My record label in the UK has recently been gearing up to promote "Oasis," a song from my new album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer. A few days ago I got this email from someone at roadrunner:
I just thought I'd let you know that we have been met by fierce opposition on the Oasis track. Which is disheartening, as combined with the video, we all felt it was a great promotional tool and track. All our TV outlets have refused to play the video due to it "making light of rape, religion and abortion". This is the audio as well as visual. Many of the stations... NME tv, Scuzz, kerrang, MTV, Q, the box... like the track, and even the video but are bound by strict broadcasting rules. I personally find this quite ridiculous.
Wait: wasn't this the UK, land of black humor blacker than black itself?
Well, it isn't a simple issue, obviously. But the fundamentals seem clear to me.
I sat down one day in or around 2002 and wrote a tongue-in-cheek, ironic, up-tempo pop song about a girl who got drunk, date raped, and had an abortion. She sings about these things lightly and happily and says that she doesn't care that these things have happened to her because Oasis, her favorite band, have just sent her an autographed photo in the mail. If you cannot sense the irony in this song, you're about two intelligence points above a kumquat. I recorded this song with Ben Folds (who is way more intelligent than a kumquat) for my record. He produced the song to sound fantastically happy -- a beach-boys style number complete with ba ba ba back-up vocals. Then I made a video with Michael Pope that portrayed a very literal play-by-play of what was being related in the song. This all made perfect sense to me and wasn't in any way calculated to offend. It was created to be funny and dark.
Now people in the UK are telling me that the song "makes light of rape, religion and abortion."
Can I simply state: When you cannot joke about the darkness of life, that's when the darkness takes over.
The song is not a lecture... it's a reflection, a character sketch. As I was walking over to the BBC the other day and my rep mentioned that they might not let me play "Oasis" on the air, I suggested that I might be allowed to play it if I just slowed it down and played it in a minor key. Think about it: if they heard the same lyrics against the backdrop of a very sad and lilting piano, maybe with some tear-jerking strings thrown in for good measure, would they take issue?
Imagine these lyrics to the tune of "Strange Fruit", or "Yesterday":
"When I got my abortion / I brought along my boyfriend / we got there an hour before the appointment / and outside the building / were all these annoying fundamentalist Christians / we tried to ignore them"...
Would this make radio happy? Maybe. It would be within a context they could rely on, feel safe in, write off. "Of course she's sad! She had an abortion! Abortion is sad!"
I think it makes people uncomfortable to hear the truth about a very real and sick situation. If you don't know, or have never encountered, a teenager who is going through intense heavy experiences (like rape, abortion, eating disorders, abuse, you-name-it) and is laughing these things off like they don't matter, then you are not alive and awake and living on this planet.
This song is about denial; it's about a girl who can't find it in herself to take her situation seriously. That girl exists everywhere. You probably know her. You've probably met her. You might be her.
So, you ask, should we joke about cancer? Dead babies? The Holocaust?
Have you seen Life is Beautiful? That movie is not a joke. It does not "make light" of the Holocaust, the same way that my song does not "make light" of abortion. It shows how humor exists in darkness. How it must.
Humor saves us. Humor is one of the strongest weapons that human beings have against suffering, death and fear.
I could try to win points by talking about how I've been date raped (I have been, when I was 20) or how I have every right to joke about this if I want to because I've had an abortion myself (I have, when I was 17, complete with fundamentalist Christian protesters shouting at me), but I actually don't believe those experiences should lend me any credibility, any more so than I believe the director of Life is Beautiful had to have been at Auschwitz in order to direct that film.
In the US in 1996, about 1.3 million women had an abortion, half of them under the age of 25. And I can assure you, there were approximately 1.3 million different reactions, experiences and stories behind those abortions. Countless girls have been raped or date-raped. Are we allowed to talk about it, joke about it, turn it over from every side and try to figure out our own confused reaction to it? Or is that just too icky, uncomfortable... and shameful?
Or should we just cry about it demurely and hope that the proper reaction, the one that society deems appropriate, will make things go away? Come on.