Day One hundred and sixty-two: "Inactive" from Mandatory Fun
As I’ve written about here extensively, Al has attacked consumer culture from any number of angles. He’s a preeminent jester of the supermarket who has derived rich subject matter in the consumer items that line its blindingly shiny aisles, whether that’s aluminum foil, copies of the Midnight Star supermarket tabloid or various processed meat products, such as bologna and spam.
Throughout the 1980s, Al sang about consumers consuming in the most literal possible sense. The “Eat It” guy rose to fame singing about food and the universal need to eat. But he also sang about other forms of consumption, and other forms of being a consumer as well. He’s sung from the perspective of couch potatoes and television addicts, obsessives whose lives have been transformed and enriched immeasurably by comically oversized television sets and their exposure to cable television and individual shows and performers such as Ed McMahon, Bob Denver and I Dream of Genie.
“Inactive”, Al’s slovenliness-themed parody of Imagine Dragons’ monster hit “Radioactive”, which was on the top 100 charts for a record 87 weeks, puts these two different conceptions of consumers and consumption together into a scathing depiction of apathy and entropy, American style.
Our sloth-like protagonist is covered in evidence of his habitual over-eating. His apartment has become an unwitting prison, a museum of laziness where exercise machines purchased in a delusional burst of optimism lie unoccupied, gathering rust and cobwebs from aggressive non-use.
Our corpulent crooner has everything he needs to avoid leading a healthy, productive and fit life. Everything he requires (food, pretty much, but also soda) is within arm’s reach, with the notable exception of his remote control, because he’s not one of those fitness freaks who think nothing of “standing up” and “walking” or “breathing without considerable effort”, as if those are all normal parts of life and not insane challenges doomed to put way too much pressure on the human body.
For lack of a better word, this man has allowed himself to get fat. Whether it’s Spam, or Oreo’s, or Rocky Road ice cream or even lasagna, this round mound of apathy is most assuredly going to eat it.
But it goes far beyond that. For this exemplar of American laziness, inactivity isn’t a weakness or a character flaw holding him back so much as it is a way of life. He’s chosen the Way of the Couch-bound Sloth willfully, or perhaps rather because he just kind of fell into it through a lack of effort and will.
If “Radioactive” is about a man waking up to his own power and agency, “Inactive” is about the opposite, about a big, crumb-laden puddle of “Who cares?” and “Why bother?” realizing his ultimate powerlessness, or rather his ultimate power in choosing to give up.
The singer is sliding into a 600 pound life but “Inactive” is not about fat-shaming. It’s not about being morbidly obese so much as it is about giving up, about the couch potato life as the only life worth barely leading, about the American urge to not try, to allow ourselves to become prisoners to the consumer comforts that, when massively, monstrously over-consumed the way they are here, become a hindrance rather than a help, a cushy prison of convenience.
“Radioactive” sounds electric and ominous and post-apocalyptic; so does “Inactive”, of course, but the lyrics have a much different, much more banal connotation. “Radioactive” sounds like it belongs in a movie set in a grim, dystopian future. The dystopian future “Inactive” seems to anticipate, is that of the world of Wall-E. The populace of tomorrow have consumed, and consumed, and consumed. As a result, the futuristic masses have become massive, to the point of becoming inactive and the earth essentially becoming a giant garbage heap.
“Inactive” is a wonderfully busy-sounding song about doing nothing, a scathing satire of over-consumption and apathy and consumerism taken to ugly and extreme ends that gets an additional kick from being rooted in a maddeningly infectious pop song so irritatingly catchy and popular (it spent nearly two years in the top 100, an unprecedented feat) that it qualifies as a tacky consumer product in its own right, one that belongs in a bin in a supermarket in cassingle form alongside all the Cheeto’s, frozen pizza and other staples of the lazy life lovingly referenced in Al’s spoof.
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