The Genius of “How the World Works” by Bo Burnham

Bo Burnham has a new album/ Netflix show out. One song, “How the World Works,” has stuck out to me because of its depth. Every time I listen to it, I get a new layer of meaning.

1st listen

It starts off with a simplistic childrens’ tune and lyric about how the world works. It has a definitive communist skew. 

“And every single cricket, every fish in the sea
Gives what they can and gets what they need”

It’s cute. It’s fun. And then Bo introduces his sock puppet on his hand, named Socko. The sock puppet is a far left-wing nut. 

“The global network of capital essentially functions
To separate the worker from the means of production”

It’s comedic to hear a children’s song go from feel good communism to revolutionary.

2nd listen

On the second listen you realize that the very essence that Socko is rebelling against, affects him in the same song he is singing about. 

“Watch your mouth, buddy. Remember who’s on whose hand here,” said Bo.
“But that’s what I’ve— Have you not been f*ing listening?” said Socko.

It’s ironic that Socko is pointing out the flaws of the system from within the system, and at the end, the sock is punished for it. Bo uses existential threats against the sock puppet to get him back in line. 

3rd listen

It’s entirely possible that Bo never actually cared about the world or the conditions of its inhabitants. When Socko is introduced, he claims, “I’ve been where I always am when you’re not wearing me on your hand: in a frightening, liminal space between states of being! Not quite dead, not quite alive! It’s similar to a constant state of sleep paralysis”

Which is, you know, not great. And it certainly doesn’t fit into how the world works from the simplistic communist perspective. 

The song ends by Bo putting Socko in his place by threatening to return Socko to his liminal space/ sleep paralysis. Bo’s “feel good communist” rhetoric was just a facade for an authoritarian autocracy. Hilarious!

4th listen

By the fourth listen, you realize that this is all happening inside of Bo Burham’s head. Socko isn’t a real being. It’s just an imaginary friend. Bo has imagined the entire conflict as a way to make himself feel powerful. It’s like playing with action figures. That Bo, what a genius.