Call Me, Maybe: Cooperation and Coercion in the Music of Carly Rae Jepsen

The Duck of Minerva breaks down the game theory at play in “Call Me, Maybe.”

There has never been a better use of the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

For the purposes of this model, we can assume Carly Rae Jepsen is a rational actor. She begins the song with the words “I threw a wish in a well / don’t ask me I’ll never tell.” This indicates a clear set of preferences. The fact that she will not reveal her wish under any circumstances indicates that these preferences are constant throughout the game. Carly also sets up a ranked order of preferences, noting “I’d trade my soul for a wish / pennies and dimes for a kiss.” This monetization of kisses indicates her ranking is in fact quite sophisticated.

However, assuming the boy is a rational actor as well (which Carly does) the prisoner’s dilemma would predict that her optimal strategy is to defect. Since she cannot guarantee the boy will call her, the prisoner’s dilemma predicts she should not give him her number, and that her actions are, in fact “crazy.” What accounts for not only Carly’s actions, but also the success of her strategy? To answer this question, we must look beyond the constraints of the prisoners dilemma. Other models may in fact lend more explanatory leverage on the issue.

Read the whole thing at The Duck of Minerva, where there’s also a response post arguing that Jepson is clearly demonstrating the problems of asymmetric information.

call me maybe carly rae jepsen prisoner's dilemma coercion cooperation political science

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    Oh poli sci majors…
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    I can’t believe this exists.
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    Fucking prisoner’s dilemma, mang! I have a lot of feelings about prisoner’s dilemma as a former psychology/IR student....
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