It is serendipitous (in the non Cusack / Beckinsale way) that U Can’t Touch This has turned up in the dying throes of Narnia week. Because MC Hammer’s most well known hit has a surprisingly large number of parallels with the Narnia sequence. Whilst people have seen religious metaphors all over CS Lewis’s fantasy kidlit, well the same it true of this 1990 reworking of Rick James’s Super Freak. Indeed you could say the relationship between the Bible, made of the Old and New Testament is similar to the addition of Hammer’s rap to James’s iconic riff to make You Can’t Touch This. Consider the Old Testament sex and temptation in Super Freak, to the New Testament pacifism and turning the other cheek of Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em. Indeed the Gospel According To Hammer is all about not hurting anyone, but just good baggy panted fun.
That’s not to say that You Can’t Touch This is all New Testament. Indeed as Hammer’s first single of this new phase of his career it was fitting that he is particularly focusing on the start of the Bible for his allegory. Namely the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. It is more plain than Aslan’s Shaggy mane that what MC Hammer is suggesting we can’t touch is the apple on the tree of knowledge, and Hammer is playing the role of a more benevolent God than that which offers up the tempting warning. Rather than saying don’t touch the apple, Hammer is saying U Can’t Touch The Apple. But there is a fatal error in God/Hammer’s statement, when he follows up with a touch more detail: “Why you standing there man, u can’t touch this”. The man, Adam, can’t touch it. But the woman, Eve, sees this as an invitation. And so, suddenly, jarringly even, the song pauses, violently, for the fall of man.
Or as MC Hammer puts it so succinctly: Stop: Hammertime.
This explains why, though man of people have searched for it, the Garden Of Eden has never been found. Hammertime is exactly what it sounds like, God and all of his angels taking apart Eden with their hammers and sundry power tools. It make us consider God as one who may use a hammer, the creator as a builder, or more precisely a carpenter. LIKE HIS SON. The Hammer is a multi-levelled metaphor in a way Aslan’s Lion can never be.
What is a Hammer after all if not a sawn off, imperfect cross? The imperfect reminding us of the imperfection of man.
Much like The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, U Can’t Touch This posits a cosy world (from “London to the Bay”) which nevertheless is a bit crazy. The only escape is to a magical world, via a wardrobe, or via the very transformative power of rap music. Hammer does throw in a ragbag of biblical references across the song, though the most striking is his two line recapitulation of the Lazarus myth:
“Go with the flow in a spin if you can’t move to this
Then you probably are dead
So wave your hands in the air”
Commanding the dead to rise, and not only rise but dance infectiously to the beat, in a situation where Hammer is in the role of Lord Of The Dance. Hammer is not saying he is God in this song, or Jesus, that is for others to say*, but he happily plays the role. This of course explains his most iconic clothing. Loose, like the robes of a Bishop, or even the Pope, the baggy trouser Hammer uses in the video suggest the all encompassing stride of the Godhead. Omnipotence – all powerful. Omnipresence – all present. Omnitrousered.
CS Lewis has nothing on this kind of religious subtext. If the world was destroyed tomorrow, one could happily reconstruct nearly all of what is great of the Christian faith from one copy of U Can’t Touch This. Left with the Chronicles of Narnia you’d end up being scared of Turkish Delight and worshipping a tedious Lion. There is a reason why the MC is there in MC Hammer’s. Its short for Man Of Christ (according to Wikipedia).
Who knows why Hammer did not keep up this kind of reverence in subsequent songs however. 2 Legit 2 Quit is a bit like St John on Patmos, apocalypitcally poor. And Pray is ironically about snorting cocaine off of a prostitutes arse-cheeks.
*A joke I am sure he invented before Richard Herring