A Case For “Ultraviolence”

Lana Del Rey is my favorite single recording artist in music but she’s also very controversial. Many of her songs are implicitly or explicitly dark and have to do with themes of violence, pride, suicide, among many others along that line. However, what her music is, is real and unique…And I appreciate that. One of my top three songs from her is the title track from her 2014 album “Ultraviolence”. While the album was popular overall, the song has been most panned by critics, but has a huge “cult” following.

Ultraviolence¬†is a simple song with not much interpretation or exegesis required. The song is about a woman infatuated with a man named “Jim” who is physically abusive to her to the point of having either cops or ambulances called to rescue her from the violence he inflicts on her.

She sings in the chorus:

With his Ultraviolence
Ultraviolence
Ultraviolence
Ultraviolence
I can hear sirens, sirens
He hit me and it felt like a kiss
I can hear violins, violins
Give me all of that Ultraviolence

I bolded that one line in the chorus because that’s the nexus of the criticism against the song. Essentially, people say Del Rey is glorifying violence without holding “Jim” to account in her lyrics by basically saying his violence felt good. I feel this criticism is shallow and ignores Lana’s intent. She’s doing a couple things here, one she’s displaying the reality of “Stockholm Syndrome” (for the lack of a better term) which applies when people sympathize with their abusers. This is a heartbreaking, unfortunate, part of abuse and while it might be more comfortable to us as listeners if Del Rey ignored the fact that women (for a variety of reasons) stick with an abusive relationship – it wouldn’t reflect that many abusive relationships do continue, at least for a period, despite the violence.

Also though, with her lack of explanation she’s efforting to not be preachy with her listeners. She’s presenting the scenario of this woman being abused, which is really unsettling:

Jim raised me up
He hurt me but it felt like true love
Jim taught me that
Loving him was never enough

She’s bold; however, in that she’s not telling her listeners what to conclude either – she’s letting them come to a conclusion about this relationship and what should have been done. This elevates it to the level of art, because what is art (or beauty) if not interpreted in the eye of the beholder?

The song leaves us to make our own conclusions of what should have happened to Jim. Personally, had this been a real situation and I knew about it I would have called the police on him – and make sure those sirens, sirens, rescued Lana. Other’s might have been more subtle, arranging a meeting to talk to her and implore her to leave Jim. Others might want to buy a gun and shoot Jim, others might have left her to fend for herself as she’s (ostensibly) choosing the abuse. Look, I’m not saying which of those options are right or wrong, I’m saying there is boldness in Lana Del Rey leaving the conclusion of this story open-ended so her listeners can ponder and make up their own damn mind.

For the boldness of this song, the melody (Lana’s dreamy drawl is on full display), and how she crafted it I’m give the song a solid A rating.

If you’d like to ponder this for yourself I’ve linked the music video:

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Infinity War: A Satire

This is going to go into huge spoilers for the film “Avengers: Infinity War” if you haven’t seen it and don’t want spoilers. Go away for now.

 

Seriously, you’ll want to get lost.

 

Scram.

 

Still here?

 

‘Kay.

So, Infinity War was a pleasant surprise. Not the least of which it was rated 84% on Rotten Tomatoes, which for a superhero film by Marvel, is fairly low. I expected a popcorn action blockbuster with little heart. Just a temporary sweetness that quickly subsides like my low-carb shortbread. One of my worries about the film was that it would play it safe, like Marvel tends to. That means that they would kill as few characters as possible, lower the violence to killing or random robots or mutants (well, they did kinda stock to that here), and generally keep it a PG rated film where you go home happy in knowing your characters are safe and secure.

This did not happen lol.

Indeed, Infinity War occurred as it does in the comics, comics I do not read, and so I was shocked and appalled when the main villain, Thanos, won. Thanos, having come from a planet that got destroyed through overpopulation, seems to think that the Universe could benefit from his desire to decimate half the universe. In order to do so, he has to collect all the cosmic gems that go into his “Infinity Gauntlet”, which lets him wield the power of the stones to do anything he wants. Now again I stress, Thanos won. What ended up happening was a horrific set of scenes without any music where people just started disappearing into dust. Civilians, superheroes, everyone alike. In most cases the people simply didn’t know what was going on; however, in Spider-Man’s case his death for some reason takes several seconds longer than the other characters. This lets him express a boyish fear to Tony Stark as he slowly passes to dust. The film ends with Thanos retiring to a hut looking sad for doing what he figured he had to do. Credits roll.

This places the film, taken alone, in the rare literary genre of “satire”. Satires really interest me as stories. Compared to the four great stories of literary history “comedy, romance, tragedy, and satire” – satire is the odd man out. The Ghost of Christmas Past, the creepy uncle no one talks about, take your pick. Satire is depressing and frankly, not that enjoyable! What defines the difference of satire to the other stories is that the characters go down a destructive path leading to disaster – but unlike a tragedy – there is no hope for the future. Now, Marvel probably will have another big Avengers film where somehow Thanos’ process is reversed, everyone comes back alive, yay. However, we can’t assume that despite the large contracts given out to many of the ‘dead’ superheroes, that they’ll all make it back.

It’s a bold move. Satires are not what the blockbuster audience is used to and it doesn’t provide the rewarding dopamine burst of “happy” to your brain cells like a more uplifting film would. I, myself, feel the same way with films that have dark and near-hopeless endings. A few come to mind, “Logan” which came out last year was absolutely fantastic but it ends as a tragedy. I bought Logan…It’s still shrink-wrapped, and it will be for quite some time, because I know how sad I’ll feel at the end of it. The feel is sadness, and when you have some moments to kick back with a movie – I don’t know about you – but a movie that will make me sad usually doesn’t come first to mind!

So, if we define Infinity War as a satire then what is the point of it all? I actually think it teaches a pretty good lesson that isn’t taught in life much anymore: failure. Failure happens, we’re not always going to win. Look, I personally have no shortage of self-confidence, in fact admittedly I struggle with having too much confidence and fight daily against it becoming arrogance. When you win or are lucky all the time you get complacent, feel entitled, and become stubborn and set in your ways. Failure, like a forest fire, burns but with that “burn” comes the opportunity for learning and regrowth. I’ve come to accept some failure in my life as a good thing, it humbles me and helps me think and ground myself back in reality.

The elephant in the room is that we know this satire won’t last. Soon enough the superheroes will be super and find a way to partially restore the damage Thanos has done. However, until that happens – which is likely in a few years – we can enjoy the bold move Marvel took with this film.