Radioactive: A New Way to Be

From the first time I heard it, I liked Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive.” It’s no surprise that the song is popping up as the theme song of all things tough, including football teams and television shows like “Defiance.”

I’m waking up to ash and dust

I wipe my brow and I sweat my rust

I’m breathing in the chemicals

The beat trudges along, pushes through. In America, we value the ability to go to hell and back and come out not only a survivor, but stronger, on the other side. That’s who we are as a people, heading west in wagons, working in coal mines, gutting it out in the trenches for democracy.

The pervasiveness of postapocalyptic themes raises some interesting questions. In the context of the class on environmental ethics I’m teaching this semester, I find it alarming. Postapocalyptic television shows, video games, and this song don’t seem concerned with how the world was destroyed but pick up post-disaster. The human beings who survive have the staying power of cockroaches.

I don’t want to live in a world whose entertainment dreams of breathing in chemicals and sweating rust and moving on. A romanticization of a new, radioactive age is horrifying, not tough. Better the children’s environmentally oriented novel Roar, which presents young readers with a horror they would not want to live in with the implicit message–do you want this to be your world? If not, do something.

There’s always more than one way to read any text, songs included of course. At the moment, I think not only of an environment laid to waste when I hear “Radioactive” but also the phoenix emerging from the ashes imagery. Again, very romantic. I can hear Hegel saying, “The wound that heals leaves no scars behind.” This is perhaps romantic in a different sense; the dialectic smooths out all past wrongs, because as history marches onward, progress is made.

How ludicrously naive. How spoken from the privileged position within history.

I don’t like shows where human beings are fighting each other in the dust like crazed cockroaches. Where is the entertainment value in that?

Human beings do enough violence to one another in real life. Being in the proximity of toxic people will leave you scarred; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I begged and pleaded for attorneys to come in with the equivalent of radiation suits and do the dirty work. But they didn’t. Instead, we waited and waited and mediated and treated the aggressor as if she were a reasonable human being and we breathed in a ton of toxic waste and the damage is done.


I’m waking up, I feel it in my bones

Enough to make my systems blow

Welcome to the new age, to the new age

Welcome to the new age, to the new age

Whoa, oh, oh, oh, oh, whoa, oh, oh, oh, I’m radioactive, radioactive


Nothing to celebrate here.



1 Comment

  1. PhiloPsycho says:

    hmm. I have heard that song so many times I immediately change the station. I never picked up on anything positive in it, but maybe just because I don’t like the tune, I’m looking through a negative lens. When I hear the word “radioactive” I always think of some documentary I watched as teenager that left me with nightmares and anxiety. I suppose I was too young to be watching it. I think it was about Russia, some post-war ghost town (Chernobyl?). I recall seeing a woman bathing a baby in a pot, the water turned red from the baby’s internal bleeding. Sickeningly sad.

    The Phoenix rising always struck me more as wishful, victorious afterlife, and the flip side of that is still death of the real. How we love our martyrs.

    That song is being used for sports events? Makes sense. If you’re winning, someone else is losing. I’ve always seen sports (and fans) as being something aggressive people are drawn to, people who find their identity in having an opposing team to conquer, even if it requires some real injury to win (karate, MMA, football, etc).

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