Philosophy through MGMT’s ‘Little Dark Age’

Philosophy through MGMT’s Little Dark Age
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With ‘Little Dark Age’, MGMT, known for their signature blend of synth-pop and psychedelia, have crafted a piece that transcends the auditory to flirt with the metaphysical, offering more than just catchy tunes. Here were’ going to venture into the shadowy corridors of this song, extracting its philosophical implications and offering an interpretation that might well prove illuminating.

MGMT, the brainchild of Benjamin Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden, have written songs that serve as a melodic critique of the human condition. Their 2018 song “Little Dark Age” is no exception. Laced with hauntingly beautiful melodies and poignant lyrics, this song alludes to a time of personal turmoil, the ‘little dark age’, which serves as a microcosm for a world grappling with its own crisis of meaning.

This ‘little dark age’, a term coined by the band, is laden with philosophical undertones. In philosophy, an ‘age’ can often refer to a period of time defined by a prevailing ideology or mode of thought, similar to how we speak of the Age of Enlightenment. The ‘dark’ in ‘little dark age’ may be seen as a nod towards the concept of ‘dark times’, a phrase often used to describe periods of chaos, uncertainty, and moral ambiguity.

By calling this period of personal turmoil a ‘little dark age’, MGMT might be suggesting that such periods of personal struggle are not mere unfortunate episodes. Rather, they are periods of profound transformation and growth, deeply intertwined with our philosophical understanding of self, others, and the world.

Drawing parallels to other artistic creations, the ‘little dark age’ could be seen as MGMT’s version of Dante’s ‘Dark Wood’ from the Divine Comedy, a place of lostness and confusion where one confronts one’s deepest fears and insecurities. It’s a place of transformation, where one’s old self is shed, making way for a new, more enlightened self to emerge.

In this video, we will plunge into the depths of MGMT’s ‘little dark age’, exploring the philosophical themes and ideas that underpin this evocative piece of music.

Whether you’re a long-time MGMT fan, a philosophy enthusiast, or just a curious viewer, I believe there’s something here for everyone. This is Philosophy through “Little Dark Age.”

Part 1 **A Dive into the Shadows of Meaning**

As we explore the dusky landscape of “Little Dark Age”, we find ourselves peering through a keyhole into a room filled with shadows and half-formed shapes, the task being to discern the objects and their significance.

The opening lines, “Breathing in the dark / Lying on its side / The ruins of the day / Painted with a scar”, immediately cast an air of melancholy and introspection. Here, the ‘dark’ is not just a literal absence of light but represents a state of confusion and uncertainty, a concept echoed in the writings of existential philosophers like Søren Kierkegaard and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Existentialism, in its simplest form, is a philosophy concerned with finding self and the meaning of life through free will, choice, and personal responsibility. It proposes that individuals create the meaning and essence of their lives, rather than it being predetermined or dictated by societal structures or beliefs. Much like the protagonist in Albert Camus’s “The Stranger”, who also grapples with existential angst, or anxiety, the persona in MGMT’s song finds themselves wrestling with the ruins of the day, a metaphor perhaps for the remnants of a life not yet fully understood or appreciated.

Take the lines “You know that if it hides / It doesn’t go away / If I get out of bed / You’ll see me standing all alone / Horrified”. These lines speak to the existential fear of confronting one’s own self, a theme prevalent in existentialist philosophy. Similar to Dostoevsky’s characters in “Notes from the Underground”, who are often paralysed by their self-awareness and fear of confronting their existence, the persona in the song is both afraid of standing alone and horrified at the thought.

But there’s more to it than just existential angst. The lyric “The ruins of the day painted wit a scar / and the more I straighten out, the less it wants to try” seems to suggest a struggle with nihilism – the belief that life has no intrinsic meaning or value. Friedrich Nietzsche, the philosopher often associated with nihilism, warned of its dangers, believing that it could lead to negative outcomes like despair or societal decay. Much like the protagonist in Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” who has to confront the abyss of a godless universe, the persona in “Little Dark Age” grapples with feelings of despair and the possibility that life might not change for the better.

Yet, amidst the despair and existential dread, there’s a sense of perseverance in the song, as in the lyric “If you get out of bed and find me standing all alone / open-eyes, burn the page, my little dark age”. The act of getting out of bed, as simple as it might seem, can be viewed as an act of defiance, a refusal to surrender to the overwhelming feelings of despair and confusion. It’s reminiscent of Samuel Beckett’s famous phrase from “Worstward Ho”: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

As we continue our exploration, we see that the philosophical themes in “Little Dark Age” are not isolated, but interconnected. They paint a nuanced picture of human existence, one that resonates with the philosophical ideas of existentialism and nihilism, and finds echoes in the works of Camus, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, and Beckett. Through their song, MGMT engage in a dialogue with philosophical tradition, offering their unique perspective on age-old questions of existence and meaning.

Part 2: Of Counterpoints and Contradictions**

While we have explored the narrative of confronting despair and depression and finding hope amid the gloom, it is worth noting that other interpretations of “Little Dark Age” exist that offer a different take on the song’s philosophy. These counterpoints highlight the rich, multi-layered quality of art and its ability to inspire diverse interpretations.

One alternate interpretation revolves around the concept of hiding, not necessarily from the despair of life, but from one’s past. The song, under this light, becomes a tale of an individual attempting to escape or conceal something from their past, but failing to do so because, as the old saying goes, “you can escape from anyone but yourself”【25†source】. This interpretation posits that the ‘dark age’ is the narrator’s present state, where he is trapped by his past actions, feelings, and experiences, leading to a sense of alienation and personal depression.

Furthermore, another perspective interprets the ‘little dark age’ as a metaphor for a bleak future rather than a gloomy present or a troubled past. The song, in this view, presents a narrative where the ‘dark age’ is a grim future, a generation away, that the narrator anticipates with dread.

These contrasting interpretations remind us of the subjectivity of art and the importance of individual perspectives. Each listener brings their unique experiences, feelings, and understandings to the music, leading to diverse interpretations that add to the richness and depth of the song. This plurality of interpretations is a fundamental aspect of philosophy, demonstrating how different perspectives can provide new insights and deeper understanding. 

Regardless of the interpretation, the song encourages listeners to confront their ‘dark age’, whether it’s their past, present, or future, and to seek hope and acceptance, presenting a compelling philosophical narrative. 

In the end, it’s crucial to remember that these interpretations are not mutually exclusive. The song’s beauty lies in its ability to resonate on many levels, allowing listeners to find their own meaning in its lyrics.

Part 3: “The Little Dark Age in Context”

“Little Dark Age” emerged as the lead single from their fourth studio album of the same name in October 2017. The song’s debut came alongside a captivating music video that was considered unusually gothic for the band, a feature that intrigued fans and critics alike. 

The soundscape of “Little Dark Age” was influenced by 1980s Soviet synth-pop, a genre that evolved in a time and place where art was a form of resistance and escapism from the harsh realities of life. The album’s release was highly anticipated by fans, hyped up with various social media posts, including snippets of the song itself. The song performed reasonably well in various charts.

Noteworthy is the revival of the song’s popularity in late 2020, where it became part of a viral trend on TikTok. 2020 was a year like no other in living memory. The Covid pandemic was a turbulent time that left people physically stranded and isolated, unable to reach their loved ones. For some of us, this meant that we were unable to be with our dearest in their final moments. In such a turbulent time, art often serves as a mirror to society, reflecting its struggles and victories. 

Music, like “Little Dark Age”, is no exception. The song’s themes of isolation, despair, and personal struggle could be seen as echoing the feelings of many in a rapidly changing world. 

The fact that “Little Dark Age” resonated with so many people speaks volumes about its relevance to the zeitgeist of its time, a German term used by Hegel and other forebears, such as Goethe, to mean the “spirit of the age”. It attempts to explain the dominating characteristics of a given epoch in world history.

This revival of the song in 2020 can be tied into a broader trend of nostalgia and reimagining the past, often observed in times of uncertainty or change.

Furthermore, the song’s lyrics and themes can be seen as a commentary on societal struggles with mental health issues, particularly depression and isolation. This mirrors the broader global conversation around mental health that has been growing in prominence over recent years. The song’s narrative of grappling with a personal ‘dark age’, the struggle to face the past, and finding resilience despite despair, encapsulates the lived experiences of many battling mental health issues.

As we continue to interpret and enjoy this piece, we should remain mindful of the intricate interplay between art and the society it emerges from.

Conclusion: “The Age We Live In: A Reflection”

In our present era, as we grapple with global challenges and personal trials, the philosophical themes articulated in “Little Dark Age” resonate deeply. The song’s exploration of isolation, despair, personal struggle, and the ultimate pursuit of hope, mirrors our collective experience, irrespective of our individual circumstances. 

The relatability of these themes is perhaps why the song found a fresh lease of life in 2020, as hundreds of thousands incorporated it into their TikTok posts. The interplay between the individual and the collective, the internal and the external, and the personal and the societal finds a potent expression in the lyrics and melody of this song, for those willing to go deeper.

For those captivated by these philosophical themes and interested in further exploration, you might want to listen to Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees,” a song that also delves into themes of alienation and disillusionment with society. Similarly, Pink Floyd’s “Time,” from their album “The Dark Side of the Moon,” offers a poignant reflection on the relentless march of time and the human struggle to make sense of our existence within its confines.

The literary realm also offers a wealth of material. Albert Camus’ “The Stranger” and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Notes from Underground” both grapple with existential themes of despair, isolation, and the search for meaning in a seemingly indifferent world. These works, like “Little Dark Age,” wrestle with dark themes, yet also illuminate the possibility of finding purpose and hope amidst despair.

Moreover, there’s a rich vein of philosophical exploration to be found in cinema. Consider Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” or Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Stalker,” both of which delve into existential themes of mortality, meaning, and the human condition.

As we conclude this exploration, we find ourselves not at the end, but at the beginning of a journey into the depth of human experience and the quest for meaning that defines our existence. The themes of “Little Dark Age” are not confined to the song, or even to its time, but are a part of our shared human experience. They resonate through our lives, our art, and our collective consciousness, offering us a chance to reflect, to learn, and to grow. Thus, as we continue to listen and reflect, we find that our own little dark age can be a portal to a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world we inhabit.

Outro: “Farewell from the Dark Age”

As we bring this exploration to a close, here’s a heartfelt thanks to you, the viewers, for joining this philosophical voyage through MGMT’s “Little Dark Age.” Your time, attention, and engagement are what make this venture worthwhile.

Remember, each like and subscription to our YouTube channel fuels our quest to delve deeper into the philosophical essence of culture. So, if you’ve found this journey enlightening, do consider clicking that like button and subscribing to the channel.

Those of you who prefer the spoken word, our podcast is your haven. Follow the podcast to receive updates on new episodes and continue this enthralling exploration.

For an even deeper plunge into the world of philosophy, visit our website, Here, you’ll find a wealth of resources, articles, and discussions that further dissect and explore philosophy. Whether you’re a seasoned philosopher or a curious novice, you’ll find a home in our online community.

In the end, we’re all navigating the complexities of our own ‘little dark ages,’ and music, and other forms of art, can often serve as a guiding light. It’s our hope that through these explorations, we can illuminate some part of your journey.

So, until next time, stay curious, stay thoughtful, and remember: philosophy isn’t just in dusty old books – it’s in the music that moves us, the art that inspires us, and the everyday moments that define us. Farewell from the dark age.

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