RETRO DAVE REVISITED.* I'm a bit uncomfortable marching into battle with David Brooks on my side, but weird as his op-ed on Avril Lavigne, Carrie Underwood, and Pink is, I'm not exactly shocked that he wrote it. The Lavigne song, in particular, is an ugly piece of work, though not for the reasons Brooks describes. More for these reasons. The Underwood song is something of a revenge fantasy. Pink, however, is being unfairly smeared. Her song is about being objectified and harassed at clubs. "I'm not here for your entertainment," she snarls. And isn't she right?
But this nostalgia for the good ol' days is misplaced. Brooks says, "If you put the songs together, you see they’re about the same sort of character: a character who would have been socially unacceptable in a megahit pop song 10, let alone 30 years ago. This character is hard-boiled, foul-mouthed, fedup, emotionally self-sufficient and unforgiving. She’s like one of those battle-hardened combat vets, who’s had the sentimentality beaten out of her and who no longer has time for romance or etiquette." Well, that's wrong, if for no other reason than Pink's character is a feminist tired of being groped while Underwood is an angry girlfriend on a vengeful bender and Lavigne is a violent Heather. And it's wrong, as well, for reasons Brooks points out: This character populated all manner of mid-century Noir movies.
But let's split the difference and go back to 1987. Were we really so pure? Madonna had a few hit singles that year (La Isla Bonita and Open Your Heart) -- does Brooks really want to hold 80's-vintage Madonna as an exemplar of family values? Or is it Samantha Fox, with Touch Me, a song about a one night stand ("Hot & cold emotions confusing my brain/I could not decide between pleasure & pain/Like a tramp in the night/I was begging for you/To treat my body like you wanted to)? Or are aging, white men just always shocked and appalled at the behavior of young women?
*I also like the image of "retro Dave," which, to me, looks like Brooks in an ill-fitting, paisley polyester shirt getting jiggy beneath a disco ball. Who's got photoshop...