Zarathustra vs Cyndi Lauper

Thus Spoke Zarathustra – Second Part – Chapter 3: ‘On Those Who Pity’
vs “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” Cyndi Lauper (She's So Unusual, 1983)

‘Ever since there have been human beings, they have enjoyed themselves too little: that alone, my brothers, is our original sin’ – so proclaims Zarathustra. Enjoy yourself? Can this really be a centre of the teacher’s philosophy? It just seems so… simple (and, possibly, irresponsible or even dangerous). And not enjoying ourselves: that ‘alone’ is the problem for Nietzsche? The ‘original sin’?

The doctrine of original sin was developed by the early Christians in their interpretations of what became the Old Testament. In the Genesis myth, Adam and Eve are having good times in the garden of Eden. Amongst the more prosaic foliage, is the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and God commands Adam and Eve to never eat its fruits. However, Eve is also hanging out with a serpent, who idly suggests she taste the fruit, which she then shares with Adam. God gets the hump at this and boots them out of paradise, making them mortal to really fuck them over. Enter the human race as we now know it. This expulsion is known as the fall, and for Christians such as Augustine the disobedience of Adam and Eve is inherited by their ancestors. Of course, there are as many differing interpretations of original sin as there are sects of Christianity, but the ones we have left now after the successful persecution of the outliers by their more powerful cousins, pretty much agree we are all born guilty, inclined to be disobedient to god, and our nature is touched by evil. Oh - and it's all the fault of a woman. Madness.

Throughout chapter three, book two of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche alludes to such consequences of the myth of the fall. ‘Shame, shame, shame’ says Zarathustra, ‘that is the history of the human’. Christianity – and religion in general, for Nietzsche – finds ways to create a culture of shaming others. No time more so than when they are enjoying themselves. And particularly for women. And it is just this culture of shame that Cyndi Lauper resists in her first hit single ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’.

Written and first demoed by Robert Hazard in 1979, it was released by Lauper in 1983. Lauper’s version is a synthpop hymn to enjoyment, but – crucially – this enjoyment must be fought for against the cultural forces of shame that surround her. Out having a laugh with her girlfriends, Lauper is attacked by parental forces: ‘I come home in the morning light / My mother says when you gonna live your life right’; and, ‘The phone rings in the middle of the night / My father yells what you gonna do with your life’. Here the past and the future are evoked to shame and restrict the behaviours of this girl. And even when she escapes the repressive environment of her parents, the oppression is reasserted in relationships: ‘Some boys take a beautiful girl / And hide her away from the rest of the world’. ‘[T]hat is the history of the human’, says Zarathustra in a pre-echo of ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’: ‘Shame, shame, shame’. Lauper’s track is an anti-shaming song. It is articulated from the perspective of one who enjoys herself, and displays no ressentiment or revenge, no anger toward those who want to restrict the enjoyment of others. And this is important as it thus breaks with the logic of the history of shame. ‘Oh mother dear we're not the fortunate ones’… ‘Oh daddy dear you know you're still number one’, and ‘I want to be the one to walk in the sun’.

We have already seen Neitzsche cast the sun as bestowing pure benevolence at the very beginning of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, as the very first image of the book (‘First Part: Prologue 1’). And such benevolence appears throughout Nietzsche’s books. For instance, in Human, All Too Human (B1 C2 §49: ‘Benevolence’) Nietzsche writes: ‘Among the little but immeasurably frequent and thus very influential things to which science ought to pay more attention than to the great, rare things, benevolence too is to be reckoned; I mean those social expressions of a friendly disposition, those smiles of the eyes, those handclasps, that comfortable manner with which almost all human action is as a rule encompassed […] especially within the narrowest circle, within the family […] Good-naturedness, friendliness, politeness of the heart are never-failing emanations of the unegoistic drive and have played a far greater role in the construction of culture than those much more celebrated expressions of it called pity, compassion and self-sacrifice.’

And thus we encounter the theme of pity. This is crucial as the chapter is entitled ‘On Those Who Pity’ and performs a genealogy of pity. ‘Pangs of conscience give people fangs’ and those who are subjected to such pity have their pride injured and become ‘vengeful’. Nietzsche is against pity. And the aphorism on benevolence in Human, All Too Human is followed by an aphorism titled ‘The desire to excite pity’. (B1 C2 §50). None of this means, as we have seen, that Neitzsche is against being kind, helpful, nice. Far from it. ‘Verily, I may have done this and that for sufferers: but better things it seemed I always did when I learned to enjoy myself better […] And if we enjoy ourselves better. So do we best unlearn our hurting of others and our planning hurts for them’. And it is this tone and meaning that inspires ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’.

Second Part: Chapter 4 - The Damned