Response 2-Billy’s Birthday Cake (11.2)

By Jaden Sauvola, Oakland University

Video Response to Billy’s Birthday Cake

Transcript for Video Response

Hello everyone. This is my response to Jay Paine’s video poem “Billy’s Birthday Cake.” Starting off, I’d like to say that I enjoyed this piece. I like that it was so multi-layered. I even got an interpretation out of it that I’m not even sure the author intended to be there, which I’ll elaborate on in another slide.

So my initial thoughts when I first saw this piece was that I was a little bit confused and disturbed, but I figured I’d just watch it a few more times and then I’d start to get it. And I did. I could tell that Paine’s message here had to do with consumer capitalism and the wastefulness that comes with the culture that uses things up until they have no use for them, and they end up just throwing them in the trash.

So getting to the reflection from Paine, he included a document as a supplemental piece alongside the main content which I feel partially validated my initial thoughts on the piece while also adding some context to a couple of interpretive layers, that being our society’s relationship with art, trash, and consumerism that I might not have thought about after first checking this project out. And I thought the inclusion of a reflection document like this was especially helpful for audience members like me who weren’t totally clear on everything that the project was communicating. I found it to be pretty ironic how the message of Paine’s poem started before he necessarily knew what the rhetorical purpose of his project was going to be, turning trash, the pinky mice shown in the video, into art, rather than doing the easy thing by tossing them in the garbage, which was reflective of the final project’s content that showed things like birthday party favors going to waste.

So as for my personal thoughts on “Billy’s Birthday Cake,” I personally enjoyed this piece simply because it was so different from other video projects that I’ve seen during my time at college. And as a video poem, it was pretty avant-garde in such a way that I couldn’t really get the images and sounds out of my head after first checking it out. And thinking back on it, I feel that Paine’s use of birthday party imagery in this piece were great, spot-on examples to get his message of our society’s relationship with consumption, trash, and art, getting that message across. And balloons and paper and plastic plates and forks, confetti, party hats, all of these objects are signs of conformity to a wasteful consumer culture since such items are common things that we’ve probably all seen before, things that are destined to be used up and thrown away, just as the mice in the video were going to be disposed of before Paine decided to use them in his art.

So continuing my personal thoughts, although Paine doesn’t mention this in his reflection, another theme that I picked up after viewing this project, especially with its horrific tone and imagery, is that of nihilism or another interpretation, the fear of the inevitability of one’s death and the cultural practices that we participate in to cope with that reality, like birthday parties. Well in one way, birthday parties are a celebration of life, but in another nihilistic sort of way, birthday parties can be seen as a pointless waste of resources and might even be interpreted as the person being celebrated simply being one year closer to death.

Sorry, we’re getting a little real and dark here, but this is just my personal interpretation of the poem. And here we have a couple examples from the poem itself that read, I was born, and on my birthdays, I used to be given things like language, pens, and paper to write my hopes upon. I used to be given paints, brushes, and canvases to smear my fears upon. This line, for example, could be interpreted as the author’s hopes and fears in life. Perhaps they hope that they’ll make it to the next birthday celebration, or maybe they don’t care because the gifts they were given were pointless in the first place, only given to them because that’s what everyone else does when celebrating someone’s birthday. And as for fears, this line can be interpreted in the opposite way, the fear that they won’t make it to the next birthday. The fear of death, that all of this wasteful consumption was for nothing. And the art they leave behind, the creations they’ve made, were just a coping mechanism for a harsh reality. Could be a bit of a stretch, but in a dark piece like this one, I wouldn’t be surprised if these nihilistic undertones were intentional. 
And for the second example that I pulled from the poem’s transcript here on the right side, I think that this one’s a little more self-explanatory and can be read as the author coping with the harsh reality of life and death by conforming to consumer capitalism and consumer culture and consuming his hopes and fears away, at least for a short while. And to further that message of conformity, Paine even breaks the fourth wall here and addresses the viewer directly by saying that this is what you would do, which I thought was really interesting.

And then, just to close everything out here, I really enjoyed my experience learning more about Paine’s project and how it came to be. I think the reflection document here helps make the meaning of the piece much more clear to the viewer, but even without the supplemental information, I was still able to interpret my own meaning from his project, which I think speaks to the quality of it. I feel that the overtones of horror and the undertones of nihilism, along with the rhetorical messages of our society’s relationship with consumerism and trash and art, are incredibly relevant in today’s society, particularly here in America where we tend not to think too deeply about our consumption habits and just do what everyone else is doing, regardless of the potential negative effects that these practices can have on our culture. And, yeah, I think that, I think that does it. So thank you so much for taking the time to listen to my response to Jay Paine’s “Billy’s Birthday Cake.” I hope that you’re able to learn something new and come to your own conclusions about his project through my personal interpretations and thoughts. Thank you so much.