Written in 1993…
Last fall, Roger Waters' song "What God Wants" was rising up the charts, and it caught my attention. I've always liked Pink Floyd, but not enough to go out of my way to get their solo projects, and I'd not heard any of Waters' work since he left the band. But "What God Wants" was a great song, sounding as Floydian as anything off of The Wall, and on the strength of that song I bought Waters' Amused To Death.
I've been listening to that album almost every day since then. I've been won over completely: the album is a masterwork, definitely one of Waters' best works. It's better than The Final Cut and perhaps better than The Wall, too. The theme Waters works with is shocking and relevant. Amused To Death is a biting, angry statement on the decrepit state of our society. It may be a little hard to get through the first couple of listenings, simply because this is one of the most depressing albums you're likely to hear in a long time.
Waters' tenure in Pink Floyd helped cement the band's reputation for doom-and-gloom, as they cast the spotlight on the way our society is doing its best to erase any spark of Humanity from the common man. Wish You Were Here, their tribute to ex-lead singer Syd Barrett, gives one version (not necessarily the only one) of how life in the fast lane can murder an up-and-coming artist; The Wall was the story of a young man who, through the pressures of an uncaring school, an uncaring Mother, and and uncaring society, grows up to become a hate-fostering Hitler wannabe (and when he actually shows some feelings, Society roars up to crush them); while Animals uses dogs and sheep to paint a dark picture of the way we have to kill to survive (Dogs), or else be led to the slaughter (Sheep).
But now, with Amused To Death, Waters does his best to open our eyes and warn us that if we sit back and let the people on high tell us what to think, we'll lose our right to survive as a species. We're being carefully manipulated by governments, who use religion and television to make us think what THEY want us to think.
"What God Wants," in addition to being a damnation of the way money and religion are inextricably linked today (churches have to make money to survive; televangelists weep and moan and, through the power of television, persuade innocent viewers to open their wallets and shower them with cash), gives us the idea of God being used as an excuse to go war: "God wants freedom," "God wants war," "God wants famine."
Religion has always been one of the strongest weapons used by dictators (elected or otherwise) to persuade the masses; and since the coming of that black box known as television, people have been more and more willing to sit back and let others do their thinking for them. This is made especially clear in "Perfect Sense" and "The Bravery Of Being Out Of Range," which focus on that sham called the Gulf War (it's never mentioned by name) and the way it was presented to the public as a flashy video game: we sat back, watched things blowing up on TV, and cheered the pilots who delivered the bombs. (Even the pilots were carefully conditioned: "There is no right, no wrong/Only tin cans and Cordite and white cliffs and blue skies and Flight/The beauty of military life…" )
If we reduce war - the slaughter of thousands who always die needlessly when we set out to "punish" someone like Saddam Hussein - to merely the latest in prime-time entertainment, then what have we become as a race? Have we indeed been given "Too Much Rope" to hang ourselves?
(By the way, Ted Turner's CNN has a standing order: in the event of a national crisis such as a war or an earthquake, its advertising rates immediately shift to a higher level so that it can make more money on its commercials. After all, more people seemed to pay attention to CNN than the major news networks during the Gulf War - so what better place for the advertisers to run their commercials? What IS the difference between the Gulf War, where we see video cameras mounted on the tips of ballistic missiles, and movies like Top Gun, when both are broadcast on TV solely to sell us detergent, cars and beer?)
And what's more, this reduction of Humanity to mindless drones is being done in the name of God - ALL religions are doing so. So-called "holy wars"…Presidents asking for blessing on their "police actions"…priests on TV condemning those who dare question the righteousness of what they tell us to do…they all say the same thing. They don't want us to THINK FOR OURSELVES. Just sit back, watch the TV, and shell out cash.
This is the warning of Amused To Death. From places like Tiananmen Square, where people were massacred (we saw it live on TV, of course - but our government still hasn't officially acknowledged it and still kisses up to China); to our own country where people can't afford enough to eat or keep warm; to anywhere in the world that there is pain and suffering - we know it's happening, and yet our country would rather switch the channel and watch something happier. The only way to bring things to our attention today is for someone to die on TV ("…because she died on TV." )
And that's why this album is such a depressing work: because it's all TRUE. It opens our eyes. We KNOW that these things are happening as we speak.
This message is one we've all heard before, of course. But until there's no more war, no more suffering, no more sadness, it's a message that should be repeated again and again - until we actually get off our duffs and DO something about it.