No thanks, I’d rather be a plastic bag.
Don’t get me wrong please, I’m a seminarian; I don’t listen to pop-rock music as I walk down the seminary hallways in my black robe. I didn’t know Firework hit the Billboard-Hot-100 twice last month as best-performing single in the USA, until I checked the stats. Nor did I care, until I joined a classmate to visit the eye-doctor. As I sat in an Italian waiting room I got to know Katy Perry ... for the first time … and it got me thinking.
She sings very well. At first I tried to ignore her so I could read, but that was impossible; besides singing beautifully, she also uses graphic images which grab your attention.
“Do you feel like a plastic bag?” she asked, “drifting through the wind, wanting to start again?”
Of course I do, I almost answered out loud. We all have ups and downs, and desires to get back up and out of the gutter. First gut feeling? “No, I don’t want to be a plastic bag!” Then brother arrived with his new glasses. So I said goodbye to Katy; knowing my life of silence, I would probably never “see” her again. But to my surprise...
During the next two weeks it seemed I couldn’t get rid of her; her song was playing everywhere I went: restaurants, bus rides, waiting rooms, tourists’ cell phones, and to top it off, the laundry guy brought a radio to work—and there she was—in my seminary too.
If I—a man of peace and quiet by definition—know this song almost by heart without having tried, then I’m sure you do too. That’s why this article is for you, (or your children, or your friends). I disagree with the heart of her message about success. And since EVERYONE is listening to her lyrics (aka. being forced to), then she is deforming our opinions about life and success and happiness.
Here’s why I disagree with her imagery; and here’s my proposal for a better image:
Akron, Ohio is known for its 4th of July fireworks celebration. The shooting point is only 1 block from my house. Families arrive early to snag a patch of grass. Picnic blankets and baskets in the thousands cover the valley. And, oh my, what a show! Little kids make “oohs and aahs”; car-alarms go off every 30 seconds; the night sky gets lit-up with reds, blues and greens; and all-in-all everyone has a great time. Everyone that is, except for the fireworks....
Have you ever felt sorry for those fireworks? Imagine their life story: off the production line, into a box, stored on the shelf for years, and then the big day, opened up, lit up, shot into the sky, BOOM!!! And then ... here she comes, floating down to earth, a thousand pieces of ash spreading all over the place, trampled underfoot by those returning home.
Returning to Katy Perry’s lyrics, here’s her next line: “Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin, like a house of cards, one blow from caving in?”
On the one hand we can share her down feelings, but on the other, I don’t see how anyone can agree with her answer which comes in the refrain: “You just gotta ignite, the light, and let it shine. Just own the night like the 4th of July. ‘Cause baby you’re a firework. Come on, show ‘em what you’re worth. Make ‘em go “Oh, oh, oh” As you shoot across the sky-y-y.”
I got to thinking, because of this old joke I heard again recently, that her proposal isn’t much different from what happens to “what’s green all over, and becomes red at the push of a button?” A frog in a blender.
What’s the difference? Push the button, everyone goes “wow” and you dump it down the drain. In extreme cases this could be like: “look, I can jump off this bridge,” or “maybe I can please with a one-night-stand” or again “sure, I’ll take these drugs if it makes me fit-in.” Or at least—in everyday cases—it invites us to gauge success by peer pressure, cultural modes, and public opinion.
We don’t need this message shoved down the throat—it won’t make us happy. “Showing off” never solves the problem of feeling alone or useless—it makes it worse!
Here’s another proposal. It’s not anything new. It probably won’t be popular either, but it works: How about being a grain of wheat? To be successful in life, to grow, and yes, even to get them to look at the fruits you bear, you need to die in the furrow. Or in modern day language: “No pain, no gain—now and eternally.”
Love, self-giving, sacrifice, service, humility—these are the messages which we need to be hearing. These are the ones that really make us happy.
I’ll be honest; I stole this idea from the Bible. It’s about 2000 years old. Jesus said it in the Gospel.
So next time you hear Katy Perry’s song—as you inevitably will—maybe you should just get ready to share with those around you, this long-standing version of success, once her song is over.
And just one last thought: if you asked me: “Do you want to be a firework?” I think I might just answer: “No thanks. I’d rather be the plastic bag. Unlike the firework, at least the plastic bag can start again. Don’t you recycle?”
About the Author:
Nathan Miller, LC studies for the priesthood in Rome. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.