‘Men Without Hats’ is still relevant

A good song is like a nice pair of pants. If you keep it around long enough, it comes back in fashion. I always thought that the band Men Without Hats had a funny name, but their song “Pop Goes the World” has now come full circle.

During the song’s debut in 1987, I was a freshman in high school. At the age of 14, I spent much of my life fearing a nuclear holocaust that the U.S.S.R. could launch at any moment. Though these threats where subsiding–the Berlin wall melting–this was also the time of HIV, AIDS and the panic surrounding a different kind of potential holocaust.

Yet, here we are now, stuck with the haunting lyrics that imply human destruction: “the band named the Human Race” and “Pop goes the world” repeatedly uttered through an absurdly comical backdrop, a giant Ivan Doroschuk stomping upon the world below.

It reminds me of a cartoon I saw. Planet Earth is visiting the doctor Uranus. Uranus has some bad news. He says to Earth, “I am afraid that you are infected by humans.”

In disbelief, the Earth screams, “NO!”

Maybe to our planet, we are COVID-19?

If author Virginia Woolf was right, if “man” sees himself so much taller and more important than he really is, then the giant lead singer harassing the earth is fitting, as we wish those old pants still would.

The vanity of Johnny and Jenny is apparent, wishing to make money on a “TV screen” and when exactly did “the world go wrong?” Yet the very next moment, Doroschuk questions, maybe the world is right? But at the song’s conclusion, the world simply pops, like a bubble, a harsh reminder of Doroschuk’s introduction, where he is joyfully (or crazily) popping bubbles.

Does he think playing with the world is a game, like a child popping bubbles? Or does our self-serving human importance trump all of the universe?

If William Shakespeare believed that life was a stage that we all act how we should be and not what we are, then Men Without Hats captures, in an 80’s pop sense, the comical and dangerous absurdity of being human.

In keeping with absurdity, I then imagine myself as a kind of male Abby Miller in Dance Moms that is assigned a group of Russian dancers. Neither I or they can speak the other’s language, but I somehow, without any dance experience or choreography, create and execute an amazing rendition of “Pop Goes the World” with my child-Russian group, stealing a winning moment from the very coach I’d hate and admire if I, too, were a little girl.

Because as comical and abnormal as that sounds, we all wish we could be that beautiful and perfect for just a moment. In art, we move to capture a still eternal moment in time that transcends the human condition. Beauty can only be so if it’s still long enough to impress upon our hearts. Movement suspends pain and heals. There can be art in pop and “craziness” after all. To be an artist is to be neurotic.

If we change the cast a bit and Doroschuk becomes a giant Trump and my Russian dancers become Trump’s henchmen and I, an angry and aging “socialist” democrat or a billionaire trying to buy a nomination with money that could liberate all of Syria, then real life is little more than an absurd, horrific tragedy. We all must make fun of it to survive, even if that means popping the world.

I start to think that maybe some scientists and gamers are right. Maybe we all are just in a video game for some giant’s amusement that pokes at our world the way a toddler does to something new. Maybe our whole destiny is in the hands of a three-year-old. To them, “the world is right.” Given our political world leaders, such may be closer to the truth than we think.  Such truth may just be captured by an 80’s Canadian band with a funny name.