Ideological Critique of “Let It Go”

It has been a tradition of our school to have a House Song competition this year, and my House (whom I’m the head of) chose Let It Go. Thus, I’ve been thinking about the song a lot recently. I thoroughly enjoy the music, but its intellectual fertility, I’m afraid, is appalling. Particularly, it expresses a specific conception of Freedom and the good life that I cannot subscribe to.

Of course, when I talk about this to kids inside the House, their reaction is laughter. Why would anyone take Let It Go seriously as an intellectual phenomenon? In my defense, I can only say that it has around 4 billion views on YouTube. That is not trivial. Its popularity attests to the fact that it has tapped into some part of the cultural unconscious (using Jameson’s phrase). In fact, it can perhaps be taken as an archetype of the predominant cultural myth. The myth of freedom as unconstrained (“No rules for me. I’m free!”) action, independent of others, both in the temporal sense of an ignoring of history (“The past is in the past”), and in the social sense of ignoring of other human beings (“A kingdom of isolation, and it looks like, I’m the Queen”). The very title, “Let It Go”, resonates, I think, with the modern psyche, along with slogans such as “Just do it”, or, “Be yourself”. The “It” within the title, reminds one of the famous Freudian adage “What it was, there I shall be.” The it as “id”, the uninhibited destructive energy has become the new superego ideology. (“The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside. Couldn’t keep it in.”) A certain constraint, a superego injunction, to act without any constraint is what comes across most clearly Let It Go.

But let us return back to the question of Freedom. To be free is more than the simple negative freedom of being able to do whatever I want. As Spinoza and Hume (along with other great thinkers) have pointed out, an arbitrary liberty is no liberty at all, but the very manifestation of unfreedom. Freedom can only manifest themselves in two ways, as, first, publicly, in the Hegelian way of the individual reconciling with society, and internalizing societal morality (in its ideal, rational and real—in contrast with actual—form) in such a way to align oneself directly with it, and, second, personally, in the Kantian moral act that does its act out of a certain subjective necessity of duty (which I interpret as an existential act, epitomized by Love). None of the two is a reckless doing of whatever I want with “no rules for me”. Instead, freedom is the most difficult and most rule-bound activity of all. This is what Let It Go cannot grasp.

—There is also another discussion of public freedom in Hannah Arendt to be had, where freedom is a political category of persons acting and speaking in public in ways that matter in their personhood. But I have already explained this today to someone else… so I don’t wish to repeat it again. Sorry.

Now, to end this short analysis, there is also, from what I can see, an escape from, even a demonization of duty—”No right, no wrong, no rules for me. I’m free!”—inside Let It Go. Morality, again, is seen as a constraining force that destroys one’s individuality into the monochromatic night in which all cows are black (Hegel). This is linked to something I’ve been considering more and more recently: our focus on rights, even, mind you, universal human rights, rather than duties (who goes around preaching about one’s universal human duties?) when duty and rights are not concepts opposing one another, but the same concept seen from another angle. My right is your duty towards me. People who takes their rights for granted, without noting their corresponding duties, we call Brats, and in this sense, Elsa is a brat, and Let It Go is encouraging such behavior. We are raising a society of brats. And Let It Go is a prime example.

The most intellectually stimulating thing, sometimes, is to just gaze directly as the phenomenon standing in front of oneself. And perceive its fleeting depth. I am tired, and there are more to say about Let It Go, but perhaps this is a good place to stop, leaving you with some space (that frame around artwork which provides it with its proper dignity) to think about the phenomenon we call Frozen.

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