Green Day Risks Pay Day Over “Breakdown”

In the battle between Green Day and Wal-Mart, the retailer is coming out looking like the American idiot.

The trio took a principled stand and refused to produce a special, censored version of its new album, “21st Century Breakdown.” Wal-Mart, as a rule, refuses to stock albums with the parental advisory label, but allows acts to submit edited versions for its shelves.

At issue for Wal-Mart, the biggest retail outlet in the country for recordings, is some profanity and adult references on the album.

At issue for Green Day, whose new work tackles modern societal confusion and alienation, is artistic freedom.

“As the biggest record store in the America, they should probably have an obligation to sell people the correct art,” Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt told the Associated Press.

As a private business, Wal-Mart can do whatever it wants. But with traditional record, video and book stores dwindling, the retailer wields considerable influence over what gets heard, seen and read in this country.

Wal-Mart’s power, though, is fading, too: “21st Century Breakdown” hit No. 1 without the chain's help, selling some 215,000 copies in its first week.

From an artistic perspective, Wal-Mart is being narrow minded, and seemingly arbitrary. From a business perspective, it’s risking long-term repercussions by alienating younger customers who don’t want to be told what they can listen to – and who can easily download music online, bypassing a trip the local Wal-Mart.

The group’s frontman, Billie Joe Armstrong, said Green Day was taking a stand on behalf of new bands that might censor themselves just to make it into Wal-Mart.

"What does that say to a young kid who's trying to speak his mind making a record for the first time?” Armstrong told The AP.  “It's like a game that you have to play. You have to refuse to play it."

By refusing to play Wal-Mart’s game – and taking a risk that’s paying off – Green Day already has won.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.

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