Tuesday, September 17, 2013

T. Swift - Sociopath

Oftentimes, scratching a nail over polished walnut reveals rot below. This paper will elucidate this subtextual phenomenon, using an anyonymous author/poet whom we'll call, "T. Swift," as example. Let's imagine this invented Swift produces bubblegum pop to make thick-waisted executives foam at the mouth. Her sugary, overripe declarations of love gained and lost are fodder for hormone-mad preteens (and their open-wallet parents), yet retain enough cynicism and musicality to lure adults into a (false) sense of second youth. Pressing vinyl grooved with Swiftian compositions trails only counterfeiting Benjamins and cooking meth on the scale of sheer profitability.

T. Swift's narrator is strong-voiced, swoony with love and oft wronged. Her unapologetic beltings seem a pean to the "girl power" of the late 90's. However, consuming the whole of Swift's catalogue in a single sitting with a half-dozen pots of coffee reveals a dark turbulence below the shiny pop. We glean our thesis from the opening stanza of "I Knew You Were Trouble" (emphasis mine):

I guess you didn't care / and I guess I liked that
And when I fell hard / you took a step back
Without me, without me / without me

This innocent-seeming passage highlights our narrator's agility in sidestepping the truth. Taking a step from the infectious hook, we realize our narrator has glossed over falling in love with a man she'd only just met. This avoidance of truth, inconsistency of voice and anti-empathetic tone occurs again and again in Swiftian work:

Your guard is up and I know why./Because the last time you saw me/is still burned in the back of your mind./You gave me roses and I left them there to die. (Back to December)

We were talking / I didn't say half the things I wanted to. (Hey Stephen)

People are people, and sometimes we change our minds. (Speak Now)

The pattern holds throughout the Swift catalogue: the narrator makes declarations then contradicts herself in the next breath. A sociopath, simply defined, is one who displays extreme, antisocial behavior lacking conscience. Taken in concert, Swift's body of work reveals a sociopathic liar who takes joy in the manipulation and psychological abuse of her varied paramours.

Let's look at another example, this time from "We are Never Getting Back Together." The opening lines mean to frame the narrator's love interest the archetypal, non-committal male in order to later gain satisfaction from casting stones. However, a close reading of the text paints a different picture:

I remember when we broke up the first time
…'cause like… We hadn't seen each other in a month… Then you come around again and say
"Baby, I miss you" …I say, "I hate you," we break up …

Not only is our narrator the antagonist of her own tale, but she enjoys the sadism found in torturing her desperate lover. Read as such, the spoken interlude later in the song shrivels male genitals everywhere:

Uggg... so he calls me up and he's like,
"I still love you,"                  
And I'm like... "I just...
We are never getting back together. Like, ever"

Men, as a gender, often stand in the way of their own emotions. Presented with a man displaying dedication and lack of self-preservation by declaring love, our narrator simply puts on her "sexy  baby" voice and swats him away like a fly.

Going back to "Trouble," we can now see the problems inherent with Swiftian unreliable narration. The chorus gloats again and again to an ex-lover, "I knew you were trouble when you walked in." However, did our narrator truly believe their own statements? Perhaps she correctly assed trouble and intentionally engaged in relations to fill a masochistic need. Given a bubblegum tessellation on Humbert Humbert, we should take nothing at face value.

"You Belong With Me," is meant to be an ode to the one who got away. Unreliable narration makes it the story of a "friend-zoned" girl trying to infect an imagined paramour with her own virulent unhappiness.

Our narrator intends "Love Story," to be a modern Romeo and Juliet song:

'Cause you were Romeo – I was a scarlet letter,
And my daddy said, "Stay away from Juliet."                

The more likely explanation of the text is our narrator's tired father is trying against all hope to protect oblivious lovers from his succubus of a daughter.

We must, however, draw an important line, that being the one separating art from artist. Our author may be in the minority of well-adjusted teen-stars and merely chooses to write every song in the voice of a brutal sociopath. Swift shows us again and again; readers, listeners and viewers must retain a healthy skepticism for the voice of their narrator. 

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