I know this may sound a bit silly, but this music video was a key moment in my political awakening. In the late 1980s I was first beginning to be aware that all was not well in Reaganland. AIDS, the crack epidemic, and the Iran-Contra Affair were stories I was picking up from the news at the time. In 1987 I turned twelve years old, and around that time was beginning to develop a more independent understanding of the world. That's also the year that the video for "Land of Confusion" was in heavy rotation on MTV.
It came along as the same time as former Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer," another video that stretched the form. Whereas Gabriel used stop motion animation, Genesis relied on puppetry supplied by The Spitting Image, a satirical British show. I had no clue what that show was, but the grotesque puppets freaked me out a bit. All of these familiar faces, from Phil Collins to Reagan to Gorbachev to Thatcher, looked misshapen and distorted. It implied that I was living in a world ruled by fools and monsters. In a few years I would realize that my hunch, first sparked by this video, was correct.
More than anything, it portrays Reagan as ineffectual and ridiculous, a senile old man playing at being Superman. Beaming that into millions of homes in the heartland did more to damage his reputation than a whole army of liberal college professors. This image came out right when Reagan's senility was becoming more obvious. The late Reagan years really were a land of confusion, one with crumbling cities, rising violence, numerous scandals (Iran Contra, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, etc.) and a raging epidemic that had been ignored by a president who seemed increasingly distant and removed. In 1988 it would be revealed that Nancy Reagan had been relying on an astrologer for help in setting the president's schedule. It was a telling revelation.
The song itself is pretty straight-forward corporate rock, which Genesis pretty much perfected on their Invisible Touch album, a million miles away from the prog rock experimentation of their early years. It bore about as much relation to The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway as a tire iron does to a plate of sushi. The political sentiments of the song are outweighed by the music, which is a pretty clear example of Boomer compromise. Now, when I hear Phil Collins say "my generation will put it right" in this song I laugh and laugh and laugh. We're still living in a land of confusion, alright.