One of the most memorable readings during my first year of university was Plato’s Republic. I found it to be an intelligent and surprisingly witty argument for building a society governed by its wisest members. Basically, it’s a Philosopher saying that Philosophers should be in charge.1 Now I’ve sat through hour long debates about the strength of the basis for the claim that “there do exist some chairs”. Oddly, we couldn’t come to a conclusion, although I have become increasingly suspicious of my chaise longue. Obviously Plato and his pals were probably smarter than a bunch of 20 year old pseuds, my point being that Philosophers as a group can be a wee bit indecisive.
Now I know what you’re thinking. “Tom, I’ve clicked on this link as a favour to you, I’ve just skimmed the first bit, and I really must get back to scrolling aimlessly through my timeline. Why are you talking about Plato?” Well I don’t know who you are, admittedly I have about a 1/7 chance of guessing, but I wanted to start talking about love. The word Philosopher comes from the greek philo-sophia, (lover of knowledge). Plato’s metaphor for what it means to love something is possibly my favourite metaphor in all of Western literature. He says that to truly love something is to love it in all its forms. Think of a lover of boys, says Plato, (I use boys to mean 16+, otherwise this all sounds a bit ‘Operation Yewtree’). If you really love boys then you will want to have sex with all boys. You will want to bang tall boys and small boys, fat boys and thin boys. You wont just want to bed the hottest boys. Thats not loving ‘boys’, thats loving ‘hotness’.
The reasons I love this example are two-fold:
A) In my mind, it paints Plato as some kind of antiquitous Uncle Monty,2 never being able to resist bringing boys into the conversation. “Oh Plato I had such a big lunch, I’m absolutely stuffed.” “Stuffed? That rather reminds me of the time I enjoyed the company of several fine young boys….”
B) I think it’s true. If you love something you don’t just love its most interesting or attractive instances. Plato sums up his point nicely when he says “if you claim to be a lover of knowledge, you better love ALL knowledge and not just constantly retweet f**king Uberfacts.”3
Keep this understanding of love in mind as I turn to Mr. Pharrell Williams. He has caused somewhat of a controversy this week by appearing on the cover of Elle fashion magazine wearing a Native American headdress. Pharrell has since apologised, saying that despite having distant Native American genealogy, he “respects and honours every kind of race, background and culture,” and is “genuinely sorry.” This is a topic I have always been uncomfortable with. I’m a big defender of ‘political correctness’4 and ‘Indian’ fancy dress has always struck me as something that it really shouldn’t be okay to wear. I would see people wearing it at sporting events or parties and just think “it is odd how socially acceptable it is to essentially dress up as a victim of genocide”. You can find lots of great articles5 explaining exactly what damage cultural appropriation of this sort does.
That said I do have a modicum of sympathy for Pharrell and that is because Pharrell is in love. As anyone that has been in love can tell you, you lose control of your actions. You aren’t yourself. Your heart rules your head and you make mistakes that you regret in the cold light of day. I find it hard to blame Pharrell for being a slave to the one true love in life: hats.
Pharrell is completely head over heels in love with hats. He can’t live without hats. He can’t breathe without hats. He can’t climax without inhaling deeply from a recently worn hat.6 If we go back to Plato’s explanation of love we can see exactly how Pharrell could have gotten himself into this mess. Pharrell Williams is simply a man who loves wearing hats. If you put a hat in front of Pharrell Williams he is bloody well going to wear it. Any hat. Big hats, small hats, old hats, new hats. Yes, even racially insensitive hats. He loves them all the same.
Like blaming Jeremy Clarkson for being a casual racist, or Justin Bieber for doing whatever terrible thing he’s done recently, blaming Pharrell for wearing a hat is just wrong. These people can’t fight against their nature. You can’t hold them responsible for their actions. And to be fair, there were a lot of muck-ups in-between Pharrell giving into his hat-lust and the magazine hitting shelves. The photographer carelessly left the hat laying around despite knowing of Pharrell’s condition. The editor of the magazine okay’ed publishing the photo. I doubt any of these people are especially fond of hats.
Pharrell also had controversy last year because of his association with smash hit, Blurred Lines. The track was heavily criticised for having overtones of rape and a generally shit attitude towards women. Again, Pharrell can’t be held responsible for the disturbing themes of the song. He only produced, wrote, and featured in it. Also if you watch the video to the song very carefully, you will see a shocking scene. Pharrell is not wearing a hat. He is completely bereft. No wonder he takes his frustration and anger out on the women around him. Think about this, just a few month later he is reunited with a beloved hat. The song then inspires him to write, Happy. I rest my case.
It’s now a year after the Blurred Lines controversy and Pharrell has a new album out called Girls. So named apparently because he loves women and wants to demonstrate that love. Now this is a humble article about a man, love, and hats. It would be remiss of me to put forward the idea that this album is a desperate, cynical PR stunt to distance himself from a blatant display of misogyny. It’s none of my business to suggest that Pharrell probably does love women when they look like Emily Ratajkowski and dance around him without saying annoying things like “Can I please put my clothes on now” and “No, I dont want to have sex with you”.
Look at the way Pharrell loves hats. He loves all hats, even ones that will get him into a lot of trouble if he wears them on the cover of popular magazines. He is willing to sacrifice in order to express his love of hats. Hats don’t need to look or behave in any pre-prescribed way in order for men like Pharrell to love them. Pharrell loves them for their innate hat-ness. That is a love which Plato would endorse and a love Pharrell should keep in mind when he declares his love of women.
1. Isn’t it weird how many people think the way they live life is how everyone should live life?
2. Those who haven’t seen ‘Withnail and I’, replace with “Pervy but Well-Meaning Older Gay Man’.
3. I can’t be bothered to check this, it was something like that anyway.
4. The comedian Stewart Lee puts it best as “Institutionalised Politeness”.
6. This is a slight logical leap.