An Open Letter to Green Day: What the Hell, Guys?

by | August 25, 2012
filed under Feminism, Pop Culture

by Jessica Critcher

Green Day, we need to talk.

But I feel like first I should tell you a little bit about myself and explain that you have been my favorite band for a little over a decade. I asked for International Superhits after hearing you on the radio. Then over the course of a summer I bought every single one of your previous albums, all the way back to 1039 Smoothed Out Slappy Hours and the live songs from Japan.

They inspired me, at thirteen, to save my babysitting money and buy an electric guitar – a red Squire Stratocaster. I taught myself to play and practiced until my little fingers suffered. I bought a book of tabs and taught myself every Green Day song I could. The very first one I learned to play was “Brain Stew”. The triumph of mastering those power chords, of initiating myself into this secret club, was indescribable.

My guitar skills gave me new confidence. Despite being painfully shy, I entered in the talent show my sophomore year and treated the entire school to my versions of “She” and “Ha Ha You’re Dead”, which summed up my feelings about being in high school pretty nicely. I felt strong. I felt dangerous. I felt liberated. I was still the “weird girl,” but after that I was “the weird girl who plays guitar.”

You were a gateway into the wonderful world of music. I heard songs about angst, rebellion, cross-dressing, BDSM, drugs, sex, loneliness, love and hope.

I bought American Idiot the day it came out and listened to it over and over. I watched you guys melt the American flag into green slime in your music video. Around this time I gained the awareness and courage to leave an oppressive religious cult. I’ll always connect American Idiot with this time in my life – with self discovery, confusion, anger, and eventually the feeling that I was making the right choices for myself.

I chose your concerts over going to prom, easily, without hesitation, junior and senior year. My mother, my sister, sometimes my aunts and I bonded over your music and the shared experiences of sweaty mosh pits and post-concert Denny’s feasts.

In college I got two Green Day tattoos. I loved 21st Century Breakdown, you guys. I was living in Hawaii when it came out, and I tried not to take it personally when you skipped us over on your tour.

Now I’m 24. A little older and wiser, but still the same awkward hooligan I was when I bought that guitar. I saw American Idiot on Broadway in January and when I heard that you were coming out with three (three!) new albums, all of that adolescent excitement bubbled to the surface again.

But you guys, there’s a problem. I just watched the music video for “Oh Love”. It’s hurting me to have to say this, but I’m disappointed. It’s not about the song. I enjoyed the lyrics, but the video left me confused and hurt. What the hell happened?

I saw my favorite band, men with wives and children, playing music while skinny, near-naked, blank-eyed models lounged about in sexually vulnerable positions. The models were also predominantly white, reinforcing the media’s exclusion and exotification of women of color. They were interspersed with shots of your sound equipment– giving the impression that the women and your guitars are interchangeable.

I kept expecting it to get controversial or subversive, or at least clever, but it didn’t. Those women look close to me in age. I couldn’t help but wonder, is that what you think of us? Is that what you think of me?

Screen Shot from Green Day's Oh Love

Music video screen shot

I’m not mad that you put pretty girls in your music video. Honestly, I’m not. You did it in “Minority”, remember? But there are some big differences. The women in “Minority” were participants in the action – they were marching with you in your punk rock parade. The women in “Oh Love” were there just to be looked at, objects of the male gaze.

I’ve heard the official explanation:

“It’s kind of a tension ballad … instead of pulling at your heart strings, it’s like a noose pulling at   your heart a little bit, and trying to keep your emotions intact,” frontman Billie Joe Armstrong       explained. “It’s very lustful, which is kind of a subject we haven’t gotten into in a long time.”

“It’s about tension between your heart and other parts of your body, and figuring out, or maybe   not figuring out what those do to you,” bassist Mike Dirnt added. “But you’ve seen the video,         and I’m pretty sure you guys figured that out.”

But this isn’t cutting it for me, guys. Women are half, if not more, of your fan base. I’ve felt lust  I like songs by you about lust. You can feel lust and make videos about it without treating women like objects. Do you remember “Longview”? Because I do. “Oh Love” doesn’t seem to be about the tension between love and lust – it’s a disconnect between love and objectification.

What would a thirteen-year-old girl think while watching your new video? What if this was her first taste of Green Day? Nobody in this video looks like a “Maria” or  a “Gloria” to me. Would this video inspire a young girl to pick up a guitar and “smash the silence with the brick of self control”? I really doubt it. It would probably inspire her to feel self conscious about her body, or at least unsure of where she fits in your fan-base.

This is a huge problem and several studies have explained this. I’ll share this quote from Ms Magazine which encapsulates it pretty well:

In a culture with widespread sexual objectification, women (especially) tend to view themselves as objects of desire for others. This internalized sexual objectification has been linked to problems with mental health  (clinical depression, “habitual body monitoring”), eating  disorders, body shame, self-worth and life satisfaction, cognitive functioning, motor  functioning, sexual dysfunction [PDF], access to leadership [PDF] and political efficacy [PDF]. Women of all ethnicities internalize objectification, as do men to a far lesser extent.

It’s hard to “smash the radio with the board of education” or “sing the revolution” when you’re uncomfortable in your own skin. And it’s hard for women and girls to feel comfortable in our skin when the media sets an impossible standard for who we can be.

Green Day Oh Love Screenshot

You told me at a very impressionable age that all of my doubts were someone else’s point of view. The message doesn’t have the same impact if you’re simultaneously planting seeds for doubt in girls’ minds.  And this isn’t just about your female fans. It has been found that “exposure to images of sexually objectified women causes male viewers to be more tolerant of sexual harassment and rape myths.”

I get it that you guys are more than political music. I’m not saying you have to melt the American flag in every video from now on. But just because you’re not overtly questioning the status quo doesn’t mean you have to reinforce it.

I’m bracing myself for name calling as I write this. I’ll probably be called a sex-hating feminist killjoy. I’ll be told that I’m overreacting. I’ve heard that before, and I don’t care. I’m telling you all of this because I love your music, and I know you’re capable of more. I know you believe women can be more than sex objects – you wouldn’t have written “She”, my favorite song and adopted feminist anthem, otherwise.

I’m still going to buy the albums. I’m still going to see you on tour. You’re my favorite band. I don’t think you’re misogynists, guys. I’m just asking you to be more conscious of the impact you can have on girls and their lives.

It’s not too late to fix this. You could watch Miss Representation. You could check out what Women Action and the Media (WAM!) Is doing to fight for gender justice in the media. You’ve said before that America is “One Nation Controlled by the Media,” and I think you have enough influence to help fight this problem.

I know you didn’t do this to hurt me, but I’m hurt all the same. I want you to listen to your hearts and keep making awesome music, because I still really want to hear it. But I don’t want to compromise any part of myself to enjoy your art. Hopefully you wouldn’t want me to. I’m not going to give up on you guys. Please don’t give up on me.

I’ll see you on tour. “You name the time, you know I’ll be there.”


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