Jonestown + Pop Music = ?


I just came across the disturbing music video for the band Cults‘ song “Go Outside”. The music itself reminds me of the Shangri-Las. Very hazy, lazy days, swaying in the afternoon sun kind of a song. The video, however, is anything but. They dug out historical videos from the People’s Temple and Jonestown, circa the happy times, and stitched it together for the music video, lip syncing and all. The effect is eery. Notable is that director, Isaiah Seret, left out the massacre and mass suicide at the end. So, it sort of ends…happily?

I’m not sure how I feel about it yet – is it exploitative? A warning? Not enough of a warning? Too poppy a song to play with such a dark story? Is it fair that they leave out the end or is it enough that we know what happens? Is it crossing a line? Or is it a tribute to the people who lost their lives?

Here’s the director’s statement:

To tell the story of Cults’ hauntingly beautiful track, “Go Outside”, I was inspired to bring the band inside the world of Jim Jones’ famous religious cult, Peoples Temple, and the eventual tragedy in Jonestown. Fortunately, when exploring the feasibility of this video I became acquainted with Fielding M. McGehee III, an expert on Peoples Temple history and the primary researcher for the Jonestown Archive. It is thanks to him and his encouragement that I was able to take on this project and through his support gained access to over two and half hours of home videos showing Peoples Temple in Jonestown. For this music video we didn’t want to put a spin on the footage or the peoples lives—instead we wanted to re-tell and humanize their story. In order to achieve this we used a combination of stock footage, visual effects and other tricks to embed the band into the historical footage. This was achieved through my collaboration with my visual effects supervisor Bill Gillman and my cinematographer Matthew Lloyd. Lastly, I am moved to say when we completed the video we were able to preview it for some of the survivors of the Jonestown Massacre, who expressed their appreciation of our focus on the lives of the People’s Temple members as opposed to exploiting the graphic images of the final tragedy.

In History and Memory,


What do you think?


7 thoughts on “Jonestown + Pop Music = ?

  1. I’ll have to watch it outside of my work environs, but I think this may be the first time someone has tried to do anything with the Jonestown Tragedy that wasn’t horrific and sad… It sounds like what may have been an idea with good intentions.

    I can’t help but wonder what a video of the Pearls to Swine song on Jonestown would have looked like, it wouldn’t have been pretty, not with a title like “Ritualistic Holocaust”
    (Pearls to Swine was Guyana’s first successful Rock Band that I know of)

  2. I can appreciate what the director tried to do. I was watching Chimamanda Adichie- The danger of a single story last night on YouTube and I’m reminded that the single story most people have of Guyana is of the Jonestown tragedy. By focusing on the people rather than the tragedy I believe that the group sort of celebrates the lives of the people.

    However I can see where people, like my mom and wife would severely dislike this video. The lip syncing and fact that a lot of these people are dead is enough to freak some people out.

    Acquired taste?

    1. I can see where you’re going with that but I think the lip syncing was a bit too much – crossing the line into what I can only assume is a bid for attention. I don’t buy that it’s a tribute. I think they were trying to capitalise on the creep factor and that’s disrespectful, given the circumstances, in my book.

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