Mass media using propaganda to brainwash citizens. Confusion and ignorance causing a divide. People rising up against an oppressive government. Humans being torn between rage and love. These are the themes of Green Day’s widely successful 2004 album, “American Idiot.” These themes still sound familiar. Nearly two decades later, the world, especially the United States, faces these same issues. Xenophobia, hopelessness, and being utterly hypnotized by the media are concepts that are emphasized throughout the album. Analyzing the songs through a 2020 lens is frightening – not much has changed. A country known to house “the American dream” has remained stagnant.
“American Idiot” was written and released during George W. Bush’s presidency, a time laced with fear post 9/11. In the title song “American Idiot,” Green Day sings about war propaganda and how America is “one nation controlled by the media, Information Age of hysteria.” Even in the early 2000s, opinion was greatly influenced by the various media floating through American’s democracy.
During the 2020 U.S. election, it was more evident than ever that the nation is vastly divided. Each political party is finding it increasingly difficult to find common ground. This polarization is amplified through split media. Today, we see left-leaning media negatively portray the Trump administration and Republicans. Right-leaning media negatively portrays Democrats and will likely continue doing so with Joe Biden’s new administration.
In recent years, journalism has been attacked more than ever and is accused of being biased and fake. Green Day sings, “I’m not a part of the redneck agenda, now everybody do the propaganda and sing along to the age of paranoia.” This frenzy media oversaturation caused and still causes confusion and delusions. It almost acts in a hypnotic way, further leading to polarization.
In “Holiday,” another popular politically-charged track, the band writes about how protestors and the people on “the good side of the fence” can never win because they do not possess the money that pro-war corporations do. They mock right-wing Christians who use religion to justify war and other misfortunes: “Can I get another Amen, there’s a flag wrapped around a score of men.” While the album heavily discusses the media’s negative implication for creating a divide and spreading bigotry in the nation, it also deals with how the political administration itself spreads fear, hate, and anger. There is a constant political justification of why administrations have certain laws. Throughout the years, we have seen how groups of people have been impacted by a regime that continues to justify corrupt practices in the name of patriotism. How far does patriotism take someone, when even veterans of the country have lost so much? “Holiday” and the “American Idiot” were written as a response to Bush’s America, but the messages can still be applied to how we see the nation today. As long as there is a thought divide and a fundamental governance issue, people will be treated unfairly.
There are human stories at the crux of every large political picture, emphasized through the song “Jesus of Suburbia.” This nine-minute long song follows the main character who represents middle-class young people who dream of escaping their seemingly pre-determined suburban lifestyle. Billie Joe Armstrong, Green Day’s frontman, creates the character “Jesus of Suburbia” who sings about hating the people he lives with, the monotony of his lifestyle, and the hypocrisy of those around him. He longs to escape the home that he grew distant from: “Home is where your heart is but what a shame cause everyone’s heart doesn’t beat the same, it’s beating out of time.” In this anthem, Green Day’s lyrics reflect those who are born in low-income towns where the system has failed them when it comes to education, prison or any institution. People get used to this sedentary lifestyle, but this anti-hero longs to leave.
Art often reflects the dreams that people have of longing to find a better, more enjoyable life. Wanting to rebel against institutions is what people can feel on an individual level, but it also happens when people come together as a group. In 2020 we have seen youngsters take charge while adolescents become the frontline of protests across the nation. These rebels, who challenge the system and norms of society, are who Green Day have praised in many of their songs throughout the years.
As I reflect on this album today, I consider how history tends to repeat itself. The one thing every adult has taught me is that you learn from your mistakes; however, when I look at the current political climate of one of the most powerful countries in this world, I think that there really isn’t any learning being done. The country still seems to be filled with fear, tragedy, and “idiots.”. The younger generation has become accustomed to this constant mess, where hopelessness is a dominant emotion. In track six, Joe sings, “Are we are, are we are the waiting unknown?” These lyrics show uncertainty about the future, not knowing what our true purpose is and our need to escape – something our generation understands all too well.
The beauty of music and lyrics is that they have the potential to stay relevant forever. Emotions that we feel now were felt years ago. A suppressed group is always going to want to rebel. Dissatisfied souls are always going to seek satiation. It is unclear how long America will be so polarized and what it will take for the human race to not be constantly at war with each other. Through all this hopelessness, Green Day’s album still makes me feel a little hopeful. Yes, in 2020 we can relate to the lack of political improvement, but we will always be able to relate to love, sadness, rage, and excitement also sung about in this album. Music is timeless and it reminds me that while people come from different backgrounds and different periods in time, we can always relate to each other’s stories and emotions.