?!?!???><><_)_)_~) Katie Dempsey--writer, illustrator, distance swimmer, tennis dabbler, sarcastic quip generator, philosophizer, rogue psychologist, bibliophile, food appreciator, theoretician, movie watcher, may or may not actually be Batman? P.S. I've mostly relocated to my tumblr blog you guys hey you guys hey everybody let's all relocate to tumblr wooo

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Did Avril Lavigne's 2002 hit "Sk8er Boi" discriminate against ballerinas?!?!?

note: the vitriolic tone of this essay was originally written as satire, but I do think that this song is an odious example of 'social group based bigotry', one that 'punks' were/are particularly prone to (especially in high school)

Ten years ago, Canadian pop-punk songstress Avril Lavigne released a song called "Sk8er Boi", which was, presumably, supposed to be a cute little love song about two "outsiders" finding love. 

OR WAS IT? I intend to prove that a deeper look at the song's lyrics will reveal the dark, bigoted underpinnings of this chart-topping hit. Let's begin with the first verse:

He was a boy
She was a girl / 
Can I make it any more obvious?

Lavigne speaks very simple sentences here to indicate the "universality" of this love story, referencing the "boy meets girl" trope. She emphasizes this by adding "Can I make it any more obvious?" to draw attention to the simplicity of the love story. So far so good.

He was a punk./ 
She did ballet./ 
What more can I say?

Ok, I guess this is supposed to be the "twist". Now Lavigne has taken the same sentiment in the first triplet, echoing "Can I make it any more obvious" with "What more can I say", but twisting it around to suggest this love story is, in fact, NOT a simple boy+girl. There is CONFLICT. 

Sidenote: I find stock images to be hilarious no mater what context.

Apparently, a punk boy and a ballerina girl could not have a "simple" romance, as evidenced by the next few lines:

He wanted her./ 
She'd never tell./
Secretly she wanted him as well.

The fact that the girl would "never tell" and "secretly" wanted the boy implies that she considers wanting a punk boy to be something shameful and "beneath her".

And all of her friends/ 
Stuck up their nose./ 
And they had a problem with his baggy clothes

Or is it really the girl herself who considers the boy to be "beneath her"? If you think about it, she must not consider him really to be beneath her if she "wants" him. Right?

Aha! Here is the crux of the problem! THIS is the real reason why this girl must keep her love of the boy a secret. She is obviously terrified of her friends, who don't care about this girl's happiness or what SHE wants, merely that she act in ways that conform to their personal opinions and the norms of the group. 

This is Peer Pressure at its worst, people. And groups of ballerinas are particularly nasty offenders of it.

Then there's the first chorus:

He was a skater boy, she said see ya later boy./ 

He wasn't good enough for her.
She had a pretty face but her head was up in space./ 

She needed to come back down to earth.

This is where Avril's bigotry starts to reveal itself. 

Is it really fair to say this girl's head was "up in space" because she had cruel, domineering friends, who "turned up their nose" at the boy she liked? 

Avril states that this ballerina girl said "see ya later boy" because "he wasn't good enough for HER", but isn't it clear from the earlier verse that he wasn't good enough for her FRIENDS? Obviously since she "wanted him", she did indeed consider him "good enough" for her. It gets worse--

Five years from now
she sits at home/
 feeding the baby, she's all alone.

She turns on TV and guess who she sees?/ 

Skater boy rockin' up MTV.

She calls up her friends./ They already know/ 
And they've all got tickets to see his show.
She tags along/ stands in the crowd./ Looks up at the man that she turned down.

The details aren't clear, but from saying that this girl is "sitting at home, feeding the baby, she's all alone", we can surmise that she accidentally got pregnant and the dad wants nothing to do with her child. Or perhaps she got married young and had a kid, but her husband works all the time and she never sees him. Or maybe her husband left her because pregnancy made her fat and he's a shallow jerk.

And what of her terrible, bullying friends? They got tickets to see the show of this boy who they initially didn't approve of? 

Does that mean they do approve of him now that he's famous? Or are they going to see his show out of sheer curiosity? 

Avril doesn't specify. Either way, this new attention to the "boy who got away" probably isn't making this poor ballerina girl feel any better about being a lonely single mother.

He was a skater boy, she said see ya later boy./ 
He wasn't good enough for her.
Now he's a superstar/ Slammin' on his guitar/ 

Does your pretty face see what he's worth?

Sorry girl but you missed out./ 

Well tough luck that boy's mine now.

We are more than just good friends./ 
This is how the story ends.
Too bad that you couldn't see.../ 
See the man that boy could be.
There is more than meets the eye,/ I see the soul that is inside.

Okay, now Avril's just getting mean. This is the second time she's used "pretty face" as a derogatory term, pairing it with her "head being up in space" and now of "not being able to see [skater boy]'s worth", as if beauty and intelligence cannot go hand-in-hand. 

She also seems to be a little spiteful about the fact that she and this boy are together, saying "sorry girl but you missed out/well tough luck that boy's mine now". It's a little disturbing that she says "he's mine," implying ownership of this boy, and invoking a sense of competition with the ballerina, as if boys are objects to win in a contest.

Clearly Avril is displaying her intolerant opinions and prejudices of ballerinas/"pretty girls". She implies that this ballerina girl is dumb ("her head was up in space"), accusing her of not being able see the "worth" of the skater boy (even though we would assume that she would have seen his worth if she secretly "wanted him"). 

She uses "pretty" as a derogatory slur, implying that being "pretty" is inherently bad. Avril also seems to be gloating over the ballerina girl's misfortune (single mother; alone at home) by bragging about how Avril (or her first-person character in the song, presumably meant to be semi-autobiographical) "owns" the skater boy ("that boy's mine now"), and that the ballerina "missed her chance". 

Avril does not once take into account the devastating power of peer pressure on the ballerina girl, nor does she consider that the ballerina girl might have been pressured by her friends to not pursue the skater boy even though she really did want to be with him.

What if we changed the social groups of the characters in this song

The boy plays football on the high school team (adjusting for American gender roles, the masculine equivalent of ballerina), and the girl is a punk skater (/ goth/ weirdo /vampire /whatever. )

The boy wants the girl, and she secretly wants him too, but her punk friends don't approve of his football playing and Abercrombie clothes, so they forbid the skater girl to be with him. 

Five years later, the boy is a star quarterback for a NFL team, and the punk girl is a single mom. Actually, if we're really adjusting the roles to social group cliches (in the original song, the one that popular girls from high school have babies right after they graduate), maybe we could adjust so the punk girl is a heroin addict living under a bridge. 

Meanwhile, the boy is married to a team cheerleader, who, in the song, mocks the punk skater girl for not being able to see the boy's inner worth, and gloats over winning the boy, maybe making a derogatory reference to the punk girl's purple-dyed hair and tattoos. Yeah, not cool man. Not. cool.