Taylor Swift’s “Dear John”

On October 25th, 2010 Taylor Swift released her third studio album, Speak Now. The 5th track on the album was entitled “Dear John” as an ode to Swift’s short-lived and controversial relationship with singer-songwriter John Mayer. Swift has called the song a “last email” that you send to an ex, unloading everything that was left unsaid. Some also interpret the song to be representative of a Dear John Letter, an old expression used that refers to a wife or girlfriend writing to inform a man their relationship is over. The lyrics emulate the hurt and frustration Swift felt over how she was treated by Mayer, and how she ignored the warnings she received.

And I lived in your chess game, – But you changed the rules every day

Lines 7-8

This lyric uses the comparison of their relationship to a game, with Swift claiming Mayer changed the rules to suit whatever his needs were at the time. When she didn’t please him or follow his “rules” he would lash out at her creating an extremely toxic relationship. This use of comparison is powerful because it shows the manipulation and gaslighting occurring throughout the course of an entire relationship in just two lines. These lines invest listeners right away in their relationship, and give them a clear idea of the exact conflicts taking place.

All the girls that you’ve run dry – Have tired, lifeless eyes – ‘Cause you burned them out – But I took your matches before fire could catch me, – So don’t look now, I’m shining like fireworks over your sad, empty town

Lines 29-32

The use of fire and light imagery is used to show Swift’s feelings after breaking free from Mayer. Throughout the whole song she is recalling what she escaped and how she denied him the satisfaction of ruining her like he did in his previous relationships. Fire is often associated with knowledge and the entire song is about her knowing better now, repeatedly saying “I should’ve known” at the end of each chorus. Swift, unlike the other women, was able to escape Mayer before she completely lost herself. The last line is a sort of emphasis on the overall theme of the song, that she’s better off than he is, now knowing the extent of his corruption.

Don’t you think I was too young to be messed with? – The girl in the dress wrote you a song – You should’ve known, you should’ve known – Don’t you think I was too young? You should’ve known

Lines 37-40

The repetition of the line “you should’ve known” in this final stanza solidifies Swift’s overall message of reflection and regret, while also leaving the intended listener, Mayer, with a message: that he should have known better. This line diverges slightly from the previous iterations of the chorus which end with “I should’ve known” instead. She was 19 years old at the time of their relationship and he, twelve years her senior, certainly knew better. It is only at the very end, after Swift recalls everything Mayer did to her and the lessons she learned, that she flips the message on him. The repetition reinforces the idea that Mayer is in the wrong and now that Swift understands what she went through, she places responsibility on him, not just on herself. Over and over again she emphasizes the realization, she should have listened to the warnings and seen the signs, but ultimately the blame lies with him. It is at the end of the song that Swift emphasizes the growth she achieved after their relationship, no matter how painful it was to get to that point.

Women in The Stranger and Trust

Women in The Stranger are typically being acted upon instead of making their own decisions. The main character is Meursault, a man who views love and relationships as insignificant. Because of this, women are repeatedly portrayed in negative lights. Raymond’s mistress is painted as a cheater and weak because she is repeatedly abused by him. Women and dogs are repeatedly paralleled in the text, suggesting to readers that they are seen as less human than their male counterparts.

In the movie Trust, a woman, Maria is the main character. Most of the scenes center around her and the experiences she has over the course of the movie. She begins the movie in a “Stranger” sort of portrayal. A promiscuous unmarried, pregnant woman who has been rejected and ostracized from everyone in her life. However over the course of the movie she starts to make more choices that make her a more well rounded character. She takes it upon herself to change her lifestyle, become more educated, and more independent. Trust shows that women are able to break out of the binary Camus introduces in The Stranger and participate in a world where they have more agency.

The Elephant Vanishes and Missing Persons Cases

The vanishing of the elephant without a trace and the reactions that followed in the town and the media are extremely similar to the reactions when a person goes missing in a mysterious way today. There is an obsession for a short time where a plethora of articles, media, and conversations revolve around the mystery. In The Elephant Vanishes these reactions can be seen in the original article that the author is reading and the “bewilderment” and “unclear details” of the disappearance that are discussed in the article.

In both a missing persons case and The Elephant Vanishes, there is always the mystery of motive. Why would someone steal an elephant? Did someone truly steal an elephant? Or in the case of a missing person: Why did this person simply disappear? Were they taken? Or did they disappear on their own free will? These questions often lead into further speculation and an uproar of press and articles. “Who released the elephant and how? Where have they hidden it…Everything remains shrouded in mystery”. During this first period of time there is often a surge in searches and investigations. “Hunters carrying large-bore rifles loaded with tranquilizer darts, Self-Defense Force troops, policemen, and firemen combing every square inch of the woods and hills in the immediate area”.

Then, after time, the coverage starts to fade if no further discoveries are made. “Articles like this became noticeably scarcer after a week had gone by, until there was virtually nothing”. Interest with missing person cases commonly fades after a few weeks if the person has not been found, or if there aren’t any more developments. And sadly, after a few months the general feeling is that this disappearance wouldn’t really have “any impact on society”. When the shock and intrigue wears off, people begin to realize this thing that had commandeered their thoughts, media, and conversations for weeks had no true impact on their lives. “The earth would continue its monotonous rotations, politicians would continue issuing unreliable proclamations…Amid the endless surge and ebb of everyday life, interest in a missing elephant could not last forever”. This is where most people’s thoughts end up regarding missing persons cases. It may pop into their minds every once in a while but unfortunately many of them and their stories will realize the same fate as the elephant.

Semplica Girl Diaries and Bonds of Love

I see Benjamin’s theory heavily exemplified in Semplica Girls. I see how a dynamic like the SG’s could take place within a binary like those that Benjamin identifies in Bonds of Love. If a family believes so completely that they are saving these girls, and the girls “willingly” buy into this creation, then the two continue on identifying one another by being opposites: I have money so I buy SG’s. I am a poor person and as such, my only hope at a better life is submitting to the systems in place to “help” me.

Eva is the only person achieving mutual recognition in this story, or at least beginning to. She understands herself as a human, but she also understands herself to be no different than the SG’s. As such, she recognizes the girls as human beings, and so with that understanding she decides to let them free. As the reader of these diaries, we are meant to root for the family to succeed, we want them to gain some happiness in what we (or at least I) view as an abysmal livelihood. When Eva lets the girls go, the reader is meant to be so ingrained in the binary–that these people have the power and should be able to do and buy whatever they please–we can’t even fathom what she has done. Because what she has done is the one thing Benjamin argues is so extremely difficult to do: recognize yourself and someone else as human, and have those people recognize your humanity as well.