Painting by Edward Burne-Jones: Love Leading the Pilgrim

Unsustainable Romance: Lana Del Rey in the Age of “Video Games”

Painting by Edward Burne-Jones: Love Leading the Pilgrim
Edward Burne-Jones: Love Leading the Pilgrim

Because “death by porn” might be the coroner’s verdict on our cultural corpse. —Holgrave

Countless editorials and books assert that the twenty-first century West does not look bright for men or women, with boyhood, manhood, girlhood, and womanhood all placed in mutual jeopardy by cult-like devotion to youth, the extension of adolescence, and certain waves of feminism. The rise of the electric image adds to the confusion: videos, photos, and a plethora of internet resources flood into our daily lives. Reality and unreality clash and, for all too many, seamlessly interweave. This has served global plutocrats well—for now. Included in this class, no doubt, are power-suit sporting feminists of various stripes, “unsexed things they are,” to steal a phrase from arch-anti-progressive Louisa McCord. But what has happened to romance and to youth? Things have not fared so well for those less committed to complete sexual equality.

Enter Lana Del Rey’s hit “Video Games.” In spite of her critics (and, geez, are there many), I think her husky voice sings a tragically beautiful dirge for the death of romance. Craving love and appreciation, Del Rey’s singer comes with pet-like obedience to her boyfriend as he is “whistling my name.” She lives only to please him, and the only way to please him, it seems, is physically: “I’m in his favorite sun dress/Watching me get undressed/Take that body downtown/I say you the bestest/Lean in for a big kiss/Put his favorite perfume on.” However, instead of pouring affection upon her, the beau gobbles up these offerings faster than Doritos and sets himself in front of the screen to play video games. Fast forward to the next verse to see the nightly party scene, where “He holds me in his big arms/drunk and I am seeing stars/this is all I think of.” Empty existence—AWESOME.

Moreover, the girl’s boyfriend seems to be a pornhead and philanderer: “Tell me all the things you want to do/I heard you like the bad girls/Honey, is that true?” This manipulative dastard controls her like a marionette. The deluded girl believes the boyfriend irreplaceable in her vision of the good life, declaring, “Heaven is a place on earth with you.” Why? “They say the world was built for two/Only worth living if somebody is loving you.” Yet it seems the sexual act is her only point of reference: “Baby, now you do.” After the boyfriend’s lust is satisfied, he quickly changes gears: he plays a video game, giving more attention to the actions of a screen than to incarnate human interaction.

I don’t know if my interpretation is definitive or if it’s worth attacking Del Rey’s tenuous indie cred. I can confirm that I think that she’s on to something. Notice it’s “take that body downtown;” the human body is a machine whose primary function is pleasure-extraction. The less assertive of the fair sex are sadly reduced to desperation and abuse. This is not a universal result, but the fleeting sex-n-drugs culture of the American youth (which continues on into the thirties these days) takes a terrifying toll on womankind.

Depressing as it is, how does this sort of teenage wasteland relationship qualify as “unsustainable”?

It’s unsustainable since it cannot be fruitful and is incapable of adoration. It can never lead to matrimony and its fulfillment: procreation. Granted, there might possibly be a child, but no father united with his family. There is no union because there is only consumer and victim. It’s dystopia without a preceding apocalypse. The “strong” (video gamers included) prey upon the “weak” (depressed girls who needs love).

Contrast this with the old idea of adoration, in which the lover finds delight in the lover even without physical contact. Dante captured this idea with Beatrice in the Divine Comedy. Here, love can draw one toward the Divine Light. In the famous Canto XXXI of the Paradiso, Dante extols Beatrice when he exclaims

O lady in whom my hope shall ever soar
and who for my salvation suffered even
to set your feet upon Hell’s broken floor;

through your power and your excellence alone
have I recognized the goodness and the grace
inherent in the things I have been shown.

You have led me from my bondage and set me free
by all those roads, by all those loving means
that lay within your power and charity.

Grant me your magnificence that my soul
which you have healed, may please you when it slips
the bonds of flesh and rises to its goal.”

In loving Beatrice, Dante comes to love God. More pertinently, throughout the entire Comedy, Dante never reaches out and touches his beloved. He is in too much awe of her loveliness to invade, to conquer.

For the progressive, this is a nightmare. With all this courtliness and religion and purity nonsense, no one can have any fun. Happiness eludes, since immediate carnality is fine as long as l“no one gets hurt.” Throw off all this romantic nonsense, they say, and let kids have their fun. Once the fuddy-duddy limits of chastity are gone, we’ll be healthy, wealthy, and wise due to widespread, mutually-consented sex.

But are we? From the tone of Del Rey and others, we’re actually quite frustrated and downright bored. In the romance of “Video Games,” the boy is bored and the girl is exploited; in Dante, both man and woman draw one another to infinite bliss. The contrast is radical and jarring—too much so, perhaps. On the other hand, isn’t this the problem?

3 thoughts on “Unsustainable Romance: Lana Del Rey in the Age of “Video Games””

  1. This is a great exploration of the song from a “traditional” viewpoint. A man and a woman are supposed to get along well, enjoy each others’ company, have sex, and talk and cuddle and such afterward. This may be the case for many relationships, including relationships where the participants have no interests outside of each other, or things that they do together.

    Sometimes, lovers have diverging interests. That seems to be the case here. I saw this a lot in college and still see it now. A girl and a guy like each other, eventually love each other, but their avocational interests aren’t necessary aligned. They do things together, but they also do things apart. It seems that the traditional view of relationships has takes issue with this simple fact.

    There are a few remedies, but the participants must first ask themselves how dedicated they are to addressing the problem after first identifying it.

    If she doesn’t approve of his activities, here, playing video games, then she must ask for his attention. It’s up to him to decide what he wants more: her or the game. The first reaction to this ultimatum by an outsider would scoff at any person who would reject a loving woman for anything else. Alas, that’s not the case.

    Maybe he’s just not as obsessed with her as she wants him to be. If she’s unhappy, she ought to take her affections elsewhere. It can be hard to separate, but it’s a necessary step towards happiness.

    Or, she can take an interest in his activities. Pick up a controller and learn how to play, even if it takes a long time and patience to learn. Congratulations, you’re spending time together.

    Or he can take an interest in her activities. Go cook together or learn how to sew or some other stereotypical or non-stereotypical thing. Maybe she’s into woodworking? Or fixing cars? Who knows.

    The point is this: in Lana Del Rey’s story, the girl is lamenting being unhappy because her boyfriend won’t love her in the way she idealizes and she seems insufficiently unhappy to do anything about it. Perhaps she’s not trying hard enough. Perhaps he’s not trying hard enough.

  2. Interesting analysis, but I’m not sure that we should take Del Rey’s character in the songs’s portrayal of her lover so uncritically. While she’s singing “video games,” might he be singing “Going to Sephora” or “Keeping up with the Kardashians?”(forgive the gender stereotypes).

    I think rather few relationships are really between a “consumer” and a “victim,” and many more are between two people equally addicted to the modern consumer culture, unable to find human connection amid commoditized rushes of dopamine.

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