Helter Skelter: Alien Ant Farm Crash the BET Awards

The year is 2003. Charles Manson, leader of the notorious Manson Family (more of a blood-thirsty cult than traditional nuclear family, in case you were wondering), is rotting away in a California State Prison, proudly sporting a Swastika tattoo on his forehead and trying to put his best foot forward, his dreams of launching the apocalyptic race war known as Helter Skelter, in twisted homage to the Beatles’ tune of the same name, forever dashed by the long arm of the law. Over 30 years after Manson’s 1969 arrest for the murderous crimes of him and his followers, Helter Skelter didn’t appear to have a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding. And speaking of hell, an aging Manson was preparing to punch his one-way ticket to fire and brimstone whenever the magic moment came that he finally bought the farm. But why buy just any farm when only an Alien Ant Farm will do?

Precisely when Helter Skelter seemed like nothing more than a distant memory, Alien Ant Farm, those wacky pop punkers who hit the big time with their 2001 cover of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal”, unwittingly breathed new life into the concept of a cathartic bloodletting between blacks and whites. Who’s laughing now, asshole? Better pick up that machete if you want to live. By 2003 Alien Ant Farm were struggling to replicate the surprise success of “Smooth Criminal”. In an already saturated pop punk marketplace dominated by the likes of Blink 182 and Sum 41, Alien Ant Farm were on the outside looking in. It was sort of like staring into an ant farm but without the part about aliens. They needed to make an impact. They needed Helter Skelter. All right, let’s not get carried away here.

Released as the debut single from their third album Truant, “These Days” is a run-of-the-mill pop punk number, even by Alien Ant Farm standards. Nothing too flashy, just enough meat and potatoes to keep the kids happy and the pit at a dull hum. Lead vocalist Dryden Mitchell shrieks about a failing relationship and emotional manipulation while he wonders “where the days went,” not to mention his band’s rapidly waning star. That ain’t why we’re here, though. The video for “These Days” is where the group’s desperate bid for renewed glory and unintentional courting of Manson’s ideology come together in one sick, sad soup. Featuring Alien Ant Farm crashing the 2003 Black Entertainment Television (BET) Awards by way of a rooftop performance reminiscent of the Beatles’ (always with the fucking Beatles), the video for “These Days” is a bizarre ode to artistic folly. Silencing an award show honouring achievements by African Americans and other minorities? Not a good look, pop punk. Not a good look. However, judging from the video’s inclusion of amused reaction shots to the band’s performance from Nelly, Pharrell, Lil’ Kim and others, Alien Ant Farm’s intentions were probably innocent. Probably. Maybe Alien Ant Farm was hoping to demonstrate that creative solidarity transcends racial boundaries. Even so, it was still a dumb move. There’s no way you could get away with this shit in 2017, at least not without facing shame and ridicule from any non-KKK member of your peers. At any rate, Manson’s fantasy of a destructive race war went back on the shelf, with most of those in attendance at the BET Awards content to watch Alien Ant Farm from afar instead of rise to the bait and slaughter them like sheep for their insolence. Sorry, Helter Skelter. Not this time!   

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