Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Poor Choice of Words: An Analysis of Kat Stratford’s Favorite Band and Their Lyrics from 10 Things I Hate About You

Sidenote: In a slight turn of events, I've decided to write and post several analyses of various film adaptations that I've had to study over the course of my university career. I kind of consider them to be reviews so in all fairness I feel they should be posted here for that sake if anything else. So without further ado, we shall begin with Shakespeare.
Gil Junger’s 1999 film adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, entitled 10 Things I Hate About You, has received mixed criticisms focusing on the themes that have received new life that were once seen in Shakespeare.  Many students in the audience believe that the film provides an equal opportunity for the play’s protagonists to assert their own beliefs and become their own independent characters, a change met readily by those that believe the play had instances that bordered on spousal abuse between Katherina and Petruchio.  However, the film does little to make the female characters any different from their play counterparts.  These women, Kat and Bianca, are still the playthings of the men in the film, being manipulated by the rules of a bet made on a whim to prove the power that the male leads have over them in a high school setting.

Kat Stratford, a character made out to be the example of the independent high school outcast, is actually more in tune with her Shakespeare counterpart, and the play’s themes of male power and identity come across quite firmly through the lyrics of Kat’s favorite band, making her less of the independent spirit and more the possession that Katherina became at the end of the play.  Favorite songs are mostly chosen by an individual because there is something in the lyrics that speaks to the person, something that rings true with the beliefs of the individual and makes a claim for the position of a favorite song.  Eventually, multiple favorite songs by one band lead to the assumed title of “favorite” band.  The lyrics to Kat Stratford’s favorite band embody the idea of the original play’s intentions of making females subjective to male wants and desires, narrowing the allowances that the 21st century would give in terms of independence to a lead character who exudes an air of free will and determination to hide the fact that she too wishes to be just one of the crowd.
“Her favorite band’s playing there tomorrow night […] She’s got tickets” says Cameron James, as he attempts to convince Patrick Verona that making his first move on Katarina Stratford at a club is the next best step to their plan.  This is the introduction that the audience has to the band Letters to Cleo, declared to be Kat Stratford’s favorite choice of music.  Over the course of the film, Letters to Cleo performs on three separate occasions, the first at Club Skunk, the second at the high school prom, and the third on the rooftop during the closing credits.  The first song they play is entitled, “Come On,” an original song that did not make it onto the official soundtrack.  At first glance, the lyrics seem a bit of a throw away, more a chance for the male lead to have his first unbiased view of Kat Stratford dancing in a club.  However, the lyrics are more to the point of the play’s and the film’s themes than credit normally gives them.
I’ve got my ear
Pressed to the glass
Pressed to the wall
By the way
It’s your second face I didn’t see
About what I heard
And I just can’t believe it’s true
All the things I didn’t know about you

            By this point the protagonists have met in the club and the performance fades into the background.  The lyrics display the theme of the duality of the nature within these protagonists.  Petruchio’s new incarnation, Patrick, is playing the part of the attracted suitor because he is being paid to take Kat out while she is led to believe that he is being honest with his actions.  The lyrics foretell the coming plot points of the film to those who pay attention to them.  However, as the words of Kat’s favorite band it makes for an interesting analysis of Kat as a character.  The audience can wonder if Kat finds something of herself in these lyrics.  Is the persona that she displays for her high school world to see her true identity, or do the lyrics show that she too is displaying a second face for the world to identify her with, one that gives her the ability to control the aspects of her life that she can assert some kind of power over?  She has no reason to doubt Patrick at this point in the film, so it stands to reason that perhaps these lyrics don’t only refer to Patrick but to Kat as well.  As a point about male power and identity, the lyrics serve nothing out of the ordinary and yet to disregard their hints at future plot-twists would be irresponsible.  These lyrics may not prove that Kat is less independent than she seems to be but they do prove that there is more behind the lyrics of this band than what meets the eye.  As the first performance out of three by Letters to Cleo, it is necessary to recognize the illuminating nature of these lyrics in order to better appreciate the revelations found in the band’s later performances captured in this film.
            The next performance at the prom had the band Letters to Cleo performing a cover of the song “Cruel to be Kind.”  An analysis of the lyrics shows lines like, “You say your love is bona fide/ But that don’t coincide with the things that you do/ And when I ask you to be nice you say you gotta be/ Cruel to be Kind.”  The lyrics hint at the idea of an abusive relationship, akin to the one originally seen in Shakespeare’s play.  Patrick has not done anything remotely abusive, either physically or mentally, but the lyrics do bring around a questionable motive.  They recall more of kinship to the play’s motifs than to this new-age adaptation.  The idea could be that as a favor from Patrick, the use of Kat’s favorite band and their words could be considered a form of apology.  However, the lyrics move on to lines about knocking down a girl, again and again, with the course of the song going back to the idea of cruel to be kind.  This does not ring true to the supposed intentions of the film at all.  As an independent woman, Kat would be foolish to allow herself to fall into the trap of staying in an abusive relationship.  As a 21st century woman, she has the choice to lead a life free from male influence and she has the ability to forge a life for herself.  Despite these facts, her favorite band is singing the words that say such abusive actions are forgivable if they are done out of love.  As a result, Kat is slowly being exposed as a woman tied down by the reins of male power, a power that will erase the self-sufficient image that she has projected for so many years in favor of a more socially acceptable female visage.  Also, this is not an original compilation by the band but rather is a cover of another artist, named Nick Lowe.  The audience has to question why this particular song was chosen.  Why do these lyrics have more in sync with the film than another choice?  What purpose does it serve to have Kat’s favorite band re-making this song with these lyrics?  The idea would have to be that Kat is not an independent free spirit, but is the kind of woman who can easily believe that the man of her dreams can treat her poorly all in the name of love.  This belief does not coincide with a new and modern Kat, but does coincide with Katherina and the theme of male power that tamed her.
            Letters to Cleo’s final performance was a cover of Cheap Trick’s, “I Want You to Want Me.”  The understanding normally is that the song played during the closing credits of the film encapsulates all of the themes of the film just seen.  This song again brings to mind the ideas of the play; the idea of manipulating one person into becoming the kind of tamed creature that would perform the other’s every whim.  “Shine up my old brown shoes/ I put on a brand-new shirt/ I’ll get home early from work/ If you say that you love me,” (emphasis by the author).  These lines give the idea of performing actions for the sake of gaining approval.  The impression given is that the singer will do anything as long as the person they’re singing to will tell them they are loved.  This is not the kind of music that a feminist rebel woman would choose as her theme song.  Instead these lyrics only enforce the kind of woman that Shakespeare created in his play, the kind of woman who can be tamed through various kinds of deprivation.
Kat Stratford is supposed to be the kind of girl that today’s audience would identify with, a girl with equal rights and a mind of her own.  Instead, her favorite band’s lyrics show her to be the kind of pushover woman that true independent people would wish to avoid.  The lyrics show the genuine inner workings of Kat.  She is not the heroine that audiences believe she is.  She is the girl that wants the same things that her peers want: cool friends, nice car, safe family life and the boyfriend of her dreams.  She is the possession of the men around her and will seek their constant approval because she wishes to be just like everyone else.  Her high school career as the “shrew” will be just a memory, a blemish easily forgotten as she leads the acceptable life of an honorable woman in society, just like Katherina.

1 comment:

  1. Caroline from SwedenApril 17, 2013 at 11:35 AM

    Wow, you are a really good writer! I have never thought about 10 things i hate about you this way, thank you. I hope all goes well for you! :)