The Suburbs: ‘Modern Man’

So I wait in line, I’m a modern man
And the people behind me, they can’t understand
Makes me feel like…like something don’t feel right
Like a record that’s skipping, I’m a modern man
And the clock keeps ticking, I’m a modern man
Makes me feel like, makes me feel like

This, according to Butler, is what it means to be a ‘modern man’: an adulthood wasted spent standing in line day in, day out like a skipping record (shades of Groundhog Day?).
In this haze of undifferentiated days, we keep getting older (the clock keeps ticking), we can’t sleep, and we’re increasingly emotionally disconnected. Worst of all, we’re troubled by the feeling that something don’t feel right:
“…you know something. What you know you can’t explain. But you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life. That there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind driving you mad.”

In my dream I was almost there
Then you pulled me aside and said, “You’re going nowhere”
They say we are the chosen few but we’re wasted
And that’s why we’re still waiting on a number from the modern man…

When I was seventeen, I was selected to be in my state’s ‘Governor’s Scholar’ program (we liked to joke that GSP stood for ‘government-sponsored procreation’, and that the program existed to help smart kids hook up to improve the gene pool and prevent brain-drain, or something). Throughout the program, we were continually told that we were the ‘best and brightest’ of our generation. Maybe they were right; maybe in another life we really could be the best and brightest, if it weren’t for the fact that the adulthood we were being groomed for was the one designed to turn us into the timeclock zombies Butler describes in this song.

Maybe when you’re older you will understand
Why you don’t feel right, why you can’t sleep at night now?
In line for a number but you don’t understand, like a modern man

Here we see again the theme of growing older being linked to this kind of numb, insomniac existence; the converse of this notion is that childhood must be the time when we’re truly alive, vibrant and full of energy and unaware of the passage of time, which is pretty much true.

Oh, I had a dream I was dreaming
And I feel I’m losing the feeling
Makes me feel like something don’t feel right
I erase the number of the modern man
Want to break the mirror of the modern man
Makes me feel like, makes me feel like

In my dream I was almost there
Then you pulled me aside and said, “You’re going nowhere”
I know we are the chosen few but we’re wasted
And that’s why we’re still waiting in line for a number but you don’t understand – like a modern man

And if you feel so right, how come you can’t sleep at night?
In line for a number but you don’t understand – like a modern man
I’m a modern man

If you ever need a clear visual of the modern man, take a look outside your nearest temple of Apple the day before the release of their next major gizmo. There you’ll see a generation of young people content to stand in line, to try and assuage the barely-suppressed gut feeling that “something don’t feel right” by buying ever more shiny gadgetry.

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