Hollywood has been using the same song for twenty years

What is stranger things, The Handmaid’s Taleand Legion all have in common? Throwback sci-fi horror, dystopian drama, and high-concept superpower fable couldn’t be more different from each other — but all three shows have used the same song, in three consecutive years. In fact, they were part of a trend that has been going on for decades.

Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” has appeared in at least one movie or TV show every year since 2001. The song was released in 1967, but in the new millennium it has become a pop culture mainstay. No longer an ode to drug discovery, the song has more recently been used to express the craziness or unbelievable nature of situations, or the derealized or deteriorated mental state of an individual character. In fact, “White Rabbit’s” association with a particular era – a particular zeitgeist – belies a timelessness, a universality that keeps it relevant even today.

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Jefferson Airplane singer Grace Slick has always been open about her song’s drug-centric lyrics: She wrote “White Rabbit” as “a slap in the face” to parents with cognitive dissonance. Slick felt parents were missing the irony of reading to their children Alice in Wonderland – with its explicit and inferable drug references – and then wondering why their children grew up using drugs. At first, the song was emblematic of the acid rock genre, which was on the rise at the time of its release. Using imagery from Lewis Carroll’s novel to capture the feeling of an altered mental state, “White Rabbit” blends the classic and the contemporary in a way that defined rock music of the time.


Additionally, Slick’s satirical intent reflected Carroll’s own authorship. Writing in Victorian England, Lewis Carroll deliberately wrote much of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (and on the other side of the mirrorlisten)) to satirize the moralism that was pervasive in child-rearing in his time. Many of the poems in his seminal novels are incisive restatements of didactic nursery rhymes that were popular at the time: “How Doth The Little Crocodile,” for example, trades industry exhortations in “How Doth The Little Busy Bee against the morbid imagery of a crocodile drawing fish into its “gently smiling jaws”.


The White Rabbit’s first wave of popularity in Hollywood echoes Slick’s original vision. There is perhaps no use in its story more relevant than in the made-for-television film adaptation of Go ask Alice, a book about the dangerous lure of drugs, which takes its title from a lyric by “White Rabbit”. A handful of appearances in the 1980s associate the madness of the song more closely with Vietnam War experiences, including Section. This association persists today, with “White Rabbit” appearing in the PBS documentary about this period, Vietnam War.


From 2001 to 2011, the song continued to appear with a rendition tied to hippie and drug culture in the 1960s. When identifying pop culture trends, it’s often difficult to point to a single example brilliant and to credit it as the sole source of inspiration – yet Zack Snyder’s 2011 film Sucker Punch has a colorful claim that it changed the way filmmakers thought about “White Rabbit.” Sucker Punch wasn’t taken seriously even when it was released (which is a shame, since it was more nuanced than critics or audiences thought). However, his dreamy style and lavish whimsy evoked an altered state throughout the film, which made “White Rabbit” a perfect choice for one of his musical numbers.


The instance has only the thinnest connection to other uses of the song, as Emily Browning lip-syncs it to an extended steampunk fantasy sequence set during World War II. While it is impossible to say whether other filmmakers were inspired by Sucker Punch (indeed, it seems unlikely that many would admit if they were), there is no doubt that the uses of “White Rabbit” have shifted subtly. No longer strictly tied to the idea of ​​hallucinogenic states (or when such states were distinctly popular), the song was used to convey any kind of absurd or surreal event – or to imitate madness in the spirit of the characters.

He plays at the beginning of stranger things, as the Bad Men exert their violence in Benny’s restaurant, trying to take Eleven back. In The Handmaid’s Tale, he follows June’s gaze as she soaks up Jezebel’s blatant debauchery, which seems almost a hallucination after the chaste monotony of her everyday life. And of course “White Rabbit” must appear in Legion – itself a lengthy rumination on psychology, psychosis and what constitutes normality – in the form of a slow, rambling cover that accompanies David as he sorts out what he knows and what his memory misses (or his disclosure of his memory).


It also seems likely that “White Rabbit” will remain popular in the media, as Hollywood continues to explore psychology through film. Few other songs have such an explicit and direct connotation – and few other songs have enjoyed so many performances in the same amount of time. Fads come and go in movie soundtracks, but “White Rabbit,” it seems, is here to stay.

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