Livin' Like We're Gonna Die Young is a Really Good Way to Die Young

I kind of pride myself on my ability to keep up with popular culture. But boy do I completely miss it sometimes. I think the Proverbs have something to say about pride along those lines. Like, it comes before a fall!

This one is kind of understandable though. The music industry long since bored me to (near) death. I cannot possibly bring myself to pay attention to whatever new phony, manufactured, and talentless "flavor of the month" happens to be topping the Billboard charts on a given day. They all sound exactly the same. Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, you name them. You could substitute one for the other in almost any case and nobody would tell the difference. That's what effects and "autotuning" are for: to take even the most talent-free singer and make them sing in tune. It's all one big noise; the songs blur together. In most cases, it seems, the songwriters are the same, as are the producers. It's a cookie-cutting mill. Has been for a long time. So I stopped paying attention.

The youth of America, however, did not.

I have a friend who makes part-time money in an industry that involves supplying alcoholic beverages to young adults who party. That's a fancy way of saying he's a bartender. He's a sharp, observant guy, and he notices cultural shifts that nobody else would. Over the years he's noticed the club going through phases. Hard to put your finger on it, but maybe just a vibe or feeling that permeates the attitude of a place full of young adults. Sometimes the attitude is light or "chill," as they say these days.

But he's noticing a dark and disturbing turn.

And he insistently tells me that it's my job to notice.

As Exhibit A, he forced me, roll of duct tape, gag, handcuffs and all (okay, I'm kidding about that part) to watch a music video that I would never link here. You don't want to see it. The "artist" (a term I use loosely for lack of a better term) is a young woman named Ke$ha. I believe that's pronounced "Keesha." I'd never heard of her and I wasn't exactly impressed. Just another hot-bodied flavor of the month sex object belting out-of-tune dance songs aided by technology that magically puts it in tune. What else is new? Madonna is now fifty-five years old, if you can believe it. But I digress...

The song is called "Die Young." Another Epicurean anthem to eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die! How, original. The lyrics are accompanied by upbeat grooves, poppy, pleasant sounding chord progressions. Really, all in all, the quintessential dance tune. Which makes the sick nihilism of its content jarring. Maybe the kids jumping around on the dance floor aren't really listening. That would make me happy. But something tells me they're listening.

Look, I would not bother with this. Except that time my friend tied me down with the duct tape in front of his smartphone I saw that Ms. Ke$ha's "Die Young" video had been viewed forty million times. You read that right. 40 million views on YouTube. And I'd never even heard of her. He is right. It's my job to notice this kind of thing.

"Die Young" is, indeed, another in a long line of Epicurean anthems. Life is short and meaningless, so you might as well pursue your worst impulses right away. You might die tomorrow, after all. This isn't a unique theme, of course. From Nike's "Just Do It" campaign to a million other advertisements, we've been told to look out for Number One's happiness and pleasure right now. I'm going to leave aside the flagrant symbolism of the music video, which, aside from being an all-around soft-porn flick, features upside-down crosses and ubiquitous pentagrams and other pagan symbols, none of which I find surprising or accidental. She was trying to shock me, but she's pretty naive.

Ke$ha takes the Epicurean thing a tad bit further. It's not: "Take the time to notice the sweet little things in life, smell the roses, appreciate your spouse or kids, go skydiving or mountain climbing." No, not that kind of stuff. Her version is to make sure you have sex with and fleetingly enjoy somebody else's loved one. "It's such a shame that you came here with someone / so while you're here in my arms / Let's make the most of the night like we're gonna die young."

Think of that. In one line we have here a worldview corrosive of commitments of any kind, unless that commitment is the commitment to not have any commitments. Pure sexual autonomy fueled by the narcissistic and nihilistic belief that actions have no meaning, significance, or consequence. "Don't care who's watching when we tearing it up," she sings. No standards, no judgments, no guilt, no shame whatsoever. But this kind of freedom isn't freedom at all. It is bondage.

When "freedom" is not constrained or oriented to meaning, purpose, and significance outside of one's self, that is, oriented to virtue, one is utterly captive to impulsive desires. No outside standards, boundaries, or brakes means that you have to serve your impulses because there is no other alternative. Now, does being forced to serve your whims and impulses sound like freedom? This kind of freedom is as phony as a $3 bill.

Of course, there is one further problem: reality. Ke$ha can sing all she wants of the glories of hooking up with other people's lovers and "tearing it up" because she's going to die tomorrow morning, but the vast majority of young people dancing at a club, um, do not die the next morning. And that means, all due respect to her fanciful thinking, consequences. The Devil just loves this sort of thing: making extreme hangovers, awkward morning-after conversations, insecurity and shame when he doesn't call afterwards, getting beat up or harassed or murdered by angry significant others, accidental babies, and sexually transmitted diseases look like a total blast! Can't wait to do it again tonight!

I'll sum it all up: Ke$ha's "Die Young" philosophy is a pretty good way to insure that you'll... die young.

My friend, the longtime bartender, doesn't see an innocent having a good time so much anymore. He pretty much sees young people trying their best to kill themselves. I wish that 40 million YouTube views represented just a hundred teeny-bopper, bubble-gum fan-girls who each watched it 400,000 times. But I'm not that stupid.

We've got a cultural problem on our hands.

Brian Mattson