Instant Karma: Helping to Make a Difference

Human rights; something many people consider to be established and customary throughout the world. Sadly, that’s a blissful misconception. Equality and justice are just two far fetched ideas in the eyes of some people, including those in Darfur. Green Day, along with other musicians, took on the task of raising awareness of this and trying to help those desperate people. With this goal in mind, Instant Karma was created.

Working Class Hero cover The Instant Karma campaign is part of a much bigger project created by Amnesty International. Its parent project is known as the “Make Some Noise” campaign which was put into action December 10, 2005. This organization is devoted to defending and protecting human rights, and offers multiple ways for people to help. One way is very simple; listening to music.  Yoko Ono, John Lennon’s widow, was amazed with the work that Amnesty International had done. She felt that allowing them to benefit from John’s songs would be something he would be proud of. The donation of the first recording rights began with the song Imagine. She donated the rights after the September 11th tragedy as a way to raise awareness of Human Rights in the United States. Soon, by 2002, it had turned into a national success. With that type of impact being seen; Yoko Ono donated all of the recording rights to Amnesty International. Thus; Instant Karma was born.

With the recording rights to John Lennon songs, a group of determined activists and musicians set out to expose the severely neglected crisis occurring in Darfur. 400,000 people have died, millions have lost their homes, and the surrounding countries are in no better condition. Disease and poverty are terrorizing their lives, along with constant fighting that innocent civilians are forced to endure daily. Steps are being taken to conclude this genocide, but the question becomes are they enough? Or are they just time fillers, providing temporary solutions to problems that we don’t want to deal with? Those questions along with the lack of attention to this atrocity have been criticized by many, including Green Day.

Just how did Green Day come to be involved in this fantastic charity? The cause had been an issue they deemed very important, and they were happy to help in any way that they could. Billie Joe stated that Green Day “wanted to do Working Class Hero because its themes of alienation, class and social status really resonated with us." That statement basically sums the entire song meaning up. With lyrics like “you think you're so clever and classless and free, But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see”, the song is clearly discussing the social superiority certain individuals feel that they have; when really they’re mortal humans just like the rest of the world.

The socially acceptable way of life is questioned as a whole. Religion, media, the education system, and the government are all mentioned in some way in this song, each being criticized and exposing the flaws John Lennon feels they have. Green Day obviously agreed with him.  The refrain of the song offers a solution; be a hero. Don’t give into the corruption, don’t fit the social stereotype. The song doesn’t portray this to be an easy task. It also discusses the hardships that you must go through during life with verses such as “As soon as you’re born they make you feel small. By giving you no time instead of it all. Until the pain is so big you feel nothing at all.” Those lines can easily apply to anyone who has felt degraded and insignificant. They are also very appropriate to describe anyone who is located in Darfur living in fear at this chaotic time. One particular verse addresses the hypocrisy of society, and how exhausting dealing with double standards is:

“They hurt you at home and they hit you at school
They hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool
Till you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules”

Corporal punishment has been outlawed in multiple countries, so the first line doesn’t necessarily have to apply to school staff. However, I'm sure that any of you who have set foot in a school have seen some sort of violent behavior between students. On the other hand, some schools do still find it acceptable to hit students, which was something John Lennon was opposed to based on this song.  The next line shows how no matter what you do, someone will always criticize and judge you. It used intelligence as an example, but the same idea can apply to numerous subjects. The last lines confronts how difficult this can be to cope with, and how hard it can be to follow rules made by a society you don’t understand.

The last lines of the song, “if you want to be a hero, then just follow me” are especially suited for the Instant Karma cause, encouraging people to follow the lead of those who stand up for a good cause. Segments from John Lennon’s original version of this song were used to conclude Green Day’s cover.

This song would end up on the Instant Karma album; along with other Lennon covers involving over 50 artists. The Instant Karma album contains 13 tracks on two discs and was released on June 12, 2007. Green Day’s cover of Working Class Hero had been released earlier as a single on May 1, 2007. All proceeds from the 3 singles on the album, and the album itself, go to helping victims in Darfur through an Amnesty International program.

Green Day also made a video to accompany the song. Samuel Bayer had directed all of the American Idiot videos, and he eagerly accepted the offer to do a video for Working Class Hero. Sam said that “as soon as they started talking about doing something to help Darfur, I was in. If you can educate some people out there and entertain them at the same time, I think it's a really good thing.”

The video is all in black and white, making the mood of the video match the song’s. Sam wanted to create a 70s vibe with the video, and keep the spirit of John Lennon in it. He also said that he included the interviews with Darfur survivors to show exactly what these people were going through. “We were choking up filming it.”, Sam says, and who can blame them? Listening to stories about how innocent people have violently lost loved ones and experienced extreme trauma is a very moving experience. Sam wanted these feelings to carry over into the video; and they did. The intense emotions are expressed well by the video and have the potential to influence anyone who watches it.

If you would like to get involved in helping with the Instant Karma campaign, you have a few options. One way of helping sounds pretty appealing; listen to Green Day! Downloading their cover song or purchasing the Instant Karma album both provide aid to those in Darfur. You can also purchase a tee shirt designed by the band at any Hard Rock Café located around the world. The shirt they’re releasing is part of the Hard Rock Café’s signature series that a total of 24 bands have participated in. The tee shirt displays a graphic of Billie Joe playing guitar on the front, with each band member’s signature on the back. The title of their contribution to Instant Karma, Working Class Hero, is also shown on the shirt. Fans also have an opportunity to win one of these shirts, and you can receive more information on that by visiting the Hard Rock Café’s website.

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