Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Lucrative Lashon Harah of Taylor Swift

TAYLOR SWIFT HAS BECOME famous (or infamous) for airing her grievances against the men in her life that she feels have wronged her in her music. One of her first big hits, “Teardrops on My Guitar”, is about a guy she had a crush on, but who did not return her feelings. After Joe Jonas purportedly dumped her on the phone in a 27 second conversation, she penned “Forever and Always” where she refers to him as a “scared little boy.”

John Mayer was the next to feel her wrath after their relationship went south, as she composed “Dear John”, which led her target to complain, “I was really caught off-guard, and it really humiliated me.” And now comes her latest smash hit, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” in which she derides her former boyfriend’s attempts to win her back. The smart money is that it is none other than Jake Gyllenhaal that is the focus of this latest lyrical tongue lashing.

Although she has seemed to corner the market, Taylor Swift is hardly the first musician to use her romantic missteps as the basis for a song. Who can forget Justin Timberlake completely eviscerating Britney Spears with “Cry Me a River”, a song so devastating that I contend it was the first step on Britney’s path of mental instability. Others might prefer the example of Alanis Morissette, who shot to fame with her single, “You Oughta Know”, ripping her ex-boyfriend to shreds, and, if rumors are true, completely ruining re-runs of “Full House” for me. I can never look at Uncle Joey Gladstone the same way.

Getting back to Ms. Swift, I just wonder where is the line between creative expression and lashon ha-rah, evil speech? Clearly, Taylor Swift hasn’t exactly been lucky in love and she is entitled to her pain and disappointment at her failed relationships. With that said, is there something unseemly about her desire to publicly mock, even vilify, her past romantic dalliances? As an artist, I understand her need to express herself through her music, but is there a point where her tattling tunes become hurtful, mean-spirited? Shouldn’t the gentlemen in her life, even those who were supposedly less than chivalrous, be afforded some degree of privacy and discretion?

Judaism teaches that a hurtful word is like an arrow shot forth from a bow - it can never return to its quiver. Words have great power, so we have a responsibility to use them wisely, particularly when we are upset. When we are angry, it is easy for a harsh word to come to our lips that we wish we could take back, but it is too late. I wonder if, upon reflection, after the pain of her ill-fated relationships has faded, Taylor regrets any of her song lyrics. Seeing that they have made her a fortune, probably not. But I would like to think that she might.

One final thought. If I were Conor Kennedy, her latest beau, I would be pulling out every chair, opening every door, and generally minding my manners. Because you know if he steps out of line, Taylor will whip out a pen and a pad, and, before you know it, we will be singing along to her next hit single, “Cold in Camelot.”

Rabbi Josh Lobel is a Reform rabbi in Silicon Valley, CA interested in sports, food, and family. Follow him on Twitter at @RabbiJLobel.