Near the end of that Ke$ha video from last month, Paul Muldoon and the Princeton Tiger kid say that they haven’t even mentioned the title “TiK ToK” yet, and that it’s deeply poetic and stands for time, ticking away. So, OK, can we actually talk about that tick? For a second? Instead of laughing it up over the idea of talking about it?
Because there must be things to say about the moment that just passed, when two of the songs that were everywhere were “TiK ToK” and “Telephone,” a complementary pair of digital odes to, or even eulogies for, analog technology. Jack Halberstam observed that most of the phones in the “Telephone” video were landlines: immobile, outdated, restrictive, even analogous to patriarchy insofar as they were to-be-escaped-from. I might go further, and try to direct the observation differently—do we even talk on “telephones” anymore? Is the distance of tele– (always a phantom distance) even there, in the way it was just a few years ago? And if the song and the video had been called “Cell Phone,” would the play on imprisonment have been too obvious? From one point of view, the key metaphorical idea that allows the feminist/liberationist politics of “Telephone” to function at all is one that’s looking ever more old-fashioned itself. It’s the idea of unreachability, of an imperfect phone which can’t always be accessed or access you—which, even if it’s mobile, might actually get no service in the club, making it that much easier for you to ignore the male voice that’s trying to get to your ear. How much longer will that kind of unreachability last, when, to take one example from Tony Scott, the technocapitalism that holds us hostage can now get wireless access in the bowels of the New York City subway?
(“Sometimes I feel like I live in Grand Central Station,” right?)
There are, I would say relatedly, an awful lot of phone lines in the video for “TiK ToK,” almost everywhere and again a part of the world to be fled from, as Ke$ha and “Barry” steer clear of the police who want to shut them down and drive to the club where the party’s about to start. It’ll start when Ke$ha walks in, and, there, it’s a matter of being arrested in the right way: as she says to the DJ, “With my hands up / You got me now.” (I guess I should try to make it clear that I don’t mean to be treating Ke$ha as a kind of not-good-enough Lady Gaga imitator here, which strikes me as a pretty lazy and wrong move for so many people to have made. I would prefer to call her a Gaga analogue…)
If it’s debatable whether or not we still talk on the telephone that these poles stand for, I think another question isn’t: clocks don’t say “tick tock” anymore. Frank Kermode famously pointed out some time ago that they almost never did: the difference between “tick” and “tock” is (in most cases) a fiction, even one identified by Kermode as a model for all plots, in its imposition of meaningful duration onto an inhuman, “purely successive” tick-tick-tick-tick. “Tick is a humble genesis,” Kermode says, “tock a feeble apocalypse.” One thing he doesn’t say (I think) is that “tick tock,” as opposed to “tick tick,” is, in addition, a useful way to distinguish what a clock does from what a bomb does, or the duration before an apocalypse that isn’t so feeble.
I think Ke$ha and Lady Gaga are both interested in these kinds of fictions, even as they’re also both attuned to certain ways in which, this being 2010, the bomb has already gone off. (Gaga says the Apocalypse has happened; Ke$ha says it’s the end of time. And there’s a miniaturized, concentrated, half-defused bomb that’s going off permanently in both “TiK ToK” and “Telephone”: the cell phone that’s being “blown up” by the guys calling them.) Where to go from there? How to think about getting a real party started? Doesn’t an always-already-fictive or “unreal” analog tick-tock feel more escapable than the soundless, eventless digital always–now of late capitalism, described so well in this terrifying video?
It’s always 9 to 5. It’s a question of reachability—spatial, temporal. So how great is it that the recent episode of The Simpsons that began with “TiK ToK” went on to feature not only a subplot about Lisa’s fight against the dumb-blonde stereotype—the stereotype that wrote Mark Dery’s vile column on Lady Gaga for him, and that seems to constitute about ninety percent of what many people have to say about Ke$ha—but also a main plot centering on a bomb threat that led to video surveillance of (almost) all of Springfield?
More on this later, maybe.