Last week, New York-based blog-darling band Cults premiered the video for their summery, fuzzy song “Go Outside” on Boing Boing. The video, directed by Isaiah Seret, embeds the band members into home video footage of the Peoples Temple, the religious cult led by Jim Jones, whose voice is featured at the beginning of the song:
The song and the visuals make for an eerie, unsettling match—and while the sunny lyrics seem at odds, initially, with the tragic ending you know awaits these smiling folks, the overall effect reminds me of watching the PBS special on Jonestown and being incredibly moved by how happy everyone seemed in the early days. (And those lyrics, it must be said, do sound like the glassy-eyed exhortations of a true believer who wants you to come join her cult.)
According to the director’s statement, survivors who watched the video “expressed their appreciation of our focus on the lives of the People's Temple members as opposed to exploiting the graphic images of the final tragedy.” Still, some Boing Boing commentors were wary of—if not outright offended by—the band’s choice of archival material. A sampling of responses:
scifijazznik in reply to wobinidan
… It is exploitative. (and this is coming from someone who thinks that Brian Jonestown Massacre is a great band name...) While it's good the director went out of his way to befriend a Jonestown archivist and showed the video to some survivors, I think what he's done detracts from the power of the original in a lame Forrest Gump kind of way. ….
That was terribly haunting. I love this song and the video is frighteningly dissonant with my previous feelings. But I liked it. More people should know what happened back then, it's a story that needs to be told.
This video gives me the icks.
Many of the people shown in this video (including the children) would soon be dead.
Great video. Great song. Questionable motives.
I'd say this was done in poor taste.
Antinous / Moderator
I'm probably the only person here who actually knew people from the People's Temple. Almost certainly the only one who's actually held one of the Flavor-Aid packets left over from the massacre. I can't see what's wrong with reminding people of what happens in cults. I also know a fair number of people who have been assassinated or gone to prison for decades for political activities, and I'm pretty sure that they'd be thrilled to be remembered.
I’d been trying to figure out whether I feel the need to move this from the “uncomfortable” file to the “offensive” file—but then, it’s not as if I watched Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple out of some dispassionate interest in history or altruistic feeling toward the subjects. Cult stories are compelling because they tap into something dark and voyeuristic inside us. And maybe, as distasteful as it might sound, something fanciful.
“There's a beauty and romanticism with someone living such a violently different life,” band member Brian Oblivion told NPR’s All Things Considered this weekend—which explains the band’s decision to actually insert themselves into the archival footage; the video isn’t so much a document of the Peoples Temple as a fantasy of what it might have been like to belong to it.
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