Cynicism and Wishful Thinking in Oh Honey's "Be Okay"

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Music during the Baroque era was larger than life. Music from the 1960’s reflected a grassroots feel and exuded peace and love. Following this train of thought, I must ask the question. What does today’s music say about say about us?

When it comes to pop music today, people usually feel one of two ways: utter disgust or enjoyment.  You will hear from music buffs sometimes there isn’t any good music anymore.  Depending on the taste, the good music is gone for them.  For others, they see today’s music as the best.  It seems the most immediate, and the most attuned to our needs.  This makes sense; music defines the era it is iconic of.  Music during the Baroque era was larger than life.  Music from the 1960’s reflected a grassroots feel and exuded peace and love.  Following this train of thought, I must ask the question.  What does today’s music say about say about us?  The first group would say it represents a shallow group of people, others would say it represents a more casual or “easygoing” group of people.  The problem itself suggests something in itself.  The nature of today’s pop music is contradictory; it represents a cynical group of people who crave for simpler, happier existence.  The song that, I think, captures the essence of this contradiction best is “Be Okay” by Oh Honey.

            The original song has the hipster vibe of the artsy indie band, but the remix done by Dzeko and Torres captures more of a party vibe.  It picks you up, but in the last bars it drones on into monotony when the vocals stop.  The remix best represents the lyrics and the vibe of what I would describe to be “of the times”.  In the first verse, Danielle Bouchard sings:

“Fresh cut grass, one cold beer

Thank the Lord I am here and now, here and now

Summer dress, favorite park

Bless your soul, we are here and now, here and now…”[1]

Here we get a picture of your typical American summer.  You get the smells, clothes, and even happenings one would usually associate with summer in America.  The references to God and to the soul continue this train of thought, as anyone can notice the prevalence of religion in America.  However, I claim these references to religion highlight a deeper meaning.  The song continues: “I'm wide-awake, so what's the point of dreaming when your life is great? Celebrate the feeling, celebrate the feeling.”[2]  If the verse was packing the bowl then the pre-chorus is lighting it.  One could easily read the line and think the main “character”, if you will, is celebrating life.  There’s no need to run off into dreams and into fantasy; life is great just the way it is.  Anyone who knows anything about the world today knows that this isn’t the case, but that’s the point.  This is what Marxist scholars would refer to as promoting false consciousness in the form of ideology.

            Engels wrote about Ideology, saying “Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, indeed, but with a false consciousness. The real motives impelling him remain unknown to him... Hence he imagines false or apparent motives.”[3] The ideology at play here is an ideology of happiness as an end in of itself and the simplicity that comes with it.  The chorus goes “Can't complain about much these days, I believe we'll be okay.”[4]  The high is strong from the opium of the people.  Now, we get the full picture of what the song ideologically offering.  The song doesn’t want you to worry about anything.  It will be alright.  There’s no reason to dream and use your imagination and creative faculties.  Life is perfect just the way it is.  There’s no reason to think about problems and there’s no reason to make your life better; it's already the best it could ever be.  The message of the song is poisonous in deed. 

The previous mentions of God and the Soul both reinforce this ideology but also to highlight it's contradictions.  Christopher Hitchens once said the person who is religious announces, “I already know all I need to know.  I already have all the information I need.  Indeed, I’ve been given it by a supernatural body.”[5]  Religion teaches us that God has already given us truth and we should rejoice in it, rather than continuing to search for knowledge under the assumption that we do not have it all yet.  The song has religious overtones, but the language of religion shows a hatred for life.  It does not point to a love of it.  It is a want of happiness in the form of a happiness in heaven, not happiness for life with all its complexity and beauty.  The song taps into a wish to transcend the harshness of reality with the proclamation that “everything will be okay.”[6]

The sinister nature of the song then isn’t even that it preaches that everything is okay, but it simulates that people, including the listener, succeeded.  You don’t have to work towards making the world a better place.  You just have to listen to this song and feel as if it has become a better place.  Slavoj Zizek spoke on a similar observation of sitcom “canned laughter,” saying simply that “The TV laughs for you.”[7]  This may seem dumb or perhaps something from a meme posted by “*Hits Blunt*”, it does make sense.  Zizek claims that “even though [he] didn’t laugh, he feels as if he had laughed.”[8]  The song serves a similar purpose.  While people write religious songs to capture the “beauty” of God or to remind a religious audience of the wonders of the faith, this song targets a cynical generation.

You see it all the time now.  The horror film with just the crazy person or animal has almost fallen out of style.  The chief model for horror films is a story with a supernatural flavor.  Ghosts, demons, witches, you name it; as long as it involves something not in material reality, it will sell tickets (the splendid contradiction of our era).  Stanley Kubrick, waxing on during production of The Shining, saying that

"There's something inherently wrong with the human personality. There's an evil side to it. One of the things that horror stories can do is to show us the archetypes of the unconscious: we can see the dark side without having to confront it directly. Also, ghost stories appeal to our craving for immortality. If you can be afraid of a ghost, then you have to believe that a ghost may exist. And if a ghost exists, then oblivion might not be the end. "

Ghost stories are innately optimistic.  It means life does not end after death.  The ideology I’ve laid out here is the one at work in the movie theaters as well as on the radio.  Why do people go to see paranormal horror movies? According to Kubrick, to exercise their demons without ever getting into contact with them, and to take seriously for a moment their deepest wish. 

We live in a cynical age where college students doubt they will be able to gain employment.  People have doubts about whether it makes a difference who is president.  War is for money.  Swindlers make commercials.  Religious institutions preach hate more than love.  People see these statements as critiques of society, but they represent the core ethos of society.  Everything is a lie and life guarantees nothing.  People these days can’t trust anything fully or deeply anymore, although they sure wish they could.  They feel we as a species can’t make the world better, so they resign themselves to cheerful music and scary movies to exercise the daemons[9] within them to reassure themselves that it's okay that they didn’t do anything today.  It's okay the world hasn’t changed, because you feel it in your heart.  Isn’t that enough?  Nietzsche’s Last Men say, “We have discovered happiness,” and they blink…  At the risk of surrendering, I don’t want to sound like a preaching Christian; I don’t want to ban the song.  Nevertheless, it is important to gauge where the song lies in today’s ideology. 

 

[1] Oh Honey, "Oh Honey: Be Okay (Dzeko & Torres Remix),"  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9UCKJFJR7A.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Friedrich Engels, "Engels to Franz Mehring," Marxists Internet Archive, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1893/letters/93_07_14.htm.

[4] Honey, "Oh Honey: Be Okay (Dzeko & Torres Remix)".

[5] "Christopher Hitchens on Science Vs Religion,"  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hv6U2BtdFGc.

[6] "Oh Honey: Be Okay (Dzeko & Torres Remix)".

[7] James Wiggins, "Slavoj Zizek on Religion "  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JE9bE1wiHdw.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Socrates referred to his inner conscience as a daemon, or a spirit.

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