Almost 20 years ago, David Bowie released a music video in conjunction with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails that was disturbingly prophetic. The song “I’m Afraid of Americans” was heavily critical of the accelerating dumbing down of American culture. The video took a slightly different tack and was heavily critical of America’s increasingly out of control obsession with guns. Together, they gave us a painfully accurate glimpse of America two decades later: Loudly belligerent, proudly ignorant and dangerously violent.
And this video was released back in 1997, well before America declared war on the Middle East and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of civilians in the name of revenge, racism and religion. When Bowie sings the lyric, “God is an American,” he wasn’t commenting on religion so much as commenting on America’s theocratic tendencies and what they mean for the rest of the world. “I’m Afraid of Americans” might as well be the national anthem of any country with a sizable Muslim population. Or oil. And Allah help you if your country has both.
But the predictions didn’t stop there. With a few simple lyrics like “Johnny wants a brain, Johnny wants to suck on a Coke,” Bowie accidentally summed up the entire career of Sarah Palin:
The video is just as prescient, showing several scenes of Americans pantomiming gun violence. It turns out that David Bowie’s character in the video is being delusional (no one had a gun) but it’s an accurate reflection of how the world saw the United States back then. Even more so now than in 1997. Not for nothing, in 2015, we averaged more than one mass shooting a day. What’s horrors await us in 2016?
Here’s “I’m Afraid of Americans.”
On Sunday, January 10, 2016, David Bowie died of liver cancer after an 18 month fight. His musical legacy stretches decades and for anyone over the age of 35, he was an integral part of their childhood dreams and nightmares. Long live Jareth the Goblin King!
Featured image via screencap.