“Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” (Doris Day)

Corporate pop music’s 21st century message to young women is easy to parse: (1) you are great just the way you are (you are beautiful, no matter what they say!); and (2) you can achieve anything you desire (you are a firework!). You are an amazing being of unlimited potential–a perfect, undetermined sort capable of perfect choice. This is called “empowerment.” But only three score ago, in the mid-1950s, Doris Day was singing to her young daughter: I don’t know if you’ll be “pretty” or “rich.” Indeed, I know nothing about your future, which is absolutely sealed (both opaque and certain). You may wind up in the gutter, or you may die young. It’s possible that there won’t be a “rainbow” in the sky tomorrow, which tinges the trax with Cold War anxieties (the Soviets had tested their first H-bomb in 1953). The phrase, “que sera sera,” is polyglot, and finds first use in English as a sixteenth century heraldic motto, forecasting, at least, a certain shielded defensiveness.  In short, and “tenderly,” “what will be will be,” and you can’t fight the future. The (tauta)logic is unimpeachable: tomorrow, one can always claim that “what will be” was. At the joining of such faulty realism and our own fantasies of empowerment, however, there must remain fate and chance, entwined, each the condition of the other’s possibility.


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“The Book of Love” (The Monotones)

Our collective love life appears to be determined and bracketed–bound between the covers of a book. It’s just the same old story, really, and we’re all a terrible, sad cliché. Who wrote us, and is the author “someone from above” us? Where is the missing or hidden ur-text, so that we might read it? And finally, “why” is it this book “true” (why am I subject to it)? Seeking answers, by song’s end the sextet peruse the book and forecast that their romances will end happily, as all things must, for lovers, in the genre of the romance. (Breakups are merely plot points in Chapter Four—difficulties to be overcome for purposes of readerly pleasure.) This conventionally happy news, however, cannot cover over the fact that the “who” and “why” questions remain fundamentally unanswered, and that our fate is to remain embedded as type. Let’s assume, then, that no one wrote “The Book of Love,” and for no good reason. And let’s register the dead-stop/single-drumbeat signature in the chorus as a sign of reading interrupted, a break in the question, a Zen-like whack to the skull with a massive tome. C’thunk.


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