This post was originally published on the blog Just Ambiguous Enough.
Taylor Swift’s new single, Look What You Made Me Do, is undoubtedly popular and controversial, seemingly calling out many of her “enemies” that have committed nasty acts against her over the past few years of her career. Many people are praising her for this defiant act of rebellion against the music industry establishment. But there’s an innate problem with the message Swift is communicating with this song, found even in the title: she is blaming other people for the actions she’s taking. She’s displaying bad faith, a concept introduced by the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.
Sarah Bakewell explains Sartre’s bad faith well in her book, At the Existentialist Cafe:
“We show bad faith whenever we portray ourselves as passive creations of our race, class, job, history, nation, family, heredity, childhood influences, events, or even hidden drives in our subconscious which we claim are out of our control.”
What this doesn’t mean is that the rich can point to the poor and oppressed and say that the factors holding them back are unimportant. Rather, these factors are all present and create a situation, a facticity, that we then act out of.
This is where Swift has got it wrong. “Look what you made me do.” No one has made her do anything. The place she is in now is a place she has gone to, independently and freely. To Sartre, we have an existential freedom to act out of these situations. If the situations did not exist, then we would we acting in a vacuum, and the action would lack any sort of meaning or effect.
Swift is presenting her current situation as forced onto her by the people that have made her life worse over the last few years, but in reality (a term I think quite necessary for these celebrity wars), she absolutely had the chance, many times, to opt out of the immaturity and simply continue to make good music and hone her skills as an artist. In fact, would that not have been the maturer choice? The choice more suitable of a role model for young girls? In a smart move, she deleted all her social media posts before the release of this single. But there was likely several tweets and Instagram captions about female independence and strength — how is that being demonstrated when you claim that these other immature celebrities have so much control over you, that you’ve entered a Britney-Spearsian meltdown and swear revenge? And the saddest part is that she didn’t even choose to enter this vengeful state, she’s being made to do it!
However, Sartre does point out that “we shouldn’t expect freedom to be anything less than fiendishly difficult.” But that doesn’t mean that we don’t even have it to begin with.