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Yes, There Are Judeo-Christian Values in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania, Part 1: The Seeker

Billy Corgan recently proclaimed God as his music's inspiration. How does his spirituality manifest in his new album's song "Panopticon"?

by
Chris Queen

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September 22, 2013 - 11:00 am
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Presidio Modelo, a panopticon-styled abandoned prison in Cuba.

Presidio Modelo, a panopticon-styled abandoned prison in Cuba.

Last week, I wrote about the spiritual journey of Billy Corgan, the lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter for Smashing Pumpkins. His journey has taken him from a nihilistic lack of faith to a spirituality that embraces many faiths – including elements of Christianity. The band’s excellent 2012 album Oceania reflects Corgan’s spiritual state, and Judeo-Christian themes run throughout the songs.

Track 2 of Oceania has an odd title. I’ll admit I had to look up what a panopticon was. Wikipedia explains the concept of a panopticon this way:

The Panopticon is a type of institutional building designed by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. The concept of the design is to allow a watchman to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution without their being able to tell whether they are being watched or not…

The design consists of a circular structure with an “inspection house” at its centre, from which the managers or staff of the institution are able to watch the inmates, who are stationed around the perimeter. Bentham conceived the basic plan as being equally applicable to hospitals, schools, sanatoriums, daycares, and asylums, but he devoted most of his efforts to developing a design for a Panopticon prison, and it is his prison which is most widely understood by the term.

In the song, Corgan may not be in a prison, though he speaks of “rest[ing] in the shells I’ve designed.” Rather, I see him as the observer in the tower (perhaps the tower on the album’s cover), looking out into the world around him. And he is seeking – seeking God.

Rise! Love is here
Oh, don’t make me wonder
Life’s never clear where choice is a gift
To use and abuse
To build on proof

[...]

Oh don’t make me wonder
To ask on behalf of you
Of you, where are you?
Where are you in you?*

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All Comments   (4)
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IMHO, there's not much wrong with an occasional wallowing in rock music, if one enjoys such things, just as there is probably nothing too wrong with an occasional night of booze and clubbing. But to confuse that stuff with a vessel for Judeo-Christian values is 180 degrees off the mark.


Pope Benedict XVI diagnoses the issue (http://media.musicasacra.com/publications/sacredmusic/pdf/liturgy&music.pdf):

"In a way which we could not imagine thirty years ago, music has become the decisive vehicle of a counter-religion and thus calls for a parting of the ways. Since rock music seeks release through liberation from the personality and its responsibility, it can be on the one hand precisely
classified among the anarchic ideas of freedom which today predominate more openly in the West than in the East. But that is precisely why rock music is so completely antithetical to the Christian concept of redemption and freedom, indeed its exact opposite. Hence, music of this
type must be excluded from the Church on principle, and not merely for aesthetic reasons, or because of restorative crankiness or historical inflexibility."


1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Why don't you think rock music can be a vessel for Judeo-Christian values? Did you listen to the "Jesus, I / Mary Star of the Sea" track I embedded on the third page? Billy Corgan -- a man who used to be known for his dark, nihilism in his music -- now puts out albums proclaiming himself a born again Christian carrying his own cross. And the first track of his new album here derives from Jewish and Christian mysticism and celebrates God too.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
David - BXVI analyzes the better than I could ever do. I agree w/his analysis.

How about other pop entertainments such as pole-dancing? Could a born again pole-dancer create a pole-dance routine which is a vessel for Judeo-Christian values?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
So you believe that a rock band singing songs about Jesus and God is somehow comparable to a stripper. Got it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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