Archive for June, 2013

The Hunger Games™, Franchise-Branding, and Rebellion

As part of an April fundraiser at my school, I paid a dollar to ‘dress down’ one day, and wore my homemade stenciled mockingjay t-shirt:
mockingjay stencil, by me.While a number of kids (though far fewer than I’d hoped) commented on it, their comments were kind of troubling.
The loud, popular, Type-A kids would usually ask me, “Do you like The Hunger Games™ or something’?”, as if they’d forgotten our society’s penchant for using t-shirts to proclaim to others the things which one enjoys.
The ‘geeky’ kids would usually just announce that hey, they liked my shirt (at which point I would try to drum up some business by offering to make and sell them one of their very own).
What nobody said, however, was “Hey, nice mockingjay shirt” or “Cool! District Twelve, represent!”(we are in Kentucky, after all).

(at which point the addition of a D12 salute would make me giggle like a schoolgirl)

In other words, because ours is a culture which believes everything has a price (and can therefore be bought and sold), even something as simple as an encircled-bird-holding-an-arrow ceases to be a symbol of hope and resistance against tyranny, and instead simply becomes a logo representing a profitable franchise.

ADDENDUM: I wore the same shirt to a first-grade classroom a few weeks later; a couple of kids saw the shirt and declared, “The Hunger Games are bad.” Indeed! The question then becomes: what changes in how our youth view the world in the years between first and eighth grade?

Because I spend a fair amount of time in a public junior high school, I see a fair amount of ‘Hunger Games’ merch, and I’ve yet to see a single item that hasn’t been emblazoned with the name of that franchise in big, flaming letters. Now, maybe it’s because I approach my various internalized fandoms from in-universe perspectives, but I find such branding—and most of the merch, for that matter—to be pretty generally disgusting.
(Especially tasteless is a movie tie-in booklet going by the title “The Hunger Games Ultimate Tribute Guide” which is little more than a collection of glorified headshots (literally, a pocketbook that allows teenagers (the franchise’s target demographic) to examine the faces of murdered peers, 70% of whose names we never learn).
For the record, let’s remember that The Hunger Games themselves are a yearly event in which two dozen children are coerced by the threat of starvation into fighting to the death for the entertainment of their society’s elites. So, my question is…do our youth believe they have no choice in how they are able to express their enjoyment of this franchise, save going online or to the mall and purchasing—and then wearing or carrying—branded merchandise which is essentially advertising for such a deplorably transparent, blood-soaked system of control? Why the hell a thinking person would possibly want to do this is completely beyond me.

Thankfully, however, the answer is Yes, they do have a choice, but most don’t see it. The first step in breaking the chains of consumption is, as always, to UN-COOL it (in this case by pointing out the ugly truths we’re not supposed to see/think about), and then DIY it (like by making your own mockingjay shirt, as I’ve done above). Personally, I’d be on cloud nine if a teen counter-emblazoned her The Hunger Games™ backpack with a big, red “FUCK”:

(I’d settle for “F— THE”, since our hypothetical activist is probably in junior high, and such profanity generally runs counter to dress-code decency rules)

(though I’d settle for “F— ”, since our hypothetical activist is probably in junior high, and such profanity generally runs counter to dress-code decency rules)

Can you imagine? Or think: if kids took copies of glossy Hunger Games™ movie tie-in ‘books’ and added stickers drawing attention to the non-fictional plights of actual child soldiers, coal miners, and trafficked humans—to say nothing of top-down wealth inequality, unsustainable resource extraction, or the coercive, oppressive nature of pyramid-shaped prison societies, &c. (as in most dystopian fiction, when the society in question is just Ours turned up to eleven, there is no shortage of applicable parallels to be drawn). Just think of it!

Sidebar: And since I’m already talking about unthinking franchise patronage, let’s remember that this isn’t an issue unique to The Hunger Games. I’m still completely unable to grasp last year’s petition—signed by over 34,000 people—for the US government to build a Death Star. Yes, that really happened! So, I guess people will just turn off their brains and click ‘Like’ for anything that even vaguely relates to whatever their profitable geeky franchise of choice is? I shudder to imagine these people’s thought processes: “Oh, hurhur, Death Star. That mean Star Wars. Me like Star Wars. Hurhur. <sign petition>.”
Even though the White House comically vetoed the petition, their explanation neglected (most troublingly) to mention the fact that the Death Star program— and the Tarkin Doctrine it represented—was the end-result of an evil empire of FUCKING SPACE-NAZIS!?!

So, anyway. When the teaser-trailer for Catching Fire came out about the same time, I was already kind of grumbly and had these things on my mind (because I always have these things on my mind!).

What I found especially telling was a line from Woody Harrelson’s character Haymitch, breaking the news to our newly-victorious heroine Katniss that “[her] job is to be a distraction from what the real problems are.
Boy, that about sums it all up, doesn’t it? In a nutshell, that’s a pretty good reason why I have a really hard time passively watching professional sports, sitcoms, televised ‘talent’ shows, big, loud superhero blockbusters, NASCAR, and other such mainstream bread-and-circuses (the panem et circenses from which Collins took the name of her novels’ dystopian nation):
I know what the real problems are, and I don’t want to be distracted.

In the course of the teaser, the obligatory title-cards flash up and inform us that “Every revolution … begins with a spark”. While I guess that’s true, wouldn’t it be amazing if (for once!) we saw through the age-old story of plucky, ragtag rebels fighting against the System, and stopped living vicariously through the pictures on the screen and took it to the streets?
I’m really hoping against hope that Catching Fire’s release this November will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back (glad to see I’m not the only one) and bursts the dam holding back all of our simmering anger and frustration—that people will finally WAKE UP to recognize the hidden workings of Our Culture—because what we need isn’t a Revolution, but a Revolt.
I say that because unfortunately, the ‘revolution’ depicted in Collins’ trilogy is the classic definition of that word—a purely political shakeup whose outcome is not breakup of power or a cultural evolution, but simply a change in leadership (“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”), maintaining the status-quo notion that we’re all incapable of governing ourselves and need someone at the top of the pyramid to tell us what to do. If people get riled up and start doing something about it (which would be good) but model on THG (which would be bad), we’ll just be right back where we started.
At this point, however, I’d be completely overjoyed if Woody Harrelson (a self-identified anarchist, let’s remember) started throwing inflammatory, expressly political, apocalyptically-minded comments about Our Culture’s systems of control into every obligatory late-night-talk-show appearance or press junket he did in support of this film!

ADDENDUM: This is a good start:

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On ‘Children of Men’


I often describe this film to the unfortunate folks who haven’t heard of or seen it as “2007 turned up to 11” (actually, I think I did read an interview with the art director (or someone?) who explained that the future of the film had to be “like the present, but more so”). In that way, it’s like the cinematic equivalent of James McMurtry’s 2005 We Can’t Make It Here Anymore, a song that similarly captures the turned-up-to-11 bleakness of the Bush years:

Basically, it’s all the worst parts of the Oughts, where if you watched the news it looked like a possible war with Iran, climate change data was coming in and being disregarded, bird flu was on the horizon, Somalia was imploding (again), and it was gray and rainy for like, a month straight. Well, add a pandemic of infertility and throw it all into a blender with some beautiful cinematography and a very interesting soundtrack and Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men is what you get. In other words, because its roots are solidly in the actual present, it’s an entirely plausible (and thereby cautionary) future.

Together, this film and Max Brooks’ World War Z have probably had the biggest impact on my outlook of a postapocalyptic world; since both futures draw inspiration from histories past and present, both reinforce the fact that almost nothing happens in a vacuum: waves of refugees can result from distant wars (“Africa devastated by nuclear fallout” a background newspaper reads), rising sea levels (Maldives, anyone?), crop failures (don’t even get me started on totalitarian monocrop agriculture), &c.  It’s a good exercise—I can look at a scenario in one of these works and see how it might have come to be, and then pull back farther to see how it relates to what’s happening now.
By extension, these two properties have also played a huge role in influencing my philosophy on our idea of ‘survival’ in its current form, doomsday-ism, &c. As both are essentially topical, applicable, and political (as opposed to the apolitical, purely-entertainment ‘Zombie 2.0’ media wave), I don’t worry about The End of the World; I’ve always found it more important to focus on The End Of The World As We Know It (aka The End of Our Culture’s Unsustainable Way of Life), I educate myself on the key shatterpoints in play (and their root causes), and then imagine (or find in history) sustainable alternatives to embrace.

On a superficial level, this is also one of the few films where I see or pick up on something new each time I watch it (ditto for reading WWZ). I would love to see an annotated version of the film that takes time to point out all the little shout-outs (everything from Banksy’s art, Pink Floyd, and T.S. Elliot to next-gen military hardware and the use of oranges as foreshadowing a la The Godfather, &c.).
Actually, that might be a fun future post

Finally—and people always look at me like I’m batshit insane when I say this—this is my Christmas movie. Why? Best let me deconstruct it:

Our story takes place in December.
A man and an expecting woman travel together, going through many obstacles.
The woman is with child, but not by the man.
The woman’s child is the result of a miraculous conception.
The child will apparently redeem humanity.
The protagonist goes through his journey wearing sandals.

Now, did I just outline Cuaron’s Children of Men, or the story of the Nativity?

shanti shanti shanti!

On ‘AVATAR’

AVTR
I’ve written about this before, but I think it’s still a valid point.
Say what you will about it (haters are gonna hate regardless), AVATAR is the perfect film for our times, and it’s very telling how it’s had practically zero lasting cultural impact, aside from becoming a punchline. Unlike “I’m the king of the world!”, “Hasta la vista, baby”, or “Game over, man!”, you probably won’t hear anyone saying “I see you” non-ironically.  Which is too bad, because the recipe is pure James Cameron genius:

*Take a troperific love story (don’t forget the James Cameron Strong Female Character™!),

*Place it in a larger Takers-versus-Leavers conflict (to make it applicable and let us draw comparisons to every single run-in between Our Culture and the less-civilized since the Neolithic):
Contact*Set it in the future (to showcase dressed-up guns, power loaders, and other geeky hardware),

*Highlight an inherent preachy message to warn society of its faults (they won’t do anything but bitch about how heavy-handed it was),

*Dress it up with absolutely cutting-edge, will-not-age, had-to-be-invented-for-the-film special effects,

*And then rake in the dough when every person on the planet (statistically speaking) sees it, twice, in 3-D, and doesn’t take anything away from the experience besides, “Gee, Dave, that place sure was purty!”

Like I said, pure genius!

On ‘The Matrix’

So, my favorite movies.
Tied for number one are Star Wars, AVATAR, and The Matrix, because they’re pretty much the same film: a Hero Journey set alongside guerrilla warfare against a System (hey, I like movies with subtext!).  Also, groundbreaking effects from all three.  So (because I have a bit more written on it than the others), I’ll begin with The Matrix.
Mtrx1

The Matrix is one of those films that occupies a strange place in the public conscious.  On the one hand, geeks and kids taking Philosophy 101 dig it, but in general it’s remembered for all the wrong reasons (like most of Shyamalan’s oeuvre, which I also really enjoy). For most people, three things come to mind when you bring up The Matrix.
First are probably the ‘bullet-time’ effects, which (even though there were only four of these shots in the film) were parodied or ripped off ad nauseum and therefore showed up in just about every movie that came out for the next few years.
The second is probably a vague sense of the bloated ponderousness of the sequels that followed (see the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise for another more recent example); maybe you never even saw the sequels, but just learned through pop-cultural-osmosis that they were kinda slow and unintelligible (even though that’s really just Reloaded).
Third, due to an unimaginably unfortunate example of bad timing, this film was released just a few weeks before a coupla latchkey kids went tragically mad and ruined guns and black trenchcoats and Marilyn Manson for the rest of us for a good long while.

That’s what most folks will think of when you mention The Matrix.  Which is too bad, because it’s an incredible film.  Like most things I love, it works on a number of levels.  Yeah, it’s trendy and mind-bendy and full of badass visual and storytelling tropes, but it’s the subtext most people seem to overlook that really gets me.  Take this scene from the first act:

MORPHEUS
… You’re here because 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. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?
NEO
The Matrix?
MORPHEUS
Do you want to know what IT is? The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us, even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
 NEO
What truth?
MORPHEUS
That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch…
A prison for your mind.
 

Or how about this even more transparent monologue?:

MORPHEUS
The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around. What do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system, and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inert, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.

Thankfully, the idea of ‘the Matrix’ isn’t just some pseudo-philosophical mumbo-numbo in a popcorn blockbuster, it’s a metaphor for the culture we live in. In one form or another, it’s how the world has been—for an increasing majority of humanity—for about the last six thousand years. The first Mesopotamian god-king city-builders laid the foundation for the Matrix. The Egyptians lived in the Matrix. So did the Romans. In today’s all-but-conquered, global, industrialized capitalist world, 99.999999% of people live in the Matrix. It’s really a testament to the genius of the Wachowskis that they were able to package these rather heavy-handed, dangerous ideas in such an entertaining, marketable format  through their use of allegory (a la James Cameron, more on him in a bit): the average viewer won’t pick up on the film’s anarchist subtext because it’s about hackers and robots and people covered in plugs.

Sure, the film is violent.  But, as brother Cornel West explains, it’s “intellectual violence”.  The film’s heroes aren’t fighting individuals, they’re fighting against the system itself, for the opportunity to show humanity a better world. In fact, the speech that closes the film sounds like something straight out of Kalle Lasn’s Culture Jam:

I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid. You’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. I’m going to hang up this phone and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you, a world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries, a world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.

That’s what’s so worrisome about the Matrix sequels.  Metaphorically, if the Matrix is our status quo civilized world, and the ‘real world’ is the fulfilling life outside the System, the second and third films’ suggestion that the real world is just a Matrix Within a Matrix* would suggest that even rebellion against the System will leave one still within the System…which is pretty much true.  As the PBS Frontline program Merchants of Cool put it:

The cool-hunt ends here, with teen rebellion itself becoming just another product. … The battle itself is packaged and sold right back to them…welcome to the Machine.”

*Yes, I know that’s not what the Wachowskis say, but when the official explanation is a hand-wave and ‘Fuck you, dear viewer’, I’ll take the one that actually encourages discussion.

The Suburbs: The Suburbs Continued

If I could have it back
All the time that we wasted, I’d only waste it again

If I could have it back, you know I’d love to waste it again
Waste it again and again and again, I forgot to ask…

Sometimes I can’t believe it
I’m moving past the feeling again

This short track brings little material to the conceptual framework of the album, yet adds greatly to the album’s cinematic nature—it’s not a stretch to picture The Suburbs Continued playing over end credits. After evoking the black-and-white films of Golden Age Hollywood with a lush string section (perfectly exemplifying the song’s theme of nostalgia), Win wistfully thinks back to his formative adolescence. As I’ve said before, that time might’ve not have been ‘productive’ as we usually define it, but some good still came out of it: in a determinist sense, we are all products of our own wasted hours. Furthermore, for a lot of folks in this culture, the wasted hours are the ‘best years of our lives’ that we’re supposed to reminisce about and strive to relive once we’re out into the real world of wage-slavery: witness the former high school football star whose successful car dealership can never compare to his glory days as a quarterback. You know the type.

Finally, after a subwoofer-rattling rumble, the song (and the album) ends with a slow fade of Win and Reginé returning to The Suburbs’ chorus. This coda also works perfectly as an album opener as well (try it sometime!), underlining the viciously cyclical nature of the escape from and return to the ‘burbs tackled by the album.

And with that, we wrap up the eighteen monster tracks of The Suburbs. After all that Millennial angst, I think it’s time to take a well-deserved break to look at some recent cinema. But don’t worry, we’re not done with Arcade Fire by a long shot.

The Suburbs: ‘Sprawl II’

The Sprawl tunes are the album’s final duo, but interestingly enough they—unlike all the other two-part suites—don’t segue into each other; even stranger, it’s We Used to Wait that settles into Flatlands. It’s a weird choice given the pattern of the others, but alas. Musically, once this song gets pumping there’s a definite early-mid-Eighties influence; at times I think I hear strains from Blondie’s Heart of Glass. As I’ve noted earlier, the Sprawl suite is a musical inverse of the Half-Light suite, beginning with a bleak song and essentially ending the album with a song I almost hesitate to call buoyant.
I’ll admit: I was a latecomer to Arcade Fire. Seeing Reginé perform this song on an SNL rerun aired a few months after their controversial Grammy win was my introduction to the band. And the scary thing is, I almost didn’t watch it. I often fast-forward through SNL’s musical acts, but this time I dunno, maybe I let it play while I got up to grab a snack or something, but I remember picking out the word pretentious. Which is funny, because based on my very vague pop-cultural-osmosis understanding of Arcade Fire at the time (comprised of two items: they were from Montreal, and were an “indie” band, whatever that means), pretentious was the word I would’ve ignorantly used to describe them. How wrong I was! Anyway, hearing that P word piqued my interest, so I thought, “let’s see what these Canadian hipsters I’ve heard about can do”, sat down, and watched the performance. Twice. As I’ve said, it would figure that Mountains Beyond Mountains would be my introduction to the band, what with its throbby danceable beat, fem singer, and vaguely-eco lyrics. Although it would take like, four months before I took the next step and listened to The Suburbs in its entirety, I was hooked from the outset.

They heard me singing and they told me to stop,
Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock
These days my life, I feel it has no purpose
But late at night the feelings swim to the surface
‘Cause on the surface the city lights shine
They’re calling at me, come and find your kind

Regarding the first three lines: this is an essential frustration of Our Culture, and especially for Millennial Young People in this culture. We are raised to follow our instinct for freedom and free expression, but as soon as we’re shoved out the door into ‘the real world’ we’re suddenly expected to conform and keep our heads down in order to get by (except maybe for on the weekends when we’re allowed to cut loose in socially-sanctioned opportunities for consumption). Those of us with little interest in entering the wage economy are continually dogged by bluepills to “figure out what we’re going to do with our lives”, who assume the only worthwhile employment is one in which we sell our time to others for money. We’re told that unless we’re ‘gainfully employed’, we’re wasting our time, purposeless. However, while we might not know “where to go or what to do” with our lives, we do know where we don’t want to go, what we don’t want to do.
We want to sing, to shout, to feel truly alive…but such nonsense is the realm of Lefties, Greenies, Hippies, Humanists, Liberals, Leavers, and all other manner of people closer to Wild than to Civilized on the domestication spectrum, those who still value life over Our Culture’s concept of ‘wealth’. They ask us why we can’t just be ‘normal’ like everyone else (i.e. turn off your brain and don’t think)?
The city lights shine superficially, yet still they call to these suburban youth. Even though they’re unhealthy, unsustainable-by-nature resource-vacuums, we are still drawn to cities, in hopes of finding our tribe and connecting with others like ourselves.

Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small that we can never get away from the sprawl,
Living in the sprawl, dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains
And there’s no end in sight
I need the darkness, someone please cut the lights

I touched on this in Sprawl I, but I’ll leave it to Mr. Max Brooks to explain this pre-apocalyptic wasteland of modern civilization:

“Cities weren’t cities anymore, you know, they just grew out into this suburban sprawl. Mrs. Ruiz, one of our medics, called it “in-fill.” She was in real estate before the war and explained that the hottest properties were always the land between two existing cities. Freakin’ “in-fill,” we all learned to hate that term. For us, it meant clearing block after block of burbland before we could even think of establishing a quarantine perimeter. Fast-food joints, shopping centers, endless miles of cheap, cookie-cutter housing.” (World War Z, 317).

Based on sentiments suggested by Deep Blue, We Used to Wait, and others, I think it’s safe to assume that cutting the lights includes turning off one’s array of gadgets as well. As for needing someone to cut the lights, I think that’s where folks like Derrick Jensen step in.

Can we ever get away from the Sprawl, living in the Sprawl?

We rode our bikes to the nearest park
Sat under the swings and kissed in the dark
We shield our eyes from the police lights
(I’m pretty sure I’ve heard this as ‘You shield my eyes’, which is really sweet)
We run away, but we don’t know why

Besides the recurring use of the word sprawl, this scene is a pretty solid connection to the first part of this suite—both involve Kids riding bikes at night with police nearby. Why do the Kids in this song instinctively hide and run away from the cops? They’re just hanging out in a park at night, what’s the big deal? Why do we have such an inherent opposition to figures of authority in civilization? Do we know in our hearts that these systems are not acting for our own good? There’s a reason we refer to cops as ‘the long arm of the Law” (as the civilized Law incarnate, these officers are automatically set against the Wild folks who value life over money mentioned earlier).

Black river, your city lights shine
They’re screaming at us, “We don’t need your kind”

Where before the city lights shined and “[called] at me, now that our emblematic protagonist has successfully found her tribe in the urban jungle the lights shine and “[scream] at us. Is this the cycle for postpostmodern youth: born and raised in the suburbs, then drawn to—and subsequently repulsed from—cities, only to return back to the ’burbs to perpetuate the cycle? In an interview I did a few years ago, I suggested that this current batch of sub/urban Millennials should consider resettling in the country instead of in the Sprawl, where they just breed more White yuppie-hipster types.

Or as one reviewer described, the whole Sprawl suite is a “rumination on age and change, how children struggle for years to leave the suburbs for the city only to often welcome the return to the suburbs when the chance arises years later.”

Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small, can we ever get away from the sprawl?

Me too, Reginé. Me too.

And don’t worry, I haven’t forgot about the wonderful video project for this song. It’ll eventually be covered along with the other audiovisual media the band has produced.

© Ed Graham Photo

Someone please cut the lights?

The Suburbs: ‘Sprawl I’

BLEAK. That’s the only word to describe Flatlands. As the lingering piano of We Used to Wait fades out, we hear a dreary wind begin to blow. Over this comes the slow scraping boom of dejected footsteps. And then that hypnotic lone guitar kicks in, and the bleakness level goes up to eleven. Win’s tortured vocals resonate with their existentially-heartsick plaintive-ness:

Took a drive into the sprawl, to find the house where we used to stay
Couldn’t read the number in the dark, you said, “Let’s save it for another day”

Why don’t they take a walk into the Sprawl? Remember, “first they build the roads, then they built the town;” believe me, the Sprawl is definitely not pedestrian-friendly. Together with the general bleakness of this track, this verse conjures up scenes from McCarthy’s The Road in my head:
The Road
Took a drive into the sprawl to find the places we used to play
It was the loneliest day of my life
You’re talking at me but I’m still far away
Let’s take a drive through the sprawl, through these towns they built to change
But then you said, the emotions are dead; it’s no wonder that you feel so strange

Damn!, this is some serious slit-your-wrists-depressing shit! Again, we see a reprise of one of the album’s underlying themes–connection to a place that doesn’t exist. What can these Kids (and all of Us, for that matter) do when faced with such a recklessly world-consuming, cannibalistic, unsustainable-by-principle, life-annihilating pathology of a culture? Once again, nothing in this system is made to endure or last—towns least of all. When their whole worldview is based on infinite expansion and growth (in what they don’t want to admit is a finite world), the prevailing paradigm isn’t to repair and keep it running (pre-WWII-like), but to tear down and put up a new one in its place. (Of course, sometimes they don’t tear the old one down at all, but still build a new one somewhere else, leaving the old empty husk to decay; more on that in Sprawl II.) Naturally, these things are all made disposably cheap in the first place to make it easy to throw out and replace, because [sarcasm] there couldn’t possibly be a limit to the resources it’ll take to make new ones[/sarcasm], and anyway, this is the way humans were meant to live, right?
When you’re up against The Mess, things can look pretty hopeless. That’s where Arcade Fire come in.

Win Butler isn't a cop, but he plays one on tv.

Win Butler isn’t a cop, but he plays one on tv.

Cops shone their lights on the reflectors of our bikes,
Said, “Do you kids know what time it is?”
“Well sir, it’s the first time I’ve felt like something is mine, like I have something to give”
The last defender of the sprawl said, “Well, where do you kids live?”
“Well sir, if you only knew, what the answer is worth, been searching every corner of the earth…”

Dialogue! Finally, some concrete lines we can put in the mouths of characters – cops and kids!
I wonder if this is this the same time as the earlier verses, when the singer and his friend drive into the sprawl looking for their houses? I’m inclined to think it’s not, and they’re revisiting a memory from their Wasted Hours. Supposedly, these questions are what the local cops in The Woodlands (the ’burb where the Brothers Butler grew up outside Houston) would ask Kids they’d harass.

Imagine this scene: the cops stop the kids (who are just killing time in the cul-de-sacs one night), ask them these questions, and our singer has the audacity to give these ridiculous replies (he’s been well-conditioned to respect the badge and always call cops Sir, which is always a good idea for one’s self-preservation)! I’m surprised the cops don’t face-plant him on the ground right then and there for such cheekiness. I dunno, maybe that happens in an apocryphal final verse.

A word on the cop’s title: Last Defender of The Sprawl. The police here are symbols and figureheads of the civilized system, the embodiment of the anti-tribal law begun with Hammurabi only 3,700 years ago. Don’t it seem strange how in basic Social Studies classes that’s like, the first thing worth mentioning after the so-called ‘discovery’ of agriculture?
Or, as one Songmeanings user expressed it:

“The last defender” is the last cop that was needed to keep the sprawl spreading, because in the past people were fighting against it, against streets and malls taking over the forest, against machines and technology taking over nature and life. The sprawl required defenders and these defenders were cops because the sprawl is basically private property taking over what’s left of our common Earth. Now people don’t fight that anymore, they have surrendered to it, to the vision of human emotion as something undesirable, to the idea of exploiting and making profit out of every single thing in this world.
So, there’s no need for those defenders, anymore. The one in the song is the last one. There’s no need to protect something that’s everywhere. The kids have been searching but there’s no place in the whole world that feels like home anymore.”
Well-put, Graphe.