Sometimes I’m very proud of my kids, like when they declare with magisterial teenage authority that Ke$ha … stinks. OK, maybe “stinks” is Dad’s loose translation, but the point is, they obviously have formed some principles of good taste at a young age.
I don’t know much about Ke$ha, except that she is remarkably open about her values, such as they are. From the dollar sign in her name to the voracious female raptor persona she embodies in her lyrics, she has clearly decided how she’ll spend her 15 minutes of fame.
That I know this much is probably disconcerting to a few readers, but I do sample the offerings of pop radio. I feel it is a bit like taking the culture’s blood pressure every now and then, though given much of what I run into, I’d say the culture is going Code Blue.
It was Ke$ha’s recent hit, “C’mon,” that had me reflecting on the messages being broadcast in pop music. Never mind that it is her usual hymn to female-initiated sexual encounters. At a certain point she waxes … philosophical:
I don’t wanna go to sleep
I wanna stay up all night
I wanna just screw around
I don’t wanna think about
What’s gonna be after this
I wanna just live right now
This is a carpe diem (“seize the day”) theme, though poetically a far cry from the 17th-century poet Robert Herrick’s “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time,” where he urges,
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.
Seizing the day is a cardinal virtue for youth, with the heedless rush that comes, science confirms, from rampaging hormones. What poets once saw as the province of the young, however, is becoming our culture’s dominant ethos: With all of our distractions and pleasures, we don’t want to think what comes after this. Of course, Ke$ha is young and rich. Seizing the moment looks pretty good from her vantage point.
To look at what’s in store a few decades down the road, try Woody Allen’s latest movie embarrassment, “To Rome with Love.” Here the neurotic seducer of underage girls (“Manhattan”) has become quite a tiresome old man. In the most lovely of settings — Rome — he portrays a world where faithfulness is an illusion, women are prone to infidelity and betrayal (a given for men as well, he assumes), and only the prostitute (yes, with a heart of gold) is seen as somehow admirable. And Woody’s character is, as always, obsessed by death, fearful of his own shadow, and whining against the dying of light.
It may be a columnist’s cliché to bemoan the direction society is heading, but at times like these it sure feels as if we are slouching toward a godless hedonism that mocks the idea there is anything worth sacrificing for, worth being faithful for, worth dying for, yet is terrified of oblivion. Heaven thus becomes a warm and fuzzy insurance policy against nothingness, yet the thought that there should be some final accounting for the choices we’ve made, or avoided, is not seriously held even by many Christians.
The challenge we face as Catholics, as believers, is to remain faithful to Christ while at the same time communicating the joy of such faith to a despairing world. As Pope Francis has said, “Christianity is not simply a matter of following commandments; it is about … being transformed by the love of Christ.” It is what the heart truly wants.
I’m not sure how well we’ve prepared the next generation to engage the brightly colored emptiness of which Ke$ha is the poet laureate. But if my kids think she stinks, I guess there’s still hope.
Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.