An Examination of the Message of NOFX's 2003 Album The War on Errorism

Categories: Music

In this day and age, it has never been easier to tune into so many different discourses or lenses which can define our reality. The most pivotal discourse is artistic discourse and in our society today, I believe that the most important form of this artistic discourse would be music. Music can change the world, and it already has countless times throughout history. From the beginning music has been able to move us and motivate us to question the world around us, and continues to do so this day as evident in NOFX’s 2003 album The War on Errorism.

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The United States at the turn of the century seemed to be optimistic and hopeful. However, after the 9/11 attacks that outlook seemed to quickly change and took a toll on our politics and sense of comfort. Although no doubt what happened at the time was a tragedy and left President Bush with a very difficult job, the aftermath and his handling of the situation resulted in him being one of the most criticized and ridiculed presidents of our nation’s history as evident in NOFX’s 2003 album The War on Errorism. Examining the cover of the album alone we can easily guess how the president was viewed at the time.

The cover itself is a take on the flag of the United States by incorporating a thick star-ridden blue stripe, followed by familiar red and white stripes. With NOFX’s name laid out across the flag, we can get a sense of their patriotism and American pride.

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However, we can also deduct that this won’t be your typical patriotic album by also noticing a caricature of President Bush wearing clown make-up. By simply looking at this album cover as a medium, we can clearly see it is a message as Philosopher Marshall McLuhan would argue. Analyzing this cover based on McLuhan’s principles, we clearly see that this cover is an example of a hot medium. As we are able to clearly see that the cover represents the American flag and the president depicted as a clown, the message is given to us and does not require any participation or mental engagement on our part to interpret.

Even the title of the album itself, “The War on Errorism” eliminates any blank spaces we might have about the message. The name of the album mocks a popular phrase of the time which was plastered all over the media, “The War on Terrorism”. NOFX is obviously linking this idea of “Errorism”, that at the time our reality was based off numerous errors which resulted in more and more errors, directly to our President who is depicted as a constant error making clown. The message that we get from this hot medium alone is that this album will obviously be critical of our politics and the state of our nation, and this is very evident by listening to the album. Two song that stand out which definitely reinforce this medium’s message would have to be “Re-gaining Unconsciousness” as well as “Franco Un-American”. Re-gaining Unconsciousness is the story of a citizen who watched his government put away more and more people and eventually take away his away his own freedoms too. It is cautionary tale which is akin to Martin Niemöller’s legendary “First they came…” poem which was a comment on the cowardice of Germans as Nazi’s rose in power. This song sets to reminds society to pay attention to what’s going on and to make a stand. As this song is a symbol, we can apply Kenneth Burke’s pentad analysis in order understand its effect and see what is going on.

In this song, the Act is how in the past few decades, specifically since 9/11, we watched our freedoms, rights, and values dwindle as our democracy turned into an aristocracy. The Scene is post-9/11 America following such events as the passing of the patriot act. The Agent is we the people for allowing this to happen. NOFX states, “We didn’t raise our voice, we didn’t make a fuss. It’s funny there was no one left to notice when they came for us”. We clearly let this go on and happen, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Instead of associating ourselves with the people who are constantly being attacked in the media and victimized through the use of “identification” or “consubstantiality”, as Burke would put it, we turned a blind eye. The Agency is that we were too busy distracted and ignorant while politicians and the rich got richer and invaded our privacies via their propaganda. As seen in the lyrics, “now with our conversations tapped and our differences exposed, how ya supposed to love your neighbor with our minds and curtains closed? We used to worry ’bout big brother, now we got a big father and an even bigger mother.” We let the government brainwash us with hateful and discriminatory rhetoric in order to rile us up and remain ignorant to the fact that they are now a totalitarian “Big Brother”, constantly surveillancing us among other things. NOFX’s use of Orwell’s 1984 “Big Brother” is a clear of example of Burke’s idea that we are a “symbol-using animal”.

We rely on popular and well known symbols to warn us about the realities of powerful governments. The Purpose can be demonstrated in the song when they say, “the sad truth is you’d rather follow the school into the net, ’cause swimming alone at sea is not the kind of freedom that you actually want.” They are clearly showing us that we don’t care enough to make a change, we’re too blissful being ignorant to fight for and enjoy real freedom. This song is a clear critique of the state of our priorities and mocks us by saying we are all regaining our unconsciousness and ignorance. In our next track, Franco Un-American we have a monologue which reproduces the common thought process of a lot of Americans at the time. In this song the narrator himself goes through a journey where he goes from being apathetic to aware. We see him question his own narrative, explore other narratives and therefore begin to challenge his own world view. In the beginning, he chooses to be a stereotypical ignorant young American as he says, “Why think of all the bad things when life is so good… let the whales worry about the poisons in the sea… its foreign policy. I don’t want changes, I have no reactions, your dilemmas are my distractions.” He chooses to worry about his own personal problems instead of focusing on the real problems happening all around him.

Philosopher Michel Foucault would most likely describe this person as someone who follows his idea of a “single linear history”. This is evident as this person clearly is not paying attention to what’s really going on around him and giving into America’s history of teaching us that we are all happy and go-lucky and the government and corporations are great. He soon however begins to explore other narratives, “I read some Howard Zinn now I’m always depressed. And now I can’t sleep from years of apathy, all because I read a little Noam Chomsky. I’m eating vegetation, cause of Fast Food Nation… watching Michael Moore expose the awful truth, I’m listening to Public Enemy and Reagan Youth.” He is beginning to be conscious of what is going on around him and challenges the ignorance “normativity” of our country. He starts to challenge the dominant notion of history by trying to understand other histories and perspectives which have been long excluded from dominant discourse.

NOFX is mentioning authors such as Howard Zinn which challenges the truth behind our dominant colonial history, Michael Moore who challenges our political history, as well as Public Enemy who challenges our socioeconomic class histories. The narrator himself is transitioning from thinking in a modernistic and dominant narrative into a postmodern one. The song ends with our narrator hating what he used to be, “I want to move north and be a Canadian or hang down low with the nice Australians, I don’t want to be another ‘I-don’t-care’-ican”. The narrator successfully reinterpreted history and constructed a new postmodern lineage which reminds us to explore other narratives and be aware of genealogies of power, instead of not caring as usual. In conclusion, art will always be a great critic of the discourse of civilization. This is evident today in music, in such albums as The War on Errorism by NOFX. The song challenges what was going on in our country at the time and to this day by using storytelling to make us.

Works Cited

  1. McLuhan, Marshall and Quentin Fiore. The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. San Francisco: Hardwired, 1967. Print. Pgs. 6-41.
  2. Burke, Kenneth. Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method. Berkeley: UCP, 1968. Print. Pgs. 3-9.
  3. Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage. Print. 34-45.
  4. Bentley, James. Martin Niemöller. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1984. Print.
  5. Brummett, Barry. Rhetoric in Popular Culture. 3rd ed. Los Angeles: Sage, 2011. Print.
  6. “NOFX War On Errorism Lyrics.” NOFX War On Errorism. Lyrics Mania, n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.

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An Examination of the Message of NOFX's 2003 Album The War on Errorism. (2021, Sep 30). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/an-examination-of-the-message-of-nofx-s-2003-album-the-war-on-errorism-essay

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