Music Poetry: A Defence of Song 33

I saw a demon on my shoulder, it's lookin' like patriarchy
Like scrubbin' blood off the ceiling and bleachin' another carpet
How my house get haunted?

Within the first lines that Noname sings in her 1-minute and 9-second single titled Song 33, released in June of 2020, it is clear that the upcoming song will be nothing short of a masterpiece. Song 33 was written and released during the peak of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests centered around the police murder of George Floyd. The main topic covered within this song, however, is the disproportionately common and infrequently-covered murders and disappearances of women of color, more specifically black women who, while being 13 percent of the female population, accounted for 35 percent of all missing women in 2020.

Within these first 3 lines, Noname has already constructed a full image of the message she is trying to send within her art. She begins by describing the patriarchy, the system that upholds the racial and gender inequalities that cause and maintain both this lack of coverage and increased disappearance rate, as a demon on her shoulder, an evil force constantly influencing her and other people’s actions, while being impossible to get away from. Next, she references cleaning up a murder scene and acting like said murder never happened, much like how society tries to cover up and ignore these missing black women, assisting in the crime through inaction.

Why Toyin body don't embody all the life she wanted? A baby, just 19 
… 

One girl missin', another one go missin' One girl missin', another

Noname continues this theme throughout the rest of the first verse by mentioning the murder of Oluwatoyin Salau, a Black Lives Matter activist from Tallahassee, Florida, who, at the age of 19, was found dead one week after being reported missing. Just hours earlier she had Tweeted about a sexual assault she had endured. Her story got relatively little coverage and Noname is pointing out an abundance of stories like Oluwatoyin’s. Then, in the closest thing to a chorus within the song, Noname repeats, “one girl missin’, another one go missin’”. This use of anaphora, both in the line itself and in its repetition between every verse, works to both make the line stick out and stay with the reader and also creates a parallel with the way how society treats these women, not as people with lives, but as inconsequential losses.

But n****s in the back, quiet as a church mouse
…
It's time to go to work, wow, look at him go
He really 'bout to write about me when the world is in smokes?
When it's people in trees?
When George was beggin' for his mother, saying he couldn't breathe
You thought to write about me?

After the anaphoric chorus, Noname proceeds to call out the silence she has noticed from other artists, comparing them to a church mouse, a clever simile using two words strongly associated with quiet while simultaneously sending the message that if just one starts making noise about this issue, or squeaking, it will, because it is surrounded by silence, be heard by many. She then digs deeper, further examining the tendency rappers around her have of writing about each other rather than about issues within society. It could also be argued that Noname is speaking about the media, of reporters writing about celebrities and media personalities while glossing over the actual problems that people around the world are affected by.

After another chorus of repetition of “one girl missin’, another one go missin’”, Noname continues,

Yo, but little did I know, all my readin' would be a bother
It's trans women bein' murdered, and this is all he can offer?

And this the new world order
We democratizin' Amazon, we burn down borders

Here, in the last verse, Noname partially expands her focus, bringing up the murders of trans women, in this context, she is clearly focusing on black trans women, who are even more disproportionately likely to go missing or be murdered. She then transitions off of focusing on the present and shares her idea of a better future. Clearly, she believes that the only way to stop this issue- to get the demon off her shoulder- is to rebuild the system in which we live. She speaks about how we are “democratizing Amazon”, both a reference to growing support and numbers of unions within large corporations like Amazon and the idea of giving more power to the workers of a company. Proceeding this, she mentions burning down borders. This could be taken in multiple ways, either abolishing the physical borders between countries for a freer world or abolishing the metaphorical borders that separate people into groups- gender, race, class, sexuality, etc.

Song 33 is not only a great song but a deep, complicated piece of poetry. In the chapter “What is Poetry?” within the book Perrine’s Sound + Sense: An Introduction to Poetry, by Laurence Perrine, he defines poetry as “a kind of language that says more and says it more intensely than does ordinary language.” Simply, poetry is an art that translates a complicated thought and/or feeling into a shorter but no less complicated or emotionally intelligent volume of language. If Song 33 does not match this definition I do not know what does. Within only 1 minute and 9 seconds and a total of 3 distinct verses of 7-8 lines, Noname is able to distill not only powerful messages surrounding current societal issues but her own picture of a better, more equal world into a truly moving song.

The Stranger and the Hypocrisy of Capital Punishment

Within the novel, The Stranger, by Albert Camus, the reader is transported to 1940s Algiers to witness the crime and eventual death sentence of its main character, Meursault, who murders a man after he had attacked him and two friends. While the book very intriguingly focuses on existentialism through Meursaults failure to conform to society and the true happiness that is awarded to him because of this lack of conformity, there is another social commentary within the book that may easily be overshadowed by this analysis of existence itself.

Throughout the second part of The Stranger a secondary discussion may begin to reveal itself to the reader. That is: whether or not capital punishment is morally permissible. Rather interestingly, this topic is not brought up in any way by Meursault or anybody else within the story. Instead, Camus rather interestingly inserts bits of information throughout Meursault’s trial that, when viewed together, combine into clear hypocrisy. Halfway through Meuraults trial, after the prosecutor has spoken, Camus writes, “Before hearing from my lawyer [the judge] would be happy to have me state precisely the motives for my actions. Fumbling a little with my words and realizing how ridiculous I sounded, I blurted out that it was because of the sun. People laughed. My lawyer threw up his hands, and immediately after that he was given the floor.” Additionally, while listening to his lawyer speak about the events leading up to and during the murder, Meursault thinks to himself, “I was assailed by memories of a life that wasn’t mine anymore… the jury would not send an honest, working man to his death because he had lost control of himself for one moment”(103-4). Meursault’s claim about shooting the man because of the sun is immediately written off by not only the judge and prosecutor but even his lawyer. It is viewed as so absurd that it sparks laughter in the court and he is immediately told to sit back and not say anything else. The court, and society as a whole, clearly hold murder up as a major crime and believe that someone who commits it must have an equally major reason behind it. This is why his lawyer spins this crime into the result of a violent, vengeful outburst from Meursault over the harm of a friend. Even after it is signaled that this reasoning is believed by the jury, Meursault is still convicted and sentenced to death.

This raises the question– if murder is still viewed as immoral, even when it is done as a result of a crime that the victim committed, why then, is capital punishment perceived as moral? This is where Camus displays the greatest example of hypocrisy relating to the topic. Meursault’s committing a “vengeful” murder is illegal and results in him receiving the death penalty, effectively government-approved, vengeful murder. A lone type of murder that is totally legal. Since it is established that murder, even out of revenge, is morally reprehensible, it would only make sense for capital punishment to be viewed in the same way.

Good Country People: A Critique of Nihilism

In the short story “Good Country People” by author Flannery O’Connor, the story’s main character is Joy Hopewell, a well-educated 32-year-old woman with an artificial leg. She has a heart condition that forces her to live at home with her religious mother, meanwhile, Joy has earned a doctorate in philosophy and constantly must remind her mom that she does not believe in a god. Ironically, while her given name contains positive words like joy, hope, and well, Joy is described physically as large, bitter, and angry. She is also very sarcastic, mocking her mother and farmhand, Mrs. Freeman, without their realization. Joy has also changed her name to Hulga, an act of rebellion clearly done in order to symbolize the control she has in her own life.

The negative characteristics given to Hulga stem from her nihilistic view of life. The expression on her face is described as one of “constant outrage” and in response to a shallow yet cheery remark made by her mother she yells, “We are not our own light!”(4). A nihilist phrase meaning there is no purpose in life.

When Manley Pointer, a bible salesman, staggers into their house, Hulga’s mom, Mrs. Hopewell, is won over by his simplistic phrases and both mother and daughter describe him as a “good country boy”. By the end of the visit, Manley is able to seduce Hulga.

The ironic seduction scene in the previously mentioned barn explains the true nature of Hulga’s beliefs as they crash around her. For the first time, she realizes the evil of nihilism and the damage nihilism incurs. The central irony of the story is that Hulga claims to be a nihilist, but is not. She begins to embrace Manley, “kissing him again and again as if she were trying to draw all the breath out of him” (9). She has “never been kissed,” implying that she has never had trust or companionship, which is logical for someone who will not believe in anything. Very quickly, Hulga begins to almost trust his outward Christian worldview. Manley then asks for her leg, which shocks her. He explains that her leg is the most important feature of her. She is moved and gives the leg to him. After years of studying, earning a doctorate, and expressing the beliefs of nihilism, after just two visits from Manley, his “beliefs” have won her over. She dreamily imagines a wonderful future where she can run away with him. Hulga’s nihilistic atheism is pushed aside, and her life suddenly contains meaning. However, after asking for the leg back, the story’s tone shifts from one of trust to one of panic.

To this request, Manley tells her to wait and takes a bible out of his suitcase. When he opens it, this bible is revealed to be hollow, with a flask of whisky, obscene cards, and some sort of birth control in it. Hulga is understandably stunned and asks if he is a “good country people”(10). She pleads with him to be innocent, to meet her need for love which atheism does not fulfill. She begins to recognize her own beliefs in their personified form, and suddenly wants the Christian ideals she has mocked for years.

Manley becomes angry as he realizes that she thinks herself superior to him and begins to leave. If Hulga was a genuine nihilist she would believe that due to the meaninglessness of life, one has no reason to be hurt by such a turn of events. Manley leaves, stealing her leg and mocking her, saying, “I been believing in nothing ever since I was born!” (10). An echo of the beliefs she preached at the beginning of the story. She has finally faced her own views and they have ruined her life.

While I disagree with many of the beliefs that O’Conner expresses through this story, mainly her clear dislike of atheism, with the two atheist characters either lacking basic morals or being sad, angry people until they find a good Christian to show them the “correct” set of beliefs. That being said, I agree with many of her criticisms of nihilism with its overfocus on the meaningfulness of life and inherent sentiment of superiority over others.

An Analysis Of Jessica Benjamin

According to the philosophies of Freud a person has two distinct breaks in their childhood, one from their mother and one from their father. In Bonds of Love, Jessica Benjamin argues otherwise. Instead, she argues, this connective break does not factor into the need to connect to others but instead, the discovering of self in the connection to others. Benjamin expresses her belief that it is not a binary issue, disconnected or connected, but rather a need to have an almost paradoxical balance of interconnectedness and separation

I definitely understand her theory and definitely agree with her thinking. Broadly, as a theory built upon the theories of Freud, I think she fills in the holes of his theories and effectively stretches them to not only apply to men but to women as well. First of all, her analysis of the binaries that show up in human society is spot on, in my opinion, and I think the way that we not only put ourselves into such binaries but put others into those same binaries separates us from those we therefore characterize as “different” or possibly “less than”. While, as humans, we rely on and are evolved to need socialization and connection, it is also very important for us to see ourselves as individuals who do not belong in the same category as others.

We cannot all embody the same societal roles, therefore, we feel we must differentiate ourselves from others through binaries- man, woman, employee, boss. While that disconnection is healthy, we have too effectively separated ourselves from others and have lost the mutual recognition we crave. By living in and accepting such binaries we are distancing ourselves from the mutual recognition of “us” and “other”. I would take these lessons and urge others to at least consider and understand the binaries that are ingrained in society and try to go against the urge to follow them. While I believe it is impossible to fully separate ourselves from all binaries- society is too powerful and binaries are too ingrained in us to allow for such a separation- the closest we can get is recognizing and fighting against as many as we can.