Escapism in Summer

In her debut album, Pure Heroine, released at age 16, musical artist Lorde grapples with a variety of topics, including youth, fame, social status, materialism, and mainstream culture. She explores her experience of youth in her song “Buzzcut Season,” imparting this experience through various poetic and literary devices, including understatements and overstatements, personification, metonymy, imagery, and metaphors. The theme Lorde constructs in “Buzzcut Season” is that summer is an escape among adolescents, allowing them to abandon school and the intimidating real world that is approaching and instead live in a suspended state of carefree bliss, however, an undertone of fear persists nonetheless. 

In the beginning lines, Lorde references when she accidentally set fire to a friend’s hair in a school science class, writing “I remember when your head caught flame/It kissed your scalp and caressed your brain.” Lorde then writes “you laughed, baby, it’s okay/It’s buzzcut season anyway.” In this situation, buzzcut season is a metonym for summer. The school year is coming to a close, and the flame gives the friend a taste of the warmth of summer. This is conveyed through the personification of the flame caressing and kissing, indicating it is a comforting force. Being set on fire is downplayed and brushed off here because the students have summer into which they can escape their current pains, such as being burned, so these pains are largely insignificant, seeing as they will disappear soon. Additionally, the friend having their hair set on fire only takes them closer to summer because they can shave it off to enter buzzcut season. 

Lorde then shifts to life during summer, with “Explosions on TV/And all the girls with heads inside a dream/So now we live beside the pool/Where everything is good.” The line “Explosions on TV,” which directly follows the line “It’s buzzcut season anyway,” introduces a new meaning of buzzcut season. The explosions convey the hardships and seriousness of real life, viewed only through a TV by the teens because they are not yet exposed, however, their participation in buzzcut season expresses that they, with their shaved heads, will soon join the war of the world. Following this daunting message, Lorde writes of girls’ heads inside a dream, meaning they, including Lorde, are escaping the world to spend their summer in a dream. Overstatements of them living “beside the pool,” where “everything is good,” communicate their abandonment of their responsibilities in the summer, solely immersing themselves in fun activities. This carefree behavior, like the metaphorical “dream” they are in, is unsustainable though. 

Later in the song, Lorde shifts her tone, writing “Cola with the burnt-out taste/I’m the one you tell your fears to/There’ll never be enough of us.” Cola is a summer drink, and its burnt-out taste conveys the bitterness lingering in one’s mouth as the illusion of an endless, joyful summer begins fizzling out. This also connects to the flame at the beginning of the song, which was ignited with the arrival of summer, but now cola accompanies its burning out. With summer’s illusion dying, fears surface because they are no longer able to be suppressed. To limit their acknowledgement to preserve summer for as long as possible, they are expressed in confidence to very few people. Ultimately, however, Lorde recognizes that there are “never…enough of us,” us being carefree adolescents, so escaping into buzzcut season is only a temporary luxury that will soon no longer be available. 

Lorde closes the song with returning to summer as an escape from difficulties and responsibilities. She writes, “The men up on the news/They try to tell us all that we will lose/But it’s so easy in this blue/Where everything is good.” The formidable real world, or the “men up on the news,” threatens to remove Lorde and her friends from their summer fun by exposing its unsustainability and its deviation from reality, however, they maintain their approach of “nothing’s wrong when nothing’s true.” These adolescents choose to deny the fact that they cannot avoid their mounting responsibilities forever because “It’s so easy in this blue/Where everything is good.” “This blue” is a metaphor for summer, and it also ties into the motif of pools the adolescents live beside during summer. While the exaggeration that “everything is good” applies when floating unburdened in water, one must eventually come to land so as not to drown. For now though, as the final line “I live in a hologram with you” implies, Lorde and her friends will prolong their transient, blissful hologram that is summer (metaphor) for as long as possible. 

A Beneficial Apocalypse

In the political climate of many of today’s wealthier nations, the attitude toward migrants and refugees of war, especially from what are considered third world nations, is hostile and exclusionary. Migrants are often viewed as corrupting forces in these places due to hailing from countries afflicted with war, poverty, or other poor conditions, and in his novel Exit West, author Mohsin Hamid challenges these prejudiced notions. After the protagonists of the novel, Saeed and Nadia, arrive in London as refugees from a war-torn country, they experience nativist backlash against their presence. Hamid, with a conversation between Saeed and Nadia, relates the reason for this opposition to migrants in first world countries. Saeed says he can understand London’s reaction to the migrant influx, asking Nadia to imagine if “millions of people from all over the world suddenly arrived” in one’s home, to which Nadia responds “Millions arrived in our country.” Saeed then argues “That was different” because “Our country was poor. We didn’t feel we had as much to lose” (164). Through this interaction, one understands that people of wealthier nations are keen to preserve domestic prosperity, and when a number of poorer individuals from struggling regions of the globe seek residence in a place like London, the natives become protective of their successful society, thinking the migrants will detract from their riches. They, as a result, attempt to drive the migrants away. After presenting these fears of the members of first world nations, Hamid then illustrates what actually happens when migrants, such as Saeed and Nadia, are integrated into the societies they seek entry to.  

In Marin, a suburb of San Francisco that Saeed and Nadia and numerous other migrants settled in, an onset of depression occurred, this depression being a “failure to imagine a plausible desirable future for oneself” (217). Helpless against the flow of newcomers and uncertain as to how their region would fare with the incoming foreign influence, the people of the Bay Area became dispirited and anxious for their futures. However, “while the changes were jarring they were not the end, and life went on, and people found things to do and ways to be and people to be with” (217). Life in Marin continued, and its residents adapted to the new circumstances, integrating and becoming familiar with each other. The “apocalypse” of a migrant influx “appeared to have arrived and yet it was not apocalyptic”; in fact, “plausible desirable futures began to emerge” (217). With amalgamation, Marin rose out of its depression, because everyone slowly became comfortable with the evolution of their city, and they were once again able to imagine desirable futures for themselves. With additional time, “there was a great creative flowering in the region” (217). Through this narration of the interaction between Marin’s natives and its arriving migrants, Hamid describes the reality of accepting migrants into one’s homeland: everyone will adapt to the shifts in society, and life will proceed with success attainable for all. Therefore, unlike the preconceived notions of many insinuate, migration is not an apocalyptic event, and in general, it serves to enhance a society by enriching it with new perspectives, giving rise to a creative flowering for all to benefit from.

France, Algeria, and Salamano’s Dog

Throughout The Stranger, there is an obvious divide between the Europeans and the Arabs, and it is often hostile, as would be expected considering the context of the story, where Algeria is a colony of France. While reading the story, I felt like Salamano and his dog could be an allegory for this relationship between an imperious France and a subjugated Algeria. I gathered this idea through the various interactions between Salamano and his dog, one of which was where Salamano noted that before the dog got sick, “‘His coat was the best thing about him.’” Meursault goes on to narrate that “Every night and every morning after the dog had gotten that skin disease, Salamano rubbed him with ointment. But according to him, the dog’s real sickness was old age” (45). The fact that the dog was initially healthy with a nice coat, but through living with Salamano had its “hair fall out” and became “covered with brown sores and scabs” (26), which Salamano falsely attributes to old age, indicates that Salamano’s abuse is the true cause of the dog’s condition. It is mentioned that the dog has the skin disease mange, but the unhealthy, abusive environment it is subject to is what gave rise to its poor condition, which Salamano unsuccessfully attempts to alleviate with ointment. A comparison can be drawn between this situation and that of France and Algeria, where France brought Algeria under its control, causing great damage to the colony due to excessive violence and exploitation of its land. France then did not take responsibility for the scabs and sores it caused Algeria just as Salamano blamed his dog’s scabs and sores on old age, and France pretended to have a positive impact on its colony through introducing its culture, as did Salamano when administering his dog ointment. Another section where the dog and Salamano seemed to be symbols for Algeria and France was when Meursault was describing Salamano’s walks with his dog: “the dog pulling the man along until old Salamano stumbles. Then he beats the dog and swears at it. The dog cowers and trails behind. Then it’s the old man who pulls the dog. Once the dog has forgotten, it starts dragging its master along again” (27). Here, the dog has the natural inclination to break free from Salamano, however, whenever it attempts to do so, Salamano pulls it back under his domination, punishing it for trying to achieve liberty just as France did to Algeria when it showed resistance to being a colony. In these and other examples, the dynamic between Salamano and his dog seems as though it could be a symbol for that of France and Algeria in the time period of The Stranger.

Darkenfloxx™=Darkened Flocks?

In the concluding paragraphs of Escape from Spiderhead, there is recurring imagery of birds, and I found it significant and interesting. It begins while Jeff is dying, and the birds “were manifesting as the earth’s bright-colored nerve endings, the sun’s descent urging them into activity, filling them individually with life nectar, the life nectar then being passed into the world, out of each beak, in the form of that bird’s distinctive song, which was, in turn, an accident of beak shape, throat shape, breast configuration, brain chemistry: some birds blessed in voice, others cursed; some squawking, others rapturous,” (80). As the birds release their “life nectar” into the world, Jeff chooses to die, and, “From across the woods, as if by common accord, birds left their trees and darted upward. I joined them, flew among them, they did not recognize me as something apart from them, and I was happy, so happy, because for the first time in years, and forevermore, I had not killed, and never would,” (81).

Towards the beginning of this extended imagery, the birds were described as delivering their “life nectar” through “bright-colored nerve endings” into the world. This implies that every bird is an integral part of the world that makes it what it is, because each releases a bright, nectar-filled nerve from its beak, producing a unique, distinct mark on the world visible to all. This is the case for Jeff, and one of the greatest impacts he made on the world, or one of the primary components of his nectar was that he had murdered someone. This was viewed by others as one of his defining characteristics, and as a result, due to shame and regret and not wanting to fortify this image by being complicit in Rachel’s murder, he wanted to dissociate himself from his nectar, or his life as a whole. Consequently, he chose to die, and from there, joined the flock of darkened, lifeless birds who had released the entirety of their nectar into the world and having none left to supply, flew away from earth, and with it, their mark on it. This was his cause for great happiness at the end of the story, because he realized that he would no longer be associated with, nor would he be able to fuel his murderous nectar that he abandoned on earth. Jeff opted for death via Darkenfloxx™, meaning he chose to become part of the flocks of darkened birds that no longer reside on earth. This is my interpretation of the potential source of the name Darkenfloxx™.