The song opens with a hyperactive-sounding synth.
Then a man's voice kicks in. "Sometimes I had too many beers," says supreme court justice Brett Kavanaugh. "Which I gladly do. And I fully embrace."
The day that Brett Kavanaugh said those lines will go down in our collective memory as a day of unusual absurdity, which is saying a lot. As we all know, on September 27, 2018, Christine Blasey Ford told senators she was "100 percent certain Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her," according to CNN. As Time Magazine wrote, her testimony changed America, both opening up a flood of sexual assault accusations that had previously remained in the dark and proving just how far our government and power structures will go to ensure that the accused remain in power.
If Blasey Ford changed America, Brett Kavanuagh showed its true colors. He sobbed and shouted his way through his testimony, painting a portrait of upper-class, private-school boyhood that inevitably led to a reckoning and sparked a firestorm of criticism and parody. If Blasey Ford's testimony was a story of girlhood wrapped in silence and memory obscured by trauma, Kavanaugh's was a tale of American masculinity refracted through a funhouse mirror.
The Myth of the American Hero: Kavanaugh, Beer, and Other False Gods
Perhaps that's why "Brett Kavanaugh Automatic x Levels" slaps so hard. Brett Kavanaugh's testimony was impossible to take seriously, but contained within a capsule of 2011 EDM gold, its absurdity and banality somehow bend into a thing of strange beauty. "Maybe it was because I was an only child and had no sisters," he says. "Many of us became friends and remain friends to this day with students at local Catholic all-girl schools." His voice is slow, almost slurred; it sounds like a poor imitation of a middle school bully, or a drugged-out Pete Davidson.
But beneath the gleeful, celebratory atmosphere of "Brett Kavanaugh Automatic x Levels," something haunting—if not monstrous—lurks. That ghostly thing is, most transparently, the knowledge that Kavanaugh is quite literally one of the most powerful people in our nation. As a supreme court justice, he is appointed for life. For our entire foreseeable future—which may or may not include a revolution and a full-on climate crisis—will make decisions that affect millions of people, instantly.
There is something implicitly and horribly entertaining about hearing Kavanaugh's testimony mixed with "Levels." The remix makes it easier and more acceptable to laugh at Kavanaugh, and at the whole absurd situation; but when you contrast Kavanaugh's speech with Ford's, the whole thing starts to glitch.
While Kavanaugh lives under an umbrella of humor and simulacra-esque surrealism, the defenders of Christine Blasey Ford tend to utilize a kind of righteous and dead-serious moral supremacy, which doesn't sit well with anyone not entirely convinced by her testimony. "It was her civic duty," they say ad infinitum, "and that has to mean something." Meanwhile, Kavanaugh rambles on about his calendar and working out. The dance music grows louder until it sounds like a scream. We know what the right thing to do is, but we are tired. We are used to hearing these stories. We witness worse struggles on the streets daily; we hear them, live them.
And we've seen Kavanaugh before. It's an age-old image, that of the cowboy or the colonizer, the Hollywood bad-boy, the hero who always comes out on top, albeit with blood on his hands, the righteous redpilled alt-righter. Brett Kavanaugh's testimony highlighted the cracks in this archetype, but it also showed how firmly that archetype is ingrained into our minds and culture.
Today, while Kavanaugh sits on the supreme court, Blasey Ford has been forced to leave her home thanks to death threats—and she's a blonde white woman with a PhD. What happens to people who try to make accusations who are further out into the margins of society, who are less palatable to the masses? We already know the answer.
Parody, Remix, and Tik Tok Protest: Political Activism or Complacency?
In a way, the art of the politically charged parodical remix has become ubiqutious thanks to mediums like Tik Tok, which often paste lighthearted memes and jokes over serious messages (sometimes so serious that they get users banned from the platform). If something is so garishly absurd that it's hard to look at straight-on, humor and remixes are easy methods of deflecting, of seeing something without really seeing. So much of the Internet is like this—essentially one massive and bipolar defense mechanism, one pastiche of ironic humor and total existential panic, dissociation and brutal headlines.
Whether this omnipresent deflection will actually motivate political action or encourage apathy and complacency remains to be seen. Most likely the result will be a pastiche of both—kind of like "Brett Kavanaugh Automatic x Levels."
Let's not forget that "Levels"—the song that underlies the Kavanaugh testimony excerpts—was composed by the late Avicii, a Swedish producer who committed suicide in 2018. The song contains the refrain, "Oh, sometimes, I get a good feeling," made artificially high-pitched. It's exuberant, almost radiantly ecstatic, an ode to impulsivity, ketamine, and rave culture at its peak.
Avicii - Levels www.youtube.com
Avicii's passing was read by many as a result of pressure from the music industry, which forced the producer onto a relentless tour schedule. After his death, "Levels" became obsessively remixed, its ecstasy transmuted across medias so much that it all but became part of the Internet's sonic DNA. But it's still haunted by the sadness of the loss of Avicii, and the loss of all the futures that could've been—had the rave lasted forever, had the escape it promised remained permanent.
EDM and rave culture, like the "Brett Kavanaugh Automatic x Levels" remix and, more recently, memes themselves, are all distractions—and also ways of getting intimate with some of the primal forces that lurk deep in our minds. Beneath the dancing and the laughter, there's an intense, almost religious emotion that comes from tripping out and dancing under flashing lights, and beneath the chuckles, there's an abject horror at Kavanaugh and other forms of leadership we see playing out today.
On an emotional level, this might be the defining contrast of our post-postmodern condition—that oscillation between feeling everything and feeling nothing at all. On a capitalist level, that contrast exists, too, between the have-everythings and the have-nots, and within the have-everythings who have nothing inside.
What Happens After
It's not as if this is a new story, what happened to Christine Blasey Ford. Things happen in the dark wilderness of youth and behind closed doors at the offices. It's written in our American lineage, like apple pie and racism. Boys will be boys, and men defend each other, and will continue to defend each other, especially as the myth of the white male leader becomes more worn down by other storms like the one Ford started.
As people begin to understand that the forces that got Brett Kavanaugh appointed are the same forces that, relatively speaking, are trapping people in cycles of poverty, and are the same forces that obscured the truth about climate change in endless mantras about recycling, then maybe these patterns will slowly change.
But for now, maybe all we can or will do is dance.