05 May 2013

Run for Your Life – before you lose it

Today a little run-through of jealousy in popular culture. Or rather, in a few selected songs. Not your old-style, relatively innocent ”my stomach hurts when Bob/ette is talking to someone who's not me” jealousy, but when it veers into violence and potential death. Jumping from songs to dead people might seem like a long shot, but at least in some cases it isn't that much of a leap.

Yesterday, as my music was on shuffle, I heard this Beatles song that I'd never noticed before, ”Run for Your Life”. Selected lyrics (but really, all parts of it are equally terrible):

Well you know that I'm a wicked guy
And I was born with a jealous mind
And I can't spend my whole life
Trying just to make you toe the line

You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That's the end, little girl

Let this be a sermon
I mean everything I've said
Baby, I'm determined
And I'd rather see you dead
  [emphasis added]

Besides the obvious derision in calling your lover ”little girl” (I'm very much assuming that a grown John Lennon would be dating grown women, so it's nowhere near being factually accurate), I hope you all see why this might be problematic, the lyrics should speak for themselves. This is not merely jealousy, this is disaster waiting to happen. There's a very strong streak of desire to control every move of another human being, which is pretty frightening by itself, and moreover a not very surreptitious threat. He will see to it that you die (are killed), if you do not follow orders. This is strong stuff.
I saw this being labelled as the worst Beatles song ever, which I will not necessarily argue against. 'Cause what can I say? Only that I haven't heard worse, but I haven't heard them all...
(Also, obviously Lennon thought it was a-ok, but even in 1965, how on Earth did nobody at any point stop and think, maybe this isn't the coolest song ever? Like, did it seem romantic to someone or something? Shudder.)

Another song, this time “Don't Be Stupid (You Know I Love You)” by Shania Twain

You're so complicated-you hang over my shoulder
When I read my mail
I don't appreciate it
When I talk to other guys
You think they're on my tail
I get so aggravated when I get off the phone
And I get the third degree
I'm really feelin' frustrated

I'm mad about you (I'm mad about you)
Can't live without you (can't live without you)
I'm crazy 'bout you (I'm crazy 'bout you)
So don't be stupid-you know I love you

Shania's* boyfriend is obsessively monitoring her every move, and instead of dumping him, she assures him that all is cool and she loves him, and she'll never go away, etc. etc. She thinks this obsession with control is annoying, but rather than a “cut this out or I'm gone” conversation, explaining why the behaviour is unacceptable under any circumstance, she assures him that it's simply superfluous since she totally would never leave him or cheat on him. In other words, stalking and control is ok if there is any reason to think the other person would cheat, it's just not ok here because she wouldn't cheat. So there!
I personally think his behaviour sounds suspiciously like the one exhibited by John Lennon in the above piece, and also like something that could easily escalate. Next thing you know, he'll be using physical violence to make his point and you'll be reduced to a frightened person with no confidence in yourself and completely isolated from friends and family. The loving part sounds like a case of Stockholm syndrome to me. You feel attachment to your abuser because sometimes he's not not-nice to you, and it feels like he's being nice to you. Manipulative jerks speculate in this. It is not a Good Thing. Please please please, get out of there, before it's too late.

Often threats of violence from jealous (ex)lovers/spouses are not taken seriously. The internet abounds with stories of women, fearing for their safety, but who are ignored until the guy shows up and kills them. After that we're all sad that it went too far, and had to end like this, and maybe a nod is made to his strong feelings, or something.

The two songs here might, in a very generous way, be interpreted as attempting to draw attention to something problematic, but there are no hints that that was ever actually the intention. They're buying straight into the acceptability and widespreadness of this form of sense of possession of another person.
I shall not make the step to argue that this form of possessiveness can be eradicated easily and out of nowhere, but I do believe that in a large part it is formed and reinforced by a culture that assumes that another person can be exclusive to you. Mandatory monogamy is easily taken a step further. The same goes for a masculinity that is tied to being Not a Woman, defined by “having” and owning women.

This only barely touches upon the dynamics of violent relationships in general, but I would think that in many cases obsessive possessive jealousy is tied to it. In any case, we shouldn't be fostering this sort of jealousy, we should do our best to teach our children why it will not do, why they should be happy in themselves and not in relation to who they own, and aim at dissipating the personal insecurity that feeds the need for asserting yourself in such a violent way.

I'll be the first to admit that particularly the Beatles song scares me senseless. Not in the literal sense that I'm afraid John Lennon will be knocking on my door tomorrow to warn me not to talk to my friends ever again, but on a more general, human level. I've seen it happen, and I've seen where it can go, and felt the surreptitiousness of it, and I've even been fortunate. This thinking and attitude towards other people is not only unpleasant for everyone you'll ever date or love, it's downright dangerous.

* I do realise it's probably not Shania's personal experience, but a song about whomever. Just stick with me.

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