This song by Wyclef Jean, Akon, Lil Wayne, and Niia seems pretty straight-forward: it’s about a girl who seemed to have it all together in high school: all the guys dug her, she was in sports, and did well in school. But she ends up having to become a prostitute, in order that she and her kid can survive.
But the original video makes the matter more complicated. Set in a refugee camp (recalling Wyclef’s affiliation with the Fugees), it features a woman who is awaiting deportation to her home country. And it got me thinking about all those women who longed to escape the land of their birth because of patriarchal tyranny, or straight-up abuse. About all the women who got sold the American Dream. Who made it to these shores and found out the hard way that “cash rules everything around me.”
And how global capitalism has reduced everything into dollars and cents, even things like the value of human life, or the importance of family, or even pieces of irreplaceable culture.
More interesting, I can reinterpret the song as a cautionary tale. As the American economy slides head-long into the toilet, and as the vaunted “dollar, dollar bill” becomes more and more worthless, it becomes a metaphor for the devaluation of things that weren’t ever measured in dollars and cents. The refugee camps reminds me of the raging immigration debate, as xenophobes seek to shut the gates and wall off the borders, with the effect of further devaluing human life. The fact that it’s “cash” (and not, say, Visa or American Express) that rules everything makes me think of the rising pre-eminence of the underground economy, trafficking in drugs and sex. And it makes me wonder if this is the bleak future W and his cronies is leaving the new generations of Americans, where turning tricks becomes an economic necessity in order to survive.