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The Recession Is About Who We Are – Just ask Dolly Parton

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Don’t ask why, but I just relistened to Dolly Parton’s song, “9 to 5” for the first time in many years. Even though it was written thirty years ago, it’s an anthem for the times we’re living in. It reminded me that the harsh recession (and maybe depression) we’re in isn’t just about economic statistics, or even jobs lost or lives destroyed, it’s about who we, as Americans, are at our very core.

Take a listen, study the lyrics.

Tumble outta bed

Her fellow secretaries were played by Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, at the time two of the most politically
progressive actors in Hollywood.

And stumble to the kitchen
Pour myself a cup of ambition
Yawnin, stretchin, try to come to life
Jump in the shower
And the blood starts pumpin
Out on the streets
The traffic starts jumpin
And folks like me on the job from 9 to 5


Workin 9 to 5
What a way to make a livin
Barely gettin by
Its all takin
And no givin
They just use your mind
And they never give you credit
Its enough to drive you
Crazy if you let it

9 to 5, for service and devotion
You would think that i
Would deserve a fair promotion
Want to move ahead
But the boss won’t seem to let me in
I swear sometimes that man is out to get me

They let your dream
Just to watch ’em shatter
You’re just a step
On the boss mans ladder
But you got dreams he’ll never take away

On the same boat
With a lot of your friends
Waitin’ for the day
Your ship’ll come in
And the tides gonna turn
An its all gonna roll your way

2nd chorus:

9 to 5, yeah, they got you where they want you
There’s a better life
And you think that I would daunt you
Its a rich mans game
No matter what they call it
And you spend your life
Going funny if you want it

3rd chorus:

9 to 5, yeah, they got you where they want you
Theres a better life
And you dream that I would daunt you
Its a rich mans game
No matter what they call it
And you spend your life
Going funny if you want it

It’s a song about unfounded hope, and unblinkered reality. It’s a song about exploitation, expendability, and redundancy. It’s a song about a system that’s trapped us, a system that as recently proved simply doesn’t work.

The Reagan Revolution didn’t just change our economic priorities. It changed us philosophically and spiritually, Americans, too. We became more shallow, more individualistic, more selfish, more interested in conspicuous consumption and less interested in the communitas and its welfare. We decried the social contract as a burden on our freedom, and saw poverty as weakness.  Now, in these dark times,  we may be suffering from the hubris of our arrogant wilfullness, succumbing as we did to easy credit, and simplistic marketing, and believing that those prettly little kleenex and spit houses we bought with money we didn’t have were actually worth what we were told they were worth.

The movie “9 to 5” came out in 1980, the year that Ronald Reagan was elected on a promise to bring “morning to America” Nearly thirty years later, that morning has turned into something darker, more determined, more malicious than we ever imagined. Will today’s new reality shift our priorities, and make us realize that the behemoth of growth, progress and wealth was founded on very little, and has perhaps been fundamentally punctured? Will reality change us, will it make us reflect perhaps on how easily we allowed ourselves to be led?

I doubt it. But if we don’t, we may not learn the lesson that may be the only path to recovery. The need to recognize our weaknesses.

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One Response

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  1. Dolly Parton, raging against the machine…


    March 7, 2009 at 11:05 pm

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