Punisher: helplessness in the face of the apocalypse

On Phoebe Bridgers’ sophomore album, she predicts her version of the end of the world and the dissociation of self that comes with it

Some of 2020’s best albums have eerily reflected just how dark and miserable the year has been so far. Some, like Taylor Swift’s Folklore, sound desolate by design, as the pop singer crafted her latest full-length project during her time in isolation. Others, like Oddisee’s ODD CURE, are the result of a massive studio session crammed into just a few weeks. Then, there’s Phoebe Bridgers’ devastating sophomore record, Punisher.

Punisher is the type of album you put on either after lighting a joint at the end of a long day or while driving late at night. It’s the type of album that carries a lot of weight throughout the bulk of its 11-track run. The themes Bridgers sings about aren’t uncommon. Depression, dissociation, and anxiety drive the album, but the Los Angeles-born singer also tackles the reality and seriousness of imposter syndrome.

In short, imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern in which the person who has it will constantly feel like they don’t deserve to be in the position they are; they believe they’re going to be exposed as a fraud. In a press release following the announcement of Punisher in April, she explained that the song “Kyoto” was about imposter syndrome and “about being in Japan for the first time, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go, and playing my music to people who want to hear it, feeling like I’m living someone else’s life.”

Bridgers’ desire to dissociate becomes even more apparent on “Halloween,” where she sings “Baby, it’s Halloween / And we can be anything” on the chorus. Though this song is about a couple hiding their issues by dressing up as different people, it only enforces her continued longing to be someone else.

These moments of dissociation culminate in the closing track “I Know the End,” a sombre and creepily foreboding track about Bridgers’ prediction that the end of the world is approaching. In the third verse, she begins to list the things she sees while “driving into the sun” as the apocalypse begins to set in. Much of what’s on her list can be associated with modern conspiracy theories like a UFO sighting, the fear of God, and of course, subtle shade thrown at Donald Trump’s United States of America.

Clearly, like the rest of us, Bridgers isn’t optimistic about the rest of 2020.  With a potentially game-changing election looming at the beginning of November, she knows that the future of her current home is in peril. While being pessimistic about the remainder of the year doesn’t take rocket science to understand, Bridgers’ helplessness is intrinsically linked to her own experience with imposter syndrome.

Bridgers certainly isn’t the first artist to sing about these topics on an album, but the timing of Punisher’s release date paired with the introspective songs and macabre predictions of the near-future makes this album a definitive reflection of what is probably the worst year in a long time.

In the span of eight months, nearly a million people have died from COVID-19, we lost Kobe Bryant, riots are breaking out over blatant and systemic racism, and a revolution seems to be on the horizon in the U.S. — among countless other tragedies that would take far too long to list. It’s certainly easy to feel the same helplessness that Bridgers does.

But what can we do?

We do our best to educate ourselves and others. We make lists of resources that we can use to make life a little easier for everyone. But we can only do so much before we need help to change things. Yes, we can vote, yes we can vocalize the criticisms of our society with little to no negative consequences. But, still, it doesn’t feel like enough.

And yet, Punisher feels like one of the only albums that encapsulate the helplessness of 2020 in a brief 40-minute run. On “I Know the End,” Bridgers doesn’t seem to have any answers to her troubles, though she sings without any sign of anxiety. In fact, she sounds at peace. Maybe she’s onto something. Maybe she’s just completely dissociated. Maybe we’ve all gone mad. All we can do is ride it out and hope for the best.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam


Climate injustice in Canada

Graphic by Jennifer Kwan.

Whether it be pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol, the gutting of federal environmental regulations or the muzzling of some of our top climate scientists, the Harper government has done irreparable damage to our international reputation and more importantly to our ecology.

That’s not to mention an unprecedented and secretive trade deal being negotiated with China that would all but ensure the unbridled expansion of the tar sands. This would also increase Canada’s direct role in the release of GHG emissions which threaten to push the global concentration of CO2 over the edge and into dangerous territory.

It’s no secret that Harper is a friend to big oil. After all, this government continues to hand out subsidies to the tune of $1.4 billion to the fossil fuel industry even as energy companies take in record profits.

If there was ever a time for Canadians to come together to stand up and tell this government that we oppose its policies and want an end to these subsidies, this is it.

It is true that climate change will most negatively impact the world’s poorest; but the regressive environmental policies of the current government will also be felt here at home. They will also be felt in communities most vulnerable to the effects of climate change; such as Indigenous communities who have lived and depended on the land for generations, ranches and farms which depend on streams and water tables, and yes, eventually the rest of us.

This is why now, perhaps more than ever, we need a new generation of climate leaders to converge and create meaningful opposition movements. Climate injustice is another form of oppression, inextricably linked to all other battles in social justice. Whether it’s the destruction of the environment, access to education or vast economic inequality we must hold our leaders accountable and ensure equity and justice for all of our citizens. Ending the fossil fuel subsidies and re-committing to the protection of our climate and environment more generally could be a first step.

This week saw historic action taken against the future of oil pipelines, and the prospect of more tankers on the B.C. coast shipping tar sands bitumen to global markets. The movement, aptly called “Defend Our Coast”, has rallied thousands of concerned citizens across British Columbia to mobilize and take action against the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. As I write this, citizens all across the province are linking arms in front of their Member of Legislative Assembly offices to show they are united in opposition to this pipeline.

This has left me thinking. After a year that saw an incredible mobilization of students in Quebec to defeat the tuition increases and ultimately the Liberal government, why not learn from that success? Let us link our common struggles from coast to coast. Radical grassroots activism has proven to work. It’s time to take direct action against the environmental record, or lack thereof, of our federal government.

This weekend I will be attending a conference called Powershift in Ottawa. There, 1500 youth from across the country will meet to discuss the future of climate change activism and how Canadians can mobilize practically to fight for our country to start taking it seriously. Speakers such as Naomi Klein, Bill Mckibben and Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois will be making key note addresses throughout the weekend. Participants will be actively lobbying MP’s, taking it to the streets and getting out their message to end big polluter handouts in every way we can. After all, Harper did promise at the G20 to do so. It stands to be one of the most important convergences of young activists and environmentalists that we’ve seen in the past decade.

We now have a chance to come together and show the Harper government we will no longer let them tarnish our reputation internationally, nor will we let them trample the ecological rights of our most at risk communities while providing subsidies to companies with soaring profits.

As Naomi Klein aptly put it, “ We are part of a groundswell, a global movement against all forms of dirty energy. It is a movement on a roll. The beautiful truth is that we have fossil fuel companies surrounded, and they’re running scared.”

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