The American rock band Green Day released the song ‘American Idiot’ in September 2004. Its memorable lyrics include:
‘Don’t wanna be an American idiot
One nation controlled by the media
Can you hear the sound of hysteria?’
‘Well, maybe I am the faggot, America
I’m not a part of a redneck agenda
Now everybody do the propaganda’
The song was a protest song written in the aftermath of the ruinous and unnecessary Iraq war, but is still relevant today.
In interviews when the song was released, band members railed against sections of the US media who rode shotgun into Iraq on US army tanks, then failed to take responsibility for the consequences as the bodies piled up and the alleged weapons of mass destruction mysteriously disappeared.
They talked about how facts were already seen by many people as secondary to patriotism and loyalty to one’s political tribe.
This is something we see even more today, with Americans rioting in the US Congress recently over Donald Trump’s demonstrably false allegations of vote rigging and the election being stolen from him.
(The vote was rigged of course, but the other way, with thousands of black and likely Democratic Party voters turned away from the polls, but that meant nothing to the rifle-toting, Confederate-flag waving mob at the Capitol).
‘American Idiot’ speaks to how homophobia has become commonplace and being a ‘redneck’ – a prejudiced, poorly educated white male, in US parlance – has become socially acceptable and even something one might be proud of. It speaks about how honest criticism can be pushed aside as ‘unpatriotic’.
Despite growing up on ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’, I’m no American. But the song has always struck a chord with me as a Namibian.
Oftentimes when I rail against the problems that seem endemic to Namibia, both in this column and in everyday conversation, I’m told I need to tone it down. Some have even asked to see my citizenship papers.
I love my beautiful country. I would not want to be a citizen of any other place. While they didn’t sacrifice as much as some, I’m proud that my parents put their liberty and livelihoods on the line to help secure independence for this country. I’m a patriotic Namibian.
But I don’t want to be a Namibian idiot.
I don’t buy into the hysterical idea that getting angry about gender-based violence, or questioning how practices in our cultures, including my own, may contribute to it, is somehow ‘divisive’ or ‘disrespectful’.
I don’t buy into the homophobic agenda so many – including, sadly, many young men, and men who call themselves ‘Christian’ – seem to think is somehow cool.
(Young fellow, read the actual Bible from start to finish, read critical commentaries on the Bible by Christians from oppressed sections of society, then come back to me with sense. Please and thank you.)
I don’t want to buy into the red-necked racism of too many white Namibians, which you’d think would have gotten better after 30 Goddamned years but in some places seems to be getting worse.
While our media has, thank goodness, succeeded in remaining less propaganda-based than the likes of Fox News in the States, it’s still far too much based on ‘repeat what the politicians say’ rather than ‘find out the truth for yourself’.
When people call for the news to be ‘objective’, I wonder if they know what they’re asking for. ‘Accurate’ would be a much better goal.
I believe there’s a way to be a positive patriot: one who loves one’s country, but not to the exclusion of other places. One who sees people wanting to immigrate and live in your country as a compliment, not an insult. One who sees other people’s ways of doing things as something interesting, not necessarily a threat to your way of life.
Like Green Day, I don’t want to be subsumed by the propaganda machine, by a sense that all long as you defend your tribe, it’s all good.
Let me let Green Day play this column to an end. Just remember that replacing ‘American’ with ‘Namibian’ or ‘South African’ or whatever your nation is, is all too easy.
‘Don’t want to be an American idiot
Don’t want a nation under the new mania
Information age of hysteria
It’s calling out to idiot America…’
Hugh Ellis is a Namibian citizen and senior lecturer in the Department of Communication at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. The views he expresses here are personal views. Follow his blog at http://ellishugh.wordpress.com