Something about American Idiot's appearance last week on The Late Show with David Letterman has been bothering me.
Granted, since I haven't seen the Broadway musical I was watching it out of context. But because the performance was designed to entice potential ticket-buyers I think writing about my reaction is valid.
Just to let you know where I'm coming from, I bought American Idiot when it was released in 2004. I'm not a Green Day fan but it was getting a lot of attention and I was curious. I'm not sure I ever listened to the CD all the way through.
On The Late Show, the cast sang "Holiday" and it was performed in such an energetic way that I was really getting into it, even though I had no idea who these characters were and I couldn't make out all of the lyrics.
Then I heard someone shout some words I did understand, and it stopped me cold: "Sieg heil to the president gasman." And a few verses later, something about broken glass and "kill all the [insert antigay slur here].
Now, I understand that it's punk and it's supposed to be about disaffected kids and rebellion and anti-establishment. Maybe it fits the character. As I said, I was hearing it totally out of context, as I imagine many viewers were.
All I know is, it was shocking to hear a Nazi salute in the middle of a rock 'n' roll song performed by an energetic cast of twentysomething Broadway actors on national television. Maybe because I'm Jewish and probably older than the average American Idiot fan, it made me uncomfortable.
And honestly, it would make me uncomfortable in a Broadway theatre. How should I react? One minute I'm caught up in the music and the next minute I'm stopped cold. Should I clap and cheer? What about the people around me clapping and cheering? Would they understand my unease or would they just be oblivious to the words and their meaning?
To me, it just seemed like Godwin's Law in action. Once you start throwing around Nazi comparisons, you've lost the argument. You're simply doing it for shock value.
And I wonder if a song that used a racial slur would have gotten past the CBS censors as easily as one with an anti-gay slur. To me, they're equally offensive. It's a horrible, hurtful word that's thrown around far too easily.
Green Day says "Holiday" is an antiwar song. I guess the "president gasman" is supposed to be George W. Bush. Call me old-fashioned but I'm one of those people who believes that only the Nazis should be called Nazis. Otherwise, you're demeaning their victims and trivializing what they went through.
It'll be interesting to see whether this is the song that the Best Musical nominee performs on the Tony Awards.