May 21, 2011
This song, “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” among other pronouncements of the apocalypse, have been circulating more than usual recently as responses to Harold Camping’s prediction that today, 5/21/11, will be “Judgment Day.”
If it’s possible to say it without being overly academic, I think the song has resonated in so many cultural contexts because it sums up postmodernism in an accessible, catchy way . I was teaching a unit on postmodernism with my students this week, and both the blending of different musical styles and the lyrics that form a list of an eclectic range of references to things, discourses, and ideas–high and low–speak to the dominant ways we tend to make sense of “postmodernism.” One could even think of the parenthesis in the song’s title as a sort of mnemonic device for making sense of the distinction between modernism and postmodernism. If with modernism, we see the construction of hopes and concerns around a series of world-changing events, with postmodernism, we “feel fine” about it all. There’s a sense that affective engagement is lost, or at least watered down.
In the version of the performance of the song posted above, note too how much Michael Stipe puts into exclaiming the “I feel fine” line each time it comes–as if compensating for its parenthetical place in writing.