Thursday, April 19, 2012

Routinized Freedom

The lyrics of Young the Giant’s “Cough Syrup” present an interesting contrast between surreal images of abstract danger and the quotidian flatness of everyday life. On the one hand, the song paints compelling scenes of illogical fear—“These fishes in the sea are staring at me,” and “These zombies in the park they’re looking for my heart”—and on the other, it names the unimportant inconsequentiality of it all, “Life is too short to even care at all.” The paranoid images are explained in part as the hallucinogenic effects of over-medication on the part of the song’s protagonist, effects he seems to be waiting out. “I’m waiting for this cough syrup to come down, come down,” he sings. But at the end of the song, the protagonist continues taking the medicine in order to prolong the effects: “One more drop of cough syrup.” The song, then, is primarily about the dissatisfaction with an unheroic and uneventful life and the desire for something more epic, a desire that seems to be normative—“If I could find a way to see this straight/I’d run away/To some fortune I should have found by now.” Life is a disappointment to the protagonist because it does not live up to his poetic expectations, and, therefore, he turns to the cough syrup to escape it, even if that escape fills him with dread and not happiness.

“Cough Syrup” points to one of the most interesting and contradictory aspects of everyday life. Because so much of our life is lived according to imposed schedules and routines, whether those be work or school related, we feel that our private life is the place in which we really get to be ourselves. In the freedom of the home, the weekend, the vacation, all those unregulated times and spaces that we claim exclusively our own, we can be fully expressive in the way we can’t be when he have to live and act by the rules of others. Unfortunately, for many people, domestic life also seems to be filled only with monotony and boredom. Many of us spend our free time looking for diversions, either cheap or sophisticated, to fill up the hours that modern capitalist society leaves for our consumption. Moreover, the sense that we spend our free time in the same way that everybody else does is a familiar doubt to most people. In short, the freedom of everyday life is compromised by the sense that our private lives are as prosaic, common, and repetitive as our work lives and that this phenomenon is widespread. In the space that we are granted to be most ourselves, we wind up being like everybody else.

The structures of everyday life, Braudel called them. The facet of life that we claim our own as the spontaneous expression of our very personhood is in fact ordered according to normative categories that have developed over time. Everything about the intimate and the domestic has a social dimension that is historical in origin. If everyday life does not offer an escape from the regulations and norms of capitalist modernity it is because what constitutes the quotidian is historically inseparable from the development of modernity itself. Hence the lure of one more spoon of cough syrup.

1 comment:

  1. your anxious readers await a new post!