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This Day: February 28

February 28, 2010

On February 28, 1692, the Salem witch trials commenced. According to Wikipedia, many songs were influenced by the Salem trials, though on closer inspections, some of those songs are influenced by other trials, or witches in general.

Bloc Party doesn’t explicitly mention the Salem trials in Hunting For Witches, but they use the idea of a witch hunt, as a metaphor for press hysteria stirred up after the London Bombings.

As a political statement, on one level, Hunting for Witches if fairly blunt. The Daily Mail, already a favourite of English comedians, is explicitly named as whipping up the hysteria. TV is also said to be to blame. All standard protest political fare.

But on another level Bloc Party is asking serious questions about ordinary people. The narrator seems to have no particular thoughts about immigrants or Islam before 9/11, but now powerful terrorist actions and the reaction of the media and the government has forced an opinion:

“In the ’90s, optimistic as a teen
Now its terror
Airplanes crash into towers”

Of course, the “ordinary guy” is now thinking racist thoughts based on fear. Similarly, the (re)actions of two small girls in Salem suddenly led to accusations of witchery based on fear, a lack of knowledge, assumptions and the authority of the establishment. Ordinary people were suddenly confronted with something outside their comfort zone.

Bloc Party aren’t condoning these actions, but are pointing out racism, as such, is a lot more complex than people simply are or aren’t. When fear is caused by a real event and various official interpretations, people under stress start acting in ways they may never have thought they were capable.

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