What Katy Perry’s “Swish Swish” Teaches Us about Celebrity Culture

From politics to celebrities to religion, western culture has a big outrage problem right now.  Any news that comes out must have us angry at someone for something, and if you aren’t always angry, well then, are you really informed?

It’s not difficult to understand how this happens.  After all, anger and bitterness is addictive, and flaming online has long been a topic of interest for social scientists.  But this continues to express itself in new ways in our culture, so that we’re no longer just talking about rage at the latest Donald Trump tweet.  Instead, it has extended into celebrity culture as well.  This time, it’s Katy Perry and Taylor Swift.

If you’re just so culturally illiterate (read: happily doing something other than reading gossip) that you haven’t already heard, here’s the scoop – the two singers are fighting because . . . erm . . . reasons?  But the reason for the feud isn’t really relevant to the discussion I want to have.  And frankly, I don’t really care about the reason for the feud.  What I care about is how it has expressed itself.  Just as we thrive on expressing rage on social media and in other echo chambers, these two singers have progressed to the point of expressing rage through their music.

This goes back as far as Taylor Swift’s single “Bad Blood” from 2014 (according to Perry, at least).  Perry claims that she tried to work out her feud with Swift (which is, may I remind you, because of reasons), but Swift blew her off and wrote “Bad Blood” to trash her.  But Perry, if speculation proves to be accurate, is lashing back out at her with her new song “Swish Swish.”  In the song “Bad Blood,” Swift calls her enemy a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” while Perry’s video shows her playing a basketball team of steroid-addicted thugs, ironically named “Sheep.”  It seems that it’s only adults not in the arts that are expected to deal with conflict like rational human beings.

And it’s the expectations that I want to focus on here.  Because while it may be true that either or both of those are being interpreted wrong (neither of the singers has confirmed that their song in question is about the other), the fact is that this is how it’s being interpreted, and nobody seems to see the problem here.  The Sun, for example, titled its coverage “Katy Perry’s Swish Swish video seems to confirm it IS about Taylor Swift feud – as it contains a VERY sly dig at star.”  The Vox’s coverage, though less “juicy soap opera scoop”ish, ends with this line: “It remains to be seen whether Swift’s forthcoming new single can beat Perry’s new video the way she seems to be betting it can — but Perry has set a very low bar for Swift to hop over.”

The focus of the media coverage as well as the general conversation surrounding this feud is not one of discussing how to maturely handle conflict, or even the ethics of barging into celebrities’ personal lives in the first place.  Instead, it’s like we’re gathering around a boxing match and placing bets on who’s going to throw the best shade.

Herein lies the issue that lies beneath both outrage culture and celebrity culture.  Our focus is and continues to be not on what is right or even who is right, but who gets to be on the winning team.  Everyone must be divided up into heroes and villains, and rather than longing for peace, we long for the fight.  In the wake of violent protests throughout the country, some have proclaimed that they will arrive at protests prepared for violence.  And like in those cases, we long for the fight between celebrities like it’s Rocky versus Creed.

This is a problem.  A longing for conflict, and worse, getting joy out of that conflict, is a distinctly anti-Christian idea.  The pairing of that perverse rage/pleasure combination with an apparently insatiable appetite for fighting has no place in the Christian’s life.  And if our culture is ever going to escape the clutches of this monstrous obsession with celebrity feuds, we’re going to have to be ready to explain why.

“When a man’s ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” – Proverbs 16:7

Logan Judy
Logan Judy is a Christian blogger and science fiction author with a Batman complex. At Cross Culture, Logan writes about film, comics, cultural analysis, and whatever else strikes his fancy. In addition to his work at Cross Culture, Logan also blogs and podcasts at A Clear Lens. You can find him tweeting about Batman, apologetics, and why llamas will one day rule the world, @loganrjudy.
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