Saturday, April 9, 2016


The band MAGIC!, whose song "Rude" currently rules the charts 

I am no expert on men’s issues, nor can I realistically claim to major in manliness, but still I venture to declare that the success of “Rude,” a song now gaining extensive airplay, unintentionally underscores a prominent crisis in modern-day masculinity.
The lyrics to the tune, a lightly syncopated calypso-esque number, portray a curious confrontation between a young man and his girlfriend’s father. The lad is gaga for the girl, and wants to marry her, but he also knows that her dad is a stern, old-fashioned man, one who might not take an elopement scenario too well. The speaker thus decides that it would be best to make the old-fashioned gesture of asking the protective paterfamilias for permission to pledge his troth to the lovely fruit of this older man’s felicitous loins.

So one fateful Saturday morning, our hero leaps out of bed, dons what he calls his “best suit,” and braves himself to walk to this man’s door and knock, his heart filled with terror and anxiety all the while. But once he has to look directly into the man's steely eyes, he positively turns to jelly, and when he pops the question, it is with a pitifully pleading tone:
"Could I have your daughter for the rest of my life?
Say yes, say yes, cuz I need to know!"
To which the man gives a decidedly discouraging reply:
"Tough luck my friend, but the answer is 'no'!"
Up to this point, the speaker has been respectful, if timid. But now, upon receiving the answer he didn’t want to hear, he grows whiny, petulant, and childishly defiant:
"Why you gotta be so rude?
Don't you know I'm human, too?
I’m gonna marry her anyway!"
What’s worth noting is the essential passive aggression of the speaker. He desperately desires the father’s approval, but when he doesn’t get it, he never considers that this is possibly because he doesn’t merit it. Instead, he complains of the father’s alleged “rudeness” in denying him what he wants, while stamping his foot in a peevish fit of sullen insolence.


While we can admire him for having the guts to approach the father at all, this reaction is hardly becoming on his part.  It betrays an attitude of entitlement, for one thing. Why should the older man trust his intentions? Does he feel that he deserves to be given a blessing by his sweetie’s father just because he’s “in love”? If so, one could easily reply: If you love her so much, then work on being a better man for her, boyo.

And why, of all things, complain about rudeness on the father’s part? Was he honestly expecting the man to be nice, under the circumstances? We can forgive the speaker's lack of foresight and empathy to some extent: clearly, as a callow youth, he doesn’t know what it’s like to be the caring father of a young daughter in a world full of lecherous men.  Still, his bitching over being treated “rudely” here seems comically out of place. To put it plainly (and coarsely), it makes our hero sound like something of a pussy.


Of course, even a suitor with a mature mindset would be stung by the rejection; nevertheless, he would also respect the father’s gruff frankness on the matter. Rather than taking it personally, he would be able to acknowledge that a dad who isn’t protective of his daughter and scrupulously suspicious of her prospective husbands is no real dad at all. The speaker, however, can’t take the long view of the situation, or ask himself how he would feel if he were in the father's place; he is too busy fixating on his hurt feelings.

Yet in a way, what makes the speaker’s attitude so grating is perhaps the same quality that lends his character a certain excruciating poignancy: the kid is needy and insecure. For all of his bravado about how he'll "marry her anyway," no matter what the dad says, he can't shake his painfully urgent wish to win the father over. His emotional appeal ("Say yes, say yes!")  is in truth a request for affirmation, signifying a desire to be initiated into a masculine bond with an elder. Otherwise, why even bother trying to talk the old grump into liking him at all?   

As a pop song, “Rude,” in fact, retains a certain noteworthy reactionary resonance. In the midst of a progressive, post-sexual revolution age, where marriage has been rendered so malleable in definition that it barely even exists anymore, where casual sex outside the bonds of wedlock isn’t in the least perceived as scandalous, and where shacking up” with one’s significant other is the commonest of domestic configurations, this tune almost seems to occupy an alternate universe, wherein an ardent swain is still expected to put a ring on his lady love’s finger, so that their union can indeed become “legitimate,” and where said swain even sees it as his duty to obtain permission from his love’s father prior to getting hitched. It is these sorts of arrangements—that is to say, the “old-fashioned” ones—that are viewed as “romantic” by this song’s target audience: young girls.

And yet even within this counter-cultural context, the galling corruptions and accompanying neuroses of our own timeline intrude, in the form of the protagonist’s conspicuous poutiness and childish defiance in the face of this would-be father-figure’s disapproval. Reality, it seems, cannot be ultimately willed away; it will always manifest itself again with a vengeance, thrusting us back into its grisly, greedy maw.

The ultimate takeaway of the song, I think, is this: Young men want to be men again, but have forgotten how to do so. Still, they are groping towards a solution. They have grown faintly uneasy within a culture which encourages instant sexual gratification and unrestrained carnal license, yet at the same time denigrates responsible masculinity as “sexist” and “patriarchal”; they are trying to find their way back into a tradition that welcomes them as they are, rather than dismissing them as unwanted trash, as with contemporary feminism. At the same time, they don’t want to face how wretched they have become. They balk at the prospect of such painful exposure. Why does the truth have to be so “rude”?

(Originally published at Alternative Right, June 2014)

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