularly seems to have designated themselves Rebecca's surrogate TV guardian, although their intentions probably aren't as pure as they're putting across.

I don't think I fully understand the media's role in this, but I suppose we can assume that they're doing what the media always does, which is to prod and poke a story whichever way possible to keep news leaking out of it for as long as possible. It doesn't really matter how a story is handled, so long as it's done in such a way that we continue to stay interested in it and, as the media fuels itself by pleasing, perturbing, upsetting, and placating us in equal enough measure to (in theory) never turn us away, it is sensible enough to realize that it's not going to win any fans by publicly tearing into a 13-year old girl the same way we anonymously have. As a result, Rebecca is brought on shows to be pandered to, but it's really not as kind as it seems, even though some of the presenters probably have fooled themselves into thinking they're being nice. The main point is that Rebecca wouldn't be on TV at all if she wasn't being resoundingly insulted and, regardless of how she's treated on Good Morning America, the catalyst behind having her on is her infamy and any further appearance of or comment from her only helps to balloon this. Plus, it's not all being nice to Rebecca. It's unclear why one bit of her Good Morning America appearance consists of a presenter reading off some of the hateful YouTube comments to see how Rebecca responds to them and by "unclear," I really mean "this is an obvious reveal that, to Good Morning America, Rebecca is just trying to wrench whatever it can out of the girl to further contribute to the freakshow spectacle of her inverted famousness."

There's something a bit paradoxical about all of this because, funnily enough, more than ever the media presents itself as the voice of the people - the Good Morning America video ends with them listing off stats of how, we, the viewers feel in a poll of whether the criticism against "Friday" is justified or not - but the generally positive treatment of Rebecca and the evident disapproval most journalists seem to have of the public's vilification of her demonstrate that we really aren't of the same mindset. However, in truth, I guess we are. We might approach it from different angles, but we're both just trying to get more out of the whole thing. In this society we don't just stare at the train wreck - we climb inside to poke the dead bodies. Arguably, the news does worse damage than we do by serving us up more and more footage of Rebecca, but we gladly help continue the cycle by bashing whatever new developments are presented to us, thus creating more hatred, thus giving the news more to talk about and chastise us for. It's a win-win fight between us and the media because, regardless of what happens, the outcome is the same - more Rebecca Black.4

We, the people, can also hardly take the high ground over the media types because Rebecca's made appearances on late night shows and, shocking though I know this is, amazingly she hasn't been heckled by audiences or anything. Like I said, the media knows they aren't going to keep viewers around by telling a teenager she's shit on national television and it looks like the public doesn't want to be ostracized either. I think there's a tendency (I know I do it) to separate "internet people" from "real people," but (and I've only just learned this myself, guys) apparently they are all the same people! I mean, come on, out of all the public appearances Rebecca's made, surely someone who made a negative comment on her video must've been there for one of them to throw a tomato or shout out "The lyrical quality of your composition is laughable at best!" So we're no better than the media really - or we might even be worse in a way! At least they started out pretending to like Rebecca and stayed that way. We're the ones who claimed to hate her and now clap along with her as she performs "Friday" live for us.

We seem to be a society of people who will (anonymously) take someone apart for a failed attempt at entering into the cultural mindset, but would also readily accept such contempt so long as we're being noticed in whatever small way. But that said I'm not actually positive we hate Rebecca anymore. The aforementioned Colbert performance is one example of how we actually now seem to be celebrating or even championing her mediocrity. Rebecca Black's media saturation and cultural recognition have now reached such heights that I can no longer tell what we even want from the girl. Failure? Success? We're now hearing she's working on an album and new single, but is it gonna be bad on purpose? Is it actually going to try to be good? Would we even want that from her? I'm not sure it matters anymore; her infamy at this point lives off of and grows fat on itself.

And Rebecca just rolls with it all. Why wouldn't she? She's famous and it's cool, right? If you didn't catch it, on April Fools' Day (but Rebecca is no fool!(?)) Funny or Die revamped their homepage and stuffed it with videos featuring Ms. Black herself, calling it (what else?) Black Friday.5 The videos all featured Rebecca seemingly acknowledging the silliness of her music by fake-analyzing the lyrics and having a fake Behind the Music called "Betwixt the Music" and doing a fake ad for her Greatest Hits. Finally, there's a video with her having a particularly dramatic time trying to decide which seat to take when a car full of her friends pulls up. See? She gets it. She gets that it was a stupid song with lyrics bordering on the nonsensical. But, wait! If she knew that how come she didn't tell Patrice Wilson to maybe take a stab at writing some lyrics that would be applicable to someone's life somewhere in the galaxy? Because she didn't and she doesn't get it. I mean, she's sensible enough to know she's being made fun of, certainly, but I don't think she's really considering how making these joke videos is going to affect her image. Sure, in theory, it's "cool" she's in on it, but I don't think she really truly is because she wouldn't have made the video in the first place if she was critically aware enough to decide it was too stupid. I think she did what they told her to do in the original video because it seemed cool and felt like she was a famous pop star and I think she did the videos with the Funny or Die people for the same reason.6 She's just pushing her fame forward for fame's sake.

But then why shouldn't she? Being a poor facsimile of a pop star is, in our current culture of fame, hardly the bottom of the barrel. I remember when Alicia Keys first showed up with her first single. My college roommate at the time said he was fine with her because "at least she plays the piano." My retort at the time was that this was not exactly an indicator of Alicia's quality as a pop star so much as it was an indicator of the declining state of pop music that all they had to do was a prop a girl up in front of a piano and we'd applaud her for her talent because, holy cow, a piano! But that was just the tip of crap culture iceberg. We now give people TV shows just because someone got a hold of their poor excuse for a sex tape or because they have a lot of MySpace friends and claim to be bi-sexual. I guess it's understandable that we all think we're "special" (meaning "will be famous") because some people are famous for no reason and, furthermore, networks have created reality television, which allows the average person a few minutes of fame (possibly more if they're particularly awful) just for shaming and/or making spectacles of themselves.7 Really, the possibility of fame is more in reach than it's ever been before!

But this is the most horrifying thing and the intended culmination of all I've been rambling about. Even though I thought our country was supposed to be running out of money and even after all the stupid crap we've pulled, people still like us. We still produce so much entertainment that so many people around the world see, are influenced by, and aspire to that when I say "Friday" is an example of American culture, I am effectively saying that it's an example of all culture. And that scares me shitless.

I taught in China for a year so it's the best example I've got of how our culture gets reappropriated by a culture which should, in theory, be vastly different. China is really sad because they have a really impressive history that, from my experience, seems to be of little to no consequence to the current generation, which is as materialistic, vapid, and starstruck as many of us 'Mericans are. However, with all the government stoppage of, well, whatever the hell they feel like from week to week (time travel, anyone?) as well as the fact that our cultures are just of vastly different mindsets, their pop culture is like a stillbirth version of ours. Yes, they bootleg a lot of our stuff, but there's still a sense that most of what they're into is dated and pretty crap. It was less than a year ago that most of my students were citing Titanic and Forrest Gump as their favorite films. All of Avril Levigne's back catalog was a big deal there and there was quite the appreciation for Westlife as well. If you're saying "Who?" don't bother yourself with digging into the subject any deeper. In fairness, these acts are Canadian and Irish respectively, but they're still very much cut from the same pop cloth that we originally manufactured.

But the worst was the stuff like seeing supposedly formal school ceremonies in which female students would get on stage and do choreographed booty dancing to Britney Spears songs. Or that all the students loved Gossip Girl and would take lots of photos of the teachers to put up on Gossip Girl-inspired blogs. It's really pathetic to witness someone in the US trying hopelessly to emulate a TV show or pop star. It's even worse to witness these bizarre filtered-through-the-weird-communist mindset attempts at it. I'm not saying it's so pathetic because they're Chinese and we're American and we're awesome and know what we're doing and they don't. I'm saying that the type of fame they're trying to copy isn't even worth copying within its own country and that they should be able to find pride within their own culture. I mean, Patrice Wilson of Ark Music Factory could barely do it and he's a wizened American living in Cali! Don't you see how terrible (and terribly sexy!) it looks when some Chinese girl sticks her ass out onstage just because that's what they do in America? Due to language barriers and cultural differences, it's evidently not even clear to many of them what is being communicated with much of our various pop stars' behavior. They just know that it's American and, therefore, cool. As I mentioned before, I know that "Friday" has made its way onto Chinese video sharing sites and, considering I know not everyone in the country is proficient enough in English to entirely get why it's so funny, I wonder what the general feeling on the song might actually be. If Rebecca's album tanks, I'd venture to say there's a good chance she should look to her Chinese audience! She could be China-huge!!!

4 One of the most embarrassing things I've seen in recent memory was the acoustic version of "Friday" Rebecca did on another edition of Good Morning America. Not only did this slowed-down, bare-bones version of the song only succeed in further highlighting how sparse and stupid the lyrics are, it also featured an anchor (if morning show people are even worthy of being called anchors) hopping around, mouthing the lyrics along with Rebecca, and high-fiving someone upon the song's culmination. It begs the question: can this guy actually love "Friday" that much? The answer to this is, I suspect, not really. I think he's a hollow enough journalism type that he's just wrapped up in the hype and fame of the whole spectacle. He's likely lost any sense of real taste and is, like all of us, simply appreciating "Friday" for its famousness.

5 I must admit that that the combination of Rebecca's name and song have easily made lots of us think "Black Friday" is fantastic as it is of course the most disgustingly commercial day of the year in a society already obsessed with consumerism. We've also got the fact that Ark Music Factory is called as such because of, that's right, Noah's. Honestly, this whole business couldn't get any more American if it tried.

6 Perhaps I'm being unfair to Rebecca by simplifying her feelings and actions in all of this. I still believe the majority of her motivation is based in her being in a sort of sudden fame daze, but I have to admit that she seems to be handling a lot of it kind of masterfully. She's pretty calm and collected in public appearances and even if she's brushing off the mean comments and threats she's received with thoughts akin to "Who cares? I'm famous," she still seems to be brushing them off more casually than I feel like I would be able to. So I guess what I'm saying is that, okay, I can't really know what Rebecca thinks of all this and maybe she's got a better grip on things than I'm giving her credit for. And also maybe that I'm all wrong and she truly is born to be a star!

7 Speaking of brief moments of infamy, please do know that, though I wasted so much text on it, I don't think "Friday" is some kind of unique harbinger of cultural doom - I just think it's one really perfect example of one of many such harbingers. Truly, Rebecca Black is most likely a fleeting (though shockingly huge) phenomenon, but that just adds to my argument. What on earth is the point of not only being known for being lame, but also just being a lame footnote?

Last Part
Rebecca Kicks Butt (or Does the Butt Kick Her? Think About It.)

Don't worry about me - I have a lucrative career in the field of Photoshop arts.

We are at a time in our culture where we are settling for less than mediocre. Just like it's our fault for accepting McDonald's as "okay" so now it's taken over the whole damn world, the more we accept and celebrate crap, the more we help to turn that crap into a worldwide crapnomenon. And, again, "Friday" is sort of on the "better" side of things. I only find it a more quintessential example of modern American culture because of Rebecca's age and because her mother funded it, giving it the added element of the American sense of entitlement and uniqueness - especially for our children. I mean, how long before that way of thinking gets out? The internet already turns everybody into stars. Far as I can tell, right now the only thing stopping everyone from constantly trying to achieve some poor excuse for fame is that we aren't all Americans.

The people who say "Friday" isn't much worse than a lot of other pop are right. But the issue is greater than that. The fact of the matter is that I can now say of a public figure: "Well, at least she sang a song" or even "Well, at least she did something." In a world where we follow the lives of people like Kim Kardashian because she's friends with a girl who's famous for a boring sex tape, why shouldn't a 13-year old get recognition for making a hilarious piece of garbage? But the problem is that this hollow, inane stuff that we cast a spotlight on tends to comprise a great deal of what other countries see of us. In other words, we are Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton and we are Rebecca Black. This is America. And I'm not just making this point to say we should be embarrassed. It's more because I know that, despite all the stupid crap we produce, we're still the trendsetters and we're still a huge influence on many, many other cultures. What scares the hell out of me is the notion that people in other countries might see Rebecca Black and aspire to do what she has done.

Maybe Rebecca is happy or thinks she is, but, honestly, would you want her "fame?" Would you want to be known for making something stupid? Why do we strive to become a part of this culture which is largely pretty crappy? It's one thing if you have some kind of talent you want to be recognized for, but being in a position where you're insulted or shamed just to get a bit of fame - why? We need to be more critical of ourselves and the stylized garbage we're fed. And if we can't manage that, then what I want out of other cultures is to stop looking to us as a barometer of cool. We clearly don't know what we're doing most of the time and you're far better off being yourselves. China's history is far cooler than the crap version of our culture that the kids there seem to be into and I say this as an ignorant American who sort of doesn't care about history. We need to shape up. If we're gonna idolize people they should be people worth idolizing. If we're gonna criticize people we should be more thoughtful and constructive with our criticism. And if we're gonna try to achieve fame, we should be able to demonstrate a bona fide reason for other people to care about us.

And, for the record, I don't exactly pretend to know how to do any of this, nor do I separate myself from or think I'm above this tainted culture that I'm so critical of. I've watched "Friday" enough that it got stuck in my head, I watched the parodies, I posted a line from it as my Facebook status, and I wrote a gigantic article about how it's an example of the destruction of our culture that nobody's going to read. I may not have taken to YouTube to make malicious comments about Rebecca, but I'll usually take apart a public figure just because I feel like it; remember when I called Fergie a near-corpse before? I'm happy to be mean and critical without any clear indication that I can help make things better. And I'm writing this now because I think my opinion is special and unique and I'd like to get on the "Friday" success train while it's still a-chuggin'.

I look inside myself and see Rebecca Black.

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