Tell All Your Friends I’m Awesome

I examine Taking Back Sunday's classic album "Tell All Your Friends" using the concept of Male Disposability to learn more about myself and the pop punk genre.

Taking Back Sunday’s debut album Tell All Your Friends is one of the classics in the pop punk genre and one of the most influential on my musical taste. Still, I’ve never quite understood it. I identify with the experiences its explicating, but, for me, some of the places the lyrics end up are a bit extreme. The best example is the line from “You’re So Last Summer” that plagued AOL Instant Messenger away messages during my early 20s:

The truth
is you could slit my throat
and with my one last gasping breath
I’d apologize for bleeding on your shirt.

While poignant and cleverly composed (and catchily delivered), those words have always made me uncomfortable. They lack a certain self respect, and I’ve never understood how the writer got there–until a friend introduced me to the concept of “Male Disposability.”

The easiest way to understand the concept is to think of the end of Titanic. When the boat started sinking, who had reserved spots on the lifeboats? Leonardo DiCaprio certainly didn’t. As it always is in emergency situations, the women and children were sent to the front of the line and the men went down with the ship. That standard is the one we’ve always used in emergency situations, so we repeat it without question.

I can understand giving children a reserved seat. They’re our future ™ and are unable to protect themselves. But what’s the argument for guaranteeing women the VIP Section? It can’t be that there are fewer of them in the world. It also can’t be due to greater vulnerability as we respect them as equals. Except it is because they’re supposedly in greater need of protection. Prior to civilization and industrialization women were more vulnerable than men because of child-bearing and child-rearing. And even though our culture largely recognizes that notion of inferiority as outdated, we still hold to its implication–even on a sinking product-of-industrialization such as a ship when everyone who doesn’t have a seat reserved on the life boat is equally fucked.

That explanation is a basic understanding of Male Disposability (if you want to know more, watch this video). That concept is the underlying premise for all interaction between the genders. Thus, it’s fair to apply it to try to understand “You’re So Last Summer.” But first, let’s apply it to relationships in general by returning to our Titanic example. Remember how the epic Jack and Rose romance ended? No? Here’s a meme to jog your memory:

As the movie draws to its conclusion, Rose is seen as a tragic figure, a woman who was unable to hold onto the love of her life against the forces of nature. For a second though, imagine if the character’s roles were reversed. Clinging to the tiny remains (ok, massive) of a ship, Jack tries to hold onto Rose, but the combined force of the cold and the water causes his grip to weaken. He lets her drop to her doom. If that were the ending of the movie, how do you think Jack would have been seen, as a tragic figure or as a dick who should’ve switched places with Rose? If the answer doesn’t jump to mind right away, think of how men are expected to be chivalrous. Now you’ve got it. And now for a little added fun, imagine how bad the backlash would’ve been if Jack had let go and he was the rich one.

The Rose-Jack dynamic underlies every man-woman relationship. Women are held up as intrinsically valuable, shifting the balance of power in their favor. Any woman who is at least marginally physically attractive does not have to prove she is desirable because it is taken as a given that any man will want her. In contrast, a man has to continually prove he deserves to be desired or he risks being cast aside for any of the presumed high number of alternatives. In this way, a man is always beholden to a woman’s desires.

Such a power imbalance creates major issues starting with the mere moment a man expresses attraction toward a woman by looking at her. His implicit assertion of a desire can and is often taken as an illegitimate imposition on the woman’s choice, more commonly stated as her “personhood.” (Why do you think “stare rape” has become a thing?) If she doesn’t like the fact that he is looking (looking, not leering), it is considered culturally acceptable for him to be mocked, insulted, or, at the very least, looked down upon. Thus, by simply having a preference or desire, a man is subject to pain and suffering–pain and suffering that he is not supposed to express because doing so would further disrespect the woman’s choice.

 

 

Tell All Your Friends is Taking Back Sunday’s expression of that pain and suffering that comes with being called disposable. “You’re So Last Summer,” the song I quoted to open this article and second to last track on the album, opens with a recounting of that exact experience.

She said, “Don’t,
don’t let it go to your head
Boys like you are a dime a dozen,
Boys like you are a dime a dozen.”

The “it” she doesn’t want him to build his ego based on (“let it go to [his] head”) is their time together or, in other words, her choosing him. By saying “boys like you are a dime a dozen,” she’s telling him that he’s not unique and she could have chosen any number of guys just like him. Imagine the effect on your self esteem of being told that someone’s attraction toward you was, at best, a matter of convenience. It’s pretty demeaning to be treated as if you are worthless–and pretty much the only way a woman could be more clear about calling a guy disposable would be to say, “You’re disposable.” The woman in the song still tries though:

She said,
“You’re a touch overrated.
You’re a lush, and I hate it.
But these grass stains on my knees
they won’t mean a thing.”

Obviously it’s important to reinforce that these lyrics are a poetic retelling of an experience from the guy’s perspective, but that fact is the point. This experience was so traumatic, he had to write this song about it.

In this half of the first verse, he portrays her as saying that the “grass stains on [her] knees…won’t mean a thing” because what he’s hearing is that the sex they shared meant nothing to her. It was impersonal. He makes the type of sex oral because a woman being “on her knees” is generally considered to be a sign of submission to the man, so it’s even more emasculating that that symbolic meaning doesn’t even apply. Being told he doesn’t mean anything, even sexually, is why he follows up with:

And all I (all I)
Need to know (need to know)
Is that I’m something you’ll be missing
(is that I’m something that you’re missing)

His declaration is pretty clear. He’s telling her exactly what he needs–to know he’s worthwhile. Now, there’s arguably issues here with taking your self worth from someone else’s evaluation of you, but you should be somehow worthwhile to someone you shared some type of a relationship with, even if it was just sexual. Otherwise, you were used. And the opening stanza made that fact clear when it pointed out that she didn’t see him as anything more than just another guy. Understanding how he’s been wronged, he sings about how he ought to respond:

Maybe I should hate you for this

Except he doesn’t:

Never really did ever quite get that far

Something is holding him back from rightly decrying her for her wrongs–his acceptance of what she’s told him. The only reason he wouldn’t hate her is if he believed there was truth in what she was saying. By not getting quite that far, he’s accepted his disposability. And by accepting that assessment of himself, there’s only one direction he can go–self flagellation and groveling. Here’s where the disturbing lyric enters the picture:

I’d never lie to you.
Unless I had to
I’ll do what I got to.
Unless I had to
I’ll do what I got to.
The truth
is you could slit my throat
and with my one last gasping breath
I’d apologize for bleeding on your shirt.

He swears allegiance to her by promising to never lie to her and apologizes for the consequences of her hurting him. Such statements can only come from someone lacking self respect; and the only reason for him to lack self respect is if he agrees with her that he’s disposable and her approval must be constantly earned. Her slitting his throat and him apologizing for bleeding on her is essentially an overly dramatic version of that entire conflict. She wrongs him in a major way and he still worries about what she thinks about him. And though he struggles with standing up for himself, he does accept that he has to be rid of her. Unfortunately he does it by internalizing her assessment of him:

Cause I’m a wishful thinker with the worst intentions
This will be the last chance you get to drop my name

His wishful thoughts are his desires. He envisions having a romantic and/or sexual relationship with her. His intentions are to actualize his desires. The only way for those intentions to be “the worst,” however, is if males are disposable and their intentions are impositions on women. Otherwise, their intentions would be the healthy expression of an individual attempting to find compatible intentions with another individual. Belittled and tossed aside, the singer has only one logical implication of the woman’s statement to name. Concurrently with “maybe I should hate you for this/never really did ever quite get that far” he repeats:

If I’m just bad news, then you’re a liar

Ultimately he knows that her calling him disposable (“bad news”) is her recognizing he isn’t. Why would she need to refute his desires and feelings if they were actually illegitimate? She wouldn’t, and her doing so makes her a liar, as she is implicitly acknowledging that she doesn’t really believe he’s disposable. His recognition of this fact is what causes him so much inner turmoil and why he can’t get far enough to hate her.

If he could only get her to explicitly recognize his worth, they could be together. Except he can’t, as she’s got her gun to his head. This tension that underlies most male-female relationships in modern culture is basic conflict of Tell All Your Friends, seen clearly in the signature song “Cute Without The ‘E’ (Cut From The Team).”

 

 

This track is the singer attempting to cope with being spurned harshly by the woman he loves while she seems to act as if she is above reproach. The key lyrics are the ones that contain the album name:

And will you tell all your friends
you’ve got your gun to my head?
This all was only wishful thinking.
This all was only wishful thinking.

Again, he understands that actualizing his desires was only wishful thinking. What’s important here though is how he figures it out. By saying “you’ve got your gun to my head,” he’s recognizing that she has all the power. And why does she have it? Because not only can she dispose of him at anytime, but she can tell all her friends about his “shortcomings,” ruining his chances with them as well.

He’s completely at her mercy and recognizes so over the rest of the song as he “hop[es] for the best [yet] hop[es] nothing happens,” accepts the fact that “I know you well enough to know you’ll never love me,” and bemoans his inability to “feel anything for anyone other than” her. He’s accepted his disposability and her intrinsic value. For this reason, he closes the song in a distressing and counter-intuitive manner:

I stay wrecked and jealous for this,
for this simple reason
I just need to keep you in mind
as something larger than life!

In my youth I was never able to grasp why he would want to keep her in mind as larger than life if she was so callous toward him. It’s exactly the same as apologizing for the consequences of her hurting him. Now I understand. He’s so afraid of being tossed aside like nothing that his only choice is to accept that the woman has all the power and kowtow to her control. It’s a distressing bit of circular logic. He arrives at being disposable by starting from the premise that he’s disposable.

As I mentally trace my pop punk library, the source of the genre’s fixation on girl troubles is rewriting itself into an unintentional theme. I used to wonder how so many guys could encounter the same problem. Were they all suffering from the same psychological flaw? Did they all pursue the same type of girl who wasn’t right for them? And, by extension, what did my identification with the genre say about me?

 Pop punk has always been about self-expression, combining “pop sensibility with punk ethics and work habits.” Aggression and rebellion cross with honesty and sentimentality to create a unique kind of vulnerable indignation. That term, “vulnerable indignation,” is perhaps the best two word description of Tell All Your Friends–and the best explanation as to why a lot of people find the genre off-putting.

When people call Jordan Pundik, the leader singer of pop punk heavyweight New Found Glory (my favorite band), whiny, they’re responding to more than his nasally vocal style. They’re reacting to his belting lyrics such as “This song is for stupid girls who think that every boy is all about them” by wondering how exactly he has been treated so unfairly that he deserves to be angry. Everyone gets their heart broken, right? Yes, but not everyone is treated like they’re no different from every other guy. Surely that experience is one that women who have dealt with “players” can sympathize with.

Male Disposability is just another form of collectivism ,and being treated as a member of a group rather than yourself, regardless of your gender, can be extremely difficult–especially for a person like myself with such an individualistic streak. The genre I love has always helped me understand it’s ok to feel what I feel, think what I think, do what I do, and, most important of all, be me because I’m awesome and deserve to be proud of that fact.

Now I just understand that’s what she should tell all her friends–and I have every right to be angry if she doesn’t.

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