“I Don’t Know What I Stand For Anymore”: Fun., Postmodern Angst, and Civil War Memory

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.[1]  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.[2]   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.


[1] 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.”

[2] For more contemporary sources on hipsters as a postmodern subculture, see Society: Hipster Subculture Ripe for Parody and Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization.

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9 thoughts on ““I Don’t Know What I Stand For Anymore”: Fun., Postmodern Angst, and Civil War Memory

  1. WNYkid

    Is it possible that the video might be implying a NEW civil war to come? Perhaps the woman represented something that this particular soldier was fighting for? I personally believe this to be so.

    As for the lyrics, It’s a mixture of many things. Religion, way of life, freedom and rights etc… He’s unsure of what is right and what is wrong. Not behavior wise, but TRUTH wise. And if he acts according to what he believes to be true, will they say his behavior wrong when he feels it’s right?

    As for the lyrics tying into the video… These men looked healthy, brave, and defiant as if they were defending their territory. Whereas the other men with the American flags, appeared frail and full of fear. Almost as if they were sent out malnourished and uninformed to conquer the other side’s territory.

    To me, it’s about the war to come of the New World Order, which is now the Old World Order…. versus the NEW New World Order… Who I not only believe, but know for a fact wants to backtrack humanity to a time when we were healthy and didn’t pollute. These men in the video were definitely healthy, and equestrian.

    There’s a great deal of change coming to the world. Whether by humanity as a whole, by government, or by Mother Nature, it’s coming. I think they’re just trying to warn people that history repeats itself, which would mean big changes are coming soon.

  2. Realist

    AS to the video and the soundtrack, I think it was great. I am not into that type of music, but I was flipping through channels and when I saw the video is stopped in my tracks. Not sure if the song without the video would have moved me, but the combo sure did. FUN is on to something.

  3. Anonymous

    Unless you have been forced to serve in the army you cannot feel what this song is about. We cannot even begin to imagine what those white heterosexual males went through. If hipsters want to make a music video about it, so be it.

  4. MEMENTO

    Unless you have been forced to serve in the army you cannot feel what this song is about. We cannot even begin to imagine what these white heterosexual males went through. That song says something about the soldiers who dealt with all the hardships and horrors of the war and had to ask themselves “what am I doing here?”. People always will ask these questions. If hipstters want to make a music video about it, then so be it.

  5. J Hackman

    While I agree that Americans need to acknowledge and discuss racism and slavery in a more transparent way, I think it’s a bit unfair to single out this video for failing to do that. The song isn’t about the Civil War, there are references to the desert and twitter – it seems much more current. And to the extent that the lyrics can apply generally to a war experience, they are so clearly from a very particular lower-class white male perspective that engaging in other discussion in music video might seem unauthentic.

  6. Axel

    Just deleted a whole lot of text I’d written, because I couldn’t stop thinking about the song.

    The short is totally sufficient: If you interpret the song together with the video, it’s one hell of a glorifying war movie (talking about the last part after the “No…”). That was, what I first did. Second thought, with the information, that it might be a personal song, I’m more into the struggle of a young man far from home. If you read the text and force yourself not to think about war, it’s something completely different.

    Exactly that is, what it’s making it (the song) stand out!

    Though I’m hoping, that not a lot of people fall for the war analogy, because it’s simply so terrible giving the impression: “Mum, Dad I left for good, I need to take care for the guys dying in the desert. And it’s a good thing crossing lines breaking rules. And if the war is over, someday, there will be something cool new, like my nephew, and I can forget about the terrible lies/nights. So it’s okay, that I don’t have to stand for something, just fight. Thank god, you haven’t heard what I talked about.”

    I don’t know if you get my point, I don’t even know if it’s just my non-native-speaker ear, that hears that kind of things in this song, but your opinion gave me another perspective, thanks for that.

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