“Just don’t ask me how I am”
Deceptively beautiful, profoundly sad, and justly acclaimed. Suzanne Vega was the first and most likely still the only singer to have huge chart hit with a song about an abused child. Some people think that that’s fundamentally not an appropriate thing to write pretty songs about, or even that the act of writing the pretty song somehow romanticizes abuse. This is a conversation that swirled around Vega’s song in 1987, and one we’re still having, on an on-and-off basis, today. It is, of course, an important conversation to have. On one hand, I concede that the haters have a good point; the tendency to romanticize abuse, violence, mental illness, addiction, disease and other problems is not a healthy one, and the idea that suffering is somehow noble and elevated is deeply harmful. Our habit of making victims into holy martyrs and perpetrators into anti-heroes may be a coping mechanism, but it distracts us, as a society, from making a concerted effort to alleviate the root causes of those harmful behaviors. On the other hand, relating to the role played by song’s like Vega’s, it is the job of good art to dredge up difficult subjects. A song about child abuse, dressed up in a nice melody, can start a conversation and inspire deep thought in people who would never bother to watch a PSA or sit down and read the statistics and case studies. It may even be of help to victims who may not be able to articulate their feelings or explain their conditions. On this subject as with many others, art and pop culture is where the real consciousness raising happens.