Friday, November 11, 2011

Katy Perry's "The One That Got Away": Is Growing Up Always Hard to Do?

Katy Perry premiered a new video today for her song "The One That Got Away."

The video fits the melodrama of the song, a tune about reminiscence of youthful love and more carefree days. 

"Used to steal your parent's liquor/And climb to the roof/Talk about our future/Like we had a clue/Never planned that one day I'd be losing you"

The video shows an old lady wandering around her gigantic house, ignoring her husband, and pining for the days of yesteryear. Most of the video is flashbacks of the life she misses: days her and her lover spent taking Polaroids, crashing parties, giving each other tattoos, and painting. In the end, the two get into an argument, he speeds off, and he wrecks the car, ending his life and any chance they'd have of making up--dooming her to always wonder "what if."

The video made me think of this Cracked article by Daniel O'Brien: 4 Pieces of Relationship Advice Movies Need to Stop Giving.

Numbers 2 and 1 on the list counter one another: "Being in a Healthy Relationship Means Not Changing Yourself at All" and "Being in a Healthy Relationship Means Changing Yourself Completely." O'Brien accuses 500 Days of Summer and How I Met Your Mother of the first offense and Knocked Up of the second. Basically, some movies suggest that you have to wait it out and find someone who will take you exactly as you are even if that's "unreliable, emotionally unavailable, and romantically disconnected" and others suggest that you have to give up "everything else I've ever cultivated throughout my entire life that has contributed to my personality." The answer, O'Brien suggests, is probably somewhere in the middle. 

And I think Perry's song/video touches upon a similar issue. 

The old woman in the video is mourning the loss of "the one that got away" and re-imagining moments with an old boyfriend. That boyfriend has become a stand in for everything else that she's given up from her past. She's now a wealthy woman whose clothes, house, and demeanor suggest that she's pretty serious and conservative. Her memories all have her young, carefree, in run-down apartments, and acting wild without caring about the consequences. The "one that got away" isn't really the man; it's the person she was before she became an adult with adult responsibilities. It's particularly difficult for her to separate, though, because the man died at that moment--forever young and carefree. She doesn't get to see him grow up and get saddled with a mortgage. He's painting on the walls and drinking other people's champagne for all eternity. It's like the question of whether Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, or any other artist who died young would have been able to maintain their allure into old age. It's a hypothetical we'll never have to test because they're trapped in that moment forever. 

All that to say that--while I like O'Brien's article about what films get wrong--I think his judgment of Knocked Up is a little off. There's a difference between "changing everything you are" and "growing up." 

I had a boyfriend in high school who used to sneak me pints of Mad Dog (we were young and broke, don't judge). We'd drink them, stay awake for 40 hours, lie on a trampoline all night long looking at stars, write goofy songs, and prank call my neighbors. 

Did I fundamentally change who I am because I don't do those things anymore? Well, I guess yes if getting a job and figuring out that Mad Dog is about the most disgusting thing you can drink risk fundamental character traits. But if what made you who you are is unemployment and an affinity for cheap wine, then I think there's something more important to worry about at stake. 

In Knocked Up, Katherine Heigl's character doesn't tell Seth Rogen's character that he has to change. In fact, she tells him that he shouldn't have to change, but she also recognizes that she can't raise a child with someone who thinks that living off of the thousand bucks he has left from an accident settlement and trying to get his lazy internet pseduo-porn company to take off is a future. I think the final scene of Knocked Up says the opposite. They're driving home from the hospital to the new apartment. It's not a fancy apartment; they're joking about how they'll have to choose which gang to join so they can fit into their new neighborhood. They haven't got it all figured out, but they've recognized they need give and take and a way to cover their new responsibilities. 

That's not nearly as fun as the life Rogen's character had before: getting high all day, watching movies for nudity, and farting into his friend's pillows. But do you really want to do that forever?

Movies, music videos, songs--pop culture is full of reminiscence of childhood because it's a universal commonality. Times will never be as good as they once were, our adult selves say. Look at all that time we had on our hands, no bills to pay, life was simple. But do you know what I spent all those hours on the trampoline talking about? What life would be like when I was out on my own, my future career, my goals. 

Perry's video gives us a taste of what it might look like if tragedy struck and we lost the organic growth from one stage to the next. When the boyfriend dies in that car accident, he becomes a legend, an undying token of youth. They don't get to grow up, open checking accounts together, argue over how to load the dishwasher, and figure out that love doesn't have to be an adrenaline-fueled act of counter-culture to be real. 

And I, for one, am glad I got the chance to learn those lessons. Mad Dog tastes really, really bad. 

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