“Watching TV” by Roger Waters
“Watching TV” is a pretty-interesting piece as far as protest songs go. And that’s because the vocalist spends a significant portion of the lyrics, i.e. most of the first verse really, in admiration of ‘his yellow rose’, i.e. a lady who reads like someone Roger Waters personally knew, on top of being a romantic interest of his. Furthermore, that adjective “yellow” is likely intended to point to the notion of homegirl having been Chinese.
It’s pretty clear that she is a personification as opposed to an actual person, if you will. And what she is ultimately meant to personify, most simply put, is the brutality of the Chinese government.
This piece was more specifically inspired by an event known as the Tiananmen Square protests, which transpired in Beijing, the capital of China, in 1989. This was when tens of thousands of Chinese citizens, primarily students, basically went at it with the country’s armed forces. And as generally understood by the West, what it is they were protesting for was democracy.
Well, China is very much a communist country to this day. And in maintaining that standard, countless people died during these protests. So many individuals, including some military personnel, lost their lives that no one knows the exact casualty figure (or more likely, those numbers were suppressed).
Addressee of “Watching TV” was a Victim
Basically, what’s being inferred here is that the aforementioned “yellow rose”, this lady whom the vocalist admired, was one of the victims of said protest. As depicted, “she was a daughter of an engineer”. Furthermore, she was someone who herself worked as “a short order pastry chef”.
The reason we can safely speculate that the vocalist had a romantic interest in her is because he further goes on to passionately note the following physical attributes of hers:
- “perfect breasts”
- “almond eyes”
- “yellow thighs”
Roger does clarify that she was on the anti-government side of the protest, i.e. being “a student of philosophy”.
But now, what’s being relayed is that she was killed by the powers that be. And being concerned for the plight of her nation was in this lady’s blood so to speak. Her grandfather also fought against the oppression of one President Chiang Kai-shek back in the day. President Chiang was a leader who “used to order his troops” to kill “women and children”.
Along those same lines, this song even goes on to give a brief history on the formation of the ever-controversial Taiwan.
But back to the “yellow rose” being a personification, Roger Waters is trying to make a point here. And that is the oppression the Chinese were/are going through being akin to what the Jews or Native Americans or even Anne Boleyn, a 16th century Queen of England who went to get beheaded, endured.
Or as Martin Luther King would say, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. And that’s kinda what Waters is trying to get at here. He was trying to encourage people to be more empathetic in terms of what was happening in China.
Song’s Title (“Watching TV”)
The above brings us to the title of the track. As inferred earlier, government-sponsored oppression is nothing new in modern Chinese history. But Tiananmen Square, due to the magnitude of the protests and the era in which they occurred, was arguably the first time such issues were televised to the entire world, quite graphically at that.
Moreover, “Watching TV” is from an album which itself is titled “Amused to Death”. And keeping those titles in mind in addition to the nature of these lyrics, it’s clear that the vocalist is not someone who feels we should simply be sitting back observing such disturbing events, with a bucket of popcorn and large soda in tow.
Conclusively what Rogers is putting forth, pretty vociferously is that we should fight back, physically even, against the likes of tyrannical governments. And in that regard, he even references the unjust crucifixion of Jesus. Indeed, just as the vocalist likens victims of oppression throughout history to each other, Waters likewise notes a similarity between those doing the oppressing.
All things considered, no, he is not actually calling for a violent revolution. But in any event, people of the world should at least be sympathetic to those like ‘his yellow rose’ who stood up for the freedom she believed in, even to death.
Roger Waters is of course best known as being part of the band Pink Floyd. This band is considered one of the most-successful bands to ever come out of the UK.
Aside his works with Pink Floyd, Roger has also dropped a few albums of his own, a couple of which have fared pretty well. For instance, “Amused to Death”, his third studio LP which Columbia Records put out on 1 September 1992, broke the top 10 of the UK Albums Chart. And it is from that project that we get “Watching TV”.
“Watching TV” features Don Henley
On this song, Roger teams up with another conscious vocalist, that being American singer Don Henley, of Eagles’ fame. And to note, this appears to be the only collaboration with each other they ever dropped.
Credits for “Watching TV”
Roger Waters wrote this track by himself. He also co-produced it alongside Patrick Leonard and Nick Griffiths (d. 2005).