Of all the John Mayer songs I dislike, my most hated (even more than that creepy daughters one) is “Waiting on the World to Change.” It’s an older song, but I heard it played at the cafÃ© where I was working this afternoon, which set me on edge. I’m not the first person to remark on the fact that “Waiting on the World to Change” sends exactly the wrong message to an already apathetic and underrepresented social group. But it’s a point that can’t be made often enough.
After years of political science graduate school drilling rational choice theory into my head ad nauseum, I can almost understand the feeling of helplessness that he describes at the beginning of the song. “We see everything that’s going wrong / with the world and those who lead it. / We just feel like we don’t have the means / to rise above and beat it.” When people like Rick Perry win multiple gubernatorial terms despite being first class assholes who do little good for the majority of people in their states or the country at large, it can be disheartening, especially when you’re just one little person alone in the world. But all this song does is perpetuate the idea that there’s nothing you can do to change things, when that’s just untrue. One person can’t do much on his/her own, but lots of people working hard, working together can accomplish something, be it ousting Rick Santorum (which was done!) or getting the city to clean up that vacant lot on the corner.
Mayer complains, “It’s hard to be persistent / when we’re standing at a distance.” Here’s a thought, Johnny. Why don’t you close that gap? There’s no reason why people have to be at a distance from the political process or from greater civil society as a whole. If you sit back and just wait for things to change, nothing will. The change will only happen when people actually rise up collectively and do something about it. I’m not talking about revolution, just making a little noise. You can write a letter to the editor of your local paper from the comfort of your own home. You can donate to a candidate who will actually represent your interests. You can call your elected officials’ offices and hound them at press conferences and events to hold them accountable for the promises they made during the campaign. There are so many things you can do to bring about change yourself rather than just waiting around for someone else to do it. No one is forcing you to be at that distance.
Mayer also laments, “Now if we had the power / to bring our neighbors home from war / they would have never missed a Christmas / no more ribbons on the door.” But if you’d just get your ass to the polls to vote for people who want to stop the ridiculous hemorrhaging of lives and money and resources, or if you put pressure on your Congressmember to vote against bad policies, then you would have that power. It’s not that you don’t have the power; it’s just that you don’t exercise it.
To which Mayer would respond, “It’s not that we don’t care / we just know that the fight ain’t fair.” Well, no, it’s not necessarily a fair fight. Lobby groups have millions and millions of dollars to spend to ensure that their interests are met rather than yours. But that doesn’t mean that any action is pointless. A kid took down a giant with a slingshot. The Rebel Alliance exploded the Death Star with just a few small fighter ships. A bunch of farmers with muskets and pitchforks defeated an army that was vastly better trained and equipped. The Red Sox came back from three games behind to beat the Yankees and win the World Series in eight straight games. Just because you’re an underdog doesn’t mean that you can’t win. You just have to work harder and smarter and be more creative and persistent. Whining that it’s not fair doesn’t make things change any more quickly. It just makes people like me not want to listen to your endless complaints.
Now, the very first time I heard this song, I felt a tiny inkling of promise in the second verse. There’s a very Peter, Paul, and Mary line that goes, “When you trust your television / what you get is what you got. / ‘Cause when they own the information / oh, they can bend it all they want.” The message of this could be that you shouldn’t trust everything you hear on its face (fair and balanced my ass), and you should seek out alternate forms of information. But no. Mayer takes it to an entirely different level by suggesting that since you can’t trust what you hear on the news, then you should just sit back and wait for the news to be truthful again (again?). Or something like that.
Mayer comforts himself with the thought that, “Someday our generation / is going to rule the population.” Guess what? If you sit back and don’t participate, waiting around for our grandparents and parents to retire or die so that we can take over, no one will have the skills to govern properly. You’d practice before a big soccer game, right? So why wouldn’t you practice for something infinitely more important? And if we wait around for too long doing nothing, then our kids will figure out that we’re mushbrained idiots and take over before we get the chance. As I near thirty, I see kids younger than me, invigorated by the Hope And Change rhetoric of the Obama campaign, getting involved in the political process while my peers sit idly by, and I wonder if it hasn’t happened already.