Is ‘Weird Al’ the ‘Court Jester’ for ‘America’s Twisted Brand of Capitalism’?

Imagine a movie that 1) sympathetically portrays Occupy Wall Street and 2) features songs by “Weird Al” Yankovic. If you think 1) and 2) seem incongruous, you might get an argument from writer Lynn Stuart Parramore.

In a piece that ran Wednesday on Salon and originally appeared on AlterNet, Parramore claimed that Yankovic’s recent chart-topping album, Mandatory Fun, contains a “deeply moral theme…about how capitalism’s servants — narcissism, greed, vulgarity, and all-around douchiness — have to carry out its orders to beat us into a pulverized pulp of compliance.” She also exulted that in one of her favorite tracks, “Al skewers the corporate capitalism which promised us all the wonders of efficiency, harmony and prosperity, only to deliver us to Dilbert’s cubicle of despair.” From Parramore’s story (emphasis added):


Looks like something’s percolating in pop culture, revealing our growing discontent with America’s twisted brand of capitalism…So we’re starting to gravitate toward artists who confront our slow-boiling anxiety. If death-obsessed pop siren Lana Del Rey (whose “Ultraviolence” album topped the charts earlier in July) is the zombie bride of capitalism, Weird Al is the court jester…

…With “Mandatory Fun,” Weird Al takes his rightful place among those who have explored our strained relationship with the American dream, forcing us to grapple with its contradictions and disappointments. From Charlie Chaplin up through the Yes Men, Russell Brand and Stephen Colbert, these clear-eyed tricksters have connected us to our pain and channeled our collective revulsion…

In “First World Problems,” done in the style of the Pixies, Al takes on our bourgeois obsession with comfort and consumption, while simultaneously poking fun at the indie rock preoccupations of suburban white kids who complain about their cushy lives…

Tacky,” set to the tune of Pharrell’s overplayed hit “Happy,” skewers not only the tackiness of dressing cluelessly, but wandering the Earth in a solipsistic bubble…The brilliance lies in the intimation that the happiness sold by slick pop icons like Pharrell is predicated on a state of oblivion that cuts us off from the plight of our fellow humans.

Perhaps the best song of all is the Crosby, Stills & Nash-inspired “Mission Statement”…In the video…the despair of office alienation is juxtaposed with the relentlessly upbeat buzzwords and conventions taught in MBA schools. What’s particularly resonant about this song is how Al skewers the corporate capitalism which promised us all the wonders of efficiency, harmony and prosperity, only to deliver us to Dilbert’s cubicle of despair.

In “Mission Statement,” the dreams of love and peace echoed in ’60s folk tunes have congealed into a nightmare in which we can’t escape capitalism’s relentless propaganda. Instead, we’re brought to a kind of posthuman wretchedness in which we are forced to speak in the tongues of the market’s abstract gods.

As students of the human psyche know, the line between humor and horror is often thin. Weird Al gets us to laugh when we might ordinarily scream. Lighthearted though he may seem,there’s a deeply moral theme in “Mandatory Fun,” about how capitalism’s servants — narcissism, greed, vulgarity, and all-around douchiness — have to carry out its orders to beat us into a pulverized pulp of compliance…

Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson is a contributing writer for NewsBusters