Interpretations:The Bells Are Ringing

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I'm pretty sure that this song is a direct interpretation of a sci-fi story about aliens. The story relates how an alien race visits earth, and with the help of a man who basically hates the world, installs machines that give the human race the ability of group consciousness. Several lines relate to specific scenes in the book; removing the cotton from the girls ears so she can hear it, individuals directed to do things based on the needs of the human consciousness and unable or unwilling to refuse, as well as the actual sound of the "bells" from the machine. I can't remember the name , but it was something along the lines "The Angriest Man In The World"

I think this is the scariest TMBG song. The happy "bell" singing make it even worse.

This song is quite clearly about the Borg. "Bong" even looks like "borg". You have people "dropping all businesses at hand" (ignoring the irrelevant). They "pull away her hearplugs" so that the little girl would be assimilated into the collective. Add in the strong military rythm at the end, the overall theme of happiness in unity and lack of individualism, and you quite clearly have cyborgs with lasers on their heads and a proclivity to state "Resistance is futile!".

Ok, it's not literally about the Borg from Star Trek. But the song is about what the Borg are about. Get it? You, too, will be assimilated.

I think and read this somewhere else, that it's about a girl who doesn't do what others are doing. The others are all following the bell's instructions. (Maybe a TV like commercials.) and do whatever's popular. Then the people pull away her earplugs (Get her into doing the popular things.) If I am confusing you, than I am sorry.

There's definitely a science fiction vibe to this song. Instead of the Borg, this song reminds me of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation titled "The Game" where the crew succumbs to a video game that warps the mind and only Wesley Crusher and Robin Lefler (the girl with cotton in her ears) are able to resist.

Although, the song does remind me a lot of Lisa Simpson

How silly can you get? This song is clearly NOT about the borg. That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. CLEARLY this song is about the Matrix. The city of Zion is the girl with cotton in her ears and the multi-faceted eyes of the sentinels come to pull the cotton out (or plug them back in the Matrix). Geez, anyone can see that.

September 13, 2004. On one level, this is about religion. The bells are church bells, and they cause everyone to move towards them trance-like, all at the same time, all doing the same thing, like zombies. I see a snide remark about Christianity.

On another level, in TMBG fashion, it is also very abstract and conceptual, so you can fit whatever you like under the general conceptual framework of "how conformity works" - Borg, religion, whatever.

It also fits neatly into the recurrent TMBG theme of "someone/something is controlling my/your mind or thoughts from the outside." ~Christina Miller

i agree with christina that it is about how conformity works, but i would go further to say it also speaks of mob mentality and the need to make other people like you, this is expressed when the people pull the cotton from the girls ears -sligmasta

Well, not to be too obvious, but I think this song is about X-mas in the US. The X-mas bells start ringing, all the radio stations start playing annoying X-mas music, and we all (for some reason) feel the compulsion to go out and start buying stuff en masse. Not, that there's anything wrong with giving gifts, but I think the song is pointing out that compulsively doing so at the same time every year, often buying awful gifts for people you barely know, is done simply because that's how it's always been. The bells start ringing, and like Pavlov's dog we salivate for presents arranged around a tree. In other words, we miss the point of the holiday. It goes from a sybolic gesture of kindness, or compassion that we rarely engage in, to buying stuff. Which we do practically every day. (I personally see a bit of a ribbing on Christianity too. But, I usually do, so that might just be me.) --Phlod

I disagree. The song is clearly about Pavlovian reaction to the ringing of bell. A Pavlovian reaction can be avoided by applying earplugs. Don't ask me why the Bells were wanting them to do anything different. --R66-Y

I have clear memories of seing a (1960s?) SF film as a child. A hero desperately tries to stop a community which was under the spell of a temple with loud ringing bells... when the bells rang, the people of the town walked in a trance to the temple, where after a certain number had entered inside, the doors closed, the bells stopped and the people came to their senses. But by then, some of their number were trapped inside, never to be seen again. Anyone who can name the film? --Balb Kubrox

The movie you're thinking of is The Time Machine, only it wasn't a temple or bells, it was an air raid siren(at least in the first version) and a large group of people would be drawn into a bunker before the sirens stopped. They did this because the only records of the past that the people had were old instructional records during one of the world wars about air raid sirens. A subterranean race, the morlocks knew this and used the sirens to draw the people underground.I guess it could be related to the song, but I'm not sure. -Hitako47

Whenever I hear this song, I'm reminded of the Birdhouse video. Everyone walking around with the weird eye things.. especially at the 'girl with cotton in her ears' part.

(holy crap after watching again I just noticed it's william allen white's eyes - why did it take me that long to notice that?) --J2

Obviously about religion. The "bells" are a reference to the church bells, and are also the preacher's prose-like speeches. "A voice is telling them to act a different way" (Be a better person, respect thy neighbor, etc.; basic brainwashing, perhaps even filling their head with occultive ideas) The people "tilt their heads" (PRAYING!) "so they won't miss what they will say" (listening to the preacher). "They're not responsible for anything they do" (Certain forces are responsible for making you sin) "They were disorganized and that was what was wrong" (This makes me think cult-ish; like Jamestown, they are thinking of a close-knit members-only community [This point is further helped by the military-style drumming at the end, which makes me think of slavery and perhaps mass-suicide. Notice also that the drumming continues quite a while after the "bong, bong, bong"-ing of the bells stops.]).-- 20:17, 6 September 2006 (UTC)

Oops, I wasn't logged on. That was me.--tehbagel ( o ) 20:18, 6 September 2006 (UTC)
Thank God you told us, we were all wondering. VolatileChemical 22:33, 6 September 2006 (UTC)

I take this song quite literally and believe its about a bell that can control people's minds. Once you hear the bells, you are instantly in their power and are forced to do what they say. There is one girl who knows about it so she wants to protect herself from the bells, but everyone else attacks her and she eventually goes under the bells control. In the end, the military drums imply that these people under a trance would be used to fight for either in a war or for a revolution.

This feels like one of the TMBG songs with most obvious meaning. The whole bell theme is obviously refering to religion and broadening it, all forms of organization. "It isn't evil/It isn't good/It's only what the people miss", "The bells explain what they've been lacking all along/They were disorganized and that was what was wrong". People natuarally want to work in groups, however, it can also be used to controll people. 09:32, 17 June 2008 (UTC)

This is the scariest TMBG song I've ever heard! Are the John's playing the bells that we are all following in a trance? (Remember the Birdhouse video?) I won't be brainwashed, do you hear that Flans? Where's my TMBG anti-rock music cotton...

It reminds me of the Stephen King book "Cell", wherein a sound goes through every cell phone in the world simultaneously, turning anyone within range into a, well, zombie. Eventually, said zombies become hive-minded, and then, it being a post-intervention King book, the whole thing breaks down. Spooky as all get out, though.

They might be Angel fans?[edit]

Call me crazy, but this song has always reminded me so much of season four of Angel the Series. Just substitute "Jasmine" for "bells" and you get a pretty good synopsis of the season's plot.


This song kind of reminds me of the Sirens from The Odyssey, but at the same time, the only connection there is is the bell's drawing powers and the fact that Odysseus's crews put Beeswax in their ears to stop the effect of the singing.

I'm also reminded of the Pied Piper, but that was only children and mice.

No, I'm pretty sure this is a metaphor for religion (not any in particular) and that it draws everyone in and that the subjects converted the last remaining person, the one that put cotton in her ears.

It's such a cheerful song, but when you really listen to the lyrics, it's much darker than it seems. I think this is significant because that's what the bells are supposed to be. They sound nice and all, but then you realize they're sinister and meant to pull you in, so the music itself is just as important as the lyrics.

I think this song is about commercialism, and consumer culture. The "simple key to happiness" is "what the people miss". This is true of marketing, which entices others to buy stuff they don't have, on the premise of being happier with the product.

For those who don't subscribe to that belief, they are pressured by family/friends to accept the norm. That's the "hidden signal" that's not explicitly created, but assumed to be true by all who are in the system.

They're not responsible...[edit]

I agree that the theme of this song could easily be applied to religion, but I think folks put too much emphasis on that due to the association of bells with churches. The criticism is far broader than that.

The line, "They're not responsible for anything they do," is to me the most poignant--and scary--part of the song. In a literal interpretation, they're not responsible because the bells are controlling their actions. But when you step back and look at the theme of conformity, you're reminded of all the horrible things that have been done by people who were "just following orders." Doing things just because you're told to or because it's what everyone else is doing is often an excuse used to shrug off responsibility.

How could we go so far without mentioning Nyarlathotep? From the wikipedia article, he walks the earth, attracting large amounts of followers via the usage of otherworldly instruments. His followers even forget their own lives, following him with the same blind devotion that's seen in the song.

What a fun song! TO TALK ABOUT THAT IS!

(Note this is more of a music video and how it would go and not a theory, But it also kind of is, maybe?) So hearing what other people said also makes me think this. So i see this As a cartoon, all the people at the beginning of the song are holding hands in harmony and bobbing back and forth with the bell sound as a news caster talks and says about how the bells are ringing the song there singing ext. When out of no ware its starts to mind control them right before the hard rock kicks in. Then still in rhythm they walk and kinda dance to a big tower and as the singer or in this case the news caster says there dropping all businesses at hand. A voice from the tower says to act a different way and as said they tilt there heads ext. And a girl with cotton in her ear shows up and we all know how thats goes. I'm more or less making up and copying from other cartoons but thats about where it drops off for me. Maybe the tower falls or maybe it goes on with its plan as said in the song. That was a blast to type out and i hope you liked it, even if i did take parts from other things :)

--Pinatatime (talk) 20:49, 10 November 2016 (EST)--Pinatatime (talk) 20:49, 10 November 2016 (EST)

A parable and a horror story[edit]

The lyrics of this song are a parable, and work on two levels at once. One level is talking about conformity, how people tend to go along with what the majority is doing, and force others to join in. The other level is literal; it's a sci-fi horror story about people being controlled by sentient bells. It's this second aspect that makes the song fun.

Despite the description in A Guided Tour Of Factory Showroom, the song is not about "the seductive appeal of social order (as opposed to individual freedom), and an expression of the terrifying and exciting power of propaganda". I'm pretty sure that description was written by Flansburgh, not Linnell, who wrote the song.
-- Thread Bomb (talk) 03:40, 2 April 2020 (EDT)

Eh, It's not religion[edit]

I don't think the songs about religion

I think its about a mindbending bell in control --jimmyZenShinsThreeHundred11 (talk)

This isn’t a perfect interpretation by any means, but one could read this as a woman with DID being confronted by her alters. The cotton in her ears is her denial over having DID, and the ringing of the bell is her past traumas coming back to her, in the sense that when something sounds familiar it “rings a bell.” The people not being responsible for their actions (like neglecting household chores and children) reflects that those with DID are ultimately responsible for anything their alters do. The disorganization being a problem, likewise, reflects how reaching harmony with one’s alters is the goal of many people with DID.

This was for sure not Their intent with this song, but I think it’s a valid reading.