What is this blog?

This blog has, essentially, come to an end. It now serves as a place to put the occasional review and the transcripts for my YouTube channel. And if you’re interested, the channel can be found here. It also focuses on games and nerd culture in general, but with an analytical lens.  


This blog ran for three years, and over those three years it produced a news article and an opinion piece every week, and later it added a monthly tech news piece. Over three years I produced:

  • 157 weekly news articles (I was away from electricity for one week)
  • 158 weekly opinion pieces
  • 7 monthly tech news articles

I started winding down with the tech articles and then after exactly three years I shut down production of the rest of the articles. Now, you can find my bi-weekly podcast on its own YouTube channel and a monthly video on my personal YouTube channel.

The world has moved further and further away from the written word. So, the recorded word and the filmed word will have to do. So, check em out! You can also follow me on Twitter if you want to hear more of my inane drivel.

Transcript: Analysis: Bo Burnham’s ‘Inside’

This is the transcript for the video of the same name.

Good hello to the people who decide to watch this overlong video. It is highly recommended that you watch Bo Burnham’s Inside before watching this because uh… well… this will be a full breakdown. Every spoiler imaginable. To the point that this video is longer than the source material it is analysing. So, this is your last chance to go back and actually watch Inside!

Alright, if you’ve stuck around, it’s either because you’ve seen Burnham’s special or you just don’t care. Either way, who cares?

So, this will be a boring, stuffy analysis that will go through every single section and song in this special. Don’t expect anything flashy!


So let’s explain:

Bo Burnham’s Inside came out on 30 May 2021, and I have watched it a number of times and I have listened to the soundtrack over and over to the point where I can sing along without missing a beat. I maybe get a little obsessive with things I like and then repetitively consume them until the point of exhaustion, but then I thought that, you know, why not put that to good use? Why not use my obsessive tendencies to actually analyse the thing?

So that’s what we’re going to do today. Now, for me, I decided that I would upload this video on the one year anniversary of Inside’s release. Now, I guess before we begin, we should actually give a brief mention as to what Bo Burnham’s Inside actually is. I would like to reiterate that this is a full spoiler discussion, and I would highly recommend watching the special before watching this video.

Okay, so with that out the way again, in brief: Bo Burnham is a comedian and musician who primarily conveys his comedy through music. He is a performer, and he has released several specials in the past. And then during the 2020 pandemic, he decided to create Inside, a new special that was to be recorded completely inside a room. Hence the name. We’ll get to the actual discussion of that when we get to it, but for now, that’s pretty much all you need to know. It’s a special that’s got some stand-up, some musical and some non-musical performances and what, I guess could be called, skits? And that’s that. That’s what Bo Burnham’s Inside is. And now let’s get to the analysis, and we’re going to go song by song and section by section. Let’s get started!

Song #1: Content:

It all starts with a slow fade. We find ourselves in a room, and there is a sliver of light through the door. This will be our setting. And this really is just a simple setup. The entire special takes place inside, and so Burnham has to come from somewhere, and he comes from outside. This is a very simple juxtaposition that will only pay off at the very end of the special.

Once Burnham enters through the door, which produces incredibly bright sunlight, we begin. And that sunlight will also be important as time goes on. It represents the outside world. And it’s just the beginning of Burnham’s use of light, which begins with this very first song and continues until the end of the special.

A synth beat begins once the door has been shut behind him. He’s inside and the show has begun.

Once again, a slow fade, but it opens on Burnham’s face and torso. He starts singing. It’s a rather simple song and there isn’t necessarily much to discuss in the lyrics:

If you’d have told me a year ago

That I’d be locked inside of my home (Ah, ah, ah)

I would have told you, a year ago:

“Interesting; now leave me alone”

Sorry that I look like a mess (Ah, ah, ah)

I booked a haircut, but it got rescheduled

Robert’s been a little depressed. No

And so, today, I’m gonna try just


Getting up, sitting down, going back to work

Might not help, but still, it couldn’t hurt

I’m sitting down, writing jokes, singing silly songs

I’m sorry I was gone


But look, I made you some content

Daddy made you your favourite. Open wide

Here comes the content

It’s a beautiful day to stay inside


He muses on how he, and perhaps by extension we, would have responded had we known that we were going to be locked inside for months and months (and so far years), and it’s pretty much how we all would have responded. We wouldn’t have cared. Would we? We’d have just thought that that was a problem for future us.

And then an apology for his appearance and general demeanour. Not having a proper haircut and being kinda depressed. Rather common things in the age of Covid-19. Or at least for those who actually followed guidelines. And this is used to relate this special, and his work on it, to all of us. The regular people who had to, as he says: “Get(…) up, sit(…) down, go(…) back to work.”

His work is different to the majority of people. Writing jokes and singing silly songs is not what we all do, but for him it’s quite common. It’s his nine to five. And, like any good millennial, he apologises for taking so long to produce a new piece of content for us to enjoy.

And I will refrain from calling this special “art” or anything similar. It certainly isn’t a full “comedy special” as it may be labelled on Netflix. It is a performance, but as this song states: “I made you some content,” and so that’s what this is. It’s content. Which is the buzzword of social media: it’s all content. This video I’m doing right now is content. And considering the relation between Burnham and internet culture, “content” is exactly the right word to use.

And of course, because Burnham needs to be at least a little unsettling, he says, right after saying that he made us some content, that “daddy made you your favourite, open wide.” Because of course he says that.

And the song ends with him telling us what is to come: we’re getting content, he hopes we enjoy it and that today is a great day to just stay inside.

Now, that’s just the lyrics. This song, and every song, isn’t all lyrics though; it’s a performance. It’s a light show. And as he tells us that he made us some content, his shadowy face raises up, the device on his head shines a bright light outwards and towards the ceiling, where a hitherto unseen disco ball slowly rotates. Light cascades around the room as if it were a celebration.

But this light also illuminates the general mess of the room he’s in. It’s our first sneak peak at where he has been working. The camera slowly zooms outwards so we can see more and more of the untidy room. This is simply the setup. He is telling us what is soon to come, and he wants us to know that it will be a spectacle. A depressing spectacle, considering his confession that he’s been depressed, but a spectacle nonetheless. So, let’s see where his spectacle takes us.

But before that, one small note on his choreography here. He has set up his instrumentation, as well as a recorded vocalisation of “ah, ah, ah” to fall perfectly within his carefully timed performance. Timing has always been integral to Burnham’s specials in the past, and simply watching his older specials, which were recorded in front of actual audiences, his timing was impeccable. And here, where he could do multiple takes, the timing will only ever be perfect.

So, let’s see what else he has in store for us.   

Section #1: The Setup:

We open on the title. A simple title: Inside. We have already been shown, albeit briefly, that he has recorded this inside this room, and this section continues that trend. It never leaves the room. Burnham came from the outside at the beginning of the special and now… well now he’s inside, isn’t he?

The next shot is telling us that this was written, edited, shot and directed by Burnham. With that simple, red credit, we are told that this was solely a work of his own. He did it all. And we have a simple synth beat throughout this section as we are introduced to Bo Burnham without the pretence of his music.

We are shown, not told, what is to come and how it was produced. We see him testing his camera, testing his mics, testing the various lighting rigs that he has in this room.  We see this as a montage, and time does pass. His beard grows, his hair lengthens, his clothes constantly change. And a slow return to the camera, diving deep into the lens. One solitary glance of what Burnham will look like later.

He changes and alters throughout this section. This is just the second aspect of the setup. He hasn’t explained anything yet, but already it feels tight and claustrophobic. Unreal. Seen through a camera lens, and we are meta-textually informed that this isn’t just a piece of content; this is a piece of content about content. He hasn’t said as much, but he’s shown us that.

We have seen his preparations, and now it’s time for his show to really start.

Song #2: Comedy:

A solitary spotlight shines on Burnham in the centre of the room. Sitting at his keyboard and preparing to sing to us as if it were a regular old performance in a hall. He plays a slow, mournful melody as he starts performing his song. There is nothing special in his performance. Nothing over the top or particularly entertaining. Aside from the sad addition of a recorded laughing track that he uses at the end of two lines that are darkly humorous, but not really.

The world is changing

The planet’s heating up

What the fuck is going on? (Recorded laughter)


It’s like everything happened all at once

Um, what the fuck is going on? (Recorded laughter)

The people rising in the streets

The war, the drought

The more I look, the more I see nothing to joke about

Is comedy over?

Should I leave you alone?

‘Cause, really, who’s gonna go for joking at a time like this?

Should I be joking at a time like this?


I wanna help to leave this world better than I found it

And I fear that comedy won’t help, and the fear is not unfounded

Should I stop trying to be funny?

Should I give away my money? No

What do I do?

This opening is a genuine question to us as the audience. A question about motives. Should he even be doing this special? He remarks that the world is changing and slowly dying for us. The world itself is literally rejecting us like a virus. The planet’s heating up, and it feels like everything is going wrong all at once and so: what the fuck is going on?

He alludes to global warming in that second line, but later alludes to social issues, such as the rising protests throughout the pandemic that raged against police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, as well as the murder of many other African-Americans in the United States. And then he alludes to more universal issues like war and drought.

We get the earnest question that often sees comedians being derisive towards anyone who wants to improve the world. Burnham states that there’s less and less to joke about in the world. Should he even be joking in the first place? He has no illusions about his place as a comedian.

It’s difficult. Much of comedy throughout the ages has been problematic in some sense or another, and this song calls attention to that. Many comedians decide to blame things like cancel culture or something else for killing comedy, but comedy will never die. It will simply adapt. In Shakespeare’s so-called “comedy” Twelfth Night, a few of the characters imprison someone and make him believe he’s gone mad. This is played for laughs. They psychologically tortured a man, sure he was a pompous asshole, but still a human being. And this was… funny.

Now we no longer see it as funny. We look back at the humour of ages before our own and either acknowledge the problems inherent in it or we act as if the world has become too sensitive. It’s the same thing that led to so many people whining about political correctness in my youth while practically every comedy produced in that era was awful towards so many groups.

So, when Burnham asks whether he should be joking around at a time like this, it’s a good question. And it’s a question to us and to himself. He even asks himself if he should give away his money and reflectively responds with a half-screamed no.

It’s hard in this world without money, and giving it away is a lovely idea, but sadly we’ve all got to live within capitalism, even if we disagree with it. That isn’t to say that the rich shouldn’t give money away, because they should, they have too much, but the compulsion to horde your money is one that many can understand.

The statement that “money doesn’t buy happiness” is a phrase uttered by privileged people who have money. Money, to a degree, does buy happiness. I’d be pretty damn happy if I could afford rent, healthy food and preventative medicine, but alas, I don’t have much of that stuff.

This section is the first of seven main sections in this song. The second section lights up Burnham’s “stage” with blinding light as a booming voice tells him to heal the world with comedy. This is played more for laughs.

Healing the world with comedy

The indescribable power of your comedy

The world needs direction

From a white guy like me (Bingo)

Who is healing the world with comedy

That’s it

He asks the voice if the world really needs direction from a white guy like him and the voice responds positively. Here’s where Burnham enters a purer comedic arena. He starts it off, in the third section, by stating non-lyrically: “The world is so fucked up. Systematic oppression, income inequality, the other stuff… And there’s only one thing that I can do about it. While— While being paid and being the centre of attention”

We can see that he has decided to turn this into something funny. He asks a serious question and then jumps straight into the fourth section. A section that is essentially faux-serious.

Healing the world with comedy

Making a literal difference, metaphorically

A Jew walks into a bar, and I’ve saved him a seat

That’s healing the world with comedy


A subversion of a classic joke setup and the hyperbolic statement that he will “heal the world with comedy”, and that’s where it leaps into the fifth section. This section is filled with visual gags, such as him writing out 69 and 420 on a calculator or him writing out silly jokes on a white board. It’s just dumb and silly and might just bring a smile to your face. It’s nothing necessarily “special”, but it’s self-referential and self-deprecating. Such as him stating that American white guys like himself have had the floor for at least four hundred years, so maybe he should shut up, he pauses for a time in contemplation, before stating that he’s bored.

I’m a special kind of white guy

I self-reflected, and I want to be an agent of change

So I am gonna use my privilege for the good (Very cool, way to go!)

American white guys

We’ve had the floor for at least 400 years

So maybe I should just shut the fuck up…

I’m bored

I don’t wanna do that

There’s got to be another way (Yes)

For me to help out without standing on the sidelines (Never!)

The wait is over

I’m white, and I’m here to save the day

Lord, help me channel Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side (Sandra Bullock!)


Healing the world with comedy

Making a literal difference, metaphorically

And yes, most likely, they’ll pay me, but I’d do it for free

I am healing the world with comedy

This section is just joke after joke. Both in terms of visuals and in terms of the actual content of the lyrics. But it then returns to something more serious in the sixth section. He’s had a conversation with himself and he’s tried to be silly and funny, but the reality of things is much darker. And so, this section starts to call on the audience once again.


If you wake up in a house that’s full of smoke

Don’t panic—call me and I’ll tell you a joke

If you see white men dressed in white cloaks

Don’t panic—call me and I’ll tell you a joke

Oh, shit

Should I be joking at a time like this?

If you start to smell burning toast

You’re having a stroke or overcooking your toast


Should I be joking at a time like this?

Somebody help me out ’cause I don’t know


And I want to help to leave this world better than I found it

And I fear that comedy won’t help, and the fear is not unfounded

Should I stop trying to be funny?

Should I give away my money? No!

I know what I gotta do

If you metaphorically smell smoke, as if your home is burning down, then just let him tell you a joke. Maybe it will make you feel a little better. This section has a complete lighting change too. It stops being bright and funny and turns to a much darker setting with Burnham at his desk, surrounded by some of the props he’d used to make jokes. And now he wants us to try and ignore the outside world for a while, to just be inside with him. To laugh at some funny jokes.

Although this promise, to give us something funny, is something of a lie. He breaks his promise. He asks us to call on him to hear something funny while clearly alluding to outside forces like racism that may stop us from enjoying things. He wants us to enjoy things, but he also doesn’t know if he can necessarily make you happy while inside.

He reiterates his questions. Should he be making jokes? Should he give away his money? And he even harkens back to an older song of his called “Sad”. In “Sad”, he makes jokes about a variety of sad things and then asks why the audience is laughing. So, he, jokingly, states that it must be because comedy is the thing that will help everyone.

But immediately subverts that by saying that comedians are insensitive pricks capitalising on the most animalistic impulses of the public. And this song right here, calls attention to that. He states: “And I fear that comedy won’t help, and the fear is not unfounded.” It’s a fear that he won’t really be able to do anything for us. What could he do, after all?

Healing the world with comedy

Making a literal difference, metaphorically

I swore I’d never be back, and now, I’m back on my feet

And I’m healing the world with comedy

The last section encompasses his decision. He doesn’t know if comedy will help anyone, but he’s going to go for it anyway. He’s going to try healing the world with comedy. We’ll have to see. But as he makes this reaffirmation into comedy, the lighting changes once again and becomes a light show. He’s in it now, and he’s going to make this thing.

Section #2: Introductions & Explanations:

This section is relatively simple. Burnham simply fiddles a bit and then sets up in front of a mirror. He’s sitting beside his camera and he’s holding a microphone. He explains himself while the image slowly zooms in. Less and less of the world can be viewed as, eventually, only the mirror can be seen.

He tells us that this special isn’t normal. It won’t be filmed in one night and will instead be filmed over an entire year. There will be no crew or audience. In his words: “It’s just me and my camera. And you and your screen.” And then he jokes that this is the way our lord intended, and that little quip will actually be part of some themes to come.

We are all, unless you’re someone who ignores the advice of medical professionals, trapped inside. We are all, in the midst of the pandemic that is still going on at time of writing, existing primarily within a hyperreality. We can’t go out and see the outside world, but we can experience, in the words of Burnham later on in this special, the much more real world that is the online world. The way our new technological god has intended.

And lastly, Burnham hopes that this special does for us what it did for him. It didn’t help him or anything like that. Instead, it distracted him from the virus-infected “real world” that we’re all hiding from while staying inside. Just a distraction. So, let’s keep going with the distraction.

Song #3: FaceTime with my Mom (Tonight):

The song opens with a simple synth beat against a blue backdrop as Burnham wanders around his room and eventually decides to call his mom. It’s played as something melancholic and depressing. He’s alone and needs his mother. The light of the phone illuminates his face once the blue lighting fades.

A major point of importance in this song, which Burnham explores elsewhere, is a changing of the aspect ratio. The camera shrinks from the sides until all we can see is a vertical strip. It emulates the kind of video you see when using video call software like FaceTime.

A quick aside, I actually don’t know anyone who uses FaceTime, but you get the same effect in video calls on other apps, like WhatsApp. But I guess “Vertical video call app with my mom” doesn’t have the same punch to it as “FaceTime with my Mom”.

Pour me a drink and clear my schedule

I’ma FaceTime with my mom tonight

These 40 minutes are essential

I’ma FaceTime with my mom tonight


I call, she answers, and her hair is wet

I say, “Did you just shower?”

She says, “How’d you guess?”

I say, “Your hair is wet”; she says, “Oh, yeah”


I tell my boys I need some space

I’ma FaceTime with my mom tonight

She’ll hold her iPhone 5 no further than six inches from her face

I’ma FaceTime with my mom tonight

Anyway, the lyrics start from a more purely comedic perspective. Jokes like how her hair is wet so he asks if she’s had a shower and she’s surprised he knows and so says it’s because her hair is wet. Basic comedic points. Nothing particularly hysterical but rather humorous in an observational sense. Although, there is a note of seriousness to the lines “pour me a drink and clear my schedule” and “I tell my boys I need some space.”

These hint towards something more serious. This entire special needs to be remembered within the context of the 2020 (and onwards) pandemic. People are socially isolated; they can no longer see their mothers. This is the closest you’re going to get. It becomes the hyperreality that will slowly encompass the entire special as the real world becomes far less important to Burnham than the artificial world, the digital world.

She says, “Oh, look who’s here. Say hi to Dad!”

He says, “How ya doing, bud?”

I say, “I’m not so bad”

And that’s the deepest talk we’ve ever had


Watching as she looks for her glasses

I’ma FaceTime with my mom tonight

She’ll tell me all about the Season Six finale of The Blacklist

I’ma FaceTime with my mom tonight


It then continues into comedic arenas with a short exchange with his dad and his mother recapping the season six finale of The Blacklist to him. Understandable, my mother does that too. Nothing much of note here. However, the lyrics, without the visuals, show missing contextual information. He becomes tired and exasperated with the conversation and then the screen goes black as it repeats these lines:

My mother’s covering her camera with her thumb

I’ll waste my time FaceTiming with my mom

She’s covered the camera with her thumb and so the visuals reflect that. However, this is just a small joke and it’s observational and sweet-natured about older people and their difficulty with technology and with connecting with the younger generation, but it also gives way to the most powerful segment of the song.

The visuals reappear with Burnham getting visibly angry with his mother about covering the camera with her thumb, and it becomes a barrage of silent emotional shouting. We simply hear the repeated refrain of the song, but visually we see Burnham breaking down. The small annoyance triggered a much deeper issue, and then you can see him shouting his apology at her as he breaks down in tears.

It was unnecessary to snap like that, but it happened regardless. When living with mental illness, and when isolated for months on end, anything could set you off. And to show how this pulls everything together, the aspect ratio becomes split into three columns. Before, we could only see the vertical shot, but now, we have three vertical shots as the central column slowly widens as he apologises to his mother and says goodbye.

We see him, once the song has ended, dropping his head into his hands. Another screw up. Another mistake. They tend to come more often when everything is terrible, don’t they?

This song betrays that combination of silly and serious that has come to define much of Burnham’s work, but none more so than this special. It certainly won’t be the last song that merges silly and serious.

Section #3: Inbetween:

This section is very short. A few seconds at most. A darkened room, Burnham approaches and sits at his laptop to do some work and after a while it cuts straight to his next song. The next song’s bright colours serves as a strong juxtaposition against the darkness of this section.

The section is, essentially, somewhat of a representation of a continuous theme: dissociation. The camera, as always, is third person, but Burnham faces away from it. This is the inbetween moments, the moments where the actual work happens. The performance is one thing, but piecing it all together is another.

There is also one small thing of note, and that is the flash frame of Burnham sitting and “playing” this section as if it was a game. However, there’s time for that discussion later. Specially under section 12, as that is when the “gameplay” angle is properly explored. So, let’s wait for that.

Song #4: How the World Works:

We start off far brighter than ever before. The room is painted in orange light, Burnham has a cordless mic on his head, he’s got a little spotlight on him and he’s smiling. We can immediately tell that this is emulating musical kid’s media. It even opens with the line: “Hey, kids. Today we’re gonna learn about the world.”

The song itself doesn’t have any flashy lighting effects and everything remains quite neutral throughout, with the occasional camera angle change. This is more about the shift in performance from one “performer” to another. And it starts off like this:

The world that’s around us is pretty amazing

But how does it work? It must be complicated

The secret is: The world can only work

When everything works together

A bee drinks from a flower and leaves with its pollen

A squirrel in a tree spreads the seeds that have fallen

Everything works together


The biggest elephant, the littlest fly

The gophers underground, the birds in the sky

And every single cricket, every fish in the sea

Gives what they can and gets what they need


That is how the world works

That is how the world works

From “A” to “zebra” to the worms in the dirt

That’s how it works

The song properly opens with Burnham singing about the natural world. Bees get food from flowers, which in turn coats them with pollen. Squirrels spread seeds on behalf of the trees. Every living creature effectively works together to contribute to the whole. If you have even the most basic of understandings of the natural world and ecosystems, then this shouldn’t be complicated to you. If you can understand some high school biology, then you should be able to understand it.

However, after explaining how the whole world works together, which, remember, is sung as if to children, he says that every creature: “Gives what they can and gets what they need.” Rather simple stuff. Basic. We all know that’s the way it works. Nature may be brutal to its inhabitants, but everything does ultimately work together. When we lose one species, we can lose a lot more. That’s why, for instance, the very real decreased bee population could mean the destruction of plant life.

However, that phrase he uses: “Gives what they can and gets what they need” is quite reminiscent of another phrase. Burnham never states this phrase directly, but the phrase is: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” And if you at all familiar with Marxist thought then this phrase may be known to you. Basically, everyone should contribute to society based on what each individual can contribute, and in turn, every individual should receive what they need based on their individual circumstances.

So, no one needs a yacht, so no one gets a yacht. You give what you can, and you get what you need. Essentially, this section compares nature to a more Marxist utopia. Everyone gets what they need and gives what they are capable of getting. Which means that some give more than others, but everyone gets only what they need. A solitary bee does not contribute as much as a solitary squirrel, but the bee also needs a lot less than the squirrel to survive. Pretty simple stuff.

Here’s where things change in the song though. You see, that’s the way nature is. It’s somewhat Marxist. But the human world is not Marxist, and that’s why, once Burnham is done with his little song section, it is time for the next singer: Socko. Socko is a sock puppet that Burnham pulls out. It speaks in a silly voice and at first it has a brief conversation with Burnham about the way the world works.

Burnham – Hey, everyone, look who stopped by to say hello! It’s Socko!

Socko – Hey!

Burnham – Where you been, Socko?

Socko – I’ve been where I always am when you’re not wearing me on your hand: in a frightening, liminal space between states of being! Not quite dead, not quite alive! It’s similar to a constant state of sleep paralysis

Burnham – Socko, we were just talking about the world and how it works

Socko – Boy, that sounds complicated!

Burnham – Do you have anything you’d want to teach us about the world?

Socko – I wouldn’t say anything that you probably haven’t already said yourself

Burnham – I don’t know about that, Socko. How about you give it a try?

Socko – All right!

The conversation is Burnham introducing Socko and then asking if Socko wants to contribute anything to the song. Does he want to teach us anything about the world? There is also a part where Socko states that when he’s not on Burnham’s hand he’s in a state quite like sleep paralysis. But this is quickly glossed over, but it is important to the overall narrative of the song. Ultimately though, Socko decides to teach us a bit about the world, and his section is quite different from Burnham’s.

The simple narrative taught in every history class

Is demonstrably false and pedagogically classist

Don’t you know? The world is built with blood!

And genocide! And exploitation!

The global network of capital essentially functions

To separate the worker from the means of production

And the FBI killed Martin Luther King


Private property’s inherently theft

And neoliberal fascists are destroying the left

And every politician, every cop on the street

Protects the interests of the pedophilic corporate elite


That is how the world works

That is how the world works

Genocide the Natives, say you got to it first

That’s how it works

Socko’s section isn’t about the natural world that Burnham made seem so idyllic. Socko instead discusses human society. How history classes teach classist information that is also false, that the world is built with blood, genocide and exploitation, how capitalism serves to keep us all repressed, how the United States government may have had a hand in Martin Luther King Junior’s death (although that is a bit of a conspiracy theory, but plausible; feel free to Google the MLK suicide letter), how the whole notion of “private property” is actually just stealing the land from others, how neoliberals and fascists are destroying the left and how all the cops and politicians are only acting to protect the interests of those on top, those who are also often sex offenders. The human world is messy and filled with horror. It isn’t an idyllic Marxist landscape, but is instead a fascist, capitalistic state.

Basically, Socko tells the truth. The harsh truth. And it’s all sung with that usual chipper attitude. It’s still a children’s song after all. I mean, there hasn’t been any swearing, has there? It’s just explaining the way things are. The way the world works.

Now, before we move on, we should take note of things like the “every history class teaches lies” thing. Yeah, so I’m personally from a previously colonised country and a country that went through a harsh racist regime, and since 1994 it has been led, at least in theory if not in practice, as a more postcolonial state with at least some socialist aspects (although not many). In my country, the history I was taught in school was a little more critical of things like colonialism than maybe some first-world countries. And also, as a history teacher myself, I know that I tend to be a little more uh… left-leaning, progressive, socialist-y, anti-fascist with the way I teach it. But I have a feeling that the old colonial powers like to act as if they weren’t the bad guy when they teach their kids. Some Southern American states apparently act as if slavery really wasn’t as bad as it was made to be. So uh… not great.

In addition, this song is very much American. The rest of the world does exist, but this is an issue you often find with any American media. They speak as if they are talking about the world when they’re actually only speaking about one small part of it. It’s also anthropocentric. There is a strong distinction made between the so-called natural world and the human world, but that’s quite a common thing to see. But anyway, let’s get back to it.

Once Socko is done with his section, Burnham returns to ask him some questions. Burnham, in this section, acts as a moderate liberal. He asks about how he can help with all of this and how he might be able to learn more about the plight of certain people, and Socko doesn’t much like that and says: “Why do you rich fucking white people insist on seeing every socio-political conflict through the myopic lens of your own self-actualisation? This isn’t about you.”

Burnham – That’s pretty intense

Socko – No shit!

Burnham – What can I do to help?

Socko – Read a book or something, I don’t know. Just don’t burden me with the responsibility of educating you. It’s incredibly exhausting!

Burnham – I’m sorry, Socko. I was just trying to become a better person

Socko – Why do you rich fucking white people insist on seeing every socio-political conflict through the myopic lens of your own self-actualization? This isn’t about you! So either get with it or get out of the fucking way!

Burnham – Watch your mouth, buddy. Remember who’s on whose hand here

Socko – But that’s what I’ve— Have you not been fucking listening? We are entrenched in—

(Burnham starts to pull Socko off his hand)

Socko – Alright! Alright! I… Wait, wait, wait! No, please! I don’t wanna go back, please! I can’t go— I can’t go back! Please! Please. I’m sorry

Burnham – Are you gonna behave yourself?

Socko – Yes

Burnham – “Yes,” what?

Socko – Yes, sir (shakily)

Burnham – Look at me

Socko – Yes, sir (firmly)

Burnham – That’s better

These are some harsh words that Socko spits at all those moderates, at those Biden supporters, and Burnham, as the moderate, gets defensive and then threatens to pull Socko off his hand, thereby returning him to his sleep paralysis state, and this makes Socko beg. He apologises for, basically, telling the truth, and he’s forced to call Burnham “sir” before Burnham pulls him off his hand anyway.

So, what does that mean? Well, it’s rather simple. Burnham the moderate, who, when discussing nature, was all about how lovely all that Marxism sounds, but as soon as he’s confronted with the way things are for humans, he wants to pretend to help so he can be a better person. But being a better person isn’t what oppressed people need from you, they need material help.

Burnham the moderate, who doesn’t like being confronted with the fact that he doesn’t actually care about the people that Socko represents and speaks for, the oppressed, and he rather wants Socko to be polite, but Socko isn’t polite, so he punishes him anyway. Burnham represents the rich white men who are able to dole out rights to those who actually need them, while holding them back if need be. You don’t want the poors to have too many rights all at once, do you?! They should be grateful that they aren’t slaves anymore, that they don’t have to avoid “whites only” signs and that the police will only occasionally kill them for no valid reason. Aren’t things better than they were under Jim Crow and Apartheid-era laws? So, you should stop there, stop demanding more; it might cut into my rights.

This song is a scathing critique of neoliberal and moderate liberal political belief. They aren’t helping anyone, and the fascists who want to come into power are not going to be as polite as you are. The fascists don’t care about being polite, because they’d kill you if they could get away with it. So, pick a side, moderates, because being a moderate isn’t actually helping anyone and it’s instead just upholding the status quo.

Anyway, let’s get to the next section.

Section #4: Rainbow Capitalism:

Filmed in moody black and white with a motivational backing track, this section satirises the way corporations and brands in general latch on to social movements and use them to frame themselves as allies of progress rather than the purveyors of capitalist industry that really doesn’t care about its consumers, the population at large, the planet or its workers.

Essentially, this section is Burnham standing in as a spokesperson of sorts for corporations in general. He is the social media side of brands. They talk a big game. They claim to be on the side of progressive action, such as the battle against climate change or discrimination. They will latch on board with green energy solutions while continuing to do exactly what they’ve always done and pollute the world. They claim to be against discrimination and will proudly jump on board with things like the Black Lives Matter movement while simultaneously having racially homogenous staff, with all the top executives generally being white, cisgender, heterosexual men.

This entire sketch, because it is a traditional comedy sketch that you might find on any of those kinds of shows, like Saturday Night Live. It’s fun and funny, but nothing particularly strong any which way. It’s a critique of capitalism and social media and how capitalist enterprises like to co-opt so-called “woke” culture so as to pretend to be progressive while continuing to sell you the same shit they’ve sold you every day. But now we’re doing it with a rainbow flag! See, we don’t hate gay people, we just don’t employ them. See!

And what was also rather magnificent about this particular sketch was that this special was released only weeks before Pride Month 2021. And so, it was particularly perfectly timed seeing as all the corporations rolled out their rainbow-coloured logos for a single month and then went back to their regular logos as soon as Pride was over.

So, no, this sketch isn’t particularly prescient in any way, as corporations have been doing this every year for years, but seeing as we’ve all been trapped inside because of the coronavirus pandemic well… we just noticed social media more than ever before. And it was just as awful as it’s always been.

Also, probably the best line, which sums up this whole thing, is when he states that he tells corporations: “Just be honest. Tell your customers that… that JP Morgan is against racism. In theory.’

And now it’s time for this social media trend to continue, because the next song is an extension of this observation.

Song #5: White Woman’s Instagram:

Despite this song perhaps being the best shot in the entire special, it’s also the one that has the least to be analysed. Mostly because the vast majority of it is a single joke, with one brief non-joke interlude. Let’s start with the joke aspect of it that can be found in these lines:

An open window

A novel

A couple holding hands

An avocado

A poem written in the sand

Fresh fallen snow on the ground

A golden retriever in a flower crown

Is this Heaven?

Or is it just a


White woman

A white woman’s Instagram

White woman

A white woman’s Instagram (Instagram)

White woman (White woman)

A white woman’s Instagram

White woman

A white woman’s Instagram


Latte foam art

Tiny pumpkins

Fuzzy, comfy socks

Coffee table made out of driftwood

A bobblehead of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

A needlepoint of a fox

Some random quote from Lord of the Rings

Incorrectly attributed to Martin Luther King

The entire song is shot in a 1:1 aspect ratio, which is a square for those unfamiliar, and it therefore imitates the standard image resolution on Instagram. The vast majority of pictures on the app are forced into that particular aspect ratio. Although you can actually alter that, to an extent, at present. Anyway, this aspect ratio is simply meant to act, like the vertical camera aspect ratio in “FaceTime with my Mom (Tonight)”, as a way of visually reinforcing what it will be critiquing. Although “critiquing” may be a stretch, as most of it is just making fun of what your standard white woman’s Instagram feed looks like.

The lyrics and the images do not match up in the traditional sense, but rather thematically. For instance, Burnham alludes to pictures of latte foam art, a novel or snow on the ground in his lyrics, all of which are your typical fare on places like Instagram. Essentially, unoriginal and replicated images that these people also wanted to do.

And while the images themselves do not match up to the lyrics, they do emulate various Instagram trends, like shadow puppetry, a flickering candle, that trend where women write insults and compliments on their face. It’s all essentially making fun of the performativity of those kinds of images. They have been replicated so many times by so many people that they no longer really mean anything. For instance, that whole “writing insults on your face” thing was meant to have a deeper meaning, but when it is replicated to the point of parody then it may have lost its initial message.

Which isn’t to say that images like that do not act as a form of solidarity, because they do, and that’s why the one non-joke section of this song stands out so strongly. The aspect ratio starts to change back into your usual widescreen and then it stops being about performative poses and images and instead goes into an Instagram post from the perspective of this white woman.

Her favourite photo of her mom

The caption says:

“I can’t believe it

It’s been a decade since you’ve been gone

Mama, I miss you

I miss sitting with you in the front yard

Still figuring out how to keep living without you

It’s got a little better, but it’s still hard

Mama, I got a job I love and my own apartment

Mama, I got a boyfriend, and I’m crazy about him

Your little girl didn’t do too bad

Mama, I love you, give a hug and kiss to Dad”

The post is about an image of this white woman’s dead mother, and in the post description she asks her mother if she’d be proud of her. She’s done alright for herself and has a man she loves and a job she enjoys. It’s a brief moment of genuine sadness, and it sticks out from the rest of the song like a sore thumb. As soon as the interlude is done, it returns to the old aspect ratio and continues being a joke with a whole load of images that emulate those trends.

At first, I didn’t quite like the serious interlude as I saw it detracting from the joke, but then I saw the purpose of it. It turns this from a simple comedy song, that you might see Weird Al or Stephen Lynch making, and turns it into something a lot more personal, a lot more fraught.

Those performative images that people repetitively use on social media, they’re part of the culture, they need to be performed to be part of that in-group, but even though we may all seem like the same repetitive masses on social media, we do all have complex inner lives. We do all have real difficulties, but we don’t often show them to the world.

We perform these things on social media; exhibiting the best aspects of ourselves. We show ourselves in successful positions, making good food or elaborate poses. We don’t post the failures or the burnt dishes or the camera angle that makes us look ugly. It’s all performative out there on the world wide web, but behind every performative social media post there is a real person.

Section #5: Watching, Waiting, Shutting Up:

There are several shots within this section. It opens with Burnham watching the song we just experienced. In a darkened room with a reflection on the board to his right. This is a constant reinforcement of the meta angle inherent in this special. We are seeing his process, to a degree, along with the finished product.

It then shifts to him sitting alone in his crowded room. Just sitting there. Time clearly ticking away for him as he slowly makes his way through the production of this special, and then we start hearing his voice. He’s doing what approximates stand-up comedy. He’s sitting on a stool, a mic in his hand and a spotlight on him. It’s a very traditional stand-up style.

In this section he asks us a question: do we have to express every single thing we have on our minds at the same time? Obviously, an allusion to social media where everyone’s opinion is now given a platform to spurt onto the public arena. And then he asks the same question in a different way: can everyone just shut the fuck up?

A simple question, and an honest one for anyone sick and tired of social media and having to see every single ill-informed and bad faith opinion out there. It’s a statement no doubt made in frustration. However, it is also an ironic question. A hypocritical one. He asks everyone to shut up while he himself does not shut up. And he has a larger platform to spew his opinions out into the world than the average person on social media.

He does not put a laughing track over this. It isn’t funny. And he does also acknowledge that he isn’t shutting up, he acknowledges the hypocrisy. And he says: “I know you’re thinking, ‘You’re not shutting the fuck up right now,’ and that’s true, but…” And it cuts out there. He knows there’s nothing to say. It’s the usual hypocrisy. Everyone wants their voice to be heard but no one wants to hear every other voice.

It’s a bit of a conundrum, but not one we’re likely to solve any time so- *cut off there*

Song #6: Unpaid Intern:

Who needs a coffee? ‘Cause I’m doing a run

I’m writing down the orders now for everyone

The coffee is free, just like me

I’m an unpaid intern


Sorting papers, running around

Sitting in the meeting room, not making a sound

Barely people, somehow legal

Unpaid intern


You work all day, go back to your dorm

And since you can’t afford a mortgage, you just torrent a porn

Cause you’re an intern


So, this song is actually more of just a prelude to the section that immediately follows it. The song is just shot in moody black and white and is about unpaid interns. There’s really nothing much to it and nothing to analyse. It’s going for that more bebop aesthetic with its backing vocals, groovy percussion and scatting ending.  The next section basically analyses it for us, so uh… we’ll just jump ahead to that, huh.

Section #6: Reaction:

The previous song, Unpaid Intern, is really just there to benefit this particular section. The setup is very simple: he’s emulating YouTube reaction videos. For those somehow unfamiliar with this genre of YouTube video, someone basically records themselves watching and reacting to… something. It’s a very low-effort form of content generation, but people like to watch other people watching things because… I don’t know why. Something perversely entertaining about watching something rather pointless.

Anyway, Burnham sits and watches his own song in this section and comments on it. It’s basically a commentary track. He makes some good points about his own work and why he wrote the song. He wrote it to write something about labour exploitation in the modern era and he did it in a way that emulated the way many of those old songs were written and performed.

It’s just a brief explanation of his whole process and there’s nothing much to it. But then the song loops. He’s now watching himself reacting to his video. So, this is a reaction to his reaction. He starts by feigning surprise and confusion at the situation, and that’s really just there for pure comedic effect. He just continues his reaction, but this time he comments on his own reaction.

The most interesting point he makes here is that he’s being pretentious, and then tells us that this is an instinct he has. He has to pretend that everything he does have some sort of deeper meaning. This is something that many creatives do feel. The need to have our art mean something more than what it would appear, on the surface, to mean. It’s critical self-examination, and we don’t do it as much as we maybe should.

He even says that the song, while he pretended before that it had some deeper meaning, it is just a stupid song. But then the reaction to his reaction ends, but the section continues as his reaction to his reaction to his reaction begins. He reacts to his reaction of the reaction by going a little bit deeper and building on that idea of critical self-examination.

He goes on further to say that when he, and by extension many other creatives, criticise themselves, they are doing it as a way of insulating themselves from external criticism. If you criticise yourself then you don’t need to worry quite as much about criticisms others might have and you may even be able to ignore those other criticisms entirely because you believe you’ve criticised yourself enough.

And he says: “self-awareness does not absolve anybody of anything.” You can’t get away with only criticising yourself and refusing external criticism. And shortly after this a new reaction begins and he stops the whole thing from continuing and ends the section. So, the little joke has come to an end, and that’s great, but this small section probably says more about the process of creating than most discussions of creativity. Not to mention the way in which the overlapping noise of all the reaction videos on top of each other emulate yet another thing, and that is the way in which overthinking can seem like your brain is screaming at you.

This is probably one of the most memorable sections of the special. A truly creative masterclass in comedy and self-critique.

Song #7: Bezos I:

A very silly song. This is a very silly song. That’s what it is, but you know what: it’s probably one of my personal favourites. The song is essentially just telling us a bit about Jeff Bezos; who he is, when he was born… his name… repeated a few times. But it’s really in the second verse that you get the fun stuff.

CEO, entrepreneur

Born in 1964

Jeffrey, Jeffrey Bezos



Come on, Jeffrey, you can do it

Pave the way, put your back into it

Tell us why, show us how

Look at where you came from, look at you now

Zuckerberg and Gates and Buffett

Amateurs can fuckin’ suck it

Fuck their wives, drink their blood

Come on, Jeff, get ’em!

He beckons Bezos to just do it and to pave the way for the rest of us and that the other billionaires (which I accidentally misspelled while I was writing this as villainaires, and I think I’m keeping that one in the flaps between my grey matter), anyway, he says that all the other villainaires are amateurs in comparison to him and that, you know, he can fuck their wives and drink their blood like the vampire he is.

So, I don’t think the subtext here is particularly subtle. Uh… Jeff Bezos, despite momentary blips where some other villainaire overthrows his spot as the number one richest dude in the world, is the richest man on the planet, which also makes him one of the most powerful. And this special should always be seen in the context of the coronavirus pandemic; Bezos got richer than ever before off the back of the pandemic.

Him and people like Zuckerberg profited off people being forced into their homes, scrolling through social media or, you know, ordering everything through Amazon because they’re too afraid to leave their own homes in case a virus kills them. This pandemic, which made everyone else poorer and weaker, made Bezos richer and more powerful. Sure, a bunch of other people got more powerful too, but Bezos is the big boy, isn’t he?

Elon Musk can think he’s better all he likes, but he ultimately just owns a luxury electric car company and sometimes takes on public grants to do things like his loop thing in Las Vegas, but Bezos… oh, Bezos sells to the poor. It’s cheaper to shop on Amazon than going to a physical shop (or at least in some countries). Plus, he buys out and starves the competition to increase his own market share. Amazon is more powerful than something like Tesla can ever hope to be. And I mean the company that Musk Edison’d his way into, not the actual man, Tesla. He’s long dead and died in poverty unlike the people who stole his name for a vanity car company.

Anyway, Bezos, one of the most powerful men alive, while others were dying from a deadly virus, he was profiting. And Burnham will return to the topic of Bezos later. But, of course, it’s important to me that I bring up the scream he does at the end of this song, because it’s marvellous. Just adds to the absurdity of it all. Singing about a villainaire while perched in a silhouetted position. Artsier than you’d expect from something so profoundly fucking stupid. It’s wonderful.

Section #7: I don’t know, guys:

This section is basically just a monologue of sorts. He’s in one position, and the shot never alters, in which he’s lying in his room surrounded by the various pieces of equipment that he’s no doubt used while producing this special. He’s got a pillow and he’s covered in a blanket.

This short, humorous section is a fantastic bridge between this song and the next. The previous song, Bezos I, is all about one of the men that managed to make a massive profit throughout this pandemic. The next song is all about sexting. It’s silly, like the previous one, but it does have something to say about the way our interactions with the world have changed.

The last song was pretty much about how we don’t even do something like shopping the way we used to, and the next song is how we don’t even do sex the way we used to. Although sexting has been around for a rather long time now and was not exactly a pandemic thing, but the amount of sexting probably went up over these long months.

Anyway, the section is him asking whether we think it was a bad idea to let huge conglomerates control our digital lives and profit off it. And not only to profit off it but to actually actively try to exacerbate the issues in our lives. Or as Burnham says: “Maybe that, as a way of life forever, maybe that’s not good.”

It isn’t exactly saying anything profound or anything like that, but it is a genuine question for us. Some of us are so taken in by these things; Burnham himself specifically mentions children, but it’s adults. Adults who, unquestioningly, absorb the lies that sites like Facebook push into their face holes, are not critical of where they have gotten their information or how those companies actively profit off the creation of human misery.

It’s not profound to suggest that all of this is a bad thing, but maybe some of us need to learn to be a little more critical of the world we live in. This is why many people, generally on the conservative side of politics, like to claim that social media is bad because of things like censorship. It’s bad because I can’t say slurs anymore! But really, it’s much deeper. They themselves are terrible, and not because they “silence” conservative voices, but because they amplify everyone’s voice and cause heavier divides between us than ever before. So maybe uh… maybe that isn’t a good thing.

And to end off, he ends the section by saying that he’s horny, and that’s purely to set up the next song.

Song #8: Sexting:

Silly song time! Well, it’s silly but it does say something about our modern world, I suppose. Anyway, there isn’t much to analyse here as it’s all very straightforward. In essence, the song is a narrative about a sexting conversation between himself and his partner. However, the visuals are, in many ways, where it’s at for this one.

The shots alternate between two main types: projector and phone lighting.

The sections in which he uses projector lighting are used to tell a visual story along with his sexual discussions with his partner. At times, the projector shows euphemistic emojis and at other times it shows the text conversation he’s having with his partner. These sexual images are rather obvious. Things like tongues and tacos to lips and aubergines/eggplants.

These emojis then relate to the content of the narrative itself, but we’ll get to that shortly.

First, the other shot type is phone lighting. An emulation of the way most people probably sext; in the dark with only the light of your phone to guide you. It’s also just unique, or at least at present, to see film using phones as a lighting source. Although this is something Burnham has explored elsewhere, such as in his film Eighth Grade.

Anyway, now that we’re done with the visuals themselves, let’s talk about the lyrics. They are silly and fun. There are three main sections to the narrative, and then an outro and the chorus sections. We’ll get to those.

The first section is the opening of the sexting chat and it’s done solely through emojis, or, as Burnham says:

I am in bed; I am ready to go with you

Tonight, I’m thinking of taking it slow:

We’ll use Emojis only;

We don’t need phonetical diction

We’ll talk dirty like we’re ancient Egyptians

You send me a peach, I send a carrot back

You send a Ferris wheel; that’s pretty abstract

I send back a ticket stub, implying that the Ferris wheel’s your body and I’d really love admission to it

Oh, no! What if, now, you think that I’m implying your vagina is as big as a Ferris wheel?

You send back a snowman

Crisis averted

This whole idea, while obviously funny. You know, you send a peach, I’ll send a carrot. And then it veers into more absurdist stuff, but the line where he says: “We don’t need phonetical diction” is rather interesting. Can you imagine a pre-internet age in which simple pictures provide sexual stimulation? Sure, we can look at languages with image-based alphabets, but we’re talking about cartoon images of fruit, veg and miscellaneous goods. We have shifted our use of language, we have adapted this new medium of mobile device communication, to suit our sexual needs.

Once upon a time, we had to go out and have sex with each other or, if you were an old-timey massive deviant, you’d go to a place that sold porn, but the whole nature of sexuality has shifted. We can have sex without touching each other. And we can do it through non-phonetic images. We can do it without phonetical diction.

There are those who believe in what’s called prescriptivist linguistics. These are the people who believe there is a “correct” way to use language. Which is nonsense. We adapt language to our needs, not the other way around. And with a larger overall acceptance of sexuality in general, people are more and more willing to be publicly horny. To not be ashamed of it. And the fact that most people who’ve been on the internet at least a few months would be able to identify the sexualisation of a picture of a peach maybe says something about our shifting language uses.

Anyway, let’s look at the next section:

No more emojis; now, it’s on to words

I ask what you’re wearing; you reply, “A shirt”

You say, “Are you naked?” I say, “Yeah, except for a top hat”

You say, “lmao, but I doubt that”

I’m getting hot at just the thought of what I’d do to you

‘Cause in my head, I’m in your bed and getting through to you

They made the internet for nights like these

I love you, baby; send a picture of your tits, please

This section brings up quite a bit. It brings up the humour inherent in many sexual encounters and it brings up the sexualising power of the imagination. The humour part is easiest to discuss first. If you’re not a virgin or someone immensely traditional and sad, then you’ve probably discovered the humour of sex. Sex can be messy, liquids can get places you didn’t expect, and our bodies can also be unpredictable. A fart during sex is not necessarily unexpected. Or struggling to find the hole. These are funny things, they break the ice, they make you realise that it shouldn’t be taken so seriously. It can just be for fun. Sure, it can be incredibly intimate, but it can also be entertaining. So just don’t take it so seriously!

Anyway, the other part is about the power of the imagination, and it is powerful. The things you can conjure up in your head are way sexier than anything you could ever experience in reality. You can take kinks to extremes that would otherwise be dangerous. The imagination is… interesting.

There’s an essay by Roland Barthes in which he discusses the concept of the strip-tease, and discusses the ironic nature of the action. A stripper is at their most sexual when they are fully dressed. They have more sexual potential that way. You are able to imagine what’s under those clothes, and as the clothes peel away, it becomes reality and no longer fantasy. What’s in your head will always be better than what’s under those clothes.

Some may see this as a problem. Perhaps you should be mindful during sex and allow yourself to have no expectations so you can enjoy it for what it is, but humans aren’t like that. We imagine. We think about all the bad things we can do. We often can’t help it. Thoughts emerge without our consent at times, but it’s about choosing what to do with those thoughts.

The last section of the narrative has less to say:

You send the pic and say it’s now my turn

Jesus fucking Christ, I guess I never learn

My phone’s flash is my only light, and

The flash makes my dick look frightened

I chicken out and send a picture of my face instead

Because my dick looks like the baby from Eraserhead

You say, “I sent my titties, that’s not fair”

So I send it to you, and then my phone dies

Here it moves away from words and into photographs. They are each supposed to send nudes to each other, but he’s afraid of sending his own nude because, as he says: “My phone’s flash makes my dick look frightened.” And if you’ve ever taken nudes of yourself, you will probably understand the issue with finding the right angles. Seemingly 90% of angles are unflattering.

And this section simply looks at those realities of our psychology towards sex. We may be horny and want to do something sexy, but we don’t find ourselves sexy. Decades of attractive models in and out of porn have done a number on us. We want to be sexual, yet we see ourselves as lacking in anything approaching sexy. It’s disappointing but it’s the reality of the situation.

We have become so overloaded with images and ideas because of the internet that we have trouble differentiating ourselves from the deluge of information squirted all over us. And the main line in the chorus goes somewhat towards reinforcing this: “It isn’t sex; it’s the next best thing.” We have become so accustomed to everything being digital that even sex has become digitised. Is that a problem? Well, that’s really up to you, but there have been some negative side effects to it.

And that’s Sexting. A funny song that has quite a lot to say when you think about it for a while. Or maybe I’m just overthinking. Who knows?!

Section #8: High Quality Content:

This is a brief section that emulates YouTube content creators, and he’s mimicking the way in which they will thank their audience for being there to watch it. However, the deliver is unhinged and he has a knife most of the way through which he repeatedly jabs at the camera as chippy, enthusiastic music plays over it.

He promises high-quality content for us as the music fades as he stares at the camera for a little too long in absolute silence. And this is just unhinged stuff that clearly plays into the isolation one would generally feel during this pandemic and trying to keep yourself sane. It doesn’t have much to say other than that though. It’s just unhinged and somewhat deranged. Fun stuff! Anyway, let’s move on.

Song #9: Look Who’s Inside Again:

This is a rather simple and rather short song. However, it is important as it relates to a later song. It also conveys an overall theme for the entire special. The song is an older Burnham talking to a younger Burnham, a kid who was also stuck inside. He found a way to get out of that perpetually inside way of life and escaped, but now, the pandemic has forced him back inside.

The song also brings up the existential anxiety brought on by trying to be funny and doing a stand-up routine when there’s no one present as he sings:

Trying to be funny and stuck in a room

There isn’t much more to say about it

Can one be funny when stuck in a room?

Being in, trying to get something out of it

He asks if you can be funny while stuck in a room. Is it even possible? This whole project, this whole sitting inside for months upon months upon months thing does eventually weigh you down, but what are you supposed to do about it? He offers this sad response:

Well, well

Look who’s inside again

Went out to look for a reason to hide again

Well, well

Buddy, you found it

Now, come out with your hands up

We’ve got you surrounded

And his final verse just reinforces that he’s stuck inside again, but he just used this whole thing as an excuse to hide inside. And those last two lines are especially important: “Now, come out with your hands up/We’ve got you surrounded.” These lines will come up again later as a means of reinforcing the theme of isolation and forcing yourself to go outside again when it’s all done. Eventually, this has to end, and when that end comes, will we find the outside world utterly changed? Will the world be even more hostile to us? We’ll have to wait and see.

Section #9: Nostalgia:

An ominous synth note plays throughout this section as Burnham watches a projector. He watches with a frown on his face, and we then see that what he’s watching is himself. He’s watching his very first YouTube video. A video that, by today’s standards, is rather… problematic. And that’s why this is a simple lead-in to his next song, which is all about problematic past material.

In addition, this particular image: Burnham watching himself with a frown on his face, will be repeated later in the special in a cyclical fashion. But, we’ll get to that when we get to it. So, on to the next song, which is:

Song #10: Problematic:

There’s a problem that many of the early internet people have: when they were younger, they said and did some pretty bad shit. Either they just found it oh so funny to use racial or homophobic slurs or they made a load of jokes about minorities or they did pranks on homeless people or something. You never know with these early, and current (and also mostly white) content creators. And while there was always an undercurrent of something deeper to Burnham’s work, he definitely did fall into that in many ways. In a word, you could call much of his earlier material problematic.

And that is what this song is about. It follows from the previous section, which was just him gazing at the projected image of his first YouTube video, a video which, as I elaborated on earlier, is rather problematic. He was a dumb kid at the time, and was then encouraged to continue making quite a few problematic things until he stepped away from creating for a while, saw the shifting of society and maybe realised some of his issues. And this song addresses them. However, he does do so in the form of a song that takes some humorous jabs at his earlier work and actions, such as:

I grew up as your usual suburbanite

A tiny town in Massachusetts, overwhelmingly white

I went to church on Sundays in a suit and a tie

Then spent my free time watching Family Guy

I started doing comedy when I was just a sheltered kid

I wrote offensive shit, and I said it

Father, please forgive me, for I did not realize what I did

Or that I’d live to regret it

He discusses his early life, such as being raised in a sheltered Christian household, in a suburb and he got his comedic training from Family Guy. So, you can maybe see where some of that offensive stuff came from. He made comedy and he often did so without considering how hurtful some of the things he said could be. For instance, he has an entire song that recommends suicide if you like to listen to so-called motivational music. It does end by saying that if you’re actually depressed you should go to therapy and not pay attention to motivational music, but the joke of the song is definitely about killing yourself. Probably not the best look. He also references Jesus in those last two lines: “Forgive me, for I did not realise what I did”, which is an inversion of the original quote. Moving on for now:

Times are changing, and I’m getting old

Are you gonna hold me accountable?

My bed is empty, and I’m getting cold

Isn’t anybody gonna hold me accountable?

He acknowledges, however, that times are changing and that he isn’t a young man anymore, but then asks a very good question: Isn’t anybody gonna hold me accountable? A very good question as more and more people are supposedly cancelled for the terrible things they do. I say “supposedly” because when these sex offenders give their little apologies and leave YouTube for a while, they all inevitably return and act as if nothing has happened. Anyway, as more and more people are “cancelled” for the things they do, why isn’t Burnham being held accountable?

He’s said some awful shit, yet he gets a free pass? Probably because he’d been quiet for a while so everyone had kind of forgotten about him and then he came out with this new special and all of a sudden, he had some big things to say. Who knows the reason, but nevertheless, he has never really faced any kind of widespread backlash. Is it because his crimes have been offensive jokes and not sexually assaulting people? Common consensus tends to be that when someone just says terrible things it’s not as much of a problem as doing terrible things? Who knows, but anyway, the rest of this song reinforces this idea.

There is a recurring joke in this song about him dressing up as Aladdin when he was 17 years old, but also says that he didn’t do brownface and so he just kind of feels weird about it. It’s not as bad as going full on blackface or doing a minstrel show or something, but it’s understandable why you may feel weird but also… just dressing up is one thing but going blackface is quite another.

But that’s just a side joke here and not the main point he’s making. In that first verse he spoke about his upbringing, but he soon goes back on that as he says:

I want to show you how I’m growing as a person, but first

I feel I must address the lyrics from the previous verse

I tried to hide behind my childhood, and that’s not okay

My actions are my own; I won’t explain them away

I’ve done a lot of self-reflecting since I started singing this song

I was totally wrong when I said it

Father, please forgive me, for I did not realize what I did

Or that I’d live to regret it

He says that we shouldn’t hide behind our childhoods. Face the terrible things you did. Don’t be a coward. You did bad things, you now realise the things you did were bad and offensive, and you will be better in the future. You can’t take the past back and by saying this, Burnham, as one of those offensive internet white boys, is calling bullshit to all the people who love to use this expression: it was a different time.

Just because H.P. Lovecraft lived back when you could get away with being a massive racist without backlash doesn’t mean that it was right. He was a prick. He was an awful person. And it’s better to just acknowledge that rather than saying “oh… it was a different time, back then, the non-whites couldn’t vote, so how could you expect him to treat them with common human decency. That’s just how it was back then.”

An utterly bullshit belief that’s simply trying to cover for toxic and abusive behaviour by claiming that like, it’s actually all, like, fine. Who cares if you hurt people with the things you say.

Now, there are a few other lines, but there’s really only one that matters. Well, one other than him saying the actual words: “I’m sorry”. Because actually apologising is the first step. But he says a very interesting line: “Shit, I’ve been complicit.”

That line is a heavy one to deal with if you are in any way similar. If you, in your younger, more edgy years, thought it was funny to do and say terrible things because it’s like just a joke, man. Then you are complicit. By making or laughing at racist jokes, you let racists know that the things they believe are okay. If you use homophobic slurs, then it gives homophobes permission to use those slurs too. Only difference is: they definitely mean them. As the saying goes: if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

You are giving bigots permission. You are giving them a safe space. When raging transphobes feel like they won’t be challenged or reprimanded for things they say, then it’ll just get worse. And when you give them permission to be that way, then that may encourage those who are willing to use more than words. Every piece of hand-waved discrimination gives the dangerous people who will do something with their hatred permission to do something. Would people feel quite as comfortable doing hate crimes if they knew there would always be repercussions for those actions?  

So, rather than being complicit, try to actually be a good person. And not only with your words, but also with your actions.

However, we cannot leave this song until we talk about the visuals… because they are a blend of sport-oriented motivational stuff with Christ imagery. And it’s something I would definitely criticise as it does send quite the mixed message. He’s serious, but is he really? Now, he does actually kind of address this after the next song, but… it’s not great. Don’t do a Jesus pose in a song where you’re the one asking for forgiveness. Come on, man.

Section #10: A Mistake and a Birthday:

This section opens with Burnham doing some setup. He’s preparing lights and cameras and finding the correct placement for everything. We can’t know whether or not he just had the camera running or whether this was set up, but it comes together perfectly as a blooper. Because as he’s preparing everything, he pulls on a light to readjust its position and it proceeds to drag the camera with it. He catches it just in time before the feed cuts out and we move to a new section of this… section.

Was this real or staged? We can’t know that, but it does bring some questions to mind. How much of this special is real and how much of it has been staged? The lines between meta-commentary and reality become blurred. However, Burnham, if past specials and performances are anything to go by, is an extremely precise performer. He likes to have everything set up to be perfect, and his timing has to be impeccable for that to work. In a live performance that means intense rehearsal, but in an edited capacity like this, there would be no fear of mistakes being shown, unless the desired result was us seeing that it’s all an orchestrated performance and that things can go wrong.

Maybe reading too much into this mistake, as it could have just been a funny mistake that was made and so Burnham wanted to include it, but it does go along with the theme of things not going right. So, who knows. Mistake, staged; who cares?

Anyway, there is a second section to this section which is essentially a setup for the next song. And it’s Burnham explaining how long he’s been working on the special and that he’d wanted to be finished by now, but that he’s about to turn 30 and he now knows it won’t be finished before that moment.

In this bit, he’s sitting next to a digital clock that’s about to hit 12am, and at 12am, it’s his birthday and he’s turning 30. His thoughts on turning 30 are probably best shown in the song that follows, so we’re not going to look at it here. But the melancholic tone of the opening radiates into the song. So, let’s get to that song.

Song #11: 30:

A song all people, unless they’ve become immensely out of touch, can relate to. A song about turning 30. It probably doesn’t need to be said that 30 is a special kind of age. It’s special because we award it a special place in our minds. Depending on the country you’re from, your most significant birthday is likely the one where you legally come of age, which is typically 18 or 21. However, that’s a signifier of the beginnings of adulthood. 30 is a signifier of age. You’re starting to get old at 30. You may not feel old and, in the grand human scheme of things, it’s really not that old at all (even if you only make it to 60, you’re still only halfway through life at 30, and are you really “halfway through” or do those first 18 or so years really count? Were you even a person in those first two decades!?).

Anyway, 30 is the year you start getting old. It’s the time you become out-of-touch. You’re not a kid and you’re not a young adult. You probably have a job, maybe a significant other, maybe even a kid or two (or more, whatever). This is the time you get old, and Burnham speaks about that in this song. And uh, as someone who is only a few year younger than Burnham, and my thirtieth is rapidly approaching, I can definitely understand this feeling.

Now, before we get to the lyrics, there isn’t really anything particularly interesting going on with the lighting and performance here. He puts on a fantastic lightshow and it’s great to watch him manually operate the lights as he does his performance, but it’s the song itself that shines here. The lyrics:


I used to run for miles, I used to ride my bike

I used to wake up with a smile

And go to bed at night with a dream, ah

But now I’m turning 30


I used to be the young one, got used to meeting people

Who weren’t used to meeting someone who was born in 1990

No way! Yeah, I was born in 1990

Now I’m turning thirty

God damn it!

The song starts with reminiscence about past thoughts, physicality and philosophy. He used to run around, ride his bike, imagine the future as something optimistic and fall asleep with a smile. Basically, he was happy. He got used to being a young person, and this especially applies to when you’re a young adult. People are always shocked that the twenty-odd year olds were born in the nineties, but that will of course go away. If someone were to, for whatever reason, watch this video in thirty years, those born in the 1990s would be old people! It is all relative.

This section is about the fear of missing what you once had. You haven’t had that thing in a long time, I mean, if you’re turning 30, then you haven’t been a truly “young adult” since you were like 23, but that number, that big scary number. 30. It just makes it worse. It’s a round number. Much like how 40 signifies middle age and 50 signifies old age. After that they become less noteworthy unless you manage to hit 100. That’s a pretty big one.

Anyway, the next section isn’t about what you lose by turning 30, but rather hostility towards those who are older, who had a more significant 20s, and those who are younger, who no doubt see you as an old person by now. To a teenager, 30 is ancient. He says:

When he was 27, my granddad fought in Vietnam

When I was 27, I built a birdhouse with my mom

Oh, fuck, how am I 30?

I used to make fun of the boomers; in retrospect, a bit too much

Now all these fucking zoomers are telling me that I’m out of touch?

Oh yeah? Well, your fucking phones are poisoning your minds. Okay? So when you develop a dissociative mental disorder in your late twenties, don’t come crawling back to m-

This first line, and also, yes, we did skip the chorus because it’s just Burnham repeating “I’m turning 30” over and over again. Not much to analyse there, I’m afraid. Anyway, this first line shows the achievements, or what we perceive as achievements, of older generations. His grandfather fought in Vietnam at the age of 27, and he then states that when he was 27, he built a birdhouse with his mom. This stark juxtaposition shows how the younger generations perceives older ones. They fought in grand or, in the case of Vietnam, not so grand wars. They suffered through intense struggles and yet they made it out.

It reminds me of a line from Fight Club, which kind of perfectly encapsulates this idea: “We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual one. Our great depression is our lives.” Somewhat melodramatic and melancholic perhaps, but certainly a way Gen X saw their 30s, and young millennials like Burnham, may see it the same way. We have no great wars, no great conflicts, no massive movements to join that grant us our identities. The new problems are often less obvious, more easily obfuscated.

Anyway, the next line of note is about how he used to make fun of Boomers and maybe shouldn’t have. This is just old age talking. The generations before us were the generations that gave us our current problems. And this isn’t a specific dig at Baby Boomers on my part. It’s literally a central Christian concept: original sin. The sins of our fathers and our forefathers. What they did, we suffer for. So, millennials are right to have problems with the Boomers. It makes sense. No generation has done damage to the earth in quite the same way the Boomers have. So, I’d say that Burnham, and anyone else who’s ageing and now regrets their criticisms of older people, should remember what those older generations have done.

However, he then turns hostile towards the young. And that is more of an issue. He may not actually hold these beliefs, but he criticises the Gen Z generation because they’re young and therefore easy to mock, but they haven’t done anything wrong yet. They’re still working things out. They’re still learning their identities in a rapidly changing world. But it’s understandable why someone older would want to criticise the young. We all do it. It’s something instinctual. We often see a world changing around us, and it’s easier to blame the young than to simply understand that human civilisation has been in perpetual flux for its entire existence.

But whatever, people are gonna people.

Now, the last main verse is essentially one line repeated with some variation:

And now my stupid friends are having stupid children

To anyone who doesn’t want to have kids, once you hit your late 20s, early 30s, that’s the age typically reserved for having kids. And those that don’t have kids, are either planning to have kids at a more opportune time, or who don’t want kids should be able to understand this sentiment. And of course, there are those who can’t have kids but do want them, although they are generally a smaller population.

However, from the perspective of someone like Burnham or myself, someone who doesn’t want kids (probably ever), this 30-something’s baby boom is… kinda overbearing. It’s also indicative of age. When you decide you want kids there’s something about that which just makes you an adult. Parents are basically just kids raising kids, but it doesn’t instinctively feel that way. I’m sure if I’d known my mother when she had me, and she was very young when she did, I’d probably have thought her more mature than I am now. Even though I know for a fact that that isn’t true. Knowing someone your own age who’s kinda stupid and immature about their kids does somewhat break the spell though. But not everyone gets to have that illusion broken by a friend or acquaintance.

So, for the last bit of the song, the outro, Burnham turns back to a depressive note:

It’s 2020, and I’m 30, I’ll do another ten

2030, I’ll be 40 and kill myself then

It’s rather depressing to say you’re going to kill yourself when you turn thirty, but this little joke does add rhyme and rhythm to the song’s conclusion even if it is making fun of something very serious. However, it is a sentiment that some of us do maybe share. Although, as the next section shows, he doesn’t actually mean it.

Section #11: Don’t Kill Yourself & Window Cleaning:

This section is entirely in response to the last section and, perhaps, to another song of his.  But we’ll get to that. This section responds to that final part of 30. Where he says he’ll kill himself, and here, we find Burnham simply sitting and telling us that he isn’t going to kill himself. It then changes. The image of him telling us about suicide is imposed over the shirt of another Burnham as he sits on his phone and then starts listening.

Burnham tells people to get help if they want to kill themselves. That they mustn’t kill themselves. He first does the usual thing. He says that there are people who love you, but then he stops that lie. Because that is a lie. Not everyone has someone who loves them. Not everyone has friends and/or family. Not everyone has something to live for. And so he switches it. He appeals to a future possibility. Maybe you will one day have those things. Maybe. There’s a possibility that someone will one day love you. Don’t give up.

Now, that, on its own, can ring hollow to someone suffering. And if you’ve never suffered through depression or suicidal ideation then it probably doesn’t make sense. But platitudes like this don’t help.

He switches again, but now with a personal anecdote. He says that he’s known people who’ve taken their lives, and it’s a trauma that isn’t too great to go through. There’s always the future. There’s always a possibility.

The reason for this whole discussion about suicide might be linked to that aforementioned song of his. Burnham made a song called “Kill Yourself”, and the joke is that you shouldn’t pay attention to songs about empowerment. If you’re depressed, seek help. Don’t go with motivational nonsense to deal with mental health issues. Get actual help from someone. And the rest of the song is a list of humorous ways to kill yourself. It’s also probably one of the songs that may have influenced his “Problematic” song in this special. The song is funny, but it’s dark and kinda wrong. Suicide isn’t something funny. And when you’ve experienced thoughts like that yourself, you probably won’t find much humour in it. And uh… well, if you don’t want to write music that could psychologically harm those who have gone through intense trauma, then maybe don’t write jokey songs about suicide.

Anyway, it then moves to an intermission in which Burnham cleans a window in front of the camera. It’s just something, isn’t it? Something between this and the next song.

Song #12: Don’t Wanna Know:

The song opens with Burnham approaching the mic and then it essentially rattles off a list of questions, but these questions are depressive and self-esteem crushing. These are the kinds of questions that any real artist probably experiences. That gnawing feeling that no one cares or wants to hear what you have to say.

There isn’t much to say because the song is basically a list of insecurities, and I’ll just list a few of them from the song:

Do you like the show?

Are you tired of it?

Never mind, I don’t wanna know

Are you finding it boring?

Too fast? Too slow?

Am I on in the background?

Are you on your phone?

Is there anyone out there?

Or am I all alone?

It wouldn’t make a difference

Still, I don’t wanna know

And Burnham repeats the sentiment of “I don’t wanna know” throughout the song. It takes a lot of effort to make something, and it often doesn’t work out. But when it does work out, you suddenly have a whole load of people checking out your work. Some will enjoy it but say nothing, some will dislike it but say nothing, some will praise it and some will criticise it, and furthermore, some will hardly pay attention.

When you pour your heart and soul into something that’s criticised or ignored, that can bite, but that’s the nature of artistic creation. There also isn’t much else to say here. These insecurities that make complete sense for anyone who creates art of any kind. It’s scary putting yourself out there, and what if people don’t even care?

Section #12: Inside & Sleep:

Ah, the game that Burnham “streams”. This short section, which actually drags on longer than I’d probably have recommended, has Burnham set up as if he’s a streamer and then he “controls” himself doing various tasks around the room. And these tend to involve him crying or standing around or being unhappy. And the whole thing is pretty dissociative.

This calls back to section 3 where we just see Burnham setting everything up and we get a brief flash of his streamer persona sitting there. This persona is the one controlling him the entire time. This is what it can feel like when you experience dissociative episodes. You feel as if you are out of your own body, not fully conscious of yourself. It’s, you know, not a great thing to experience.

One small additional thing is that this “game”, which is titled as “Inside”, is presented by “SSRI Interactive”. A screen that is obviously meant to emulate how games open with title cards. However, for those unfamiliar with psychiatric medication: an SSRI is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. It’s a type of anti-depressant, probably the most common kind. And the most famous one being Prozac.

The section then shifts into Burnham getting ready for bed. There’s a spotlight on him. He’s the centre of this story. And we can see how tired he is of this whole thing, this special, this project, and possibly this life. It is rather tiring, after all.

Song #13: Shit:

Alright so this song doesn’t have much to it. It starts out a lot more upbeat than the previous section as a strong juxtaposition, but while the music and the light show is rather upbeat and optimistic, the lyrics are all about how much he feels like shit. That’s what this song is. It’s how shit this whole thing is. How shit this pandemic and the hiding indoors and doing nothing. We’re all feeling like shit.

And there really isn’t much to say, so I’ll stop here.

Song/Section #14: All Time Low

This is an interesting one as it’s both a song and a section in one. It opens with Burnham speaking to the camera. He’s talking about how bad his mental health has gotten and that everything is just terrible. You know, because of the pandemic and just how awful life is in general. It’s a darker moment, and he’s simply explaining how he’s feeling, and that’s when it jumps into song for a few seconds.

He’s saying how he feels when he gets up, and it’s described like this:

Feeling in my body, way down deep inside me

I try not to fight it (Describe it!) Alright

A few things start to happen, my vision starts to flatten

My heart, it gets to tappin’, and I think I’m gonna die

And then it cuts out of that to just say he’s not doing great and then the next song starts. Now, for those unfamiliar with this. He’s essentially describing a panic attack. The feeling starts, your vision goes strange, your heart beats fast and you think you’re gonna die. It’s not an exciting feeling for everyone. Many people also experience intense shortness of breath; almost a feeling of choking. Unable to catch your breath.

That brief aside, that jump into musicality to describe a panic attack, shows how suddenly it can come on. You’ll be depressed and/or anxious, and then you suddenly get this intense physiological response. Your body is rebelling against you and actively harming you. It’s not exactly something you want to experience.

The next song isn’t about any of these feelings and is probably one of the best known songs from the entire special. It’s pretty great, so let’s give it some love!

Song #15: Welcome to the Internet:

We now get to the song that is probably most famous out of this special, and I’d probably say that’s for a good reason. It has a great structure, great overall setup and it’s tightly written. But before we get to the actual lyrics, the entire song is essentially structured as if Burnham is a Disney villain. He puts on a bad guy voice and it’s all set around a carnival-style score. Burnham here plays the role of the personification of the internet. He’s kinda sleazy looking and he’s welcoming you to the internet.

The majority of the song is essentially a list of all the things you can do on the internet. From the good to the bad to the horrifying. It goes like this:

Would you like to see the news or any famous women’s feet?

Would you like to fight for civil rights or tweet a racial slur?

Be happy! Be horny! Be bursting with rage!

Here’s a tip for straining pasta; here’s a nine-year-old who died

We’ve got movies and doctors and fantasy sports

See a man beheaded, get offended, see a shrink

Show us pictures of your children, tell us every thought you think

Here’s a healthy breakfast option, you should kill your mom

Here’s why women never fuck you; here’s how you can build a bomb

Which Power Ranger are you? Take this quirky quiz

Obama sent the immigrants to vaccinate your kids

There’s the creepy fetishism of those who don’t want to be fetishized, rampant racism as well as social justice, horniness, anger, how-to tutorials, tragedy, movies, sports, beheadings, oversharing, breakfast options, dark suggestions, incel and pick up artist nonsense, bomb instructions, silly quizzes and conspiracy theories. The internet has a whole lot of good but also, you know, a whole lot of not good, but regardless of all that, it does all come down to one line: “We’ve got a million different ways to engage.”

Because that is what it all comes down to. It all comes down to engagement for the companies that dominate the internet, but before that rant, two sections of this song should be highlighted for how perfect they are. One is just an assonance-fuelled piece of glorious writing, and the other is a fantastically executed little piece of internet uh… “fun” that mostly affects women. The first is:

Start a rumor, buy a broom or send a death threat to a boomer

Or DM a girl and groom her; do a zoom find a tumor in your—

And the second one is:

Welcome to the internet! Hold on to your socks

‘Cause a random guy just kindly sent you photos of his cock

They are grainy and off-putting; he just sent you more

Don’t act surprised—you know you like it, you whore

These two sections are simply fantastic because of how effortlessly they reference problems on the internet, and they also do so in a funny way. The second one is also rather condescending, but that is the internet talking.

Now, this beginning section is essentially a good ole list of things that can happen on the internet. It’s purely for fun. It’s highlighting the dark and the light-hearted stuff. The flip sides of the internet: the good and the bad. However, the chorus tells us more of the story:

Could I interest you in everything all of the time?

A little bit of everything all of the time

Apathy’s a tragedy, and boredom is a crime

Anything and everything all of the time

Could I interest you in everything all of the time?

A little bit of everything all of the time

Apathy’s a tragedy, and boredom is a crime

Anything and everything all of the time

This chorus emphasises our current means of consumption. It’s all about how we overconsume. We have been trained to only want more and more and to want it now. The internet has provided us with some amazing things, but it’s also reduced our attention spans a little. And that’s also why this song isn’t really for my generation. It’s a message to the following generation, to the zoomer generation.

My generation, or at least my generation in my country, had technology, but it wasn’t constantly on-hand like it is today. It wasn’t quite as interconnected. The first proper smartphone I got was in my first year out of high school, and now I see children, who haven’t gotten to high school, who have these devices. They have all the knowledge of the world at their fingertips, but that is an overwhelming thing to have. Why do you think so many of them have depressive, anxiety and attention disorders? The world sucks and there’s too much information running through us at all times. We know the news of the whole world every day, and we know it instantly.

But my generation was the last to have some kind of a buffer. Some of us have more self-control with this technology because we can remember before it existed. I mean, I remember the pre-streaming service days. The days of scheduled television and terrible movies on the handful of public networks in South Africa. I never want to go back to that! Never! So, I never take these things for granted, but if they’ve always been around, you would take them for granted. That’s just the way it would be.

And that’s why Burnham switches his tone here. He’s no longer talking about the internet itself, he’s talking about those who have become intrinsically connected to it. He’s talking about Gen Z, or as he says:

Not very long ago, just before your time

Right before the towers fell, circa ’99

This was catalogs, travel blogs, a chatroom or two

We set our sights and spent our nights waiting for you!

You, insatiable you

Mommy let you use her iPad; you were barely two

And it did all the things we designed it to do

Now, look at you! Oh, look at you!

You, you! Unstoppable, watchable

Your time is now, your inside’s out, honey, how you grew

And if we stick together, who knows what we’ll do?

It was always the plan to put the world in your hands

He talks about how the internet was before the birth of Gen Z. Back in the late 90s and early 2000s. The internet was mostly chatrooms and catalogues and some blogs, but it was waiting for those who would truly be born with the internet in their hand. And Burnham’s personification of the internet is very kind and loving here. He loves Gen Z, he wants what’s best for them, because they are unstoppable and, of course, infinitely watchable as their entire lives, and all their data, is on the cloud. Their insides are out. The internet knows everything about them. Everything.

It seems to end on a happier note, but then the personification starts to laugh. The laughter becomes maniacal. All of that happiness fades away. And then the chorus comes into play again, but the intonation, the tone, has changed. It’s no longer happy or whimsical, it’s opportunistic and callous. It wants you to be apathetic and bored and so turn to it every day. It wants to be your sole means of mentally sustaining yourself. It relishes in the problems it causes you. Always online, never alone, never in true privacy. It wants that. It wants you to be perpetually dependent on it.

This song starts off as a villain song, and while most Disney villain songs have a kind of over-the-top flair to them, this is much more nefarious, much more malevolent. It isn’t over-the-top; it’s grounded, it’s real. The internet and those who dominate it want you to be under its control. And the younger generations are more than happy to give it to them.

Section #15: Keep Going:

After that nice and dark ending, we have a fun section! Okay, not really, this is sort of just Burnham having a bit of a meltdown and saying he’ll never stop working on the special because if he can’t work on the special then what the fuck is he going to do? An understandable thing for those who must keep working forever or else we discover that our life has no meaning. It’s a… fun realisation. Also, that’s about all there is to that. The next song is silly again. Yay!

Song #16: Bezos II:

We open to Burnham at his keyboard, wearing what appears to be a ghillie suit while a star-ish light projection plays behind him. This is a sequel of sorts to song #7. However, he here basically just repeats Jeff Bezos’s name over and over again and then says “You did it!” and later “Congratulations!” before the song suddenly cuts off.

Well… uh… as I said for that first Bezos song. Bezos was one of those who stood to benefit the most from the pandemic. His business is pretty much focused on delivering groceries and other packages to people, and when people couldn’t leave their homes… who did they call on to bring them the necessities of life? The billionaire who thought of the genius idea of “shop but online”.

Anyway, let’s move on.

Section #16: The Real World

Here’s more sadness! It opens with Burnham’s sad face changing into a contorted happy one and then it switches to him doing a standup routine. And the standup routine is essentially a parody of standup. It doesn’t have an audience, obviously, it has an inserted laughing track, and he just sits there, shirtless, as he says depressing things about being locked inside. However, he does happen upon something very interesting here.

He talks about how so-called “real” human interaction will kill you. You know, the pandemic and all, and that we should rather allow ourselves to exist and interact within the safe and much more real interior digital space. He says that we should engage with the “real” world as a job. He puts it like this: “One should only engage with the outside world as one engages with a coal mine. Suit up, gather what is needed, and return to the surface.”

Here he is saying that the real world is merely a place to produce content that can then be placed on the hyperreal online world. A hyperreality is basically the idea that we can exist in something that is more real than real life. And the internet is exactly that. The human interaction is much more intense, the arguments more anger-inducing, the highs higher and the lows lower. You are, when online, alone, and when you are alone and you have your anonymity, you can be more of the person you really are. The you, you want to be.

Anyway, he then goes on a non-sequitur about pirate maps because why not? The internet is random after all. A random, hyperreal hellscape that we all have to interact with now because everything is connected to it and without the internet many of us wouldn’t have jobs. It’s a great forced reality that surely won’t cause any massive issues for humanity. Anyway, onto the next song!

Song #17: That Funny Feeling:

Okay so… this song could probably do with a rather lengthy analysis as it is written in a style reminiscent of something like Bob Dylan. Metaphorical rather than straightforward. On first listen, it may sound like a string of words, people and phrases, but when taken together it forms a rather apocalyptic picture of the current state of the world and human civilisation. It is not a happy story in the slightest.

In addition, it does not have much in the way of lighting changes. It’s set to Burnham playing a guitar with a static forest image behind him. It evokes a feeling of a camp-side song. And that never changes. So, let’s get to the analysis, and this analysis will be thorough:

Stunning 8K resolution meditation app

This is simply a setup for the way things are now. We have these gorgeous, 8K capabilities and we will use it for something like meditation. Meditation, in the oldest forms in religions like Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism, is a spiritual practice. For instance, meditation is central to Buddhist thought, where it is grounded in mindfulness. However, rather than meditating as one would have done in religious tradition, it has now become commodified.

How many people buy tacky Buddhist statuettes for their houses when they don’t know fundamental tenets of Buddhism? People who smoke weed, believe in crystals and think they’re just like so like connected to like the world because they like meditate and stuff. It has become fetishized and detached from its original purpose. It has become trendy to meditate.

Sure, it has the capacity to help people; if that wasn’t the case, it probably wouldn’t be a central concept in various religions, but we are now told that we need a special app to help us meditate. When Siddhartha Gautama sat in the Deer Park and taught, do you think he needed a special meditation app? Or did he simply meditate?

This line shows the beginnings of a pessimistic view continued in the rest of the song:

In honor of the revolution, it’s half-off at the Gap

This is a further indictment of those who would commodify meditation, but this time it’s about the revolution. Real revolution requires action, perseverance and strong ideological conviction, but many modern people who supposedly want the revolution, who want things to be better than they are, are unwilling to do anything. We think that buying a revolutionary shirt is the equivalent of actual action. We think that doing nothing is the same as doing something.

So, in honour of our feelings towards the revolution, we can get some nice revolutionary items, maybe a shirt with Che Guevara’s face on it, at a nice discount. Wearing the face of a socialist revolutionary who was executed is definitely the same as being a revolutionary!

Deadpool’s self-awareness, loving parents, harmless fun


This is the beginning of a series of statements with regards to current ideology. Media now has to be self-aware; it can’t just be a story. We now have the idea that our parents actually love us and didn’t have us purely so that we’d take over the farm after their death, and everything we do is just some harmless fun. These few lines do somewhat focus on things that are bitter-sweet.

The fact that parenting is better and that things like sexual frivolity are more accepted than ever, these are good things. They can come with downsides though, either that or they simply aren’t as advantageous as we might have otherwise thought. But this line isn’t quite as depressing as some of the rest, but the next is an interesting point on current political, social and economic discourse:

The backlash to the backlash to the thing that’s just begun


Backlash has always existed. It’s been there forever. People who disagree with this or that policy or opinion. That will never change, but the discourse cycle is now instantaneous. Once upon a time, it was perfectly reasonable for a certain opinion to be stated and then for the discussion around that to last months or years.

Now, as soon as news of any sort appears, there will be those who support it, those who reject those who support it and those who reject those who reject those who support it. Almost anything, on either side of the political spectrum, can be protested or counter-protested. Are abortion rights being threatened? There will be those who protest against removing those rights, and then there will be those who protest against those who protest.

People can’t take a position on an issue anymore. It isn’t that you agree or disagree with a position, it’s that you either agree or disagree with those who agree or disagree. It becomes an ad hominem attack. You can’t just support or not support something, you have pick a side in the nonsense culture war debate.

Now, you could have different opinions on which side you can choose, and I have personally very much chosen a side (for those curious, I have chosen the more progressive, leftist side), because if you don’t choose a side then you will be perceived as a coward. Centrism is for those who want to pretend that you can have it either way. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but definitely a thing worth contemplating.

And we now reach the chorus:

There it is again

That funny feeling

That funny feeling

There it is again

That funny feeling

That funny feeling

So, everything that has come before this, every one of those disparate thoughts, is part of this funny feeling. Now, the word “funny” here probably doesn’t mean ha ha funny, it means wrong. It’s a bad feeling, a strange feeling. Something is off. Something is off in the world. We can’t exactly place what it is, but those few things that were mentioned before were part of it, and the things that will be mentioned from now on are also part of it.

And speaking of those things, I’ve combined a few here because they continue a theme:


The surgeon general’s pop-up shop, Robert Iger’s face

Discount Etsy agitprop, Bugles’ take on race

Female Colonel Sanders, easy answers, civil war

The livе-action Lion King, the Pepsi Halftime Show

Carpool Karaoke, Steve Aoki, Logan Paul

Here we are treated to a list. We have everything from Disney’s overbearing presence on the entertainment industry (Robert Iger, for those unfamiliar, is the CEO at Disney), we have agitprop (aka propaganda) on discount on Etsy, we have musicians giving their opinions on socio-political issues, we have corporate facades of equality, a near civil war in the United States, a lack of originality in our media, corporate consolidation of culture, reality television and people like Logan Paul as role models for our children.

Something is wrong, and it can give you a funny feeling. Everything becomes more divided, more partisan, more of a pastiche of itself, but that’s just culture, because two of the other lines in this section are:

The whole world at your fingеrtips, the ocean at your door

Twenty-thousand years of this, seven more to go

We have the whole world at our fingertips. The internet has given us all the information we could possibly want at any time, but while we have that, we also have rising sea levels, we have global warming at the door. It’s coming for us. Regardless of what we do as a culture, the existential crisis of our species is right there.

And the next line can be kind of confusing, but “twenty thousand years of this” could correspond to the fact that humans have been in the Americas for about twenty thousand years, and in about seven years we hit our deadline for global warming. Although, that may already be too late. It’s already happening and there’s little we can do to stop it. We could offset it and limit its effects, but we’ve been too slow, too unwilling to act, too scared to halt the capitalist machine for the purpose of saving the world for our habitation.

Because if global warming does happen and the human race eventually gets wiped out, the earth itself will be fine and new life will eventually form anew. But humans will be done, and so this is not an existential threat to the planet, but it is to everything currently alive on it. Which is maybe why the rhetoric around “save the planet” is wrong. The planet will be fine, but most of the non-human animals, human animals and plant life will not survive. Which is probably a reason to try and do something about it. Next line:


A gift shop at the gun range, a mass shooting at the mall

This is a very American thing, but getting some fun stuffs at the gun range and then shooting up a mall? Oh, that is very American, but this was written by an American, so that makes sense. However, this line should be rather obvious to understand. There’s a bit of a gun problem in America. Just a wee bit of a gun problem, and that should maybe be rectified at some point! Anyway:

Reading Pornhub’s terms of service, going for a drive

And obeying all the traffic laws in Grand Theft Auto V

Okay, so this one is probably aimed squarely at the pandemic. When the special was released, and when this video was released, the coronavirus pandemic was very much happening, and do you know what happens when you get stuck inside all day? You get bored.

And what do you do when you’re immensely bored? Find random things to occupy your time. Like reading Pornhub’s terms of service or driving somewhere or playing GTA V and actually obeying traffic laws rather than having fun. Although… I think anyone who’s played GTA does, at some point, try and follow the rules of the road for a while before they get bored, drive on the pavement and shoot some people.

On to the next:

Full agoraphobic, losing focus, cover blown

A book on getting better hand-delivered by a drone

Still on the pandemic. Stuck inside all day and becoming afraid of leaving. Slowly losing your touch on reality and then wanting help, but a human doesn’t deliver the self-help book, a fucking drone does! Social isolation is not good for many people’s minds. I mean, to be honest, it was great for mine, but some people require socialisation. And being locked inside all the time can also lead to the next section:

Total disassociation, fully out your mind

Googling “derealization,” hating what you find


Now, we have actually discussed dissociation in this video already, and this is a re-emphasis on that. When you already have mental health issues and you then become immensely isolated, it can start causing some damage. And for those unfamiliar with “derealization”, let’s google it as the song recommends against. And this definition is the very first thing that showed up when I googled the term, and it’s from WebMD. Here goes: “Derealization is a mental state where you feel detached from your surroundings. People and objects around you may seem unreal. Even so, you’re aware that this altered state isn’t normal. More than half of all people may have this disconnection from reality once in their lifetime.”

So… you dissociate, but kind of realise it and you know everything is very wrong. It’s uh… not very happy.

But that’s mental stuff, we now get to go back to material existential threats:

That unapparent summer air in early fall

The quiet comprehending of the ending of it all

Summer air… in early fall. Hotter when it’s supposed to be colder, the changing of seasons, the very noticeable reality that our climate is changing. We can literally feel it in the air. It’s hotter than it used to be. It’s hotter than when we were kids. And that second line is very depressing.

We know the end is coming, but we quietly comprehend it. It’s coming slowly, and it reminds me of that oft overused line from T.S Eliot’s The Hollow Men:

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper

The world will end slowly and sadly, it will not be an abrupt apocalypse. It will creep up on us.

The rest is pretty much a repetition of this:


Hey, what can you say?

We were overdue

But it’ll be over soon

You wait

Hey, what can you say?

We were overdue

But it’ll be over soon

Just wait

Okay… so this just parallels what has come before. Everything is going to end, and it was time for everything to end. We were overdue. Our world, basically, has to die.

So… this was uh… apocalyptic. Hopefully the next section isn’t so depressing!

Section #17: Enough:

This section maintains the more recent theme of burnout. This special is taking a long time to put together. It’s taken a year at this point in the narrative, and it’s wearing him out. He has positioned his camera behind a lot of his equipment so you can see it all. You can see the production from a meta-textual perspective. Never forget that this is, at least partially, a work of fiction. You cannot be sure how much of this is actually real and how much of it is performative exaggeration.

So, this short section entails Burnham struggling to come to grips with the fact that he’s been working on this special for a year already, and he eventually storms off after struggling to articulate his thoughts on this. 

It then jumps to him talking to the camera, and simply saying that he is not well and then he cries. And as he cries, applause starts as it leads into the next song. The camera slowly switches to a view of the camera itself. Thanking his audience. The whole façade coming together into one of the final songs. An audience participatory song with no audience.

Song #18: All Eyes On Me:

The song opens to a blue tinted close-up of Burnham’s face. The camera never changes much as it focuses entirely on him. His eyes large and staring into the distance as he sings, eventually shifting to stare directly at the audience for a time as he tells the audience to get their fucking hands up. The lyrics are comparatively minimal and somewhat repetitive. Get your hands up, keep your eyes on him, lower your head and pray for him, get your fucking hands up, please.

The visuals start to overlap various versions of the shot over one another. His own image projected behind him as he sings to his audience. The façade projected over the façade.

A combination of a cry for help, wanting others to pray for him because there’s nothing else anyone can actually do, or at least in his audience. No one who watches this special can actually help him. At all. And there’s also a request to actually watch, to actually take note.

One verse of significance is:

Are you feeling nervous? Are you having fun?

It’s almost over, it’s just begun

Don’t overthink this, look in my eye

Don’t be scared, don’t be shy

Come on in, the water’s fine


He’s scared, in a way reminiscent of the song “Don’t Wanna Know”, in which Burnham hopes people are enjoying the show but also doesn’t want to know if that isn’t the case. That inevitable insecurity. However, he then stops the song. The music still plays in the background, but this is now spoken word. He tells a personal story.

Burnham, before this special released, kind of disappeared. He vanished for about five years and stopped performing. He did a movie, but nothing comedy focused. Nothing like this. No music. And he talks about how he started to have panic attacks on stage and so he took a break. He started to get better and he wanted to start performing again… and then the pandemic started and he’s been locked inside since, and it hasn’t exactly been good.

It then switches back to the song, and it resumes the repetitious aspects of the song, before having one important verse:

You say the ocean’s rising like I give a shit

You say the whole world’s ending, honey, it already did

You’re not gonna slow it, Heaven knows you tried

Got it? Good, now get inside

This resumes the apocalyptic vibes of the previous song. The world’s ending, and there’s nothing you can do. So just get inside. It’s… unhappy and deeply pessimistic, but it’s definitely an understandable doomer attitude. And why wouldn’t you feel nihilistic about the world? Have you seen it? The people in charge fuck up the world, the planet is burning and apparently Nazism is okay again.

But anyway… the next section has an interesting visual and tonal change. It becomes incredibly uncomfortable as Burnham tells us to get up, to get the fuck up, and he rushes at the camera, picks it up and swirls it around with him. It’s a jarring and disturbing change, as it suddenly cuts away.

Section #18: I think I’m done

Burnham wakes up. Gentle music plays. He’s getting ready for the day, finding things he needs, testing some music here and there. And it finally switches to him addressing the camera. And he just says: “I think I’m done.” It’s time for the final true song of the special.

Song #19: Goodbye:

The final song. The culmination of the entire special. And this song deserves special attention as it is the amalgamation of various concepts throughout the special. It expertly uses existing lyrics, and either changes them or leaves them entirely as is, and by doing so, a new meaning is produced. In addition, this song makes phenomenal use of visuals.

The song begins with Burnham, a younger Burnham, opening this song as a possible ending song. He lacks his beard here and it’s likely been shot before any of this happened, before the events of this special occurred. This is the more innocent Burnham. And he starts the song off, and it begins with lyrics that say goodbye, and once that happens, the image starts to merge with a new image. The older Burnham, sitting in profile, as the original image fades into the darkness within his head. And this is where the sadness properly starts:


So long, goodbye

Do I really have to finish?

Do returns always diminish?

Did I say that right?


Does anybody want to joke

When no one’s laughing in the background?

This special has been a coping mechanism. For those somehow unfamiliar with very basic mental health stuffs: a coping mechanism is something that you do that allows you to cope with reality. Maybe you compulsively overwork yourself or self-isolate (for non-pandemic reasons, of course). And this special, working on it and tweaking it, has been something to do. Something to keep him occupied. But art is meant to be shared. He couldn’t hoard it forever.

The sadness persists in that second verse, where he asks if anyone actually wants to tell a joke when no one’s laughing in the background. Now, this calls some attention to the song “Comedy” that was at the beginning of this special. In which he wonders whether he should even be telling jokes, and it also calls to attention to the various sections and songs that he uses which make use of canned laughter. He added in a laughing track to some sections because… well because who wants to tell jokes when there’s no one there to laugh at them? What’s the point?

And with the next verse, the visuals change once again. We now see an overlaid image of Burnham with the moon projected behind him. A call back of sorts to songs like “That Funny Feeling”. Projections of the outside world being brought into the inside. To try and create a synthesis of outside inside. He says:

So this is how it ends

I promise to never go outside again


This section is a direct call back to “Don’t Wanna Know”. He didn’t want to give the ending back then, but now, we know that this is how it ends. Furthermore, the second line is in reference to “Look Who’s Inside Again”. He has brought us to the end, and he now knows that he doesn’t actually want to go outside. He wants to stay inside. He wants to stay in this hyperreal hellish landscape. It’s become comfortable. Understandable.

With the next set of verses. We get a big visual change. It departs from his face and goes to various behind the scenes pieces of footage. Where he was setting up the camera and preparing everything. Those moments of film that always exist but we always edit them out. The parts where you get in character, where you prepare, where you make mistakes or test the camera. These two verses are also filled with meta-commentary and intertextuality:


So long


I’m slowly losing power

Has it only been an hour?

No, that can’t be right


So long, goodbye

Hey, here’s a fun idea

How about I sit on the couch

And I watch you next time?


First off, and this is probably hardly noticeable if you just watch it, but he pronounces “bye” the same way he pronounces “hi” back in section one. An intentional call back to the literal introductory segment of the special. Then there are the meta-commentary sections that remark on the length of the special; this is a specific reference to this literally being a piece of content that has been, effectively, sold for consumption. It is aware that it is about itself.

And there is shock in that realisation. That all this work. This whole year of work has led to 90 minutes of audio-visual entertainment. And so… goodbye. And then we get a repetition of that same idea of telling jokes. How about next time, you do the hard work, and I’ll just sit there and watch.

From here, it jumps back into the old visuals. It has abandoned the meta-commentary. There is, however, repetition of that same idea, but with a slight variation:

I wanna hear you tell a joke

When no one’s laughing in the background

The next section is just a repetition of the chorus. We now get a change in overall tone. The visuals focus on a distant shot of Burnham as he plays. This becomes a section of self-doubt:

Am I going crazy?

Would I even know?

Am I right back where I started fourteen years ago?

Wanna guess the ending?

If it ever does

Doubts about his own mental health, about whether he even has a grip on his own mental health anymore, or if he’s even progressed as a person. Which is, of course, a reference to “Problematic”. Has he become a better person over the course of all these years? Are things better? Is he better? And he’s afraid of the ending. It then all culminates in taking a chorus wholesale from another song and placing it here. The lyrics do not change at all… and yet the meaning changes completely:

I swear to God that all I’ve ever wanted was


A little bit of everything all of the time

A bit of everything all of the time

Apathy’s a tragedy, and boredom is a crime


I’m finished playin’, and I’m stayin’ inside

This is from “Welcome to the Internet”. He is one of those internet generation children. He wants it all, and he can’t handle being bored or apathetic. He must have something to do, something to be angry about, to engage with. And it ends with yet another little reference to “Look Who’s Inside Again”. He doesn’t want to leave. He’s become accustomed to this. This has been life for over a year. He needs to leave but he also needs to stay. He needs to get out but where would he go? Outside? That’s the worst place you could go.

And that panic builds over into the next verse:

If I wake up in a house that’s full of smoke

I’ll panic, so call me up and tell me a joke

When I’m fully irrelevant and totally broken, damn it

Call me up and tell me a joke

Oh, shit

You’re really joking at a time like this?

This is a direct reference to “Comedy”. In that song, he reassured us, the audience, that if the house is on fire, that we can call him, and he’ll tell us a joke. The house is this world, crumbling around us, and a bit of comedy can help us get out of it. But the tables have turned. He is now the one who needs the reassurance, the help.

He’s about to leave his comfort zone for the first time in so long and he’s afraid. He’s been gone from the outside world for so long. Maybe he’s irrelevant now. Maybe he’s broken. Please! Just tell me a joke! Just tell me! Fuck, please! And then… then he asks why we’re telling a joke? This is no time for jokes. The world is burning around us. Why would you be making jokes?

And then… then a passionately singing Burnham is hit with a bright spotlight as the voice distorts. We see Burnham at his piano, entirely naked, he is unprotected. The special is done. It’s time to leave, but those final lines are incredibly dire:


Well, well, look who’s inside again

Went out to look for a reason to hide again

Well, well, buddy, you found it

Now come out with your hands up

We’ve got you surrounded

I don’t think that needs any analysis.

Section #19: Outside:

The music is dead. It’s all over. We hear a new note as light comes through the door and into the room. The outside world is beckoning. This is the same light from the beginning, and it falls over his face. He has to leave now. There’s nowhere else to go and nothing to do. He has to release this special into the world.

He exits his room and steps outside. There’s a spotlight on him as applause begins. It scares him and he tries to retreat back inside, but he can’t. He struggles to escape the outside, the spotlight, as people laugh at his misery. He’s trapped outside.

The colour changes and we zoom out of a projector. Burnham is watching his own special. The same image was conjured in the intro to the “Problematic” song (although the camera was on the other cheek then). He’s watching himself. Critiquing himself. He watches the misery, and for a second, a smile stretches over his face. A single second of content smiling. In seeing what you have created and being happy with it.

He was unhappy when looking at the work he produced as a teenager. It was mean-spirited and offensive. This is something much stronger, much deeper. And that smile says it all. It was a smile that genuinely made me cry when I first watched this special. I’ve been a writer for years, and the first time I looked at a book I’d written and thought “this is actually good”, well… it was a good feeling to have.

It’s good to feel pride in what you do. It’s the best feeling imaginable.

And then it ends.

Song #20: Any Day Now:

This song is actually just one line repeated over and over again as the credits roll. And that one line is:

It’ll stop any day now (Any day now, any day now)

And it has stopped… it’s all over. The special is done.

Rewatching Inside and Concluding Remarks

The special is now done, and so, after spending so much time with it, after watching these damn songs and sections over and over again… I decided that it was time to simply rewatch the whole thing in full. To see how it fares as a whole rather than a collection of disparate pieces with shared themes. And what did I take away from that experience? Well… the overarching narrative stuck out more than before.

I had watched the special several times before starting this analysis, but once I got underway, and this has been months in the making, I kind of… didn’t watch it. I would watch the section pertinent to me now or what would come next or maybe to check on things that had happened before, but I never actually sat and just rewatched the whole thing from start to finish. And I’m glad I did.

I don’t know if I’ll be watching this again anytime soon, as I have spent literal months making this thing and it’s probably worn out its welcome a good bit, but… but I’m glad for the rewatch. It allowed me to see the narrative strands more than before.

This is a special filled with small things you may otherwise miss. For instance, I completely missed that Burnham goes to bed after “Shit” and wakes up right before “Goodbye”. He says, in one of the sections, that if he could kill himself for a year and then wake up, he’d do it. And right after that his character goes to sleep and just… wakes up at the end. So, was that, narratively, him during those other songs? Was it him? Or was it an alter ego of some kind?

These are small things, but things you only notice on repeat viewings. So, I hope that whoever watches this video has actually first watched Inside, but even if you have watched it, I would recommend watching it again. Pay attention to all the things that may have been pointed out in this video. See what all I missed, because I definitely missed things.

When Roland Barthes wrote a book called S/Z, he decided to analyse a short story so in-depth that you’d think he got everything out of it. But he didn’t. He knew there were things he missed. And I’m nowhere near as good as Barthes, so uh… yeah, I definitely missed things, but oh well!

So, I now recommend that you too go and rewatch it and see what you missed the first time (or first times), see what I missed, see what you can criticise, what you can praise. What is your interpretation? Because my interpretation is just one of many! I might be wrong, or my opinions may be incomplete. Yours could also be wrong, and yours are also definitely incomplete. Everyone’s opinion on a piece of art is incomplete. No one person can ever hold every necessary angle in mind.

But isn’t that the beauty of it? Maybe you enjoyed this special, maybe you didn’t. Maybe you enjoyed my video on this special, maybe you didn’t. Neither is correct or incorrect, but when you dig in deeper, when you put in the time, you can really discover what you think about the things you consume. Pay close attention and you’ll learn more about yourself every time you consume anything.

Now, I know you may have disliked the video, but I’m glad you watched it anyway. Provided you didn’t just skip to the end for some reason. But either way: thanks.

Transcript: Early Bo Burnham & Tim Minchin on Religion: An Analysis

This is the transcript for the video of the same name.

First things first, you should first listen to the songs we are going to discuss here today because we’re going to do a complete breakdown, and they are:

  • From God’s Perspective – Bo Burnham
  • The Good Book – Tim Minchin
  • Thank You God – Tim Minchin

Different nationalities have different ways of looking at things. That should be quite an obvious insight, but it’s something we often don’t think about all that much. Especially those who live in first world countries. They often assume everything is as it is in their world. And we can generally see the differences between different nationalities through the art they produce, and so this video is going to look at two musicians who both make comedy music and yet have a very different perspective on similar topics.

We’re going to be looking at Bo Burnham, who’s coming from an American perspective, and Tim Minchin, who, despite actually being Australian, adopts a British sensibility. There have been many people who have looked at the differences between British and American humour, but it goes deeper than just humour, and this video aims to show that.

It’s not just a different approach to comedy, but a different life philosophy. And I aim to demonstrate that through the atheistic view of religion from an American and British perspective. Both of these musicians have made music mocking religion, and you can see the differences between them through that lens.

So, for today we’ll be looking at three songs, two by Minchin and one by Burnham. Burnham’s “From God’s Perspective” and Minchin’s “The Good Book” and “Thank You God.” And we’re going to go quite in-depth into each of these songs, often line-by-line (although sometimes we skip sections for some or another reason), to interrogate the differences between them.

But before we begin, a quick word. You see, I had originally planned on doing this video last year already, but then about a month before I was planning on writing it, Burnham released a surprise special on Netflix, Inside, and it changed my mind about releasing this video just then. I also changed the title. Originally it was just going to be “Bo Burnham and Tim Minchin” rather than “Early Bo Burnham and Tim Minchin.” Best to dance around the fire, after all. And also, next month there will be a much longer video looking at that special…

But anyway! Without further ado, let’s get to the analysis already! We’ll be doing Burnham first and then Minchin. Let’s get started:

Bo Burnham’s “From God’s Perspective”:

We’re starting off with the American perspective on things. At the time, Burnham was in his early twenties and definitely moved towards a few of the more offensive style jokes. And this song is no different. It’s, at times, rather vicious and it can get mean-spirited, but a lot of comedy can get rather mean-spirited.

In this particular case, the song is, as the title suggests, a song about god’s perspective on things. And we are going to go line-by-line because Burnham tends to pack his material in comparison to Minchin, who is more musical, in a sense, he uses far more repetition and traditional song structures than Burnham does in this particular case. So, don’t expect choruses and such, and instead expect a cavalcade of jokes and observations about religious people and the idea of god in general.

And we’re going to start right at the beginning:

The books you think I wrote are way too thick.

Who needs a thousand metaphors to figure out you shouldn’t be a dick?

These lines effectively call our attention to the bloat and pointlessness of most religious texts. Religions often serve as rudimentary moral systems. They tell you what you should and shouldn’t do. They often convey this through metaphor, and these supposed moral values are often products of their time. For instance, the Old Testament is quite fine with the idea of slavery, so long as those slaves are not god’s chosen people. Feel free to check out my long-running series on the Bible, in which I break down every book of the bible chapter by chapter, for more on that.

But anyway, the simple point being made here is that all those lengthy religious texts are mostly unnecessary as the right thing to do is generally very obvious. In Burnham’s words: “Who needs a thousand metaphors to figure out you shouldn’t be a dick?” A rather simple one, you might imagine, but religious people are very often some of the most dickish people you’ll meet. Which is a theme that will recur throughout this song and the songs by Minchin. The almighty hypocrisy of the religious person, especially of the Christian person.

Next up:

And I don’t watch you when you sleep.

Surprisingly I don’t use my omnipotence to be a fucking creep

This is definitely squarely aimed at Christians (or more broadly Abrahamic faiths), because not all religions claim that their god/gods are always watching you. But this is bringing up the simple fact that if you had omniscient power, you probably wouldn’t use it to spy on people all the time. It would just be immensely boring and purposeless. Why would he watch us all the time?

Now, Burnham, being from a country that is often highly Christian, will definitely be speaking from a more westernised Christian perspective and not so much about other religions, but ideas such as these can be used to discuss some non-western conceptualisations of faith.

Anyway, the picture Burnham is painting thus far is of a god that simply doesn’t care as much. He’s a more ambivalent god. He doesn’t understand our ideas about him or his motivations. This is a god that doesn’t really hold to many of our ideas of morality. Or at least not generally. This is one of the big differences between Burnham’s conceptualisation versus Minchin’s conceptualisation: to Burnham, god doesn’t really care. God thinks morality is obvious and we don’t need these books to understand divine will. In this conceptualisation, god isn’t evil.

Next set of lines:

You’re not going to heaven

Why the fuck would you think I’d ever kick it with you?

None of you are going to heaven

There’s a trillion aliens cooler than you

Now, this is a bit more on the vindictive side, but it does indicate this separation of religion and spirituality. God has simple morality and not some ridiculous set of rules tied to a text that was written by humans pretending to have, or hallucinating, spiritual experiences. And so, Burnham’s conceptualisation of god sees humanity as generally lacking that basic morality. We are not worthy of heaven because we are not good.

And this theme continues in the next set:

You shouldn’t abstain from rape just ’cause you think that I want you to

You shouldn’t rape ’cause rape is a fucked up thing to do

Pretty obvious, just don’t fucking rape people

Didn’t think I had to write that one down for you

So here, Burnham’s conceptualisation is specifically referencing that obvious moral truth: something like rape is bad, and if you need a magical book to tell you that, then you’re probably a bad person anyway. These lines betray exasperation in Burnham’s conceptualisation. It’s obvious, so obvious that he didn’t even think to write it down, yet humans are incapable of understanding that.

Also, as a bit of an aside, there are various references to rape throughout the Old Testament. And typically, they do side with the men in that equation. Women don’t really have bodily autonomy according to much religious doctrine. However, Burnham did open the song by saying the books we attribute to god were not written by him. So, apparently those who did write those books were sexists who didn’t care. Which is a very believable concept, isn’t it? This will also be explored by Minchin.

Next up:

I don’t think masturbation is obscene

It’s absolutely natural and the weirdest fucking thing I’ve ever seen

This one’s more of a joke but is in reference to Biblical doctrine that saw masturbation, specifically male masturbation, as a sin. But of course, we know that human animals and many non-human animals masturbate. It is something natural. And it’s pointless to argue otherwise.

Next set:

You make my job a living hell and I sent gays to fix overpopulation

Boy did that go well

This here is maybe a bit more on the offensive side of things, but it does posit something interesting. If god really did create everything with a purpose and if god does exist, then why would god purposefully create gay people if they didn’t have a god-given function? Many like to claim that the devil came along and did stuff like that, but if you believe that god is so weak that he can’t even stop the plans of a former subordinate, then your idea of god is rather pathetic.

So, the other conclusion would be to say that god did create people who are not straight, and if god did do that then maybe there’s a reason for their existence. And while this is clearly a joke, it does make a good point: if overpopulation is a genuine problem, then people who don’t have kids is an obvious solution. But as Burnham says: “Boy did that go well.”

If god really did create non-heterosexuality for our benefit and we responded with conversion therapy and hate crimes well… we didn’t exactly cherish the things god supposedly did for us, now did we?

All of this further reinforces the idea that there is a simple morality to existence and that religious people clearly ignore that in favour of their own beliefs. Things they want to believe and so they will use religious texts to justify their own beliefs. Like homophobia, sexism, racism, transphobia, xenophobia, et cetera.

Let’s move on:

You’re not going to heaven

Eat a thousand crackers, sing a million hymns

None of you are going to heaven

You’re not my children

You’re a bad game of Sims

This is a partial repetition of another section that proclaimed our lack of heavenly direction. We can do as many extra-canonical rituals as we want. We can do as many masses and lents and songs and confessions as we want; it will never lead to heaven. Because those things don’t matter. If god does exist, and if god is something that has a morality of some kind, then surely a ritual where you drink wine that you pretend has been turned into blood in your mouth doesn’t matter; you should probably rather just be a good person.

Next set:

You shouldn’t abstain from pork just ’cause you think that I want you to

You can eat pork ’cause why the fuck would I give a shit?

I created the universe, think I’d draw the line at the fucking deli aisle?

Here we see that godly morality. To god, would we, as humans, not be yet another animal? What makes us so special? Carnivores exist and so there cannot, in heavenly terms, be anything inherently immoral about eating meat. We, as humans, have decided against eating certain meats (and some of us choose not to partake in any meat whatsoever), but in the natural scheme of things: meat eating on its own is not immoral.

I would, as someone who’s primary area of research is animal studies, take issue with this proclamation from Burnham, but in the context of a godly overlord who created everything, including death, pain and carnivorism, no, there isn’t anything wrong with meat eating. But when we step away from discussions of god, we can maybe have more of a discussion about that, but for now, we’re just going to focus on the song.

Next set:

You argue and you bicker and you fight

Atheists and Catholics, Jews and Hindus argue day and night

Over what they think is true

But no one entertains the thought that maybe God does not believe in you

Now uh… that’s pretty harsh, but if we are talking about a real god, then we could probably argue that god doesn’t have some specific doctrine. All these religions argue about which specific god/gods exist, but it isn’t outside the realm of possibilities that god doesn’t actually care about us. It somewhat reminds me of that line from Fight Club: “Our fathers were our models for god. If our fathers bailed, what does that tell you about god? (…) You have to consider the possibility that god does not like you. He never wanted you. In all probability, he hates you.”

Now, Burnham’s conceptualisation probably doesn’t hate you: but he doesn’t like you. You need to look more towards Minchin for a version of god that hates us, but we’ll get to that.

Anyway, next line:

You pray so badly for heaven

Knowing any day might be the day that you die

But maybe life on earth could be heaven

Doesn’t just the thought of it make it worth a try?

This is a genuine question. We are constantly looking towards religious texts when the answer is probably right there in front of us: just be a good person. We want to reach heaven, but if we actually tried, we might be able to make earth more of a heaven. For instance, by moving towards political policies that actually help people rather than profiting the rich, but that’s just my commie rumblings coming out in this analysis.

But it is a good question, isn’t it? If we could make things better, without adhering to a god, wouldn’t that be worth a try? And wouldn’t that be what god would want in the first place? God would want us to be happy, to be thriving, not to be languishing in poverty and depression. So, this is a bit more optimistic.

We’re nearly at the end of this song:

My love’s the type of thing that you have to earn

And when you earn it you won’t need it

(repeated twice)

So, here we see the idea that god can love, god is capable of love, but if we’ve done enough to earn it then we won’t need it. We shouldn’t automatically be in god’s good books: do you really think that going to church will offset your racism? Do you think that wishing death to a race other than your own is the kind of thing god would want? Provided god isn’t a genocidal maniac, of course. Surely, we should try to be better regardless of god’s existence.

So, here’s the last set of lines:

I’m not gonna give you love just ’cause I know that you want me to

If you want love then the love has gotta come from you

And that wraps up Burnham’s conceptualisation of god here. God can love you, god has specific morals, and so this is a more hopeful idea of god. God isn’t going to fix things for us, but this version of god can give us hope. It’s optimistic. And that kind of optimism has always been somewhat more prevalent in American versus British sensibility. That belief that you can do anything and accomplish this or that. It’s nice. It’s not cynical.

But alas, we must now finish with Burnham and instead discuss something a lot more cynical. Because Minchin’s version of god offers us no hope. None at all. So, let’s get started on it!

Tim Minchin’s “The Good Book” and “Thank You God”:

Alright, so before we get started with Minchin’s work it’s worth pointing out that Minchin is quite a different musician to Burnham. Burnham is typically more interested in creating something that’s just funny. He will occasionally use catchy choruses and such, but Minchin is pretty much a traditional pianist with a penchant for repetition and musicality. Therefore, there are large sections of these two songs that I have carved out of the analysis. Whether it’s a highly repetitious section or a chorus of some kind.

There’s still a lot here though, regardless of my cutting through a bunch of it. So, we’re going to start with “The Good Book”, because it’s the more densely packed one, and then do “Thank You God” as it has less overall substance to it (although if pressed I’d say the latter is a better song, but that’s just my perspective on it).

Now, before we actually start, I just want to reiterate the point I made before. Burnham’s conceptualisation is more about how the idea of god and the bible are two separate entities. What we think god is, is different to what god actually is. This allows it to be more optimistic. This allows it to have a stronger morality behind it. A good morality.

Minchin is very different: his conceptualisation of god is exactly as he is in the bible. God is vicious and cruel. But the first song isn’t even technically about god, but rather about the Bible itself. And Minchin sings it with a faux-Southern American accent because Bible belters are gonna bible belt. So, let’s see his idea of religion, and remember, this is from the perspective of a true believer:

Life is like an ocean voyage and our bodies are the ships

And without a moral compass we would all be cast adrift

So to keep us on our bearings, the Lord gave us a gift

And like most gifts you get, it was a book

Here you can immediately see the difference between the two conceptualisations of god. To Burnham, morality is obvious: just don’t be a dick. Here, we are explicitly told that we need the guidance of the bible or else we will fall astray. It’s a moral compass for us, and this is something a lot of religious people, especially Christians, believe about the book they subscribe to. And they do this by often ignoring what’s actually in that book.

Next set of lines:

I tried to read some other books, but I soon gave up on that

The paragraphs ain’t numbered and they complicate the facts

Wilful ignorance is the name of the game for the hardcore Christian. Thinking external to “it’s in the bible” is a foreign concept to them. There is always a justification in the bible for whatever nonsense belief you already want to have. For instance:

I can’t read Harry Potter ‘cos they’re worshipping false gods and that

And Dumbledore’s a poofter and that’s bad, ‘cos it’s not good

The vilification of Harry Potter by Christians in the early 2000s was especially extensive. I myself remember the Satanic Panic in South Africa. In which everything from Harry Potter to Mortal Kombat to Yu-Gi-Oh was some satanic thing that had to be quashed. I even remember being told that there were ritual sacrifices in a cave in the mountains near my childhood home. So, when we can’t read Harry Potter because they’re “worshipping false gods.” Oh, that rings real true.

Also, there are genuine criticisms of Harry Potter and especially J.K. Rowling, but they’re not satanic. Anyway, the other point made here is that Dumbledore is gay, and so that’s also bad. Further showing that these people, these people who already want to believe certain things, will use the bible to justify their hate.

This is also shown through a bit of a homophobic slur, albeit one I don’t personally see very often anymore. But like the Satanic Panic, it was all the rage when I was growing up! So, it fits in with this character Minchin is presenting us.

Anyway, next set:


Morality is written there in simple white and black

I feel sorry for you heathens, got to think about all that

Good is good and evil’s bad, and goats are good and pigs are crap

You’ll find which one is which in the Good Book, ‘cos it’s good

And it’s a book, and it’s a book

Here we can see an inversion of Burnham’s overall proclamation that morality is rather simple, and you just have to be a good person. Here we have the religious response to that. Morality is also simple here, but it’s what the Bible says, and that can often be arbitrary by today’s standards. For instance, goats being fine to eat and pigs not.

There is also the very Christian phenomenon of definite ideas of good and evil. They are binary opposites to one another rather than shades of grey, as they actually are. According to the bible, there is a very definite morality that is tied to its teachings.

For instance:

I had a cat, she gave birth to a litter

The kittens were adorable and they made my family laugh

But as they grew they started misbehavin’

So I drowned the little fuckers in the bath

When the creatures in your care start being menaces

The answers can be found right there in Genesis

Chapter 6, Verse 5-7

Here we get a concrete example told through a bit of a metaphor: drowning cats in the bath. Kind of brutal, kind of cruel, but if you’re unfamiliar with the verses in Genesis he mentions, here they are: “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them’.”

This is the part where god floods the entire earth, murdering countless human and non-human animals. They started misbehaving so he drowned them all in what could be called god’s bath. In addition, all the non-human animals were just collateral damage. But don’t worry! In the bible, god at least saves one family and a bunch of animals, so fuck the rest, I suppose.

Here we can starkly see the difference between these two ideas of god. According to Minchin, god can murder us all if he feels like it, but Burnham’s version would likely never do that.

Let’s see some more dark, evil shit from the bible:

Swing your partner by the hand

Have a baby if you can

But if the voices in your head

Say to sacrifice your kid

To satiate your loving God’s

Fetish for dead baby blood

It’s simple faith, the Book demands

So raise that knife up in your hand!

Okay so this is obviously a reference to the Binding of Isaac, the biblical event, not the game, where Abraham is told to murder his own son, but god stops him at the last minute. It’s supposed to indicate blind faith, but can you imagine if an authority figure did that to you? Imagine a parent told you to slash the throat of your own dog and right as you’re about to do it, tears streaming down your face, they just go: “Yeah, you can stop now, I just wanted to see if you’d do it.”

Wouldn’t that be, uh… abusive or evil or something like that?

Minchin’s conceptualisation of god is deeply evil. He’s cruel and callous, but hey, at least we were given some morality by the genocidal monster we call the Christian god:

Before the Good Book made us good, there was no good way to know

If a thing was good or not that good or kind of touch and go

Here we see the definite morality of the prescriptive religious person. What the bible says is definitely true, and without it we’d never have ethics. It’s not like secular ethics exists! The next bit is more on the silly side but does raise some good points:

So God decided he’d give writing allegoric prose a go

And so he wrote a book and it was generally well-received

The Telegraph said, “This God is reminiscent of the Norse”

The Times said, “Kind of turgid, but I liked the bit with horses”

The Mail said, “Lots of massacres, a violent tour de force

If you only read one book this year, then this one is a book

And it is good, and it’s a book!”

So, this is the obvious joke that god published a book and a bunch of newspapers did reviews of it, which is pretty funny. But it does indicate a few things: the Christian religion, which is meant to all be true remember, borrowed a bunch from other religions, like the Ancient Norse. In addition, there’s a whole lot of murder in it. It’s an immensely violent book that probably shouldn’t be used as a moral guide, such as the next section:

Swing your daughter by the hand

But if she gets raped by a man

And refuses then to marry him

Stone her to death!

This is an actual thing from the bible. An unmarried woman who gets raped has to marry her rapist. This is a genuine thing from the bible and should obviously be morally wrong. Burnham’s version of god explicitly says that rape is obviously wrong, but if you do adhere to the proper biblical god then it’s perfectly fine! Women aren’t full humans, after all! They’re just women! They’re there to be sex toys to their men, pop out babies and clean the house. What the hell else are they good for!?

Anyway, the next set:

If you just close your eyes and block your ears

To the accumulated knowledge of the last two thousand years

Then morally, guess what? You’re off the hook

And thank Christ you only have to read one book

Here’s where the veil drops a little and Minchin critiques these kinds of people. The ones who ignore all the knowledge we’ve built over the last two thousand years and insist on adhering to the knowledge of men who didn’t even realise you had to wash your hands after taking a shit. So, we should definitely stick to their idea of morality!


Just because the book’s contents

Were written generations hence

By hairy desert-dwelling gents

Squatting in their dusty tents

Just because what Heaven said

Was said before they’d leavened bread

More reinforcement of that previous section. People who believe in what the bible says are willingly adhering to a doctrine that was created by uneducated shepherds who wanted to keep women in perpetual subservience and who also owned slaves. Slave ownership is a big thing in the bible, and it’s only ever condemned when it happens to the Hebrews. So, fuck everyone else.

Next set:

Just ‘cos Jesus couldn’t read

Doesn’t mean that we should need

When manipulating human genes

To alleviate pain or fight disease

When deciding whether it’s wrong or right

To help the dyin’ let go of life

Or to stop a pregnancy when it’s

Just a tiny blastocyst

There’s no reason why we should take a look

At any other book

Here we see condemnations of those who shun medicine, scientific advancement and abortion because of what god supposedly believes. It critiques the people who believe that god, the god of the Old Testament especially, is somehow good and not a genocidal maniac. Now for the last set of lines:

Good is good and evil’s bad

And kids get killed when God gets mad

You’d better take a good look

At the Good Book

Here we see that final refutation of god’s cruelty, his willingness to murder kids, as something perfectly fine and reasonable because, you know, god works in mysterious ways, doesn’t he? There’s obviously a reason that babies can get cancer and die before they’re four years old. There’s obviously meaning behind such meaningless cruelty!

Anyway, we’re now moving to the second song: “Thank You God.” This one is even more musical and repetitious, and so we’ll be skipping over quite a number of sections. However, this time we’re looking at god himself rather than just how the bible says we should live. Although, this is still the god of the bible, unlike Burnham’s version, this version is… much darker, much crueller, more evil and wrong.

But before jumping straight into it, “Thank You God” requires some contextual explanation. So, this song is a response to a person that Minchin met. This person, whose name is Sam, told Minchin that his mother had cataracts, and the doctors wanted to do surgery, but she was scared. So, they went to one of those mega-churches and everyone prayed for her, and lo and behold… her vision was cured. She was the recipient of a miracle! Also, this guy is from Dandenong. That’s relevant later.

Anyway, Minchin here critiques that idea. Because we should ask: what really “cured” Sam’s mother? And if Sam’s mother really was cured by god then why was she singled out? Let’s get started:

Thank you for displaying how praying works

A particular prayer in a particular church

We’ve skipped a bit in already and we’ll skip a bit more with the next verse, but here we can see this idea of how to pray, of who and what god cares about. You have to do it in a specific place or else it just won’t be as god demands. But this is just getting started:

But you’ve shown a great example of just how it can be done

You only need to pray in a particular spot

To a particular version of a particular god

Further reinforcement, but here talking about a particular spot to a particular version of a particular god. In Christianity, every denomination effectively views god in a slightly different way. The way Catholics see god is different to the way the Methodists see god. But luckily, Sam’s mom went to the right church to pray. Yay!

Next set:

I assumed there was no God at all but now I see that’s cynical

It’s simply that his interests aren’t particularly broad

He’s largely undiverted by the starving masses

Or the inequality between the various classes

He gives out strictly limited passes

Redeemable for surgery or two-for-one glasses

So… god, according to Sam’s purported miracle, is doing very small miracles. He’s fixing some cataracts rather than mass starvation and societal inequality. He uses his magical powers for the smallest of concessions and not for all the genuine things that he could easily sort out in an instant if he really does have all that supreme power. And this will be reinforced in the next section:

Fuck me Sam, what are the odds that of history’s endless parade of gods

That the God you just happened to be taught to believe in is the actual god

And he digs on healing

But not the AIDS-ridden African nations, nor the victims of the plague

Nor the flood-addled Asians, but healthy, privately-insured Australians

With common and curable lens degeneration

Here we see the inherent improbability of any god being the correct god. Why would it specifically be the Christian god? And why does the Christian god apparently only do miracles for very specific people? Why does he help these privately-insured Australians who are just afraid of getting surgery, but not all the people dying of AIDS, other diseases, natural disasters, et cetera. Why are the people who wish they could have some help doomed to never receive it? Is it because miracles don’t exist? Or, in Minchin’s conceptualisation: is god just an awful piece of shit who willingly watches people suffer?

The next set looks at what could have actually “cured” Sam’s mom:

This story of Sam’s has but a single explanation

A surgical God who digs on magic operations

Now, it couldn’t be mistaken attribution of causation

Born of a coincidental temporal correlation

Exacerbated by a general lack of education

Vis-a-vis physics in Sam’s parish congregation

And it couldn’t be that all these pious people are liars

It couldn’t be an artifact of confirmation bias

A product of groupthink, a mass delusion

An Emperor’s New Clothes-style fear of exclusion

No, it’s more likely to be an all-powerful magician

Than a misdiagnosis of the initial condition

Or one of many cases of spontaneous remission

Or a record-keeping glitch by the local physician

All of these things that it could have been are rather obviously stated. Why was it a miracle and not one of these other many things? Why does god apparently only help some and not others? Are those who have inoperable brain tumours somehow less worthy of receiving a miracle? And next we have the true proclamation, the knowledge that if god truly was as he is in the bible, then god is a terrible being:

No, the only explanation for Sam’s mum’s seeing

They prayed to an all-knowing super-being

To the omnipresent master of the universe

And he liked the sound of their muttered verse

So for a bit of a change from his usual stunt

Of being a sexist, racist, murderous cunt

He popped down to Dandenong and just like that

Used his powers to heal the cataracts of Sam’s mum

That one line says it all: sexist, racist, murderous. If we go by what we actually see around us, and if we insist on looking at it through a biblical lens, then why the hell is god so evil? God, according to Christians, is benevolent, but from what we see around us, wouldn’t it be more accurate to call him malevolent? Isn’t he an immensely evil being that would rather see us be hurt while occasionally healing some small thing here and there while abandoning the rest to agony and hardship?

Nearly at the end now:

Now I understand how prayer can work

A particular prayer in a particular church

In a particular style with a particular stuff

And for particular problems that aren’t particularly tough

And for particular people, preferably white

For particular senses, preferably sight

A particular prayer in a particular spot

To a particular version of a particular god

Here we get a reinforcement of that “particular” idea. God, if we go according to the bible, is a particular god that has to be prayed to in a particular way in a particular place about particular stuff. A god like that is one that would willingly have us all suffer so that only a few can be saved. And wouldn’t that be a cruel, merciless, petty god?

Last set of lines:

And if you get that right, He just might

Take a break from giving babies malaria

And pop down to your local area to fix the cataracts of your mum

Here we get that idea of harming babies again. Why do babies get fatal diseases while rich people, who just don’t want to get surgery because they’re cowards, can be saved by the grace of god? Doesn’t that indicate a terrible master of the universe?

And there you can see some of those differences. Minchin has a darker, more pessimistic viewpoint on all this. He sees the world as it is, and there’s no optimism there. If there is a god then he damn well doesn’t care about us. Or at least not about the majority of us if he would allow us to suffer quite as much as we currently do.

What do the differences signify:

So, we’ve now wrapped up on the actual analysis and so what does it show? Now first of all, this cannot necessarily be generalised to all people but could indicate something of a correlation. A continued trend. One only needs to look at American versions of British films or series to see a shift in tone towards something more optimistic and light-hearted. Look at something like The Office or Death at a Funeral. The American versions are significantly more light-hearted and silly. They also lack that depressive quality of a more British sensibility.

And I’d say you could see that here too. Two musicians making music about god, and they both have very different approaches to the subject matter. Burnham’s version of god ultimately wants things to be better for us while Minchin’s version simply wants us to suffer. Which is depressing, but hey, it’s probably more truthful to life.

But what do you think? How has your culture shifted your philosophy of life and the art you consume? What does that tell you about you? And what does that tell you about the society you live within? But that’ll be it from me for now.

Transcript: Understanding Literary Theory: Mukařovský’s Receiver-centred Approach (Unisa | Theory of Literature | THL1501)

This is the transcript for the video of the same name.

This video is part of a series that discusses a few literary theories in an introductory capacity. Don’t expect any nice flashy visuals as this is pretty much a slideshow with some voiceover. This video will discuss Mukařovský’s receiver-centred approach, and it is intended to help someone understand the basics behind this literary theory.

This entire video also only makes use of one reference. The Unisa study guide for the Introduction to Theory of Literature. This video is technically meant to help students doing that module, but it should be educational to anyone who wants to learn a little about literary theory. According to the current study guide, all the information on Mukařovský’s receiver-centred approach can be found on pages 111-123. So, without further ado, let’s get to it.


We have discussed, throughout this brief series, a number of different literary theories, and today we will be looking at the work of Jan Mukařovský and his receiver-centred approach to literary theory. To fully understand his work, you need to have some understanding of Russian Formalism and New Criticism, both of which were covered in previous episodes of this series.

Jan Mukařovský was a theorist who worked with the Russian Formalists and later became a founding member of Prague Structuralism, but we will not discuss Structuralism at present. Maybe there will be a video one day in the future, but not just yet. His theory, which we will discuss now, focuses on the role of the receiver and how they create meaning. The receiver would be the reader, or, if you were to extend this theory to other artforms, the watcher of film, the listener of music, et cetera. It is the person who is receiving the piece of art.

Now, before we can jump straight into his theory itself, we need to discuss a term he used (with some other terms to come later). The first of which is “artifact”. An artifact is a made object, like a book or a poem, but for it to be “completed”, there has to be a receiver. Think of it like the classic definition of sound: there has to be a receiver to interpret the sound for it to be classified as such. Hence the old expression: if a tree falls in the woods and there was no one there to hear it, would it make a sound?

Mukařovský’s receiver-centred approach is like this. The sender, the person who makes the piece of art, is not able to “finish” it until it has been received and interpreted by a reader. The reason for this is because the reader, the receiver, is the only one capable of truly attributing meaning, they are the ones who “concretise”, which means to “make real” or “finish”, the text.

Let’s think of it in Russian Formalist terms because that was how Mukařovský did it. Remember that under Russian Formalism, literary language has to be “defamiliarized” from ordinary language? It must be “made strange” and only then does it become literary language rather than ordinary language. Here’s the thing though: who is it defamiliarized for? If something is made different than the norm, then surely someone, for whom it is something different to the norm, would have to be there to certify that this is now literary language. The assumption of language being made strange rests on the unsaid presumption that there is someone there who gets to decide whether language is literary or not.

Let’s look at it a slightly different way too, because this can be a difficult concept to fully grasp. Language is a man-made thing. We created it. Written language, on its own, is a collection of shapes that make no direct sense on their own. Only we, the receivers, are able to turn that language into something meaningful. The same goes here, but it has been extended to literary texts rather than just language on its own. A poem or novel needs someone who can, first of all, read the language that text is in, and then they need to have enough knowledge about the subject to be able to tell whether this particular text is unique or not.

This is why you might have a strange experience when reading highly influential books. When you read something like Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, you will realise where all dystopian stories got some of their major inspiration. You may read the book and think that it’s not that original, you’ve seen these ideas so many times, but the reason you’ve seen them so many times is because Orwell’s novel laid the foundations for them. Orwell’s book has become, in Russian Formalist terms, an automatised thing; it is no longer unique because it’s been so influential on other dystopian stories that themes in it now seem normal.

But technically, Nineteen Eighty-Four is just a bunch of pages with random shapes on it. If an alien were to come to earth and try and read it, it would just be random scribbles that meant absolutely nothing. That’s why we, the receivers, attribute meaning and value. The story that we read is then interpreted by us and exists within our minds. It does not exist within the physical world; we gave it that meaning. And “we” can be a rather large collective.

Back to Mukařovský! According to him, we, the receiver, examine texts and attribute to it aesthetic value and aesthetic norms. Now, the thing that’s a bit annoying is that this can be summarised as: we attribute value, which indicates that a text now has meaning of some kind, by comparing it to aesthetic norms, or what has come before. However, he insists on going a little more in-depth into what these two concepts are, so let’s discuss them.

Aesthetic value:

Value exists in the space between two opposing poles. On one hand, we look towards a literary text for its “uniqueness”, which is rather self-explanatory, how does it stand out, how is it new and original, how does it defamiliarize the text from ordinary language? But we juxtapose this idea of uniqueness with “supraindividuality and stability”, which is the background against which things can be unique. One is how things have changed in this text and the other is how we expect things to stay the same. So, if we’re reading a western, how much is it like other westerns and how is it distinct from other westerns?

Furthermore, the text has to be about something “concrete”, something more real, and it has to tend towards universality, which may call your attention back to New Criticism and how they believed texts had to aim for universality and truth. However, there is no proclamation of “truth” here. Instead, we only look at how a text tends to lean towards universality. For instance, a war story tells a deeper, more universal story about human perseverance. A more particular story (war) relates to something universal (perseverance). So, at least we got rid of some of the racism of New Criticism. Yay.

So, this concrete subject matter, whatever it is, can change between texts because the background does not change, it is general. Therefore, aesthetic value exists somewhere within the balance between the new and the old, between the concrete and the universal, and it produces an equilibrium that is the value.

And that’s aesthetic value. I know. Let’s move on.

Aesthetic norms:

Norms are a little different because norms are the things that are considered normal at a specific time and in a specific place. The norms of one society change over time and they differ from other societies. But because they are constantly changing, it can be hard to know what the norms at any particular time are. It’s far easier to understand the norms of the past, to look at them retrospectively and state that one period started here and another ended there.

Therefore, norms are the background aspects of life that lead to specific texts, but with this particular theory, we can’t really see how periods begin or why they develop, we can only look at them retrospectively, and that’s a bit of a problem. We know what people back in the day liked and didn’t like, but we don’t really know now.

Now, the problem is that we actually can, through more historical examination, understand where norms come from and we can even figure out how they develop, but this theory doesn’t go into any of that and so it can be seen as an incomplete theory, in that sense.

But that’s it for aesthetic norms, so let’s move on.

Thanks to this understanding of how norms and values interact with one another, we can start to understand how a receiver might interpret and understand a text. The problem becomes how many receivers there are though.

When Mukařovský talks about the receiver, he appears to be talking about a collective receiver, a large group rather than an individual, and if you want to see a response theory a little more personalised, look to reader-response theory, but we’ll maybe get to that some other day.

Mukařovský’s “receiver” appears to be mean a collective, informed receiver. Not just any random person. So, while New Criticism could be kinda racist, Mukařovský’s receiver-centred approach is kinda classist. Only certain, educated, informed people could make up the collective receiver. So, he might see this as a group of academics at a university, for instance. A group of people who understand the norms against which the text deviates. And any old random reader doesn’t necessarily understand the full context surrounding a work of art and can appreciate it entirely.

So, only the educated can truly understand. Which is a roundabout way of saying that the poors can’t understand art. And if you want a less classist form of response theory then I would, once again, direct you to reader-response theory.

Now, before we end off here, we should talk about three rather big problems that face this kind of theory:

How many receivers?

How many receivers does it take to make up this collective receiver? Could there be multiple receivers or is there just one retrospective receiver? When a text is produced, is the “receiver” at that time the academic consensus about whether or not that text is good or not? Is the receiver something that comes later? Can there be various receivers? This all muddles the waters and makes it a bit complicated to determine what exactly Mukařovský was talking about. Next question:

How many aesthetic objects?

If there can be multiple receivers and any artifact is essentially finished within the mind of the receiver, then how many aesthetic objects are there? Could there be theoretically infinite versions of any one book because the way the “receiver” perceives it changes over time. There was a time when Shakespeare was mostly forgotten by academics, but that seems ludicrous to us now; it’s Shakespeare! So, was Shakespeare, once upon a time, not good because the general “receiver” didn’t pay it much attention and then it became good again later? It’s all rather confusing. And lastly:

The receiver is the creator?

This is a bit of a sticking point, isn’t it? If the receiver is the one who “completes” the text, then isn’t the receiver also the creator? But it would seem strange to say that some random person who reads a book is also the writer of that book, isn’t it? Or isn’t that what the “receiver” is? It’s a bit… weird, right?

And that is Mukarovsky’s received-centred approach. The receiver attributes value to the text and is therefore a partial creator of it. Fun stuff, huh? But it is maybe better reworked later down the line by people like Wolfgang Iser and Hans Robert-Jauss. Maybe I’ll get to them one day… maybe… but for now, that is the end of this series on literary theory. A nice small introduction. Have a great day further!



Carusi, A. & Oliphant, A. (2007). Introduction to Theory of Literature: only study guide for THL801U. Pretoria: University of South Africa. pp. 111-123.


Review: Stasis

Spooky spooky space station

Developer – The Brotherhood

Publisher – The Brotherhood

Available platforms – PC, MacOS

Review platform – PC

Release Date – 31 August 2015


You know when you get a game thinking it’s one thing and then it turns out to be something entirely other than that? Yeah, so that was what Stasis was to me. I went in with an assumption, and one should always remember that an assumption makes an ass out of u and me! So best not to make those, but sometimes they happen nevertheless. Such as with all the people, myself included, that assumed Brütal Legend was a hack-and-slash game and then discovered that it was mostly a rather weak real-time strategy game that just happened to have an awesome aesthetic.

Well, Stasis has a great aesthetic, it has a great overall atmosphere, narrative and sound design. It is superb in so many ways. So, let’s focus on those superb ways first because otherwise this review will sound overly critical.

Okay, so the visuals are not AAA, but for an indie they’re rather remarkable. They even make use of rather detailed cinematics that are typically beyond the purvey of indie development. So, all the kudos must go to the devs for putting something together like this.

And the visuals come together to produce an atmospheric, claustrophobic narrative. Smoke billows, overgrown and dilapidated structures abound and you get an overall sense of immense Alien influence. Alien as the film franchise. Overgrowth that harkens back to the aesthetic of xenomorph nests and human structures that resemble the dark, retro aesthetic of the marine civilisation of those living in the xenomorph’s world. Also some Event Horizon for good measure.

So, if you like the aesthetics of Alien/Event Horizon then you’ll probably like the aesthetics of this thing too.

But the visuals are only one side of this, because the sound design fantastically compliments it. You are always in a state of noise. There are the sounds of creaking pipes, distant screams and endless oozing sickliness. And that is only further improved by Mark Morgan’s sombre score.

And then we get to the narrative itself, which is also pretty good. It’s mostly delivered through voiceover, which can be rather hit and miss in its delivery and presentation, with a substantial portion of the background narrative told through journal entries and emails on PDAs you find around the facility you explore. So, it’s somewhat expositional in its execution, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It means that you can decide on your own level of engagement with the story.

It’s either the story of you trying to escape this infested, dilapidated science facility or it’s the story of how this facility came to ruin and how you escape.

Discussing the actual beats of the story would be rather spoiler-ridden, but as a brief non-spoiler overview: you wake up from stasis (hence the name), your family is gone and you need to find where they are in this creepy, run-down spaceship facility. So go do that!

And the story itself is a rather good one with some well-done, if gruesome payoffs. That’s another thing too: don’t play this if you’re squeamish. There’s a lot of blood, a lot of gore, a lot of heavy stuff. Not many games that would have the courage to include certain horrifying things that this game puts in front of you (including multiple suicide options if you’re into the very bleak stuff). So, uh… rather don’t play it if you can’t handle the gruesome stuff.

Now, one last thing before we get to the negatives: there is a character with a South African accent, and he’s the bad guy, and he’s just hilarious. He’s meant to be menacing, but the accent just makes him sound funny. He sounds like Kobus, the mercenary from District Nine, and it’s just… oh it’s funny.

Anyway! Let’s get to some of the more negative stuff instead. And seeing as we’re here at the narrative portion of this review anyway, let’s talk about how some of the more anti-corporate discussion points are rather heavy-handed. The game doesn’t exactly go for subtlety. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing either but can be a bit of a weak thing if it’s something you’re personally likely to notice.

However, most of the negative stuff I’d want to discuss comes from the gameplay, and here’s where we come back to the bit we opened with: when you make an assumption about something you’re liable to come out of it disappointed in some way.

So… I, and this may just be me, assumed that this game would be an isometric, narrative-oriented game with maybe some light puzzle elements. I was thinking more along the lines of SOMA… but this game isn’t that. It’s a point-and-click adventure game.

And it’s not the Telltale style of point-and-click, where there’s a focus on conversation and storytelling. Nope! It’s moon logic stuff here. To illustrate, here’s a brief puzzle from the beginning of the game.

You walk around an empty space station. Check out the old broken everything, the disgusting toilets and a frozen morgue. And you need to sort of unfreeze that morgue. So… there’s an incinerator that you can open but it doesn’t stay open. So, what do you think you should use? Well, maybe you need something to prop it open. So, you start pixel hunting. You look everywhere but uh… well, here’s where we need to go back to the visuals for a second.

Now, I spent time praising the visuals earlier, but there is a bit of a problem with those visuals: things tend to get lost in the background. So, if you’re looking for something that you can use on that incinerator door, you’re gonna be doing some (potentially aimless) searching!

Turns out there’s a towel in a toilet and you have to have happened to move your cursor over that particular toilet in a room full of toilets to find it. And that keeps the incinerator door open…

That’s just the beginning! This kind of stuff is what the game is comprised of. Puzzles that make a certain form of logical sense, but only in retrospect. And so, I did what I literally do every single time I find myself playing one of these point-and-clock adventure games with wonderful worlds, characters, plots and rambling moon logic: I used a walkthrough.

It’s better than putting yourself through the hell of wandering around a handful of rooms at a time looking for the one thing you didn’t spot in a mess of detail the last three times you walked into that room. So, if you miss anything then screw you and get ready for some backtracking.

And so, I would probably prefer playing a game like this in the style of something like SOMA. You have a good narrative! Don’t let the gameplay ruin it with obfuscating nonsense! But of course, some people may like that kind of experience, and if you do then this isn’t a criticism but rather a reason to jump on board! If that’s the case, more power to you!

The last irritating thing of note is the death system. Sometimes you can die rather arbitrarily. And when you die, well… you go back to a previous autosave… which is sometimes behind an unskippable cutscene… that you then have to rewatch because you can’t pause during those cutscenes… and so you have to be put through irritating nonsense again!

This is a technical problem and kinda unforgivable. If you, as a developer, know there’s going to be a potential one-shot kill up ahead, then put the autosave after the cutscene, not before.

Other than that, there are some technical gripes. The settings menu leaves a to be desired. No volume controls, confusing resolution settings; just something that could have been done better. However, this is technical stuff that, once you get past it, stops being a bother. But getting set up the first time can be an irritating affair.

And that’s Stasis. A pretty good story mixed with not-so-great point-and-click mechanics. Although, of course, if you’re into those kinds of puzzles then it shouldn’t be an issue! If you just wanna experience a narrative though, just use a walkthrough! Simple!

Transcript: Understanding Literary Theory: Context-centred Approaches (Unisa | Theory of Literature | THL1501)

This is the transcript for the video of the same name.

This video is part of a series that discusses a few literary theories in an introductory capacity. Don’t expect any nice flashy visuals as this is pretty much a slideshow with some voiceover. This video will discuss context-centred approaches, and it is intended to help someone understand the basics behind this literary theory.

This entire video also only makes use of one reference. The Unisa study guide for the Introduction to Theory of Literature. This video is technically meant to help students doing that module, but it should be educational to anyone who wants to learn a little about literary theory. According to the current study guide, all the information on context-centred approaches can be found on pages 94-102 and 124-128. So, without further ado, let’s get to it.


Okay so this time we don’t have a special theoretical term that signifies a specific theory, like Romanticism, Russian Formalism or New Criticism. This time we are looking at so-called “context-centred” theories. If Romanticism is sender-centred, meaning it focuses on the sender, ie the author of the text, and Russian Formalism and New Criticism are message-centred, meaning they focus on the message, ie the text, then what does a context-centred approach focus on? Well, the context. I know, complicated stuff.

But what is the context? That is probably the most important question here. The context is, very basically, everything outside of a text. Technically speaking, you could argue that Romanticism, with its focus on the sender, is a context-centred approach. It focuses on the author after all, which is part of the context.

However, let’s look at it like this. The context is what makes each individual component of a text make sense. A word only makes sense when it is surrounded by other words, which form the context of that word. Think of the word “house”. On its own, we know that it means a building people live in, but it doesn’t hold any further meaning than that. Well, what if I put that word in a sentence like this: “I live in a house.” Now, all of a sudden, the word “house”, has gained additional meaning because of the context of the words around it. We now know that this particular house is one that people live in, specifically the one I live in.

But what happens when I take that sentence and I put it a paragraph. A paragraph that then explains what the house looks like. Suddenly, “house” has gained even more meaning because of its context. Furthermore, that paragraph only makes true sense within the context of the other paragraphs around it, which only makes sense within the context of the chapter those paragraphs are in, and those chapters only make full sense within the context of the book. That book may also be part of a series of books, and so that book only makes complete sense within the context of the whole series.

We can go even further with the context. We can say that that collection of books only makes complete sense when we also take into account the person who wrote it, the society that author lived in, the time period in which that work was produced, the conditions under which that author wrote that book, et cetera. That is the context. This is why we might be able to learn certain things about the world by reading books from specific time periods or countries. A book set in South Africa is going to have a different context to one set in Croatia or France or the Philippines, et cetera. This means that there is far more to a text than just what is in the text itself.

This is what context-centred approaches focus on. They focus on the extrinsic features of a text, the things outside of it, and they generally assume that there is some kind of a causal relationship between the context and the finished text. This means that they assume that the contextual landscape in which an author wrote their text has a direct influence on what that person wrote. Therefore, those extrinsic features directly influence the intrinsic features. This is something the Russian Formalists and New Critics would have vehemently opposed. How dare you claim the world a human exists in influences the stuff they write! How dare you!

Now, you might be thinking that “context-centred approaches” is a rather broad label, and you’d be right. This is why you could argue that things like feminism, postcolonialism, postmodernism, et cetera, are context-centred approaches because they are more interested in what a text has to say about the rest of the world, but we will not focus on those for now and will instead speak in general terms. Perhaps one day there will be a video explaining the more specific theories, but for now we shall do this instead!

What are some of the contextual things that can influence a text then? We can break these down into institutional, cultural, social and political contexts, and sometimes we like to throw together fancier terms like “socio-political”, because we academic types are real fun.

Institutional contexts are all the things that exist at a more business-like level. The norms, traditions and conventions of various mediums. For instance, how do you expect a movie to be shot? How do you expect a book’s chapters to be laid out? How do you expect a song’s structure to be used? There are certain norms that we feel we need to follow because that’s the way the “institution” has laid it out. Literature produced in certain places, like at universities, are expected to be high-brow, academic, boring books, aren’t they? You don’t expect some university professor to produce a tabloid-y magazine; you expect them to write a dense, difficult to read tome about some philosophical topic that no one really wants to read about except a few boring people. And by the same token, you don’t expect someone who’s made silly comedies their whole life to suddenly write a dark story about trauma. Imagine if Adam Sandler one day made a movie like Schindler’s List. You’d wonder what happened to the world while you were asleep!

What about cultural contexts? This is a little different but quite similar. What are the expectations, norms, beliefs, traditions, et cetera, of a certain culture? We expect women to write stories about women, black people to write stories about black people, gays about gays, lesbians about lesbians, transgender people about transgender people, white men to write about… well to write about whatever they want because there tends to be a lot of misplaced confidence in white, heterosexual, cisgender men. But these are expectations that also often inform what someone is writing about. So, we might read a book like Ben Okri’s Dangerous Love and understand that he, as a Nigerian man, is writing about Nigerian people in Nigeria, and so it makes sense to understand the cultural norms of Nigeria, the history of Nigeria, the ethnic groups of Nigeria, et cetera. It is rather understandable why we might focus on some of those contextual aspects. Those cultural contexts.

The same goes for social contexts. Now, social contexts and cultural contexts have a lot of overlap, but then again, all of these have a lot of overlap with one another, but social contexts are those things like social structures, organisations, economic, legal, religious and educational differences. When we read something like J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, we understand that it takes place in post-World War Two New York City, and so there are probably some social aspects to life that we should understand. We need to understand how the protagonist’s education may have led him to do what he did, how his economic situation influenced him, et cetera, but those aspects go hand-in-hand with understanding all of those same things when it comes to the author and how he wrote that book. How did his education, upbringing, social circumstances and the world around him lead him to produce a character like Holden Caulfield?

And lastly, or at least in this generalised overview, the political context. What kind of political and economic system produced the work that was produced; would the literature that came out of Fascist Pre-War Italy be the same as the literature out of a Democratic Pre-War French political context? Two books may have been published on the same day in 1944, but one is from Germany and the other is from the United States. Would the literature be similar? Or vastly different? A great example of this is to look at the officially endorsed art of the USSR. It was illegal to create anything that could be considered “subversive” by the Communist Party, and all literature was meant to reflect Party ideals. So, do you think there were many books released during that time that painted capitalism or democracy in a good light? Probably not. Another example might be the politically charged and incredibly racist white supremacist books, like The Turner Diaries, that have been released in the United States over the last few decades. Were those written because they were trying to be great pieces of storytelling or because they were trying to propose a political message of some kind?

So how do all of these things affect pieces of literature? How do they influence the texts that are produced? If a government or large organisation were to offer funding to artists, would more artists be able to create art? Would that make the art better or worse? Would it do neither? What would it do? What would happen if a book was praised by institutional experts? For instance, if a book won the Pulitzer Prize, it would probably see a spike in sales. If a specific author is considered to be part of the canon and historians discovered a new book fifty years after their death, would that book be considered great simply because of its association with the author? Imagine if they discovered a long-lost Shakespearean play tomorrow, would that play immediately become part of the Western canon because it’s a Shakespearean play?

And some of these things, such as social or political contexts, do they change over time? Would the literature from Germany in 1920, 1930, 1940 and 1950 be different to each other? Would it change with the rise and fall of the Nazi Party? With the beginning and the end of the Second World War? With the separation of Germany into East and West? How would the context change and how would that context affect the work that is produced?

A great example of this is to look at literary trends. Enlightenment literature eventually disappeared, realism eventually appeared and then disappeared, modernism appeared and disappeared. These literary periods are applied retrospectively, because we often cannot tell what world we’re living in at present. For instance, some have suggested that we live in a post-postmodern world now (which is a ludicrous name and someone needs to come up with a better one), but in fifty or a hundred years we might be able to carve out specific periods and specific trends in literature.

We can even do it on a smaller scale. There was the rise of teenage vampire literature that came in the wake of Twilight’s success, but that faded and was replaced with those battle royale dystopian things with The Hunger Games leading the charge. Various artists follow trends, and you can see how those trends affect literature as time goes on.

That is the context. That is what you would look at when focusing on a context-centred approach. Now, you can argue that the reception of art is a form of contextual analysis, but we’re going to leave a proper reception theory for last in this small series on literary theory.

But let’s end off with one final contemplative thought. All the other theories we’ve looked at so far are more about analysing a particular text to understand that text, but contextual theories are more about placing a text within a specific context so we can both understand the text and the context. So, does this make a text less artistic? Does it turn art into just another thing that we can use to understand society? Does it turn art into a cultural object that does not have much meaning outside its own context? There isn’t an answer to that, but it is a small something to think about.



Carusi, A. & Oliphant, A. (2007). Introduction to Theory of Literature: only study guide for THL801U. Pretoria: University of South Africa. pp. 94-102 & 124-128.

Review: Dear Esther: Landmark Edition

Pretty slow walking

Developer – The Chinese Room

Publisher – Secret Mode

Available platforms – PC, Mac, Xbox One & PS4

Review platform – PC

Release Date – 2017


Dear Esther is an absolute classic of the walking sim genre and one that I never got around to playing before. Hence the excessive lateness of this review. However, just because something is old and influential, and all that jazz, does not mean that it’s necessarily a good game. So… is Dear Esther any good then?

Well, on the surface, it would likely be easiest to say that many later walking sims would get the formula down far better and would produce something a lot more entertaining with the genre. This may, immediately, sound like I’m going to criticise this game rather heavily, but this isn’t the case. The game, and the genre in general, is often an experiment in interactive storytelling.

When we typically think of games, we think of various mechanics and shooting and jumping and doing quests/missions, but Dear Esther, and many other walking sims, are not that. They are telling a story of some kind that would often not work as a non-interactive medium. Although, I don’t know if that is the case with this particular narrative as there are no diverging paths that allow for some level of player choice. Although, there is a focus on exploration.

But even that term may not be right. “Exploration” entails searching for things, but this game doesn’t give you anything. You can’t interact with anything, and it’s more about sight seeing while listening to various snippets of narrated text. It’s purposefully ambiguous and you never come across another character throughout the runtime. Which is also immensely short; I finished it in just less than an hour.

The short runtime is good though, especially because of the biggest criticism I would have: the character walks too slowly. There is no option to run faster or anything similar, and instead you just walk at what is probably a normal human’s walking speed. A speed that is fine for ordinary humans but spending an hour walking around an empty level while listening to an intentionally cryptic narration style can get a bit grating.

That narration carries the story, which would be a spoiler to discuss in any depth, but it does offer a good glimpse into the kinds of narrative that interactive media is capable of producing. It has no real interaction outside of walking though.  

But because of that, this game will likely bore a large proportion of potential players. It is not a “fun” game to play, but you do not necessarily need a game to be fun for it to be a good overall experience, and I would definitely call this a good narrative experience.

However, I would probably say that, even better than the narrative, is the minimalistic approach to the world too. You explore an utterly gorgeous island and learn a little about it through environmental storytelling. Nothing is explicitly told though. It’s your experience to… experience. It’s about the meaning you take out of it. Furthermore, the sound design and ambient music make it a wonderfully atmospheric experience.

An experience that I could still probably not recommend unless you get it super cheap or for free like I inexplicably got it (there was some kind of a special on, but that’s gone at time of writing). So, if you want to check out an influential game in the walking sim genre, one that may just make you bored and frustrated by its remarkably slow walk speed, then give it a go.

I wouldn’t say I personally “enjoyed” it, in the traditional sense, but I certainly don’t regret the time I spent in it. However, I wouldn’t go back to replay it despite the current version of it having audio commentary and everything. I just don’t care myself, but if you do, then give it a go!



Transcript: Understanding Literary Theory: New Criticism (Unisa | Theory of Literature | THL1501)

This is the transcript for the video of the same name.

This video is part of a series that discusses a few literary theories in an introductory capacity. Don’t expect any nice flashy visuals as this is pretty much a slideshow with some voiceover. This video will discuss New Criticism, and it is intended to help someone understand the basics behind this literary theory.

This entire video also only makes use of one reference. The Unisa study guide for the Introduction to Theory of Literature. This video is technically meant to help students doing that module, but it should be educational to anyone who wants to learn a little about literary theory. According to the current study guide, all the information on New Criticism can be found on pages 82-93 and 154-158. So, without further ado, let’s get to it.

First things first, this video ties in quite closely with the video on Russian Formalism, which was the prior video in this series. So, it would be good to watch that one before watching this one. The link to it will be in the description below. Anyway, let’s get to it.

New Criticism, or Anglo-American New Criticism, was a predominant form of literary analysis and criticism that still has its influence on modern analysis and criticism. Many of the ideas proposed by this group would go on to be rather integral to the analysis of literature in general.

This theory has a similar bend to it that you would find in Russian Formalism, because it placed its focus on the intrinsic features of a text. It wanted to pay close attention to the text itself and nothing that existed outside of it, or at least not in theory. We’ll get to how that wasn’t entirely the case in time, but for now, let’s chat a bit about its history and where it came from.

New Criticism emerged in the 1940s and would have an impact for decades to come, but it started in both the Anglophile world, so English speaking Europe, ie Britain, and it also entered the academic consciousness in the United States. Hence the name Anglo-American New Criticism. From this, we can see that it has a bit of a distinction from many other theories, which tended to originate in the non-English speaking world. Russian Formalism was obviously Russian, Prague Structuralism obviously came from Czechoslovakia and the whole post-structuralist movement came out of France. So here we have a very English theory.

Some of the major thinkers in this theory were people like I.A. Richards, W.K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley. There is also one particularly famous member of the New Critical movement, and he’s pretty famous for being a rather pretentious writer, and that would be T.S. Eliot, the man who wrote poems like The Wasteland and The Hollow Men. If you did high school English, then you probably had to study something by T.S Eliot.

The main thing that these thinkers wanted to focus on was form and content. If you remember from the video on Russian Formalism, form is the physical aspect of a text, such as the words themselves, the structure, et cetera, and the content is the actual meaning behind the text. The Russian Formalists didn’t much care about the content side of things, and they were more focused on the more technical, linguistic side. The New Critics, on the other hand, saw these two as intrinsically connected to one another. The form gives rise to the content after all.

So, the New Critics wanted to focus on how the form produces the meaning that can be found in a text, and much like the Russian Formalists, they wanted to make this into a kind of science. They wanted to show that literature has value in-and-of-itself. Literature should be detached from all those extrinsic things. So, much like the Russian Formalists, they didn’t care about any of the psychological or sociological aspects of literature: who cares which society made it, what matters is whether the poem is good! Right?

The New Critics did this by focusing on what is called a “close reading”, and this is basically exactly what it sounds like, they read something closely. Another way to put it might be to read critically. If you just watch a movie and enjoy it and don’t really think about it, then you’re not performing a close reading. If you are paying careful attention to what you’re watching, analysing as you watch, then that is a close reading. Or at least, close to a close reading. You’d probably want to take out a pen and some paper for a close reading so you can take notes along the way.

This method is now considered a very basic way of reading a text with a critical eye, and it’s quite important to be able to do it when you go into more advanced literary theory. But why do they want to use this method? Well because they saw literature as a potentially autonomous form of knowledge. It can teach us a lot. They wanted to see literature as something empirical, something that could be studied, analysed and understood.

And if you want something to be empirical, which essentially means its scientific and can be in some way proven through experience of some description, then you need to have a rigid form of study. They want this because they want to show that literature can be about concrete concepts that provide us with truth and universality. Now, we need to discuss each of those to fully understand them.

If something is concrete, that means it is real. That’s a very simple one, but truth and universality are a little more complicated because they are still up for debate. Many people do not really agree on what those two things are.

At its most basic, truth is obviously uh… what’s true. Simple right? And universality is when a concept applies to everyone: a universal value. We might say a universal value is something like “killing is wrong.” There we go, most people can agree on that in theory. Here’s where these concepts get rather complicated though.

Truth is supposed to be objective; it’s supposed to be factual. There is only supposed to be one truth, right? The world is a certain way, and we all agree that it is a certain way, but the issue is that you may have heard the expression “your truth” before. “Your truth” implies that truth can be subjective, it can be opinionated. What is true for one person is not true for another. For instance, it is true for me that a falafel burger is absolutely delicious, but someone else may disagree. So, here’s the question: which of those is true? Is falafel delicious or is it disgusting?

The truth, obviously, is that uh… well um, yes, falafel is a food, that’s pretty much true, and it has a taste, that is also objectively true, but is that taste good? Well, that’s a value judgement, isn’t it? So… can it be true?

Let’s take this to a more literary point. Is the novel The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco a good book? I think so, but it’s clearly a book that was made with people like me in mind. It’s very literary and full of intertextual references. It’s a great book. To me. Someone else may disagree, and is there anything that I can do to prove that it is true that that book is a good book? I can state my points, and a person might agree with me on those points, but then use those points to say it’s bad. It’s a rather dense, literary book. That’s great to me, but maybe not to someone else. Are either of us correct?

That’s the problem with truth. So, we can already see a bit of an issue here with the New Critical way. They believe literature can provide us with truths, but won’t we all disagree on those truths? But that’s where they try to solve it with the universality argument. “Well, literature should be about universal ideas that apply to all people. Losing a loved one, struggling with one’s identity in a changing world, et cetera. These are universal!”

And yes, they are rather universal. But here’s the problem. The New Critics were all, you know, white men. So, if there was a book about the struggles of being a woman in society, well that’s not universal, is it? Women are not all people, so a story about women cannot be universal! Obviously! But a book about the struggles of war and losing one’s comrades. That is universal. Ignore the fact that most militaries only allowed men at the time and so a story about war was also only a male story, but a male story is a universal story! Men are all that exist. And never mind a story about fighting against racism because uh, that doesn’t apply to white men so it can’t be universal, okay.

The New Critics wanted literature to be something universal and objective, but sadly for them, life is rather subjective and fragmented. They wanted a “clean” form of analysis, but by doing so they attempted to ignore a lot of reality. They wanted something objective, but by choosing what they saw as truth, they ended up being discriminatory. If you’re black, a woman, poor, gay, et cetera, well then your stories are not universal. They don’t apply to the rich white men who claimed to care about universality.

Now, it’s probably good to point out that there is nothing inherently discriminatory in New Criticism itself. The theory claimed universality, but the people who wrote a lot of the theory just had a skewed idea of universality. You could be a gay, black transgender writer and believe in New Critical ideas while rejecting the discrimination that its main proponents attempted to propose.

The New Critics, the people, not the theory, cared about the work of Dead White Male Anglo-Saxon Protestant Heterosexual people, but you can reject those people and use the theory to understand far more. If you use close reading, you are not a racist. Just maybe don’t use close reading to try and justify racism. Which is what these theorists kinda did, especially because of their reverence for the canon.

Now, if you don’t know what the canon is, good. You should ignore it, because it’s very classist, but let’s talk about it anyway. The canon is the body of writing that makes up the greatest works within that culture. So, when we talk about the canon, we are often talking about the Western canon. Think of writers like Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Daniel Defoe, et cetera. The big-name famous people that you may have studied in school.

The New Critics wanted to preserve that legacy, and as you can probably tell, they were all white and most were men. The few women admitted to this elite canonical circle were writers like Jane Austen, George Eliot and the Brontës The big names. But we couldn’t go poisoning this elite group with the thing white conservatives fear the most: diversity. Why couldn’t they allow that? Well, mostly arrogance. These people were also pretty colonial in their thinking, so allowing the colonised people to be admitted to their club would have been most unwelcome!

Remember, literature is meant to be an autonomous thing that is not about extrinsic things, like real world racism and sexism. Although, this is quite hypocritical as one of the most famous works by a New Critic, T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, is about post-war Europe (among other things), but oh well.

So, we’ve kind of spoken about the main points and issues, but ultimately, New Criticism left us with a good way to analyse texts that was somewhat overshadowed by the discriminatory beliefs of the main proponents of it. There are also a few small things worth discussing that the New Critics brought to the table. Namely the affective fallacy, the intentional fallacy and the heresy of paraphrase. I have actually discussed the first two in my video on ethical consumption of media (which will be linked below), but let’s briefly discuss them now because they show an interesting side to New Criticism’s dedication to so-called objective analysis.

The affective fallacy is the idea that it is a fallacy, therefore a mistake that you can make when analysing, to respond to something emotionally. You might say that a book made you sad, well according to this fallacy, your emotions don’t matter, child! This shows that the New Critics didn’t want you to respond emotionally. You are meant to be detaching yourself and looking at the book as if it didn’t produce any feelings in you. What does the book show; who cares how it made you feel?!

The intentional fallacy went on to reinforce this to a degree by stating that the intentions of the creator do not matter. If you, as a reader, are claiming that “this is what the author said their book is about”, then you are in the wrong. Who cares what the author says?! What matters is what the book itself says.

And the heresy of paraphrase is kind of tangential to this, and it claims that it is a heresy, which implies that literature should be viewed like something religious, to paraphrase a work. No analysis, which will always be paraphrasing parts of the book to understand it, can capture the full meaning of the text. This is an interesting idea because it shows that humans are not actually that good at finding the supposed “truth”. Humans are instead good at finding parts of a text that they want to discuss, and not the entirety of it. This is a theme that would be explored later by more structuralist and poststructuralist thinkers.

So, what are our main takeaways here: we only care about the text itself, who cares about anything outside of it and we want to pay attention to both the form and the content to understand the knowledge that this text is trying to provide us. If you ignore the discrimination parts then this is a pretty good idea, but uh, we can’t just ignore the bad, can we? We need to acknowledge it and actively work against it.

But that’s it for New Criticism and message-centred theories for now. You need to understand both Russian Formalism and New Criticism to understand the strengths and weaknesses of both, and to understand why focusing on the text alone might not be enough, but that will be explored in the next video in this series.


Carusi, A. & Oliphant, A. (2007). Introduction to Theory of Literature: only study guide for THL801U. Pretoria: University of South Africa. pp. 82-93 & 154-158.

Transcript: Understanding Literary Theory: Russian Formalism (Unisa | Theory of Literature | THL1501)

This is the transcript for the video of the same name.

This video is part of a series that discusses a few literary theories in an introductory capacity. Don’t expect any nice flashy visuals as this is pretty much a slideshow with some voiceover. This video will discuss Russian Formalism, and it is intended to help someone understand the basics behind this literary theory.

This entire video also only makes use of one reference. The Unisa study guide for the Introduction to Theory of Literature. This video is technically meant to help students doing that module, but it should be educational to anyone who wants to learn a little about literary theory. According to the current study guide, all the information on Russian Formalism can be found on pages 66-82. So, without further ado, let’s get to it.

Russian Formalism is a literary theory that originated in the early 1900s, typically between 1915 and 1920, and if you know anything about that particular time period in Russia, well, then you probably know that it was something of a volatile time for the country. In 1915 it was still World War One and things weren’t exactly looking great under Tsar Nicholas II, the leader at the time, and then by 1920, there had been a communist revolution and Vladimir Lenin was firmly in power. So, a rather complicated time to be sitting around at universities talking about linguistics, but I suppose you need to do something to pass the time between war and revolution, so why not chat about linguistics?

During this particular time, two major groups emerged, namely the Moscow Linguistic Circle and the Society for the Study of Poetic Language. These groups wanted to explore something a little different. They had some ideas about literature, and so they started to discuss and write about those ideas. Some of the major thinkers who emerged from this were people like Viktor Sklovsky, Roman Jakobson and Boris Eikhenbaum.

These theorists started the formalist tradition. You see, we’d often looked at literature through a more Romantic lens in the past. We had looked at the author themselves and what they contributed and how they saw art, et cetera, et cetera. The Russian Formalists wanted to change things up a bit. But before we can really talk about that, we should talk about two very simple concepts: form and content.

Form is, at its most basic, the physical aspect of a piece of literature. The words themselves, the structure, the composition, et cetera. The form is the actual book, the actual paragraphs, the actual lines and stanzas, and if you translated this idea to other mediums: form is the animation itself in an animated film, the brushstrokes in a painting, the chords in a song. Form is what makes up the piece of art itself. So, what’s the content then? It’s the meaning. What meaning is produced by the form used?

So, quite simple, isn’t it? The form is the physical, the content is the mental that is produced because of the physical. And whenever you read or watch movie reviews and they talk about how good or bad the story is. That’s a focus on content. If they talk about how good or bad the shots are, the acting, the art style; that’s the form.

Now, which of these two things do you think the formalists focused on? Form or content? Form. They focused on the form. They, unlike the Romantics who came before them, didn’t care about what the writer behind the text thought; that didn’t matter. They cared about the form. They cared about what the poem or story itself did. How was language used in that particular piece of literature?

They didn’t even care about the content though. Who cares what it’s about? Is it beautifully written? Does it use literary techniques that make it unique and distinct? You see, the Russian Formalists paid attention to the intrinsic features of a piece of literature. They didn’t see the point in anything extrinsic, meaning anything outside the text itself; that means no caring what the author said, no caring about the society in which it was produced, no caring about the socio-economic context that led to it. Only intrinsic features mattered, only what the text itself told us.

The big thing at the time was to look at literature as if it were something positivistic. It could teach us about the life and times of the author. It could help us to understand the author’s intentions or the world they lived in or the hardships they experienced. Literature could be a way of understanding the world, but the Russian Formalists saw literature as being good in-and-of-itself. Literature doesn’t need to make any big statements about the world to be good. It just needs to be good!

This seems pretty fine, doesn’t it? You might not agree with them. You might believe that the content is more important than the form, or that the form and content work together (which is more in line with New Criticism, which will be the next video in this series), but even if you disagree with them, you probably wouldn’t try to force them to disband and stop what they’re doing.

Sadly, that’s what happened. The Russian Formalists were forced to break up, and many left the country and did their academic things elsewhere. Why was this the case? Well, they were in recently communist Russia, and the official communist position at the time was that all art had to conform to a certain way of being. It had to be non-subversive and it had to be about party ideals surrounding class struggle and revolution. Literature was not meant to be something that questioned those in power, and so these Formalists, who wanted to examine literature of all varieties, did not believe in this party line on the purpose of literature.

Remember, the Formalists didn’t care about the context around a text. They only cared about what the text itself said. So, the Formalists ended much sooner than they otherwise might have. However, they would end up showing up later when it came to the time of the Structuralists, but that’s a discussion for another time.

So, that’s Russian Formalism, or at least that’s a very brief discussion of their history and what they believed, but let’s look a little more closely at them and their methods. The Formalists had two main claims that they wanted to justify. They wanted to show that literature could be entirely distinguished by its intrinsic features alone and they wanted to develop a science of literature. Because of that second point, they are often seen as the founders of modern literary theory.

Let’s look a little more closely at how they aimed to show this and to produce a science. Remember, the Russian Formalists came from a linguistic background, and this explains their dedication to formal features, as that is what linguistics is often focused on, makes complete sense. And to achieve this new linguistic-inspired science, they had to come up with a few terms they could use to explain and describe the literary phenomena that they could analyse.

Probably, the most integral of these is the idea of “literariness”. This is the specific thing that Russian Formalists actually study. Literariness is the specific something that distinguishes literature from ordinary language. Literariness could be anything that causes the language in a piece of literature to deviate from ordinary language. Literary texts therefore use language that has been “defamiliarized”; it is “language made strange”. How do we know poetry isn’t ordinary language? Well, it uses rhyme, rhythm, meter, various literary techniques, et cetera. That is what makes it literary, and therefore distinct from ordinary language. Thus, endowing it with literariness.

From there, we start to look at some other aspects of literary language that the Russian Formalists focused on, all of which form part of this idea of literariness and defamiliarization.

We have the concept of foreground and background aspects of texts. The foregrounded aspects are those parts of the text that the author has decided to highlight for some or another reason. For instance, you make use of rhyme or alliteration because you want to call attention to something. The background is everything else. Typically, the background is the normal and familiar aspect of the text which serves as the background against which literacy language can be foregrounded and defamiliarized and therefore the text becomes literary.

Rather simple. Another concept is what’s called “automatisation”. This is the process whereby something that was once new and unique, something that was once unfamiliar, now becomes familiar. This is how we start developing tropes, clichés and stereotypes. We overuse something until it stops being literary; it becomes ordinary. And that is why there needs to be constant reinvention. New writers need to come up with new ways of doing things, of writing things. However, those things that have become automatised, form part of the basic structure of literary texts. Look at it like this, there had to have been an originator of rhyme. Some person from prehistory realised that certain words sound like other words, and so they started to rhyme things. Back then, it would have been considered revolutionary, now it’s just normal in all traditional-style poetry.

So, that’s also pretty simple, and the last big thing is rather simple too: internal and external deviation. This goes hand-in-hand with defamiliarization. Deviation is, basically, doing something that is not the normal thing to do. It is something that deviates from the ordinary way of doing things. Which is, if you remember, the basic tenet of literariness. Literature has language distinct from ordinary language. So, internal and external deviation correspond to deviation within the text and deviation from outside the text, respectively.

Internal deviation is when you are writing a poem and then suddenly you change the rhyme scheme or something similar. You deviate from what is already within the text. Let’s say the rhyme scheme had been ABAB and then you shift it to AABB for the next stanza. That would be an internal deviation.

External deviation is when you are writing a poem, let’s say a sonnet, and you go through most of it just fine, but then alter the rhyme scheme. You have used an existing structure, something automatised, the sonnet, and now you have deviated from that. You deviated from something external to the text itself. Hence, external deviation.

Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you might notice a bit of a contradiction. If Russian Formalists only care about the intrinsic aspects of a text, then why do they care about external deviation? Doesn’t external deviation require an adherence to context? You can deviate from a sonnet because you know what a sonnet is, but then that isn’t entirely intrinsic, is it?

And that’s just one of the issues with Russian Formalism. It’s a fantastic framework for analysing from a more detached and, frankly, boring perspective. You’re looking at how the words themselves are used differently rather than looking at what the text is about, what it’s trying to say. Which you could say misses the point of art. Although some will obviously disagree with that.

The Russian Formalists are so focused on intrinsic features that they don’t even realise extrinsic features have intruded. Furthermore, literature is not the only place literary techniques are used! You’ve probably seen alliteration, rhyme and typographical changes in adverts. You might have seen some in jokes and anecdotes. And do you know where else people use literary techniques? In ordinary language. We use flowery language in our day-to-day lives; maybe not as much as it might be used in a poem, but we do still use it! Imagine flirting without using metaphorical language?! What would you even say!

And those are some big problems with Russian Formalism. It has some great points and some good lessons for analysis. Sometimes you should focus a little more on the form; it can give you far greater appreciation for the piece of art as a whole.

So, Russian Formalism is ultimately an incomplete theory that doesn’t properly take the entirety of a text into account, but at least it had a few lessons for us along the way. And a theory certainly could have done something a lot worse! I mean, just wait till the next video in this series, because New Criticism had some issues!


Carusi, A. & Oliphant, A. (2007). Introduction to Theory of Literature: only study guide for THL801U. Pretoria: University of South Africa. pp. 66-82.

Transcript: Understanding Literary Theory: Romanticism (Unisa | Theory of Literature | THL1501)

This is the transcript for the video of the same name. 

This video is part of a series that discusses a few literary theories in an introductory capacity. Don’t expect any nice flashy visuals as this is pretty much a slideshow with some voiceover. This video will discuss Romanticism, and it is intended to help someone understand the basics behind this literary theory.

This entire video also only makes use of one reference. The Unisa study guide for the Introduction to Theory of Literature. This video is technically meant to help students doing that module, but it should be educational to anyone who wants to learn a little about literary theory. According to the current study guide, all the information on Romanticism can be found on pages 55-65. So, without further ado, let’s get to it.

Romanticism is a theory that originated in the 1800s and had a strong influence on literary analysis and criticism well into the 20th century, and there are likely still some proponents of it as a theory. The theory is derived from the artistic movement of the same name, and there are a few Romantics you’ve probably heard of in school (unless of course you actually like classic literature, in which case you’ll definitely know them), such as Samuel Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, et cetera.

The basic idea behind this artistic perspective is an appreciation for things like emotion and nature and beauty, but things change a little when you factor it into literary criticism and analysis. Now, first thing’s first, this theory, when applied to analysis, is considered a sender-centred approach. You see, in every literary product there are four factors at play, four things you can focus on: the sender, the message, the receiver or the context.

If something is sender-centred it means that we are going to focus on the creator of the literary work in question. So, if we want to analyse a poem from a Romantic perspective, we would consider the life of the poet. What did the poet think and feel, where did they live, why did they write this particular poem, et cetera. There is a strong focus on the person who made the thing in question.

Now, if you’re going to base a literary theory on the creator of the art then you’re going to need to back it up a bit. The typical way to view a lot of art is to put the art front and centre. Is this piece of art good? But Romanticism is more interested in the person behind it. How did they create such a thing? And the answer is generally rather flattering: the artist is obviously some kind of creative genius that could create something ex nihilo.

If you are unfamiliar with this expression, and why wouldn’t you be? It’s Latin and therefore pretentious. But “ex nihilo” means “out of nothing”. When we are discussing the traditional view of a supreme being, like the Christian god, he is said to create ex nihilo; he creates out of nothing. God does not conform to any of the laws of physics. God will just make things even if he has no components through which to do so.

We, as pitiful little humans, cannot create anything out of nothing. When we want to build a house, we use building materials, when we want to make food, we use ingredients, when we write code, we need electricity and a medium through which code can be interpreted. Nothing can come out of nothing, but the Romantics believed that they could create art out of nothing.

There was no external influence on them that made them write that poem about nature! They wrote on nature and created something out of nothing, as if they themselves were akin to God. This is why there is a certain belief, when adopting a Romantic view of the world, that artists are like demi-gods. They are not mere mortals like you and I, they are gods of the page!

And this is how you can understand the Romantic view of artistic creation: it is intrinsically tied to the author themselves and the creativity, originality, intention and imagination of that person. Those are some of the major elements that will help you to understand Romanticism.

There must be creativity because the godlike creator must have a drive to create things. There must be originality, because the creator is creating out of nothing; everything they make is original. There must be intention, because for something to be made out of nothing, there has to be a reason behind it; the author must know what they are creating and why they are creating that thing. And, of course, there must be imagination, because the author must be able to imagine these things that they will soon create out of nothing.

Now, this presents us with a bit of an issue for other literary theorists. The Romantic believes that they hold all this creativity and originality and intention and imagination, and so they are the only ones who can truly understand the work they have created. You cannot really analyse a poem because who cares what you say about the poem when the author has a contradictory interpretation.

Isn’t the author’s interpretation the most important interpretation? Surely the author knows exactly what they created and why it is so special. It isn’t like this is an incredibly arrogant way to see yourself, right? “I wrote this poem and so only I know the true meaning behind it!”

Isn’t it possible that you are wrong about your own work? Is it possible that there are things you unconsciously added to your poem, things that you didn’t even realise you said? Can’t a book be interpreted in an infinite number of ways? Well, the Romantic does not believe so. “Who cares what you got out of my book, I’m the only person who truly understands exactly what my book is about!”

So, it’s a rather arrogant theory, isn’t it? But don’t take that from me. Let’s read something written by one of the most famous Romantics, William Wordsworth, in his “Preface to lyrical ballads”:

“Taking up the subject, then, upon general grounds, let me ask, what is meant by the word Poet? What is a Poet? To whom does he address himself? And what language is to be expected from him? He is a man speaking to men: a man, it is true, endowed with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, than are supposed to be common among mankind; a man pleased with his own passions and volitions, and who rejoices more than other men in the spirit of life that is in him; delighting to contemplate similar volitions and passions as manifested in the goings-on of the Universe, and habitually impelled to create them where he does not find them. To these qualities he has added a disposition to be affected more than other men by absent things as if they were present; an ability of conjuring up in himself passions, which are indeed far from being the same as those produced by real events, yet (especially in those parts of the general sympathy which are pleasing and delightful) do more nearly resemble the passions produced by real events, than anything which, from the motions of their own minds merely, other men are accustomed to feel in themselves: whence, and from practice, he has acquired a greater readiness and power in expressing what he thinks and feels, and especially those thoughts and feelings which, by his own choice, or from the structure of his own mind, arise in him without immediate external excitement”

Now, that was rather arrogant, wasn’t it? According to him, the creative genius is more sympathetic and enthusiastic and tender, they care more about nature and knowledge, et cetera. This means that the poet, and by extension any artist, is different to ordinary people in both degree and in kind.

In degree, because the artist has a higher degree of certain attributes, such as enthusiasm and tenderness. And in kind, because the artist has qualities that others do not possess at all. Basically, the artist is just super awesome and you’re a bad person if you disagree. “Also, you’re not a creative genius like I am because I can write poetry!”

Anyway, as you can imagine, there are some issues with this particular belief system. Let’s just ask a few of them:

  • Are artists demi-gods who can create out of nothing?

Uh… no. Artists are still regular people, and they are not superior to anyone else. The Romantic ideal is a theory that was created by artists, and who do you think artists will consider the best people in the world? Artists. This is similar to how Plato declared that the rulers of kingdoms should be philosopher kings! Which is rather arrogant… seeing as Plato was a philosopher. Everyone always thinks their job is the most important, don’t they? And the whole ex nihilo thing is also nonsense; all art is created by observation of existing art. If you decide to write a fantasy novel then you’re already not creating out of nothing, because the fantasy genre already exists! If you could somehow make up a genre that doesn’t exist then maybe you could argue that you have created ex nihilo… although you would likely write that new genre book using a language that exists so… whoopsie doodle!

  • Can we test the Romantic’s ideas?

Not really. How do we analyse something according to the supreme authority of the author? What if the author is dead? We can’t know what the poem is about because that author’s now dead, aren’t they? And we also have plenty of examples of people using ideas from old pieces of art to comment on something new. For instance, Freud famously used the Ancient Greek tale of Oedipus to explain his concept of the Oedipal Complex, but that ancient tale has nothing to do with psychoanalysis; Freud just used it to explain his idea. Which means that old stories can gain new interpretations. Another set of easy examples are all the modern retellings of Shakespearean plays. Surely, Shakespeare never intended for Macbeth to be turned into a crime lord, did he?

  • What about unintentional creativity?

Now this a tough one, isn’t it? The Romantics claimed that all art had intention behind it. That it was created with the supreme power of the artist’s imagination. But what if I just jotted down some words and it turned into a poem? Is it a poem? What if I start doodling, and before I know it, it becomes a beautiful image? Was that art? I didn’t do it on purpose, maybe I wasn’t even conscious of doing it, but look! A pretty picture! There was no intention behind it, yet the action produced an aesthetic object.

  • What about found objects?

This is another annoying one. What if I just found an object somewhere and it was pretty, and so I displayed it. Does that turn into art? There was no intention behind that, there wasn’t even effort put into its creation. This is why works like Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain cause such a ruckus. Is that urinal a piece of art or not? Does something have to be purposive for it to be classified as art?

  • What about non-art aesthetic objects?

There are things in this world that are not technically art, like traditional African masks, as they served a religious function, but now people display them as art. They were never intended as art and yet they are. Or aren’t they? The Romantics would likely have a difficult time answering that question. Or look at something like the work of Carrol Boyes. Her work was practical art: ornate spoons and decorative plates and crafted ladles. Is it art? Are they just eating utensils? The Romantic may not know.

As you can see, there are probably more criticisms of Romanticism than there are purported strengths, but the main strength really is that it has a strong focus on the creator. The creator of a piece of art is often neglected in literary analysis, but there certainly are things that can be learnt from the author. Even if the author is generally not what we care about when it comes to art analysis; we generally care about the piece of art more than who created it.

And that’s Romanticism. A belief that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny all that well, but at least it made a few interesting points about the role of the artist in artistic creation.


Carusi, A. & Oliphant, A. (2007). Introduction to Theory of Literature: only study guide for THL801U. Pretoria: University of South Africa. pp. 55-65

Transcript: Metal & Rap – The Music of Anger

This is the transcript for the video of the same name.

This will be an analysis of six angry songs from two overarching genres, and it is recommended that you listen to them before watching this video. This is the list of songs:

  • Dyer’s Eve – Metallica
  • X Gon’ Give It to Ya – DMX
  • Stan – Eminem
  • Hooker with a Penis – Tool
  • Killing in the Name – Rage Against the Machine
  • Fuck tha Police – NWA


Alright, let’s get to it. I have always been a big fan of anger in media. I feel that it just isn’t portrayed often enough. And I don’t mean your usual anger, like some man getting angry in a movie and then shooting some people. Proper anger. Directed anger. Anger with a purpose. There’s nothing better in a film than seeing an actor give something their all, and anger can be a difficult emotion to pull off. Proper anger at least. It’s easy to just shout a bit, but real anger, that can be a bit harder.

This video will look at anger in just one medium: music. I have decided to look at a number of songs, which were all mentioned at the beginning of the video so if you wanted a surprise, sorry, it’s been spoiled for you. Better luck next time. Sorry, buddy.

So, we are going to look at these two overarching genres, namely rap and metal, because they are probably the angriest genres of music. Thanks to this, I figured they’d be the perfect thing to analyse for this. I decided on the specific songs chosen because I didn’t want particularly obscure stuff, and the Tool song is probably the least known one on the list. And there will probably be some metalhead purists who might take issue with Rage Against the Machine being on the list because you could argue that they’re not metal, but this is my list, so they get to be on here.

When I started this analysis, I started categorising things and identified thirteen nice categories that are present in the majority of these songs, and you’d likely find a lot of them in other rap and metal songs too. These are very generalisable as going too specific forces you to create more categories and sub-categories, and I didn’t want this to be super comprehensive but rather just introductory. Maybe something to help appreciate anger just a little more.

These categories are as follows:

  • Tone of voice
  • Threats of violence/violence
  • Real-world problems
  • Swearing/Slurs
  • Personal material
  • Confrontation
  • Proclamation
  • Lyrical simplicity
  • Metaphorical language vs. direct language
  • Hypocrisy
  • Repetition
  • Lull and build up
  • Non-verbal vocalisations (ie growls, screams, barks, et cetera)


So, without further ado, let’s get to the analysis, and we’ll start with:


Dyer’s Eve – Metallica (1988):

So, let’s start at the beginning here. What is this song about? Well, it’s basically about terrible parents and a bad upbringing. It would be easy to point towards the inspiration for the song, which was James Hetfield’s not so great relationship with his parents, who were members of the Church of Christian Science. And if you’re not familiar with that particular denomination then give yourself a hoot of a time and read up about it.

But we are going to detach ourselves from the knowledge of this particular aspect of this song, and we are instead going to look at it from a more abstract perspective. It’s easy to simply look at a piece of art and say that it’s about what the author says, but the author generally doesn’t say everything, do they? And this song can be used in a far more general sense than just the life of James Hetfield and no one else.

The song makes use of, by my count, eight of the categories that I discussed at the top of the video. We can get some of it out the way immediately because it isn’t particularly amazing. For instance, it has an angry tone of voice. Now, every single one of these songs makes use of tone of voice. It’s easy to indicate anger by just sounding angry, and that’s why I’m not really going to mention it going forward. They all sound angry in these songs!

Now let’s look at the song itself:


Dear mother, dear father

What is this hell you have put me through?

Believer, deceiver

Day in, day out, lived my life through you

Pushed onto me what’s wrong or right

Hidden from this thing that they call life


We immediately jump into this song with Hetfield speaking from a personal perspective, with lyrical simplicity and he’s doing it in a non-metaphorical sense. He directly mentions parents and what they’ve put him through. He calls them believers and deceivers, they are hypocrites, which is another of the categories, and they are the arbiters of his existence as a child.

If we want to stretch the definition of the word “swearing”, we can also say that the second line uses a “swear word” in “hell”, as in “What is this hell you have put me through?” A rhetorical question meant to set this up as a harsh confrontation, another of the categories, and this pushes us towards anger in the very first verse.

The next bit goes:


Dear mother, dear father

Every thought I think you’d disapprove

Curator, dictator

Always censoring my every move

Children are seen but are not heard

Tear out everything inspired


Here we can see the beginnings of this repetitious structure of “dear mother, dear father”, which is used here but not to an excessive degree, and it would also maybe be wrong to claim that repetition is purely an angry thing seeing as it’s, you know, a staple of poetry. But it is still present.

And from here, it calls them curators and dictators, implying both control and force, and they are “always censoring my every move”; parents in the real world can be rather controlling and through their control they inflict traumas onto their children. This is further shown through the use of a common expression: “children are seen but are not heard” and this is reinforced with the next line “tear out everything inspired”.

Parents have the ability to destroy a child’s life, although many would never want to acknowledge the terrible things they’ve done. Before we go any further, a song with material like this, about a terrible upbringing in some or other sense taps into real-world issues through a furious lens. It doesn’t approach this from a sad perspective, such as in Cats in the Cradle by Harry Chapin, but rather an enraged one. This is cause for absolute fury. These people should be punished for the things they did, but unless they’re explicitly abusive, there’s no such thing as jail time for bad parenting. There is no punishment for it. Well, other than your kids abandoning you in your old age or something, but that doesn’t seem harsh enough in some circumstances.

We won’t do much more on this song because we only want to look at a few snippets here and there, but this section starts similar to others, and has similar thoughts, but then veers away:


Dear mother, dear father

You clipped my wings before I learned to fly

Unspoiled, unspoken

I’ve outgrown that fucking lullaby

Same thing I’ve always heard from you

Do as I say, not as I do


It starts with that same repetitive opening, but now compares this child to a bird with clipped wings; it can’t become all that it should be. The child has also outgrown the bullshit story that their parents pushed onto them. And of course, it ends with another of those nice old phrases that show parental hypocrisy: do as I say, not as I do.

The song draws near a close with a reversal of sorts:


I’m in hell without you

Cannot cope without you two

Shocked at the world that I see

Innocent victim, please rescue me


This child does actually need their parents. They have left their parents behind, but they know that it would be better with them. If they weren’t such terrible influences, of course. And this is what the song is angrily telling parents like this: when you shelter your child, feed them lies about the world and don’t allow them to become who they are, they will go into the world unable to face it. You have failed in your duty to prepare them for life. You have failed.

And that may be cause for sadness, but here’s the thing, parents, generally (aside from certain circumstances), made a decision to keep you. They chose to raise you. And so, when they do it poorly, they should not necessarily be the subjects of pity, but rather the subjects of anger. They chose this. They did it wrong. And even if there were extenuating circumstances that led them to be terrible to their child, that doesn’t matter to their child. And that child has a right to be angry.

This song tells you that you should be.

Time for the next song:


X Gon’ Give It to Ya – DMX (2002):

Now, let’s start off by saying that this song is not exactly about anything as real as parental abuse and poor parenting, and is instead in a vein you’d see in a lot of rap: bragging. DMX is essentially bragging about how great he is and how good a rapper he is, et cetera. However, the reason to pick this song is really mostly thanks to its use of non-verbal vocalisations.

But before we get to that. The song makes use of swearing, which doesn’t really need to be explained. We all know how swearing can be used to convey fucking anger. It’s pretty much our immediate response when faced with a situation that makes us angry. We want to swear at people. And this song does use a lot of it, but not quite as much as a few other songs we’ll be discussing later on.

Tone of voice is here again and so is sharp confrontation as DMX confronts… well pretty much every other rapper who might think they’re better than him.


Fuck waitin’ for you to get it on your own,

X gon’ deliver to ya

Knock-knock, open up the door, it’s real

With the non-stop pop-pop from stainless steel

Go hard, gettin’ busy with it

But I got such a good heart that I’ll make a motherfucker wonder if he did it


It’s a little confrontational, and it does maybe threaten some violence too. After all, what do you think “non-stop pop-pop from stainless steel” is? And he also makes use of proclamation, proclaiming some fact of life, and in this case, it’s that he’s amazing:


I’ve been doin’ this for nineteen years

[slurs] wanna fight me? Fight these tears

I put in work and it’s all for the kids

But these cats done forgot what work is


He’s proclaiming himself to be an amazing rapper and that everyone else should watch out. He even uses metaphorical language like “fight these tears”, which could imply murder, as in the teardrop tattoos you find in some American street and prison gangs. He’s threatening people, he’s swearing and using slurs, he just sounds like he’s angry (that would be tone of voice for you) and he’s confrontational. You just have to listen to the song to see how angry he is.

But let’s move to the thing about this song that isn’t utilised enough outside of more screamo metal stuff: non-verbal vocalisations. At its core, this is the use of sounds that are not words. So, think of growls and barks or, in the case of some genres of metal, screams. These almost always signify anger because anger is often considered something a little more animalistic.

When we’re angry, we give in to our baser urgers; the urge to hit someone, kill someone. Anger doesn’t exactly lead you to cooking or gardening, does it? And how do we show that someone in a movie is angry? Do they still say words, or do they just scream at someone and hit them? And this was where DMX was king.

He made amazing use of non-verbal vocalisations. I don’t want to ruin it by doing my own rendition, but you only need to listen to the song to see how often he punctuates his lines with grunts and growls and shouts (and also with verbal exclamations like shouting “what?”).

The song itself even starts with a bark. A full-on emulation of a dog. And it’s not a woof woof like a miniature pincher, it’s an arf-arf like a pitbull. These sounds, which cannot truly exist in a more textual medium like poetry, push anger directly at the listener. You don’t even need words to show anger. You just need sounds. Emotions often can’t be conveyed without verbalisations, but anger very much can.

Now, there isn’t really much of a “deeper” meaning to this one, and it’s kinda just angry shouting, but hey, angry shouting is good! You know, sometimes. Maybe not always but… anyway, let’s move to the next song.


Stan – Eminem (2000):

When I was first compiling a list of angry metal and rap songs, I knew that Eminem would be on the list as he’s a rather angry one, but it proved to be difficult to settle on one. It ended up being something of a draw between Stan, the one I ultimately chose, and The Way I Am, which didn’t get chosen. But if you want some more angry music then it’s definitely worth a listen. But enough of that, let’s get to the analysis.

This song is structured around a sung chorus and a rapped series of letters and recordings. The chorus just serves as a way of breaking up the rapped segments, which tell an evolving story that takes place over the course of several months. I will not be reading out the full lyrics as they are rather long and dense, but we will look at a few choice extracts here and there.

The story is all about Stan, a huge fan of Eminem, and the letters he sends to the man he stans (that’s where the expression comes from). Unlike many of these songs, this song makes use of a slower build up which allows the ending to have far more emotional weight to it than the beginning. The story is deeply personal to this character, and it does make use of swearing, but the swearing is not truly aggressive and angry until the end.

This is another one that’s direct with you. There’s nothing metaphorical here. It’s telling you a cautionary tale that requires build up and an eventual confrontation.

The story begins with Stan writing a letter to Eminem. He tells him that he wants to chat to Eminem because he’s his biggest fan. He gives personal information, like how his girlfriend is pregnant and how he also lost someone to suicide. He’s trying to connect with Eminem. To show his hero that he exists and that he has nothing but adoration for him. There is no anger here. He inquires why Eminem hasn’t responded yet, but it has no real anger to it. However, the anger will soon bubble to the surface.

It then moves to the chorus. This indicates the passage of time. When it returns to the rapped section, it will be the next letter written by Stan.

Here, the anger begins:


Dear Slim, you still ain’t called or wrote, I hope you have a chance

I ain’t mad, I just think it’s fucked up you don’t answer fans


He has taken this lack of response from a celebrity personally. There is anger here, but it’s laced with a desire to have Eminem respond to him. He talks about how his brother is a big fan, how they waited in the cold after a concert to see him, but he didn’t speak to any of them, how he and Eminem met at some event once and Eminem told him to write and he’d write back. He talks about how he didn’t know his father either, which is meant to form a connection between himself and his idol. He wants Eminem to acknowledge him.

Sure, he’s angry, but he’s still desperate for approval. He even talks about how he self-harms, which is something Eminem has jokingly rapped about. And he ends this section by saying:


P.S. We should be together too


He has formed such an attachment to someone he doesn’t know, someone he idolises and deifies, that he quite literally wants to be with Eminem. The implication might be romantic, but it is quite unhinged.

Anyway, we then go to the chorus again, and so there’s the passage of time, and Stan states early in the next verse that it’s been six months and he still hasn’t gotten any word from Eminem. We immediately know he has genuine anger now by tone of voice, because he switches to a much angrier, aggressive tone here as he says:


Dear Mr. I’m-Too-Good-to-Call-or-Write-My-Fans


He’s calling Eminem out for not talking to his fans, for hiding from them. He’s angry. He knows those letters went through, Eminem must have seen them, and so now he’s going to send another message. This one will be a voice recording. In the background, you can hear the sound of thunder and rain.

He directly references other Eminem songs, ones that do not give particularly sound advice. He says:


Hey, Slim, I drank a fifth of vodka, you dare me to drive?


 This is obviously not great. We know he’s in a car now, we know he’s recording this while drunk, and he accuses Eminem of abandoning him when he says:


You know the song by Phil Collins, “In the Air of the Night”

About that guy who coulda saved that other guy from drownin’

But didn’t, then Phil saw it all, then at a show he found him?

That’s kinda how this is: you coulda rescued me from drownin’

Now it’s too late, I’m on a thousand downers now—I’m drowsy

And all I wanted was a lousy letter or a call


He wants Eminem to know that his actions from here on out are because of his hero. This is because of Eminem. He’s doing this to get back at him. He’s using personal information, speaking in very frank and clear terms, he’s clearly struggling, and he believed that the only person who could help him was a man he’s never actually met. He’s seen him at a concert and he’s met him at an event, but he doesn’t know the man’s personal life. Yet he believes that Eminem is the only person who can save him. And he’s furious because Eminem failed him.

You then hear screaming, and he shouts at his girlfriend to be quiet. His pregnant girlfriend is in the trunk, and he plans on killing himself, her and their unborn child in one last gasp. He threatens and executes on this violence. He says he’s going to ride them over a bridge, and he does so. He was so angry that he never realised that he had no way to send this message to Eminem.

Back to the chorus. We now know that Stan is dead. He killed himself and his girlfriend. His anger resulted in his murder-suicide. And that’s where the anger ends. There’s no anger from here any longer. We now see the result of the anger.

We cut to Eminem himself, he’s writing a letter back in response. He tells Stan that he hopes he gets help, that he should love his girlfriend rather than being angry at her, that he hopes he calms down a little. There isn’t much Eminem can really do here, after all. Stan is a stranger. Sure, a fan, but how is Eminem supposed to help him? It ends with Eminem talking about how he heard about this guy killing himself and his girlfriend and that he doesn’t want something like that to happen to Stan, and then he realises that that was Stan. His final word is just: “Damn…”

This song is not like many other angry songs. Eminem isn’t angry at someone and writing about them, which is what many of these songs are about, and is rather Eminem playing the part of someone else, an anger that he will likely never personally feel. He’s telling a story, a cautionary tale about what we would now call a parasocial relationship.

This song is about something very real: people becoming a little too invested in those they’ve never met and likely will never meet. Believing that they really know this or that celebrity or public figure. People who put too much of themselves into loving another person. And those people, when they truly realise that those other people don’t think about them at all well then… that can lead to some problems, can’t it?

The story told here is a sad one, but it’s told through anger, and that’s the only way it should have been told.

The next song is also about parasocial relationships, but it’s a little different:


Hooker With a Penis – Tool (1996):

Ignore the provocative name, Tool likes to give their songs titles like this. They have songs like Prison Sex, Ænema and Stinkfist, so you can ignore that. The song itself has a similar overarching theme to Eminem’s Stan, but the anger between artist and fan is directed at the fan rather than at the artist. This is about Tool shouting down an asshole fan. You know the type, the whole “I listened to them when they were underground” type of people. Pretentious hipster types who believe that unknown things are somehow inherently better than popular things.

This song is directed at those kinds of fans who direct their pretentiousness towards the band gaining more mainstream success. Now, before we start, I should say that the way this is sung is very different to the way it is read. Maynard James Keenan, the singer, stresses his syllables and takes sharp pauses within lines. So, I’m going to read the first line the way it’s stressed, and then we’ll get on with a non-stressed version. The first line goes like this:


I. met a boy. wearing Vans. 501s


He moves in three to four syllable bursts, and this gives it a stunted, deliberate tone. The anger can be felt in the way he talks about this fan who speaks to him, but let’s first look at that first verse without that stress:


I met a boy wearing Vans, 501s

And a dope Beastie tee, nipple rings, new tattoos

That claimed that he was OGT

Back from ’92, from the first EP

And in between sips of Coke

He told me that he thought we were sellin’ out

Layin’ down, suckin’ up to the man


He speaks about this fan in belittling tones. He’s a boy, he’s wearing Vans shoes (which only teenagers wear, I should know, I’ve taught them for years), he has fresh tattoos, nipple rings, a “dope” Beastie Boys tee shirt and he’s sipping coke. He also claims he “like listened to Tool like back when like they were just this like this underground act, you know, man, back when you like released your first EP”. I think you can see where the belittling aspect comes from.

Now, as per usual, Keenan’s tone of voice is indeed angry. So, we’ve got tone of voice down! Woo! He’s already confrontational about this person; we can tell just by the way he describes this guy. He wants to show that he’s someone small, someone insignificant.

And it’s personal, another of our little categories, and it’s talking about something that’s a real-world thing, although maybe not quite as bad as someone being such a huge fan that they kill themselves…

Anyway, another small thing, much like Stan, is that this song features a build-up. You can tell he’s angry here, but he’s not furious. More just annoyed. Now, we’re going to look at a chorus and the next proper verse so we can see him switching to angrily informing this arrogant fan about the realities of this whole “sell-out” idea:


All you know about me is what I’ve sold ya, dumb fuck

I sold out long before you’d ever even heard my name

I sold my soul to make a record, dipshit

And then you bought one


All you read and wear or see and hear on TV

Is a product begging for your fat-ass, dirty dollar

Shut up and buy, buy, buy my new record

And buy, buy, buy, send more money


You can feel the anger mounting, especially nearing the end there, where he repetitively uses the word “buy” to tell this fan he dislikes to buy, buy, buy. The anger mounts and then culminates in four repeated lines:


Fuck you, buddy

Fuck you, buddy

Fuck you, buddy

Fuck you, buddy


He does, in the actual song, stretch these syllables out so it isn’t like I’ve read them above. But this is an angry, repetitive, swearing-filled barrage directed at this random fan who believes he’s better than the band he considers himself to be a fan of.

This song makes fantastic use of repetition and swearing. Confronting these kinds of people in a direct way. There’s no metaphor here. There doesn’t need to be a metaphor. Much like with Stan, you don’t need metaphorical language to convey stuff like this. He’s saying something very simple: fuck people like this.

The next song also uses repetition, but a little differently.


Killing in the Name – Rage Against the Machine (1992):

Before we get started, this song actually has very few lyrics. They are repeated over and over again to make a point. They want you to hear these words, internalise them and understand them. They are delivered angrily, so we check that box, they are deeply confrontational, lyrically simple, they proclaim a fact about our world, and they are both metaphorical and direct.

The reason I say it’s metaphorical and direct is because they never explicitly say certain words, but the metaphor is very easy to see. It requires no interpretation really. But let’s just jump straight into it. Here’s the first two proper lines:


Some of those that work forces

Are the same that burn crosses


Alright so… who works forces? The police. Who burns crosses? The KKK. So, what they’re saying is: some of the people who work for the police are also genocidal racists. Simple, to the point, and if you were someone who liked this song and never realised that it was about how terrible the police are, then… I don’t know what to tell you. It was always very obvious.

This is then repeatedly shouted. They want you to know this. They want you to very much understand that the police are racists. This song was written in response to the Rodney King incident, trial and ensuing riot, but you could probably imagine that this song could apply to more recent events too, because the police in the United States have never stopped being that way.

The police are not that way everywhere, but they do tend to be power-crazed assholes wherever they are, even if they are a little less racist in some countries. But anyway, this song cannot really be detached from the reality of the outside world. It’s very much about real-world police brutality. It’s a protest song, but unlike a lot of the sad protest songs from the sixties, this is furious, this is pissed off.

Even the name asks us a question: what are they killing in the name of?

It then shifts to the next section, and it just repeats this line with a few variations in exact phrasing:


Now you do what they told ya


I wonder who they’re talking about when they say “ya”. Probably us. We who do as the police command because we’re afraid we might be assaulted by them if we do otherwise. Well, if you’re black and in America, it might be worse than assault, but fear of the police is everywhere. Who knows when one might snap and hit you for being impolite to them, and so you… do what they tell you.

You don’t backchat, you don’t be impolite, you never act rude, and you always do as they say. They have the authority to arrest you, and if you’re a bit rude to them then who says they won’t magically find some cocaine on you? Or something else they’ve planted. With lyrics like this, with a line that is repeated 24 times, I think we understand that the police can use their authority to do some bad things to us. Which is probably cause for us to be angry, much like the band is angry about it.

It then repeats this line multiple times:


Those who died are justified

For wearing the badge, they’re the chosen whites


Another very un-subtle set of lines. Their murders are justified because they wear the badge, and they are the chosen whites. I don’t think this point needs to be reinforced further because it’s rather obvious but uh… I think they’re saying the police in the United States are an inherently racist institution. Maybe.

From here on, these lines are interchangeably repeated over and over again, to reinforce this idea, and it ends with a barrage that makes that ending bit of Hooker with a Penis seem tame in comparison. This following line is repeated 16 times in a row:


Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me


That one’s said sixteen times, and then they say the next word to just end it off:




This line is also shouted. Quite angrily, I might add.

And that caps off the song. It uses repetition to reinforce their message, a message that needs to be understood because the police, you know, suck, and should probably be dismantled and replaced. But there are plenty of videos out there that will talk about that idea. We’re here to talk about music today!

So, as you can see, the use of repetition and a fuck-filled delivery show how anger can be directed towards very real issues that need to be addressed, issues that need to be tackled head on. Now, the last song we’re going to look at is also about the police. So, let’s get to it:


Fuck Tha Police – NWA (1988):

Before we get started on this classic, the song makes use of a lot of slurs, slurs that I will not be saying. They are, however, there, as is quite prevalent in rap. In addition, there is a homophobic slur which I will also not be saying and is probably my biggest criticism of the song. It was an unnecessary addition to a song that otherwise has a rather lovely message. Well… a violence-fuelled message, but hey, fuck the police.

So, the basic setup for the song is that it is a court case between the members of NWA and the police department. The various members of the group come forward to give their testimony against the police and at the end the police are found guilty. It is an inversion of what you’d expect… obviously. The cops are on trial instead of the gangsters rapping about killing them.

Anyway, the sections between each of these verses deserve some attention. They depict an act of police brutality or racial profiling, such as a cop pulling one of them over and arresting them for no reason. These sections are acted out in a non-musical way. The court-case sections are similar. They are not musical and are instead simply a demonstration of the police doing terrible things to black people.

Those in-between sections are probably the biggest evidence, as they show the police being racist. Whereas the rapped verses are a little more… violent. They show the speakers wanting to be just as violent as the police are to them. The confrontational nature, threat of violence, glorification of violence, abundant use of swearing and the direct way in which it is conveyed, indicate a very real-world anger. They have been personally attacked by these kinds of events, and they are, understandably, furious about it.

However, unlike many of the other songs we’ve thus far looked at, their confrontational nature about it leads to a much harsher message. They like to talk about killing cops. But before we get to those threats of violence, let’s look at some of the verses that show some of the issues that these men are rapping about. And these lines and verses are not in any particular order and are taken from throughout the song, and they are also somewhat censored when they use slurs. So, let’s look at the first batch.


[I’ve] got it bad ’cause I’m brown

And not the other color, so police think

They have the authority to kill a minority


But don’t let it be a black and a white one

‘Cause they’ll slam ya down to the street top

Black police showing out for the white cop


Pulling out a silly club, so you stand

With a fake-ass badge and a gun in your hand


Alright, so these lines are obviously, angrily, referencing how cops are racist and how that then manifests as violence towards black people. They even mention how black cops will be racist because they need to fit in with the racist system they’re in. They are informing and reinforcing, through confrontational, expletive-filled lines, that the police are awful and that they are not on the side of minorities. They are there to reinforce the rule of the hegemonic majority and the wealthy interests behind them.

Here’s some more lines:


Fuckin’ with me ’cause I’m a teenager

With a little bit of gold and a pager

Searchin’ my car, lookin’ for the product


Lights start flashing behind me

But they’re scared of a [person], so they mace me to blind me


These show the profiling aspect behind cops. They already assume a black person will be dangerous and/or dealing drugs. They have already condemned these people. The police are not on their side, the police are there to keep them oppressed and to use violence whenever they sense any kind of aggression or “misbehaviour” from minorities.

And now we get to their response to the way the police treat them. If the cops use violence against them, well then they will just praise and encourage violence against the cops. And you can see that in a multitude of lines, like these:


We can go toe-to-toe in the middle of a cell


Beat a police out of shape

And when I’m finished, bring the yellow tape

To tape off the scene of the slaughter


Ice Cube will swarm

On any motherfucker in a blue uniform


And when I’m finished, it’s gonna be a bloodbath

Of cops dying in L.A.


But take off the gun so you can see what’s up

And we’ll go at it, punk, and I’ma fuck you up


I’m a sniper with a hell of a scope

Takin’ out a cop or two, they can’t cope with me


Without a gun and a badge, what do you got?

A sucker in a uniform waiting to get shot

By me or another [individual]


Some like to shy away from violence against those who perpetrate violence, and even if you believe that there should be a peaceful solution to the whole problem of cops using their authority to kill people, no one can say you’re right or wrong. Violent and non-violent revolution have both yielded results. However, even if you believe in a non-violent approach to protesting the police, you can probably understand the anger that spills out of these people.

And that is something that anger can do. It can be relatable. For instance, it’s very understandable why someone might want to punch a nazi. You may disagree with the action itself, but you can certainly understand the anger that led to that violent action.

In the same way, you can understand NWA’s anger towards the police, and that’s why it makes complete sense. Within all the fury, the threats of violence and the multitude of examples laid out for why they hate the police, there is reason. It makes sense.

It makes sense to be angry. It’s natural to be angry. And maybe musicians from more genres should try and adopt anger in their music.


Concluding remarks:

I think I’ve kinda said everything that needs to be said. Anger makes sense. It’s something we all feel and it’s something that needs to be let out. You can argue that angry music like this can lead to real-world violence. Maybe it sometimes does. Maybe it usually doesn’t. But if someone, for instance, kills someone and it turns out they listen to Metallica, maybe it isn’t the music that caused them to kill someone, but rather the material circumstances they found themselves in. The music was just a way to vent the anger until it could no longer be contained. So, maybe the solution isn’t getting rid of angry music, but rather fixing the things in society that may make us angry in the first place.