Eschatological Hope: Radiohead, Postmodernity, and Womanism
(This article was originally a discussion post for an introduction to theology course I took in the fall of 2017. The prompt was to write about a piece that conjures up hope inside myself based on womanist Elaine Crawford’s book Hope in the Holler. Welp, guilty as charged, nothing gives me hope more than Radiohead. DEATH TO MODERNISM!!!)
"Fitter, happier, more productive." These words begin the Radiohead song that ironically has given me eschatological hope, similar to the hope of African American women Crawford writes about. This song has a 1990s computer voice reciting phrases that appeal to the consumeristic culture. With it manifesting such a hyper-1990s consumer culture, the song is clearly satire.
To me this song ushered postmodernism from being academic to a movement within pop culture. The reason why it gives me a sense of hope is it critiques consumer culture by being so “consumer culture” it exposes it in all the ways it manifests in the world, especially in religion. It provides me a sense of hope that consumerism is not the finality, something grander is happening now.
The key to the eschatological hope of “Fitter, Happier” is that it does not point to a distance future we are to hope for, but that it points to a hope that is happening now.
In Hope in the Holler, Crawford discusses African American women’s eschatological hope in different eras of American history, in which their eschatological hope was always one that pervaded in the present. She says, “of greater significance is the fact that the women in the selected narratives, as well as contemporary womanist theologians, have consistently noted the this-worldly focus of African American women’s hope” (102). Crawford’s Hope is one that pervades in our world today, just as Radiohead’s Hope for that which is beyond consumerism pervades in our world today. This Hope is hollered by both in different ways. Throughout Hope in the Holler Crawford discusses how African American women have “hollered” the Hope of justice, often times through singing. Radiohead, being a musical artist, also does the same through
“Fitter, Happier. Fitter, happier, more productive. Shalom, restore, less injustice.
Sometimes the Holler is chilling.
As I am typing this I am listening to “Fitter, Happier.” The sloppily played piano, haunting strings with bits of extraterrestrial electronic sounds, the robotic voice analytically reciting the values of the consumeristic and industrialistic age of modernism.
The Holler of “Fitter, Happier” is meant to disturb. It’s not meant to be comfortable for the listener.
As I am typing this I sit about a mile from the spot Philando Castile was murdered by a police officer who pulled him over for having a brake light out. Watching the video of the officer pulling his gun and shooting Philando multiple times ought to disturb.
The Holler is sometimes chilling and disturbing.
As I reflect on my initial post on the Hope I receive from listening to the Holler of “Fitter, Happier” and how that relates to Hope in the Holler, I would like to add the haunt of the Holler. Often Hope is characterized as blissful, but in fact it is often haunting. We often avoid that which makes us uncomfortable, however, Hope cannot be realized without stepping into that which is uncomfortable.
Efficiency is comfortable.
My power in society as a white man is comfortable.
Yet, efficiency and a powerful standing in society is not the Hope God lures us towards.
Therefore, the Holler exposes what makes us uncomfortable. It makes us chill.