Music Video Meaning


All the things you don't know about rock music videos and more

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What are the masks in the video Basket Case by Green Day

These days I was reminded of the video Basket Case by Green Day, while I was watching another more recent music video, from last June 2019. It’s “Dance Monkey” and the singer is the Australian blonde Tones and I (aka Toni Watson). The genre is completely different because it is dance indie pop.
The “Dance Monkey” video begins with the singer dressed and made up as an elderly patient in a shelter, who rises and goes wild to the rhythm of music, even going to play golf. The song is a hit and on YouTube it has exceeded 176 million views.

The video Basket Case by Green Day

The video Basket Case by Green Day has over 205 million views and it is a milestone in the history of music. Even here the location is a shelter, more precisely an institution for people with mental disorders. The video begins with an elegantly dressed bearded gentleman who walks through the institute’s door. In his hand he has a blue guitar. He connects the jack to the amplifier and sets the equipment on the singer Billie Joe Armstrong, who looks around disoriented. Shortly thereafter he starts singing and playing alone. Meanwhile the other two members of the band arrive. Trè Cool in a wheelchair goes to the battery and a nurse kindly accompanies Mike Dirnt to the bass.

When I saw this video for the first time in 1994 (I was very young), I didn’t know Green Day and really believed that the band members were the patients of a mental health institution! They were very good at playing the part and everything seems so real… and at the same time surreal.

The genesis of the video Basket Case

The director of the Green Day “Basket Case” video is Mark Kohr. He calls himself a creative director and has worked for many artists on the music scene, such as Shakira, No Doubt, Alanis Morrisette, Maroon 5 and many others.
The location of the video is an old abandoned hospital, called the “Agnews Developmental Center” in California.

The music video was originally in black and white. Then the colors were added and that’s why some elements are unreal, like the pink ceiling and green windows.

What is basket case

The title of the song does not appear in the lyrics. So what is basket case? It seems that the term is connected to the containers to carry the soldiers of the First World War, who had lost both arms and legs. Metaphorically it indicates an apathetic person, paranoid, with anxious states, divorced from reality. The singer Billie Joe Arsmtrong found himself in this condition: he suffered from anxiety attacks, panic, paranoia, discomfort. Let’s try to better understand what was happening to the singer at that time.

Basket Case is part of the band’s third album entitled “Dookie” (1994). The other two previous albums had come out with an independent label, while this album, under the Reprise Records label, was Green Day’s launch pad. Maybe it was a really stressful time for Armstrong and that’s why he developed this condition of anxiety.

Masks in the video Basket Case by Green Day

Some scenes of the video show us patients who walk around the rooms wearing only a white coat and their faces covered by very strange masks: they look oriental with little eyes.

If we look at the masks of the Japanese tradition we find a lot of similarity with those of Otafuku/Okame.

The name “otafuku” means “very good luck”, while “okame” means “turtle” and is a symbol of luck. Otafuku/Okame is a female plump and ugly goddess who brings joy. Her small nose represents humility while the small mouth indicates that she speaks little and this is an advantage.

Inspiration from two famous films: “Brazil” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

According to other reviewers on the Green Day video, the masks used come from the 1985 film “Brazil”. During the torture scene of the main character Sam, the torturer Jack wears a plump child’s mask.

But why these masks? If there is a connection with the Japanese tradition, the masks of Otafuku/Okame represent false happiness. The hospital is a metaphor for the world, where patients are normal people who show an altered image of themselves, looking happy and cheerful. In reality they are automatons, governed by something greater than themselves. Perhaps the economy, politics or the mass media.

If the masks are connected to the film “Brazil”, then Billie Joe Armstrong represents a man with delusions of persecution, who feels uncomfortable and “tortured” by the gaze of the people (the patients with the mask).

Another source of inspiration for the Green Day video is the 1975 movie “One Flew the Cuckoo’s Nest” with Jack Nicholson, set in a mental institution.

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