Rebecca Black's 'Friday': A libertarian allegory
The wildly popular music video, about adolescents who are excited for the weekend, illustrates the banality of life for anyone trapped in a state-run institution
This is the institutional blog of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and many of its affiliated writers and scholars commenting on economic affairs of the day.
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Was it shared and watched so wildly because it was so bad? Certainly the overwhelming judgment on the part of viewers is that it is atrocious — and yet it is hard to know what that means, since 85 million people not only watched the video but also downloaded the song, bought the ring tone, and devoured every available bit of news about the singer and the song.
Using the principle of "demonstrated preference," this music video ranks as the most popular in human history.
Perhaps it is the digital-age version of Mel Brooks's smash Broadway play The Producers, a story about an attempt to write a play so bad that it flops on the first night. But, in Brooks's hilarious telling, the results were the opposite: the play was so bad that it was brilliant, and it became a smash success, however inadvertently.
Lovers of liberty are often drawn to such scenarios because they highlight the unknowability of the future, the unpredictability of human choice, and the way in which the intentions of the planners (in this case, the producers and writers) are easily upended by consumer choice, which is the driving force of economic progress.
The Producers-like irony is deepened in the case of Black's "Friday" video because it was not intended as a parody or an attempt to create a flop. That makes it all the more brilliant as a a piece of viral art. It somehow captured an archetype of bubblegum pop but with innocence and the absence of an edge.
Kids say it is awful and they hate it. They do not, despite what they say. Teens often claim to hate what they really love — as only a passing familiarity with teen romance patterns illustrates. The girl who can't stop talking about the guy she hates is surely protesting too much.
Musically, the song wouldn't seem to offer that much, but I would point out that its word play is not entirely conventional. The repeated placement of a three-syllable word "partying" into a duple metric creates some off-accent downbeats that are not entirely intuitive.
Far more significant is the underlying celebration of liberation that the day Friday represents. The kids featured in the video are of junior-high age, a time when adulthood is beginning to dawn and, with it, the realization of the captive state that the public school represents.
From the time that children are first institutionalized in these tax-funded cement structures, they are told the rules. Show up, obey the rules, accept the grades you are given, and never even think of escaping until you hear the bell. If you do escape, even peacefully of your own choice, you will be declared "truant," which is the intentional and unauthorized absence from compulsory school.