I guess that depends on who you ask. For me personally, as a queer woman of color I tend to believe that it's not really possible for me to just forget about what's going on in the world, and put social issues on hold in favor of carefree fun. Then again, I'd like to think that social change and fun aren't mutually exclusive, that we can have a good time, smile and laugh, even while staying aware of serious issues around us.
One reason I'm thinking about this is that I've been tuning into some of the recent reactions to Beyoncé Knowles' new single, "Run the World (Girls)." If you haven't heard, it's the popular song with the chorus that asks, "Who run the world?" and answers, "Girls!"
Beyoncé's apparently impressive Billboard Awards performance has some praising the singer and her message of girl power. Others, however, are taking a minute to stop and consider the lyrics -- do girls really run the world? And what does it mean for a popular song to set out and declare it so?
Some of the arguments against this criticism have been heard many times before in response to critiques of popular culture, as some loyal Beyoncé supporters say that it's "just a song," which shouldn't be taken so seriously. So here rises the dilemma -- do we just let popular music be, for the sake of having fun, letting girls escape into the catchy song in which they rule the world? Or do we say "hold up," and take a minute to think about what's going on and the effect that inaccurate popular messaging can have on our world? After all, anyone who listens to this song and believes its lyrics might think, "Huh. Glad that whole gender inequality issue is fixed now, guess I don't have to do anything about it."
But that seems silly, of course, and some might argue that nobody who listens to this music would actually think that way, that even such popular music would never impact our world like that. But think about the dangers of a society that hears these words and sings along blissfully, without even considering their implications. Think of what it means, that it's possible for us to suspend the reality of our truths about who's hurting. And think of how different our world might be if our popular music was truly empowering.
I admit that I'm not a Beyoncé fan, and perhaps part of why I'm intrigued by this criticism is that I'm happy to see somebody else is questioning our society's love of her incessantly catchy tunes. And I admit, also, that I have my moments of letting go and having fun -- there was no profound message to be found in the story I shared on Harvey Milk Day, for example, except perhaps the thinly veiled idea that anyone who's uptight and judgmental should maybe try relaxing and having a little fun themselves. But when our aim to have fun deliberately misleads us and others into believing that social problems don't exist, we run the risk of enclosing ourselves in a bubble of ignorance, forgetting about those who are suffering, and allowing them to continue to suffer just so we can be comfortable.
So here's a reminder, in case you need it, that many of the girls of the world are oppressed and hurting, in spite of Beyoncé's words. Maybe we can find a more empowering, truthful jam for girls to rock out to.