Deconstructing Popular Music: Fall Out Boy’s G.I.N.A.S.F.S.; A Lament for Patriarchy

by J. Durden on January 31, 2010

So, like most people I know, I am a fan of music. Moreover, I enjoy analyzing music and figuring out what sorts of messages listeners decode, and what sorts of messages the musicians intended on encoding. I’m not so good at the instrumental theory part, but I love picking apart lyrics for meanings. If this sounds like a waste of time to you, then depart now. This post is meant purely as an enjoyable intellectual exercise for myself and for any like-minded readers. If the readers like this sort of thing, I could make it a sort of regular feature. Mind you, I don’t often listen to “popular” music, but I think pop music can reflect a lot of cultural values (see my previous post on Jack and Diane, for instance).

That being said, I know the intent behind the song in question. G.I.N.A.S.F.S. (the video isn’t perfect, I just pulled one quickly) is, apparently, an acronym which stands for “Gay Is Not A Synonym For Shitty,” and the song is generally interpreted as a sort of homosexual love ballad. This was probably the intention the band had for the song. I am not rejecting this interpretation or saying it is wrong or anything of the sort (complaints about political correctness aside).

However, I think it’s possible to interpret the lyrics with a different bent – note that I am acknowledging that the artist probably had no intention whatsoever of the lyrics being interpreted this way, but that’s half the fun of deconstructing music. My theory is thus: the song can be interpreted as a sort of lament from women to men, a longing for a return to patriarchy in light of the ills of feminism. This will be fleshed out, but keep in mind the fact that most women are not “feminists” in the sense that they are die-hard believers – they mostly believe since everybody else believes and they experience a lot of cognitive dissonance about it.

Let’s take a look at the first verse:

I loved everything about you that hurts
So let me see your moves
Let me see your moves
Lips pressed close to mine
True Blue

First, it is relavent to note that the opening line is apparently a quote (first one) from the movie Closer. I’ve never seen the movie. Facts aside and back to my “for fun” interpretation:

Here, we can see the beginnings of Woman’s (read as: the average woman) lament. She loved everything about men – even the parts that hurt, or were hard to swallow (standard male emotional masks, over aggressive tendencies, insensitivites, you get the idea). These things that hurt caused her to pursue alternate modes of fulfillment – specifically, male modes (“so let me see your moves, let me see your moves”). Because she wasn’t satisfied in her womanly role, she was easily lured into pursuing traditionally male modes of fulfillment (careers, etc).

For the sake of my theory, let’s say that the bottom lines represent Woman’s struggle to fully adapt to a man’s world – “True Blue” can be interpreted as a symbol for Woman’s desire for a traditional relationship/traditional man, and “lips pressed close to mine” indicates that, at some point in the past, she had such a relationship.

It is interesting to note that in one of the communication courses I’ve taken, “blue” is described as having the following characteristics (keep this in mind for later):

Blue represents people who prefer a calm life – neat and orderly, with peace and tranquility. They are introverts, often deliberate and introspective but not too intellectual. Blue people are steady, diligent, hard working, and with the persistence to become successful and make a lot of money. They are admired and respected for their sensitivity to others and their secure hold on their emotions. Blues know how to concentrate and how to accept responsibilities and obligations.

I know what you’re thinking – ultimate Beta? Still, as we all know, Betas had a much better go at life (to include a lot more respect) under patriarchy. This fits with Woman’s desire for a True Blue – for a very strong Beta that could provide for her, if only things weren’t so different now.

Next verse:

But the prince of any failing empire knows that
Everybody wants, everybody wants
To drive on through the night
If it’s a drive back home

Now, this is a great verse that lends itself strongly to my theory. Here, Woman is chastising Man (“the prince”) for his failure to keep the empire together. She’s saying, don’t you know that everyone really does love the empire, and you can’t let a few naysayers tear it apart? What everyone truly wants, she’s saying, is for you to stay the course and take us through “the night” (the night almost always seems to represent trouble or danger of some kind in any sort of literary analysis – in this case, it represents the early threat of feminism to more traditional ways of living). Specifically, everyone wants this to drive on through the night, especially if it’s a drive back home – home of course, in this context, meaning back to more traditional modes of living and organizing society. Woman is angry with Man for this failure. It’s a sort of sly dig – since “the prince of any failing empire knows,” what is really being said is that all princes in all failing empires should know that, despite loud complaints, what Women want is strong leadership and solid commitment to going back “home,” home here being a symbol for (lack of better terms) patriarchy.

Now, the chorus:

Things aren’t the same anymore
Some nights, they get so bad
You almost pick up the phone

Trade baby blues for wide eyed browns
I sleep with your old shirts
And walk through this house in your shoes
I know it’s strange
It’s a strange way of saying
That I know I’m supposed to love you
I’m supposed to love you

There’s a lot going on here. Clearly, things aren’t the same anymore – society, if we can call it that, now barely represents what it once was. Woman is encouraged to pursue a career and basically live like men used to in order to find fulfillment. Giving into natural impulses over rational ones (hypergamy and polygamy versus monogamy) and pursuing hedonism (under the guise of consumerism) rule the times, rather than the values civilization used to be known for (in living memory!). Woman is simply trying to do what society has told her to do, buying into the language ideology (imposed by public education, the news media, the entertainment industry, corporate culture and the legal system) which tells her that the key to happiness and fulfillment is career first, family later. Some nights, however, it gets so bad (the cognitive dissonance becomes so great) that she almost picks up the phone (note the literary use of the universal you, a technique I often employ in my own writing – using “you” even when I mean “I”), presumably to call True Blue back – you know, opting for traditional ways over contemporary ones.

To cope, she’s traded True Blue in for wide-eyed (read: innocent, credulous, even childlike and simple) Browns. Remember how I described Blue, above? Here’s Brown from the same sheet:

Brown[s are] steady in their ways, persistent and tenacious, rational, and sensible. Brown people tend to indulge themselves; they have an ageless quality and never seem to change. They are able to think things through and assume responsibilities. They never seem to make promised that they do not intend to carry out, and they are conscientious in all they undertake.

To me, this sounds like a toned-down beta. Just as feminism has impacted women negatively and sullied them overall, so too has feminism toned down traditional male values and had a negative impact on men overall. Rather than Blue’s ability to “know how to concentrate and accept responsibilities and obligations,” we have Brown’s reduced but similar capacity to “think things through and assume responsibilities.” Blues are “steady, diligent, hard working and…[can] become successful and make a lot of money” whereas Browns are merely “steady in their ways” with no hint as to being successful. If Woman becomes tired of pursuing endless hypergamous fantasies (which she may not be able to do successfully, especially as an “average” woman – alphas will only bed the best), Brown is the best she can hope to settle for.

The last few lines are the ones that initially tuned me into this song, specifically the part about “I know it’s strange…it’s a strange way of saying I know I’m supposed to love you.” Here, Woman is saying that she’s dressing up like men (see also: women in business suits, women in uniform), which she knows is strange. The best she has to offer is that perhaps this is a strange way of saying she loves men, after all – despite the misandry that society pushes on her and, at times, can brainwash her into promoting. How’s the old saying go – imitation is the highest form of flattery? Furthermore, it seems to make sense that women would attempt to play out these roles, if they have a deep yearning for them, absent a culture where men play them out.

Next verse:

I’ve already given up on myself twice
Third time is the charm, third time is the charm
Threw caution to the wind
But I’ve got a lousy arm

This is pretty straightforward. We can interpret her “giving up on herself” to mean that she’s already tried to toss aside feminism and its model for her success twice before. After all, if she is the average woman, she is prone to think that the messages society broadcasts to her are to be trusted and best represent “reality.” Perhaps she’s been married twice before, or she’s “fallen in love” twice before. “Third time is the charm” means that she’s found another man to love/marry. The part about having a lousy arm fits too, since we know women on average have half the upper body strength of men.

And I’ve traced your shadows on the wall
Now I kiss them whenever I’m down
Whenever I’m down
Figured on not figuring myself out

More lament for the loss of Man in Woman’s life. The last line is the most important. She is cognizant enough to realize that she doesn’t know herself very well (more evidence of cognitive dissonance) but perhaps isn’t cognizant enough to know why she has a hard time figuring herself out (protip: it’s due to the constant bombardment of the enforcers of language ideology – public education, news media, entertainment industry, corporate culture and the legal system!).

The chorus repeats and we move into the refrain:

Born under a bad sign but you saved my life
That night on the roof of your hotel
“Cross my heart and hope to die
Splintered from the headboard in my eye”
Photo-proofed kisses I remembered so well

I suppose this is a sort of happy ending to the tale. Woman was born under a bad sign (feminism) but luckily she was able to find a Man to save her life – presumably, show her how feminism has poisoned her and many others, and show her the path to happiness. The rest of the lyrics here probably reference something very personal to the band or what have you and aren’t easily interpreted for my purposes, so I kind of just ignore them. Feel free to help me out, though!

The song kicks into the chorus one more time before closing. So, major points – women like patriarchy, too (even if they aren’t cognizant of it), and can be upset with men for failing to enforce it (as, after all, women can’t rightly be expected to impose anything by their very natures).

Let’s not forget that patriarchy works, and when patriarchy fails, so too does civilization.

Who knew you could learn such important and far-reaching social truths from a seemingly simple Fall Out Boy song?

Previous post:

Next post: