God is an american: the use of music to inspire plot

in music •  2 years ago

Anyone who knows me will know that i'm a huge fan of the way some writers make use of songs by David Bowie and others in inspiring their work. A classic example is the use of "Afraid of americans" in the TV show "Person of interest".

Person of interest - afraid of americans

If you're not a fan of the show, the below contains spoilers and I recommend you go watch the whole series - it starts off slow as a "crime of the week" format, but grows into one of the greatest mainstream sci-fi shows i've ever seen.

Here's the scene that uses Bowie's music:

The context here is quite genius as i'll explain. The show is about an AGI arising from mass surveillance schemes, known as "The Machine", and the character "Henry Peck" is a whistleblower trying to leak it to the world.

As our hero breaks into the police station, the music starts playing, with the actual violent action only coming into play later as the chorus gets into full swing. "I'm afraid of americans" indeed - and at first it seems like only some clever and appropriate use of a good song in a soundtrack, but it goes beyond that.

This episode takes place near the end of season 1, but the actual finale gives us this scene:

Setting up the story of the next season - where the character "root" begins referring to the machine (the AGI) as god, and god is of course, in america - god is an american. The themes of where all this mass surveillance might lead start really developing and it's safe to say the idea of being "afraid of americans" is the whole point of the later seasons.

Person of interest - the day the whole world went away

Watch both videos in sequence.

This is a scene from the last series of the show, where another AI is threatening humanity's entire future and free will, and brings our hero Finch to a breaking point - he has decided to abandon his ethical codes and do whatever it takes, ultimately unleashing a piece of malware that will take down the internet in order to stop Samaritan (the other AI).

In demonstrating just how far things have gone, we see him use the machine to escape from prison to begin his plans, and NIN's "The day the whole world went away" begins playing - and this is exactly what the remaining episodes of the show depict happening: our hero's entire moral worldview goes away, and he resorts to anything it takes to get the job done and end the threat, even turning to threats of murder and planning to destroy the internet, with all the resulting chaos that would cause.

Towards the end of the above scene we hear the music start and see a double meaning: root is dead, but yet root has been replicated by the machine - her entire world has ended at the same time as Finch's whole moral world ends.

Metal gear solid V - The man who sold the world

I don't have any single scene to point to for this one, you really must play the whole series to get it - but put simply, this is the story of the birth of "Big Boss" - a man who setup an "armored fortress nation" known as "Outer Heaven", and in doing so became the enemy of the entire world. A mercenary who sold the fate of the world for personal profit and delivered us into the hands of the sinister "patriots".

Really, play the games - it's too complex to go into here - but this song is a wonderful example of using music to inspire plotlines. The lyrics of the song can even be read as a direct reading of the plot of the game!

Battlestar galactica - all along the watchtower

This is one that personally I find to be an amazing work of genius if you understand the way the music theory and the structure of the song intersects with the plot - the song can in theory repeat itself forever, an eternal recurrence - just like the eternal recurrence of war between mankind and the cylons that forever repeats within the BSG universe.

More than that though, the actual notes are the coordinates of earth - as if someone intended the song to be a pointer to restart the cycle yet again - and it's implied that it did. Unfortunately i'm unable to find a youtube clip of this, so enjoy it on view.ly, uploaded for commentary and criticism purposes, so covered under fair use:


Here we see Jimi Hendrix's classic cover of the song showing that the pattern is repeating here on our earth - just like the song itself is a repeating loop with no ending. The lyrics are wonderfully timed to line up as well:

There must be some kind of a way out of here

In this context, is it perhaps asking if there's some way out of the eternal recurrence? Regardless, it's a very clear integration of music and plot in a very clever way, far beyond music as simple audio wallpaper. I apologise for the bad audio sync in the above video, if anyone has a better example please provide it!

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For those interested, episode 22 of season 1 of person of interest is the relevant one - and pay attention also to the actual ending, where the music repeats yet again as we see one of the government representatives that helped setup the machine show a look of disgust on her face.

Upvoted and also resteemed :)


Thanks, follow me too as i'm likely to post similar stuff in future

Fascinating discussion of this. I learned a lot. Thanks.

The tittle of your post makes me curious,,🏆🏆


It's a reference to the lyrics in "afraid of americans"

One of the best shows I've seen in a while, very current.


If you're talking about person of interest I agree - one of the best mainstream sci-fi shows i've ever seen.