Friday, February 4, 2011
Fake Plastic Trees "Just a thought"
"Fake Plastic Trees" criticizes how modern society stifles individuality and forces people to swallow idealized conceptions of how life should be. The whole song centers on the idea that humans, either through their own fallibility or through society's relentlessness, easily and obliviously mold their lives according to the unspoken standards they set on themselves. The result is a shallow, artificial, "fake plastic" living that perpetuates itself and destroys uniqueness.
The first two verses, which reveal the tragic consequences of pretense, evoke feelings of despair and pointlessness. The image of a woman watering a plastic money tree is heavily shadowed by shades of existentialism. The act of nurturing is the woman's attempt to create something genuine, something reflecting her identity. The bleak, futile reality lies in the fact that her "creation" thrives unto itself, surviving as the product of society's goals and inhibitions and outlooks, not hers. The plastic tree is a misconstrued representation of her true self. Helpless and beguiled, she falls victim to the ruthless nature of society and its indifference to the individual experience.
Her green plastic watering can
For her fake Chinese rubber plant
In the fake plastic earth
That she bought from a rubber man
In a town full of rubber plans
To get rid of itself
This artificialness of life is all-encompassing; no one is spared. The people around the woman are just as deceived as she is: the "fake plastic earth", the "rubber man", and the "town full of rubber plans" all point to a self-contained societal body that runs without human contribution. What's sadly ironic is that the people are self-destructive. The nihilist underpinnings of the line "in a town [that] plans to get rid of itself" suggest that many people probably realize the absurdity of the niches they're supposed to fill but lack the willpower or drive to swim against the tides of society.
It wears her out, it wears her out
It wears her out, it wears her out
The chorus "It wears her out" is the first indication of the problematic effects of living to society's standards. It's very unnatural to change yourself or survive in a place that offers no room for personal development. It's also frustrating (for the few people who choose not to fill this mold) to put your heart into something artificial.
She lives with a broken man
A cracked polystyrene man
Who just crumbles and burns
The second character introduced provides an example of the absolute deterioration of a person who has unsuccessfully tried to fill his niche in society. Descriptive phrase like "broken" and "cracked polystyrene" paint a picture of a crumbling, wrecked mold victim to external undoing. Years of adhering to society have cracked the man's resolve and razed his spirit, leaving him useless and non-contributing (a message about communism, perhaps? hehe).
He used to do surgery
For girls in the eighties
But gravity always wins
The next verse is a specific criticism of facades. The eighties marked the heyday of cosmetic surgery, ushering in a genre of image obsession and appearance alteration. For many people, plastic surgery was a panacea to life's problems, a way of handling the aesthetic imperfections that society places so much negative emphasis on. But changing how you look is only a superficial way of feeling better about yourself, so it's not surprising that Yorke associates this form of surgery with artificial gain. After years as a plastic surgeon, the man has reached a point in his life where he no longer accepts that he was "helping" the girls. The poignant line "gravity always wins" (besides being an obvious reference to image augmentation) brings attention to the eternal conflict between man's inventions (like society) and nature, and even goes as far as to suggest who will be the victor.
She looks like the real thing
She tastes like the real thing
My fake plastic love
But I can't help the feeling
I could blow through the ceiling
If I just turn and run
The song continues with the narrator's near rejection of his "fake plastic love." She fits her mould nicely, because she embodies verisimilitude, but simply for that reason her love can never be real. The narrator realizes this when he says "But I can't help the feeling/I could blow through the ceiling/ If I just turn and run." He's so close to tearing away from the clutches of society - all he has to do is act extraordinarily and unexpected. Sadly, he reverts to normalcy and submission, even tendering an apology for not always being dishonest to himself like she was:
If I could be who you wanted
If I could be who you wanted all the time