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Green Day and The Enlightment Period

Posted Nov 4 2009

I recently used this video in a World History class to see if students could apply themes we studied. This video deals with the idea of religion versus spirituality. While the majority of my teaching is standards based, I also like to work in these types of activities to keep things interesting and see if students are making connections.

Road To Nowhere - Set to "East Jesus Nowhere" by Green Day from On Point on Vimeo.

This is not an official Green Day video and is actually a short film called “Road to Nowhere,” which is based on their song “East Jesus Nowhere.” In the director’s own words, “it’s 1932- The Devil comes to a ramshackle town to peddle sin and vice and the people must find the strength to resist temptation.”

Essentially, a false preacher arrives to a small town, along with some provocatively clad women, accountants, vices such as cigarettes, and blank Bibles. The people fall under this preacher’s influence and begin to give him all of their possessions, including deeds to their homes. A stranger comes to town and confronts the preacher, via music and his guitar. This stranger is soon happily surrounded by the women, one of whom destroys his guitar. As the man falls in despair, the preacher gloats, before a townsperson cuts a cable holding a cross, which falls and kills the preacher. The townspeople then chase the women and accountants out of town. The hero takes a necklace with a cross out of the dead preacher’s hand and looks up to heaven and God.

Some themes that came out in discussion:
1.    The blank Bibles represent a lack of knowledge
2.    The devil/false preacher manipulate imagery associated with God to trick people
3.    The hero comes, but falls victim to his own pride
4.    The townsman represents the “everyday person” who becomes enlightened, showing that ordinary people have the ability to learn and control their own destinies
5.    Differentiating between the institutions of church and belief in God or a higher power. Discussion included how some religious figures and institutions have manipulated people’s faith to control or exploit them, which religious students saw as a failing of humans, not God. At the end, God is victorious and of course, not all religious institutions are corrupt!

I suppose this could be seen as controversial by some people, but anyone who has even a cursory understanding of periods such as The Enlightenment and The French Revolution will recognize that the themes in the video are nothing new. Below I included some comments from students who sent reflections.

I personally loved the video and not only because Green Day is one of my favorite bands. The video shows examples of how people can be ignorant but as soon as they start to question, that’s when they realize the corruption. When the woman were passing out the Bibles they opened it and saw that nothing was written. My interpretation of that is that it was all lies. In The Enlightenment period this happened as the Catholic church was being corrupt. This video has really powerful and makes people  be enlightened.-E. F.

The ladies that are with him they pass out blank Bibles. That shows that they do not believe in God. They also give out beer and cigarettes. But in the end, the guy picks up a necklace with a cross and looking up at the sky showing us that he does believe in God.
M. R.

The music video was about a guy with some other girls that were giving out Bibles, bottles, and tobacco. The Bibles were blank. I think they were like that to tell the people to believe in what they think is correct and not what the Bible tells them.
-S. O.

Well the video was kind of deep in the sense that they talk about God and they show the Bible as something that is not important at all.  I think this has to do with Enlightenment because the people from that town are like ignorant because they don’t know that the people from the church are just trying to get money off of them. The guys with black represent the church and the guy with the guitar is saying that only God holds the truth. The church is using symbols, like that cross, they put lights around it to make it seem pretty. The people in black are trying to keep the people from the town ignorant so they don't know that the Bible is not saying the truth. But the guy in white is against them so now the whole town is against them. At the end all of the town becomes enlightened.-A. R.

The video was awesome! Not only was it entertaining but it really helped me understand Enlightenment, power, and the difference between religion and spirituality a lot better. Although everyone was following the "boss" in black the man with the scissors soon realized that it was wrong what they were doing and took a stand by kicking him and the girls out, showing enlightenment.-S. S.

The video was very interesting. I think it relates to the theme of the Enlightenment period because at the beginning of the video everybody was controlled by the priest. It seemed like he didn't want them to believe in God and obviously they didn't. He gave them Bibles with no writing in them, which I think represented non-believers. During the Enlightenment period people gained knowledge and understanding just like the people from the video when the guy came playing his guitar. When he started playing his guitar everything seemed to change. People’s expressions changed, even their thoughts about God. He enlightened their minds and opened their eyes.-L. F.

The video that I saw was offensive to all of God’s believers. Some individuals believe in one God (and) some assume that God is like a “fairy tale”. Using attractive women next to the person who doesn’t believe in God will make other people (question) is God real or not. They will become followers. They will think that if they don’t believe in God they will get attractive women like the individual who is passing out blank Bibles, trading Bibles for money, jewelry, and deeds. The anti-God person tries to make people change their minds about God. What happens later is that people who do believe in God kill the person who is saying all that nonsense.-S. M.

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