The casual radio listener cannot avoid the chart topping hit “Some Nights” by the band Fun. As with their other recent hit, “We Are Young,” Fun. produces upbeat tempos and soaring harmonies that belie darker lyrics about the emptiness and purposelessness of life. By applying the postmodern undertones of “Some Nights” to a music video dominated by Civil War imagery, Fun. meaningfully reflects and contributes to popular memory of the Civil War.
The lyrics of “Some Nights” represent the anxieties of a presumably young white heterosexual male travelling far from home. He vacillates between heady confidence and persistent self doubt, ultimately carrying on for no clear reason. The verses set up a dialectic between success and insecurity:
Some nights, I stay up cashing in my bad luck
Some nights, I call it a draw
Some nights, I wish that my lips could build a castle
Some nights, I wish they’d just fall off
Some nights, I’m scared you’ll forget me again
Some nights, I always win
In the refrain, existential despair ultimately overshadows the young man’s irresolution:
But I still wake up, I still see your ghost
Oh Lord, I’m still not sure what I stand for, oh
What do I stand for? What do I stand for?
Most nights, I don’t know anymore
The angsty lyrics clash with decidedly enthusiastic music reminiscent of marching songs. By embracing ambivalence and irony through a white heterosexual male identity, Fun. epitomizes the postmodern subculture of hipsterdom. Furthermore, “Some Nights” represents a commercialized expression of the postmodern condition by rejecting sincere investment in traditional narratives of motivation like social affirmation, romantic love, or economic gain.
In the music video for the song, Fun. pairs the postmodern lament with Civil War imagery in a revealing production of culture and memory. Conspicuously produced during the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, the music video of “Some Nights” reflects and contributes to popular memory of the American conflict. It evokes familiar visual themes of home and love during times of war. A female lover left at home cries over handwritten letters. A soldier yearns for his horses and pastoral farm. The music video even nods to The Gladiator by filming a masculine hand running along a wooden fence in a rural environment. Nostalgic images contrast with darkly lit battle scenes between Confederate and Union soldiers, shots of sad men’s faces covered with dirt, and Fun. playing on a stage lit with burning torches.
By accompanying a visual representation of the Civil War with musical expressions of postmodernism, “Some Nights” conveys little faith in the nationalistic motivations of war. The battle scenes correspond with the refrain of “I don’t know what I stand for,” highlighting the meaninglessness of combat for the soldiers in both gray and blue uniforms. The denouement of the music video features the victorious United States flag followed by a somber procession of soldiers as the band sings, “it’s for the best you didn’t listen/ it’s for the best we get our distance.” Fun. clearly draws a parallel between the aimless hipster existence and the Civil War soldier fighting for no compelling ideological reason.
However disingenuous it may be for Fun to project postmodern angst onto the nineteenth century soldiers, the complete erasure of the issue of racial slavery in “Some Nights” is a more alarming historical deception. By exclusively representing a white male experience, “Some Nights,” ignores the voices and experiences of critical masses of people involved in the Civil War. Fun’s attempt to thumb their nose at hegemonic narratives in fact denies realities of oppression and fails to problematize or complicate white male positionality. “Some Nights” proclaims the futility of fighting without considering how power operates in very real and different ways for various historical subjects.
The superficial treatment of the Civil War in “Some Nights” speaks to greater problems in popular memory of the nineteenth century conflict. The music video is not the only contemporary cultural expression that revels in an imagined aesthetic of the Civil War while eschewing any discussion of the history, culture, and societal implications of the conflict. Mourning on the anniversary of Antietam or shelling ticket money to promote the cult of Abraham Lincoln similarly fail to expand beyond commemoration of the lost lives and innocence of white American men. Especially in an election season, Americans–particularly public historians–should more thoughtfully invoke popular memory about the Civil War to spark discussion about the politics of racism, cultures of war, and the history of class.
 I am inferring a white male identity because all the members of Fun and every character in the music video appear to be white men. The one exception is a white woman, who functions as the romantic interest of a solider, thus implying heterosexuality. A heterosexual identity is further reaffirmed by the line, “I found a martyr in my bed tonight / She keeps my bones from wondering just who I am.”