Sunday, November 11, 2007

Before She Goes Batshit Crazy

Going by how often I hear it sung at karaoke bars or played on (someone else’s) radio, Carrie Underwood’s song “Before He Cheats” remains popular a year after its release.
… I dug my key into the side
of his pretty little souped-up 4-wheel drive,
carved my name into his leather seats.
I took a Louisville slugger to both headlights,
slashed a hole in all 4 tires...
Maybe next time he'll think before he cheats.
Whenever I hear those lyrics, the same sequence of thoughts goes through my mind:

1. This girl’s a psycho.

2. And not very smart, either. She carved her own name into his leather seats? That’s like signing the crime scene. She might as well just turn herself in to the police.

3. Wait a minute… maybe there’s some kind of signaling game going on here. By signing her name, she publicly declares her willingness to face criminal charges just for the sake imposing revenge on a cheater. She thereby signals that she’s the type of woman who really intensely dislikes cheating, as opposed to all those women who dislike cheating but still tolerate it. Someone who didn't care as much wouldn’t be willing to incur the legal cost of sending the same signal.

4. Notwithstanding the singer’s veneer of altruism for other women (“I might’ve saved a little trouble for the next girl…”), the same signal might serve as a warning to other women to back off her man. The deliberate act of property destruction is thus a species of strategic tort. Still, whenever I start thinking about the signals sent by this act, I can’t help but return to the one signal that drowns out all the others…

5. This girl’s a psycho.


Anonymous said...

I think #3 is right on, and is a pretty powerful signal to send -- should effectively screen out any potential mates without a *very* strong commitment to monogmy. Another example of alarming anti-cheating signaling in pop music: the Beatles' 'Run for your life', which is actually a pretty horrible pro-domestic violence tune, if you can get past the cheery melodic line:

Well I'd rather see you dead, little girl
Than to be with another man
You better keep your head, little girl
Or I won't know where I am

You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That's the end'a little girl

Well you know that I'm a wicked guy
And I was born with a jealous mind
And I can't spend my whole life
Trying just to make you toe the line [...]

Anonymous said...

And hey, notice the non-veridical 'before'!

lp: I'd never heard this Beatles song, but it does remind me of another cheery (except for the chorus) song by them that expresses a typical abuser's viewpoint: "Try to See It My Way". In each verse, although the speaker doesn't say outright that his view is correct ("Only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong"), he implies it by saying, "Think of what I'm saying; we can work it out and get it straight or say goodnight." All he can say about the hearer's viewpoint, however, is that she (or he, I suppose) "could get it wrong and still you think that it's all right," and that if she insists on sticking to it, she may "run the risk of knowing that our love may soon be gone," and "there's a chance that we might fall apart before too long." Not physically threatening, but the condescending attitude is common among abusers. Hat tip to... Mom, the only one I've ever heard making this point about the song.

blink said...

Signing one's own name seems to rule out altruism; I vote for warning other women. This explains why she chooses to ruin his car rather than damage his…um…body: he still belongs to her and she would not want to harm her own property.

What I wonder now is what one signals by choosing this song for karaoke. Somehow, I don’t think it sends the message “I’m available.”

Anonymous said...


I'm pretty sure singing this song karaoke-style is a way to signal that only men with a *very* strong commitment to monogamy should even bother. I imagine this is what the angry chick in the song is signalling, too -- warning off insufficiently faithful future mates.

Glen Whitman said...

I'm pretty sure singing this song karaoke-style is a way to signal that only men with a *very* strong commitment to monogamy should even bother.

The problem is that for a signal to be effective, it has to be high cost for someone outside the specified group to send; otherwise the signal is too easily copied. Trashing someone's car is high cost. Merely singing about trashing someone's car is low cost.

Gil said...

But, Glen...

Doesn't singing the song pay the high cost of self-identifying as a member of the batshit-crazy community?