Why do we build the wall

Posted on September 15, 2011 by


I felt a moment of simple truth when listening first to the album of “Hadestown” written by singer and songwriter Anaïs Mitchell from Vermont, Canada. Apart from being a great concept album, the “folk-opera” evokes immediate associations on U.S. depression, the global financial crisis and visions of the post-apocalyptic gated community. The retold myth of Orpheus search for his beloved Eurydice in the underworld can be easily read as a status report of a present, in which new urbanism, post-industrialism and the trend to build walls in order to protect property and to preserve “freedom” are all around. “Why do we build the wall” takes a central part on the album.

Surely the simplistic piece of the folk-opera “Hadestown”, in which Hades indoctrinate his worker-citizens was not meant to stand for one defined political or urban situation. The truth lies in it nevertheless.

the enemy is poverty and the wall keeps out the enemy
, that’s why we build the wall, we build the wall to keep us free

Anaïs Mitchell writes:

“To me the essence of “Why We Build the Wall” is, it’s meant to provoke the question. Take global warming to its terrifying logical conclusion and imagine part of the world becomes uninhabitable and there are masses of hungry poor people looking for higher ground. then imagine you are lucky enough to live in relative wealth and security, though maybe you’ve sacrificed some freedoms to live that way. When the hordes are at the door, who among us would not be behind a big fence? These conditions exist already, but most of us don’t have to acknowledge them in a real way…”

Borders and walls are of strong symbolic meaning for people of every cultural background. But the image of the wall can be easily transferred into another image, one to illustrate the global rise of over-protected borders between “the functioning core” and the “non-integrating gap”.

Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker stated that music „tickle(s) the sensitive spot“. Anaïs Mitchell proves that this also counts for the content of it. „Why we build the wall“ tickles a sensitive spot in people’s minds all over the world:

“I really and truly had no specific place in mind when I wrote “Why We Build the Wall.” People often say, “Oh, that’s just like Israel/Palestine, or that’s just like the US/Mexico border,’” and maybe it is, but the song was written more archetypally.”

This strikes a basic chord of human nature: We are not free, there will always be borders, and they will probably be more protected than ever.


CD Anaïs Mitchell, “Hadestown”

A folk-opera with guests: Anaïs Mitchell (Eurydice), Justin Vernon / Bon Iver (Orpheus), Greg Brown (Hades), Ani DiFranco (Persephone), the Haden Triplets, Ben Knox Miller / The Low Anthem (Hermes)

Released on Righteous Babe Records, Mar. 9, 2010


Review The Sunday Times, April 25, 2010: http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/music/cd_reviews/article7104158.ece

The functioning core and the non-integrating gap: http://www.think-space.org/files/Images/geopolitical-borders/think-space-geopolitical-borders.png

More about Hadestown and Anaïs Mitchell: http://anaismitchell.com/home.html

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