Indulge my whimsy a moment.
Felicia Day, creator of The Guild and now her own network of awesome, Geek and Sundry, has joined a venerable tradition of vengeful songstresses with the release of the music video “I’m the One That’s Cool“. The cast of The Guild perform as their characters, players in a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG) based on World of Warcraft. The music video depicts them through flashbacks in High School being bullied by the stereotypically cool kids for their geeky past-time while the lyrics celebrate the fact that the tables have turned: Geek is now Chic. Those who were formerly at the bottom of the social ecology are now at the top.
It’s a fun cathartic song for people like me who lived that junior and senior high hell and is proud to still be GMing my weekly GURPS campaign, cosplaying at cons, and be in possession of screenshots proving I maintanked the Lich King. (Yes I realize that entire sentence was nonsense to many of you – that’s because I’m the one that’s cool). What Day and Jed Whedon almost certainly weren’t thinking when they wrote this song is “let’s write something Biblical” – nevertheless that is what they have done.
Perhaps the oldest words in the entire Bible are the lyrics to Deborah’s Song, who triumphantly touts the violent work of another woman, Jael, in killing Sisera, the enemy of Israel, by putting a tent stake through his head. Deborah addresses her song directly to enemy Princes and Kings, the way that Day, singing as her character Codex, addresses all the ass-hat jocks and prom queen bitches. “You’ll all end up like Sisera,” Deborah says, but we will “be like the sun when it rises in its strength.”
Equally ancient are the words that Miriam sang with her brother Moses right after God sent the Red Sea crashing down on the heads of the Egyptians, “Sing to the Lord for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.” The people who were formerly slaves had been set free and walked safely over dry land while the ones who were their masters were all destroyed.
The theme of God’s preference for the downtrodden is all through scripture and it flourishes especially in the musical voices of the women who sing with joy (and a bit of schadenfruede) to recount the ways that God has reversed the fortunes of the weak and the strong. Hannah laughs at her enemies because she delights in deliverance. I imagine her belting the following lines in a powerful contralto, “The bows of the warriors are broken, but those who stumbled are armed with strength!”
But if we read these songs as mere gloating, Biblical teabagging if you will, then we misunderstand them. The secret to really understanding these songs is that they all take place in a liminal space of “now, but not yet”. These ladies sing out of their vulnerability. Though they’ve all experienced God’s deliverance they remain in a precarious place. Deborah gloats that one of Israel’s enemies has fallen, but she addresses her song to the many many enemies Israel still has. Miriam exults in having escaped Egypt, but it is a long way till the promised land. Hannah’s prayer for a son has been answered, but all the mighty deeds she says that God will do are still in the future. While these songs are inspired by something in the recent past, they are really about something coming in the hoped for future.
A young girl from Nazareth once sang that “God has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” Only when she sang it God hadn’t done any of those things for her. She proclaimed as present reality something which we are still waiting for. They are words of hope more than anything else.
As Day’s song continues we see footage of the various Guildies being tormented juxtaposed with the triumphant lyrics. Tink has a ball thrown at her head. Vork is pantsed. Bladezz is given a swirlie. Zaboo is slammed against a locker. Clara has a carton of milk poured over her head, and Codex is pushed into a pool. The juxtaposition creates a tension between the now and the not yet. The audience is invited to identify with the victims either because they can remember similar situations in their past or because this is true of their current experience.
Then the tension is heightened as the two worlds of the uncool past and the cool present begin to overlap. Tink, while she is laying on the ground after being hit, mouths the words, “I’m the one that’s cool.” She looks directly into the camera smiling as she does as if saying to those geeks out there right now being bullied, “You. You’re the one that’s cool.” This repeats with Zaboo while his face is pressed against the locker. He defiantly flips off his assailants as he falls. The future has somehow invaded the present. He is still a victim, but already he can see his redemption.
The song is supposedly celebrating a recent victory over past suffering, but in truth it is celebrating a future victory that is more complete. Bullying is still a serious problem and this song is telling all the kids out there currently targeted for humiliation and abuse by their peers – the day of your comeuppance is coming.
The climax is Codex being pushed into the pool which overlaps with her stage-diving into a crowd of fans, and being held up. The moment of her affliction and the moment of her redemption are mysteriously linked. She is cool, somehow, because she was picked on for her geekiness.
Without realizing it Felicia Day has given us a modern Magnificat. These are words that geeks everywhere can claim as their own: From now on all generations will call me blessed – I’m the one that’s cool.