The Wail of the Cuckold

The lyrics of most modern-day pop songs are dippy, dopey, silly, sappy, and altogether crappy. But every so often, we have an anthemic event which simultaneously rocks the airwaves and also captures an essential component of the Zeitgeist with poignant alacrity. In early 1981, that event was REO Speedwagon's power ballad anthem, Keep On Loving You.

The song is generally regarded as a stirringly romantic proclamation of a man's enduring commitment to the one true love of his life. And Keep on Loving You is plenty stirring, just not for the reasons typically believed. In fact, if one pays attention to the lyrics, this is a plainly shocking song: one that expresses the raw, wounded perspective of a desperately humiliated man in deep denial, who finds reality impossible to bear. It is, in short, the pitiful, heart-piercing wail of the cuckold.

In our feminist age, saturated with girl-power rhetoric and riddled with anti-male sentiment, indulged in from an early age (the oft-heard middle school jeer, "Girls rule; boys drool!" sets the tone), a woman's virtue is presumed, while a man is regarded as a sexed-up, lying, cheating dog until he thoroughly demonstrates himself to be otherwise.

Still, when it comes to matters of recorded infidelity, an old double standard from pre-sexual revolution days still largely obtains. A woman whose man has cheated on her is regarded- quite properly, I might add—as a wronged creature who deserves recompense; she will be attended with sympathy and accorded respect by all decent people. A wronged man in a similar circumstance, however, is seen almost immediately -- both by women and by other men -- as weak and pathetic. To be sure, no one says this out loud, nor does anyone explicitly hold that a cheated-on fellow deserved to have his trust betrayed by his cheating wife or girlfriend; still, their internalized assessment clicks in almost automatically, even if they never admit it to themselves. The notion that will not entirely leave their minds runs something like this: “If only the guy had been more of a man, his woman never would have strayed in the first place.”

It was out of a general sense of a cheated-on guy's contemptible unmanliness, and the widely-held derision thereof, that the term "cuckold" first came to be used. The "cuckold" concept was apparently first conceived in medieval times; the name derives from the female cuckoo bird, which commonly takes its eggs to the nest of a male bird who is not the true father. The notion came to be conceptualized through references to "horns," alluding to the custom of stags, who meekly give up their mates after losing a fight with a rival.

Cuckolds are still largely mocked today, even in our supposedly enlightened times. Masculinist game-obsessed self-styled "alphas" tend to view them as beta wussies who got what was coming to them, while feminists often justify female infidelity as positively "empowering," as it helps to undermine the "patriarchy," or something like that. (Also, to have a negative opinion about a slut behaving sluttily amounts to "slut-shaming," which is invariably seen by feminists as bad, of course, even if the slut in question is eminently worthy of shame.) So the cuckold is out of luck. Who will feel his pain, and treat his plight with compassion, rather than greeting him with mocking laughter and derision?

Who? REO Speedwagon, that's who!

In Keep On Loving You, (see full lyrics with accompanying music here) the speaker claims to "know all about those men" with whom his wife has been intimate. (Note, "men," plural.) Yet though he "know(s)" this fact, he still wills himself to believe otherwise; indeed, he claims, "still I don’t remember." The cuckold refuses to dwell on the fact that his wife cheated on him multiple times with multiple partners, since to "remember" such a thing would destroy him. Yet he tells himself that it's all about remaining true to a love that in some way means more because it came first, chronologically speaking. ("It was us way before it was them, baby./And we're still together.")

Moreover, the cuckolded speaker wants to believe that his eagerness to deny the undeniable whoredom of his wife (again consider, "all of those men" — gee whiz, just how many are we talking about here, guy?) is motivated by love, and by a principled commitment to the vows he swore at the altar:
And I meant every word I said When I said that I love you, I meant that I love you forever.
Which leads into the rousing chorus of the song, in which our hornswoggled hero reveals that he's so obsessed with loving his faithless wife that he's going to "keep on" doing so, no matter what. He doesn't even intend to sleep, in fact, so doggedly determined is he upon fulfilling this task, whatever it might entail.

One who pays attention to the words cannot help but be moved by the poignancy of the speaker's heartbreak, sublimated though it may be by his declarations of ardent affection for his wretched lover. Plainly, he cannot admit to himself the extent to which the woman he chose as a life partner is simply no damn good. We admire him, in a way, for attempting to deal with his humiliation in a manner that retains a semblance of dignity, but just how in the world could it ever work, given the repugnant track record of his wife, and her seeming lack of repentance about her behavior? (When he confronts her, she is recalcitrant, even hostile: "You played dead, but you never bled/ Instead you lay still in the grass, all coiled up and hissing.")

In sum, Keep On Loving You gives voice to the cuckolded male in an age that shames "slut-shaming" and invites victim-blaming, provided that the victim is male and his victimizer is one of the sanctified "sluts" promoted by feminism. The song packs a surprisingly powerful punch; the chilling desperation of its underlying theme of male helplessness in the face of female heartlessness haunts the listener long after its final note resounds into oblivion.

Andy Nowicki
Alternative Right
28th May, 2013
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