Abstract: Decadence and Sincerity in the Risk Society: Katy Perry and Britney Spears Partying at the End of the World

Below is an abstract for a paper I will be presenting at the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Popular & American Culture Association Conference, taking place November 1-3, in good ole Pittsburgh, PA. Along with two of my fellow colleagues from Pitt, we will be presenting a panel titled, “Celebrity, Authenticity, and Decadence: Lady Pop in the Age of the Networked Star.”

Decadence and Sincerity in the Risk Society: Katy Perry and Britney Spears Partying at the End of the World

It is a familiar trope in the rhetoric of the American jeremiad to draw a comparison between the high decadence and subsequent fall of the Roman Empire and the similar decadence of the contemporary United States. So it is tempting to make such a comparison when considering a recent series of pop songs celebrating “partying.” The videos for Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance,” Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok,” Katy Perry’s “Friday Night,” and Britney Spears’s “Till the World Ends” portray gyrating bodies having simply way more fun than anyone could possibly have, reveling in their own meta-celebration. Such images easily invite a critique of these videos’ lack of self-awareness and apolitical celebration of decadence as a mode of being in a time of global financial crisis and austerity. Inarguably outgrowths of a specific brand of American exceptionalism and a youth culture where hedonism has become an end in-itself, what is perhaps most disturbing about this party program is its relative sincerity. By focusing specifically on Perry’s strangely sincere meta-filmic nod to the 1980s and Spears’s dance club at the end of the world, I will argue that these videos should be read not as jubilant affirmations of life and individuality, but as particularly cynical expressions of life in what Ulrich Beck calls the “risk society.” Perry and Spears signal a cultural inability to imagine a coherent future in the face of the present multiplying networks of global risk, and exemplify a need to perpetuate and maintain a decadent cultural fantasy by erasing the disasters and crises that define the present through the spectacle of nostalgically reappropriating the past or fervently anticipating the end.

The videos: