Glorious Failure

Life is a long series of failures. Here's to failing gloriously!

Contemplating the Millennial experience: Ryan Lewis — Fake Empire

Characteristic to the millennial experience is frustration when attempting meaningful connection with others. This video contemplates why.

Ben Haggerty (Macklemore) here portrays a young man struggling to connect with a lady friend. The context for his struggle is today’s media saturated culture in which we find ourselves. It’s one driven by consumerism and defined by materialism. The music samples The National’s “Fake Empire” stating, “We’re half-awake in a fake empire.”

(No, Katy Perry, only half-awake;)

jk. But seriously.

I find this video indicative of the millennial experience. Full disclosure: I am a millennial. That is I was born between 1980 and 2000.

Here’s why:

Two major themes in this video tell our story. The first is the difficulty to connect in meaningful and personal ways to people we care about in part because most of our communication today is mediated. We peruse Facebook, send a text message, or write email. Face to face communication is the exception these days. Not the norm. I think the video attempts to highlight the irony that media allows us to communicate any time, anywhere, to anyone. Yet we don’t feel connected. My intuitive sense is that media itself somehow prevents us from connecting in personal, meaningful, and fulfilling ways.

The second theme is an economic commentary. The visual themes are communicated through the still images of people with mouths taped over with corporate logos. These images suggest a strong experiential connection to brands we like: Apple, McDonald’s, Nike, for instance. Their brand presence is ubiquitous. They pervade nearly every aspect of our existence. We understandably feel a connection to these brands.

And yet these brands, to which we do in fact feel connected, are not persons. We can’t have a life-changing, soul-touching conversation with them around a camp fire. Rather they are corporations. No. Worse. They are representations of corporations. Reflecting on this, realizing this truth exasperates the soul!

I believe that’s why the Lewis-Haggerty duo chose to put these brand logos covering the mouth. Experiential connections to these brands is not like a conversation face-to-face with another human soul. It cannot be. It is not rewarding or fulfilling like meaningful human relationships. Yet these brands to which we do feel connected, are nothing but a farce, relationally speaking.

This is the thematic connection to the lyrics, being half awake in a fake empire. Attempts at meaningful human relationships go unfulfilled. Relationships that are real to our experience aren’t actually human relationships, and therefore go unfulfilled. Instead they are connections to corporate entities, carefully crafted only to elicit particular responses from us. On both accounts we are foiled in our attempt to connect with another human being and thus find satisfaction.

This is just one reason I like Ryan Lewis productions so much. They are thoughtful reflections on our contemporary experience. In this case the reflections is characteristic of the Millennial’s experience. Not to mention the music’s good and the video’s compelling. That always helps.

Who Needs the Gospel?

WARNING: Explicit lyrics and adult content. Please exercise discernment when viewing, especially younger viewers.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are Seattle-based musicians. Neither are believers, as far as I know. This dark video samples “Otherside” by Red Hot Chili Peppers, and outlines the deleterious effects of illicit substances and its abuse. Its redemptive theme is that this duo has discovered their need for the gospel. What I find interesting, is that they may not know it.

Consider the lyrics in the above video. They’re intimate and revealing. They’re honest about very real issues like pain and hurt. I love how he doesn’t shy away from the significance of it.

It has been my experience when sharing pain or hurt with friends that they are quick to dismiss it, quick to point out the bright side. I know they’re trying to help. But most of the time I just feel invalidated, like my pain doesn’t matter. That’s one thing this song gets very right. Our hurts do, in fact, matter. They matter greatly to God.

In one line he explains the motivation to use illicit drugs. “Purple rain coated in the throat/Just so healin'” This is the key to the whole experience he’s trying to communicate. Healing is what he desires–healing from hurt, frustration, and devastation. But Macklemore goes on to explain another layer of frustration. A few lines later he explains that he’s, “trying to escape the skin that barely fit him.”

His frustration is not merely conflict between him and the world. It’s his conflict within himself. He wrestles with his very identity. He’s struggling with who he is. I love that. Yet, at the same time, how disturbing is the notion that he attempts to escape his own skin? How can a man despise his own person? He goes on, “Friendship cease, no peace in the mind/Stealin and takin’ anything to fix the pieces inside.”  The turmoil he experiences over who he is, spills out onto others, into behaviors, and into relationships. I identify with that.

We can all identify with struggling with our identity. Anyone who doesn’t has either no clue who he is, or is lying to himself. It is in our nature to struggle against ourselves. The apostle Paul wrestles with this very thing. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do. But what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15 NIV)

The beauty of this video is that it illustrates what the apostle Paul said would happen elsewhere in Scripture. “[T]hat which is known about God is evident within them [those who don’t know God]; for God made it evident to them.” This is to say that even those who don’t believe in God can still understand that there is a God. A Hebrew prophet famously wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” (Psalm 19:1)

The apostle Paul goes on to clarify. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.” Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are not declaring there is a God, not directly. They are however, declaring one of the first truths revealed to us from Scripture about the nature of man: we’re fallen.

The second story told in the Bible, the one following the story of creation, is about God’s command to Adam – His creation – not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam disobeys. Sin enters the world and mankind is changed forever, and not for the better. By sin we marred the very image God stamped on us. By sin we broke our right-standing with God, we broke fellowship with our fellow man, and as this song so succinctly depicts, we broke our own selves.

We are not whole. We are not the way we were meant to be. We need healing.

This profound truth, the brokenness of mankind is one of the first revealed truths from Scripture. It is also a truth discovered by Macklemore, and he shares that vulnerable process of discovery with us through this song. It’s beautiful because it’s true, and I appreciate it because so few people are willing to face this glaring reality. I’m refreshed that he accepts reality in a culture so eager to deny our brokenness.

Macklemore may not believe in God. But, when he’s right about something, he is certainly declaring the truth of God because God is all truth. Macklemore is not just a talented writer and performer. He’s an artist I greatly admire. But the best part, is that Macklemore even without knowing it or intending to, is declaring the glory of God.

Glorious Failure

Life is a long series of failures. Here's to failing gloriously!

Scott Eckstein

Helping define, describe and defend Servant Leaders

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