In Spring of last year I helped organize a group of former Jehovah’s Witnesses from various countries to film our own dance video to the song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. I felt this was a great way of showing the world that so-called “apostates” are not angry and bitter, but are moving on with their lives in a positive, purposeful way.
The thought did briefly cross my mind: “Could it be that Jehovah’s Witnesses would ever do their own dance video to this song?” Though not completely inconceivable, I felt this would be unlikely given that, growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness, it was always frowned on to even own the music of rap/hip hop stars, let alone dance to it on camera!
Well, it seems I could not have been more wrong.
Since I made the “Happy” video there have been at least two instances of Jehovah’s Witnesses dancing to this particular track: one in a kingdom hall while entertaining international convention delegates and, more recently, a full-blown dance montage to the Happy song at various Bethel locations has been uploaded to YouTube…
The above video was initially available on a number of YouTube channels, but was taken down after complaints from JWs – including from one JW who claimed to speak on behalf of the makers of the video who strongly objected to it being posted to YouTube. (I would present evidence of this, but unfortunately the video was taken down before I could get a screengrab of the comments.)
Indeed, it wouldn’t surprise me if the embedded video above ends up getting pulled from YouTube at some point. If you’re reading this article later on and the version of “Happy” shown above is embedded from my Russian “RuTube” account, you know why.
Why would Jehovah’s Witnesses object?
It hopefully shouldn’t require explanation as to why an undoubtedly positive and upbeat video such as this would ignite controversy among seasoned Jehovah’s Witnesses, but I’ll spell it out for you anyway.
Though this particular song contains no lyrics that can be interpreted as sexually explicit, the same cannot be said of other music by Pharrell – including the following…
- Take It Off (Dim The Lights)
- Come Get It Bae
- Get Lucky (collaboration with Daft Punk)
- Blurred Lines (collaboration with Robin Thicke)
And the following quotes give some indication as to why long-standing Witnesses who actually read and apply the instructions found in Watchtower literature might be perplexed at this latest stunt…
“Consider the case of a young man who wants to buy a certain music album. What he has heard from the album is very appealing, but he is concerned because the back cover indicates that the lyrics are sexually explicit and profane… As a lover of Jehovah, this young man is interested in His thoughts and feelings on the matter. How can he perceive what God’s will is in this regard?” w03 12/1 p.21
“Since Bible times, unwholesome music has been a tool of Satan to stimulate unclean behavior. (Compare Exodus 32:17-19; Psalm 69:12; Isaiah 23:16.) Not surprisingly, then, music with sexually seductive—if not explicit—lyrics, profanity, and wild, arousing tempos is popular.” w99 9/1 p.10
“What about the lyrics? Do they promote sexual immorality, drug use, or other wrongs that are ‘shameful even to relate?’ (Ephesians 5:12) The Bible says that such things should ‘not even be mentioned’ among God’s people, much less set to a beat and repeated over and over again. (Ephesians 5:3) What about the album-jacket design? Does it contain spiritistic themes or sexually arousing pictures? Perhaps you need to make some changes in the type of music you choose. If you have records, tapes, and discs that carry immoral and demonistic themes, you should immediately dispose of them.” w93 4/15 p.24
Regarding that last quote, young JWs who were forced to throw away albums featuring lyrics that fell short of Watchtower’s standards would have had no defense in holding on to these simply because a single song on them had lyrics that were harmless.
How, then, can the makers of this “Happy” video have no qualms about endorsing the music of Pharrell Williams when so much of it would be considered “a tool of Satan to stimulate unclean behavior?”
I believe the answer lies in the fact that Watchtower is changing – drastically. It is not the same religion that most Witnesses and ex-Witnesses grew up in.
The Watchtower of the 20th Century was unyielding, uncompromising and proud to be loathed and unpopular. The Watchtower of the 21st Century is image-obsessed, beguiling, and willing to bend a few of its rules for the sake of portraying itself in a favorable light.
The work of a rogue individual, or an inside job?
Some will doubtless argue that this video MUST be the ill-advised work of some rogue, over-enthusiastic, spiritually-weak Witness individual. But there are numerous reasons for asserting that this video is in fact a calculated internal propaganda stunt by Watchtower.
Anyone who has spent any amount of time in Bethel will tell you that you simply do not get that sort of access to the various departments (not to mention the cooperation of the bethelites working IN those departments), without the consent of the departmental overseers.
You cannot just wander into the lobby of Patterson with a camera and get the receptionists to dance wildly for you at your command.
Another telling sign that this is an inside job comes at 1:13 in the video, where a caption pops up that reads “Hmong RTO.” Hmong is an ethnic group from South-East Asia, and “RTO” stands for “Remote Translation Office.”
The use of organizational jargon in this caption, without any attempt to explain things for those not familiar with the inner workings of Watchtower, would seem to indicate that this video was intended for distribution only among the Bethel family.
The unfettered access to various Watchtower locations and departments, the full and enthusiastic cooperation of so many bethelites, and the use of an internal acronym that most JWs would be unfamiliar with, all points to this being an inside job – authorized at the highest level.
If I’m wrong, and it’s really so easy to roam around Bethel getting bethelites to dance for you in front of the camera, excuse me while I book the first flight to New York!
Reasons for optimism?
But forensics aside, what can we take away from this video? Are we to conclude that bethelites are deliriously happy with their lives? Can we dare to suggest that Watchtower is becoming more easy-going, down-to-earth and mainstream?
On the first question, I would point out two things: (1) you should really check out Brock Talon’s book “Journey To God’s House” and the recent JWpodcast interview with Kam Deo if you want to know whether life in Bethel is all smiles and laughter, and (2) there is a big difference between dancing on camera and being genuinely happy. Yes – I realize you can make this same argument about my own interpretation of the Happy song, but the reasons for an ex-JW to be happy are, in my opinion, far more plausible than those of a JW.
A JW’s “happiness” originates from knowing that he is serving Jehovah (when in fact he is serving an organization), and from the absolute conviction that one day he will live in a world where everyone who disagrees with his beliefs has been slaughtered.
Those are definitely reasons to be happy, but they are not good reasons.
An exJW’s happiness comes from knowing that they have been emancipated from the control of a small group of deluded men in New York, and from knowing they are free to live their lives according to what they think and believe rather than having their personal convictions prescribed for them.
Speaking for myself, there is also a great deal of joy to be derived from knowing that the love you have for your child is unconditional, and that no personal differences need ever threaten to separate your dearest little one from you.
As to the idea that this video represents a softening on the part of Watchtower – if only that were true!
In order for Watchtower to become more “mainstream” and easy-going it would need to loosen up its harsh and damaging rules on such matters as shunning, blood transfusions, child abuse and higher education. Rather than doing that, if anything Watchtower is circling the wagons more and more on those issues, as the recent rant by Tony Morris on higher education indicates.
Unfortunately what we are seeing in this Happy video is Watchtower trying to have the best of both worlds. It wants to be the cool dad at the party, but also the dad who, behind closed doors, spanks his child brutally for the slightest misdemeanor.
As heartwarming and endearing as this video will undoubtedly be for most who watch it, what it actually represents is a sickly propaganda stunt by an organization willing to punish its adherents in one of the most wicked ways imaginable (through family estrangement) if they fall out of line, while bending its own rules whenever advantageous to do so.
Since writing this article I have had the opportunity to speak directly to the maker of the video, and I’ve been told that although the concept and execution of this video was carried out by him individually for the “Bethel Family Night” – the project was approved by the Bethel Family Night Committee and received their endorsement and cooperation. I’m relieved that the individual concerned will not get into trouble for making this video, since he seems to have done everything by the book and consulted properly with his superiors. However, his account does verify that Watchtower went into this with its eyes open and saw no double-standards or hypocrisy in using Pharrell Williams to promote life as a bethelite.
- Partying in the kingdom hall – why OK for convention delegates, but not newlyweds?
- Two days after the memorial – apostates reveal the secret of happiness
- Why is God’s earthly organization so slow?