I have been listening to some old music lately, especially music that was popular when I was in my late teens and early twenties. Today, I stumbled across A Public Affair by Jessicia Simpson, a hit and a song I really enjoyed when I was about 22.
This reflection is for A Public Affair specifically, but it seems to apply to most popular songs of today.
For the youth of America, the good life is portrayed as one filled with wealth and sexual gratification. We need to look no further than the recent music to find evidence for this observation. And as Peter Kreeft once observed, music is the backdoor to the soul for it escapes the scrutiny of reason. Thus, more and more our youths are beginning to search for an unrealistic materially and sexually-filled life thinking that it is what the good life looks like; they begin to think that a good life is a life marked with pure freedom to do as they wish. A Public Affair accomplishes this task with its catchy tune and shallow lyrics sung by a talented Jessica Simpson.
The first few lines of ‘A Public Affair’ read, “There go the street lights. The night’s officially on. I got the green light, to do, whatever I want. I’m gonna stand outside the box, and put the rules on hold.” Immediately, the listener is proposed two ways to see the good life: pure self-autonomy and self-satisfaction. Therefore, for a person who is searching for happiness there is only one person to please and no one else: himself. If we can do whatever we want and put the rules on hold, then we essentially have no need to consider the emotional, mental, or physical healthcare of others. But it is precisely when we begin to care for only ourselves, the song suggests, that we begin to live a good and happy life.
The song also seems to suggest that to be happy we must be able to do whatever we want since the path to happiness lies in pure freedom. This is a conclusion reached by the lyrics, “do what you wanna do…tonight the world does not exist.” This conclusion, of course, is to be understood in conjunction with the other lyrics that call for pure self-autonomy and self-satisfaction. In short, because we should only look after ourselves and our own welfare, it is therefore permissible that we should ignore anything that is of the world that restricts us from a “good time.” Thus, we are told not to let the restrictions of the world force themselves upon us as we are called to put all rules “on hold,” and to imagine that the “world does not exist.” This leads to an understanding of true happiness and the good life as ideas that result from ignoring all moral restrictions, leaving only the only moral axiom to be: Do that which feels good for me.
It seems that A Public Affair buys into the tenets of moral relativism. Moral relativism isn’t new to Americans, though. The good life, according to relativism, is different from person to person and it is achieved through happiness, which also differs from person to person. Therefore we should pursue happiness in whatever way we can, even if it means leaving others hurt or harmed. This idea is quite appealing insofar as it holds the one searching for happiness, the self, as the center of which all other things revolve. As such, we have achieved the good life if we have somehow satisfied ourselves by being happy. Accordingly, finding happiness is about recognizing the here and the now; the “opportunity, that you don’t wanna miss”: Do it now because it will feel good! Relativism’s contribution as the viewing lens of life in America is rather astounding, and because of this, songs like A Public Affair hold a popular place in the hearts of the youths of America.
A closer consideration and examination of the song and of its proposal of happiness would probably suggest that it has failed at its reduction of happiness. The questions become: What is true happiness and what is the good life? I shall attempt this answer in a future post.