• Matthew Emerson

The Mythology of "American Idiot" Part Three: Themes That Last a Lifetime


"We're back in the barrio that to you and me, that's Jingletown that's home! We're coming home again." (Homecoming)

This is the final part of a three part series. If this is the first post you've encountered, click here to start at the beginning.


Well, by now I hope that you've come to understand how deep and complex of a masterpiece American Idiot is. There are a wealth of ideas and themes that this album conveys, both personally from Billie's personal life or objective themes. I am going to focus on three of the objective ones in this post, but I recommend to all of you to listen to this album a few more times and try to see what you are able to pull out of the album that I may have missed. I'd love to hear your thoughts!


The themes I wish to tackle today are: leaving home/loss of innocence, love as sacrifice, coming home/recovery of innocence.


The concept of leaving home is sprinkled all over the introductory songs of the album. Why is this important? Well, our homes and where we grow up are like the shire to the Hobbits. For you non-Tolkien fans I'll break it down for you. The shire is the hearth, the house you've always lived in, the friends you've always had. The shire is comfort. It's the world, as far as you know it. It is safety. It is everything that you know and can be certain of.


Sadly, the shire is not always kept safe. There are always orcs or some evil Dark Lord trying to invade and ruin the world you've known your whole life. Or, perhaps even worse, one day you stumble onto some fact that shows home isn't all it's cracked up to be. The home that you love so dearly turns out to be just as evil and wretched as you are (no offense). This is that loss of innocence. It can manifest in multiple forms. You either discover you're powerless to defend the place that you love from outside forces...or itself. Or you discover that the place that has nurtured and raised you isn't an idyllic paradise, but that much of this has been a facade. There is a deep sense of betrayal that comes with that. It wounds the heart when you find out something you thought was, isn't. I know that's worded weird, but it is meant to sound uncomfortable.


The only proper response to all of this is to run away. He plans "to run, to run away, to find what you believe" (Jesus of Suburbia). Which is what we all must do. Whether it is due to the betrayal of our hometown, or our desire to protect that which we love, we are forced out of our comfort into the wider world, into our hero's journey. Think about that phrase. A "hero's" journey. Who are we being heroic for? The place where we've come. In some way or another.


In our modern context, this loss of innocence and childlike wonder continually happens at earlier ages, and this is fundamentally detrimental to our emotional development.

We are producing thousands of people with an imagination deficit.

They've no way of imagining the world any better than it is. A generation of people who have given up on telling their own myth. own myth. This is unacceptable, and we must do everything we can to fight against that. How do we do that? Bravely step forward into the unknown. Uncertain and scared, but supported by one another. All of us as we enter this wider world has experienced the sensation of leaving home, the pain of innocence now gone. So we need to aid one another in this journey. Which leads to the next theme.


I'm going to say this one. LOVE IS NOT A FEELING, IT IS A CHOICE.


Okay, glad I got that off my chest. The next theme we are going to examine is love as a sacrifice. This part obviously centers around JoS and Whatsername's relationship. What is being communicated here? We cannot do this alone, and love is more than pure infatuation and erotic desire. This isn't even the Christian in me saying this. Most modern studies are now articulating in data what ancient philosophers have said in time past. JoS is suffering from depression, addiction, meaninglessness, and a whole host of other problems. Who saves him? Well it sure isn't himself or St. Jimmy, but a woman he is in love with.


We cannot save ourselves. This is one of the foundational principles of...Alcoholics Anonymous (thought I was going to say Christianity didn't you?). It is Whatsername crashing into JoS's terrible life and pulling him out of it through a relationship that eventually saves him, even though he returns home without her. See, that is the point of love. Real and authentic love is sacrificial. It is selfless. It pulls you outside of yourself where you thinking no longer revolves around and what you want but about other. St. Thomas Aquinas (there's the Jesus reference) described love as (paraphrased) "loving the other for the sake of other". Let's explore that.


Essentially, what he means is loving the other person for that other person alone. I want my best friend to succeed in college. Not because he might get a good job and he'll buy me nice things (though, Dan, I could use a new laptop), but because I simply want him to succeed at life. It doesn't benefit me at all if he does well or fails. Not my problem, but because I love him, I will his good for the sake of him alone, and not my own selfish ambitions.


It is when JoS stops thinking about himself, and starts focusing on Whatsername, how his behaviors and choices affect her, that is when he starts to grow, that's when his journey finally continues. This album also teaches the bittersweet truth of sometimes the best thing you can do for someone you love is leave them. I know it's such a cliche, but that is another aspect of loving someone sacrificially. Realizing that even though you may love them deeply, it doesn't mean that they are the one for you. I didn't know I was going to be a marriage and family therapist today.


Finally, the last theme is that of homecoming. Which is conveniently the second to last song on the album. What does it mean to come home? The hero's journey is meant to change the hero, but not on a fundamental level. Luke Skywalker is still Luke at the end of Return of the Jedi, but he has grown, he's changed. He now possesses the power to protect that which he loves. He's learned now. He is more aware of the ways of the world, but it's not produced embittered cynicism, but a more keen awareness of reality and is truly good and what is truly bad.


See, the loss of innocence, while tragic and heartbreaking, does not have to end in tragedy. If we take the leap of faith, if we venture off on the hero's journey, we just might find what we're looking for. We might find the answers we need to come home. To make it better. That's the thing about it. You aren't supposed to leave home and wander aimlessly til you die. We're humans. We crave stability. You either leave home to save it or to build a better one, but we all need a home.


This is the genius and beauty of this album. It weaves together tragedy, love, and homecoming in such a beautiful tapestry of music and lyrical genius. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, it brings such ancient truths and themes of storytelling back to the forefront of the modern imagination, and it will forever remain in my heart as one of the things that made me...me.


Thank you all so much for walking through this treasured album with me. Next week I'll return to my usual posts of whatever catches my fancy at the time.


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