Peter Gabriel: Games without Frontiers Meaning
Song Released: 1980
Games without Frontiers Lyrics
Jane plays with willi, willi is happy again
Suki plays with leo, sacha plays with britt
Adolf builts a bonfire, enrico plays with it
-whistling tunes we hid in the dunes by the seaside
anonymous Jun 3rd report
I feel this one is about channeling hostility that might end in war, into silly games. And I think there may be a bit of an edge there of "...and it probably won't work."
anonymous Oct 21st 2020 report
Honestly I wish I could listen to this song but I just can't I have always found it to be incredibly creepy for some reason ...
anonymous Mar 29th 2018 report
In regards to who Enrico is in the song. The scientist Enrico Fermi was very instrumental in developing the atomic bomb in the U.S from which the Nazis originally developed but were foiled in their attempt (Hitler built the bonfire) Thus in 1939, World War II was started by the Nazi invasion of Poland and it culminated in the use of the atomic bomb against Japan in 1945. ( Enrico plays with it ).
anonymous Dec 18th 2017 report
I appreciate the insight that the song references a game show for kids in Europe. I don't think that necessarily negates the common interpretaion that the song was about international conflict and ultimately war. In a way, when considering the lyrics, it would seem that he is using the game show to make that very point. I can't proof this interpretaion is correct, but I just don't think the over all sound of song is conducive to the idea that he was only commenting on how seriously adults were taking a children's game show. It seems more likely he is drawing on that to make a larger point that those in power act as if international politics (and at time war) is just a game rather than really think about the consequences of what they do and say.
anonymous Apr 1st 2015 report
The names used in this song are definitely references to countries and politics as compared to children fighting or befriending one another. The theme of the song is definitely about politics and ultimately war. The most disturbing message the lyrics deliver is the statement, "Adolf builds a bonfire, Enrico plays with it." In World War II, The Nazi regime was developing "heavy water" in Norway. Heavy water contains deuterium and tritium which is radioactive hydrogen that can be used to enrich uranium and other radioactive elements to make a nuclear bomb or device. the British foiled these plans, and the scientist Enrico Fermi was very instrumental in developing the atomic bomb in the U.S. Thus in 1939, World War II was started by the Nazi invasion of Poland and it culminated in the use of the atomic bomb against Japan in 1945.
anonymous Nov 7th 2012 report
Hans- sound similar to 'Huns' which is what the Japanese were called in WW2.
Lotte- I assume it is South Korean based.
If both of the above are true, than 'Hans plays with Lotte' refers to when the Japanese occupied Korea.
Jane- English name.
If Lotte really refers to South Korea than 'Lotte plays with Jane' is a reference to how the UK got involved in the North vs. South Korea war.
Willi- German name
'Jane plays with Willi' refers to how the UK fought Germany.
'Willi is happy again' could be trying to say how WW2 helped Germany's economy.
Leo- could be many countries (German, Dutch, Scandinavian, Finnish, English, Croatian or Late Roman).
Perhaps 'Suki plays with Leo' is talking about how even after everyone fought in WW2, there was still the battle against Japan to fight.
Sacha- Russian name.
Britt- American or British name.
'Sacha plays with Britt' is a possible reference to the Cold War. Britain started the hole thing with their 'Iron Curtain' Speech, but the US and USSR were the ones who actually fought.
Adolf- obviously a reference to Hitler.
'Adolf builds a bonfire' is most likely talking about the Holocaust.
Enrico- German or Spanish name.
'Enrico plays with it' threw me for a loop. I don't get that one.
'Whistling tunes we hide in the dunes by the seaside' could be multiple references. Fights similar to D-Day (and D-Day itself) happened on beaches. The Us vs. Japan war was fought on islands, and we all know that islands have a lot of sand. There was also somthing called the 'Sands War' or just 'sand War' between Algeria and Morocco, in 1963.
The last one was new to me. I just Googled 'Sand' and 'war' and this came up. Note how Peter Gabriel was most likely in school when this happened. It probably wasn't important in history, but it might have caught the fancy of one teenage boy in High School. I mean, fighting and teenage mind? I'm just saying...
Hope this helped!
anonymous Mar 13th 2011 report
the part about whistling tunes makes me think of bullet rounds flying past the soldiers heads as they invade the beach of normandy which would be the sand dunes by the seashore. kissing baboons in the jungle again would maybe have to do with shooting the enemy in the jungle. adolf (adolf hitler) builts a bonfire (he did put all the jewish people in a furnace). if looks could kill they probably will meaning that if you look intimidating to the enemy country they will be more afraid and more likely to back down. look at any of the lyrics then think of the connections to war and it all makes sense.
anonymous Aug 18th 2010 report
Wow, that prior interpretation was really difficult to read and almost circular, kind of nutty actually, though the closing line was a good one.
The game show makes lots of sense, so does poking fun at the Olympics, and this was written just before the USA boycotted the 1980 Olympics. To me, Hans, Lotte and Willi seemed to be references to Germany, perhaps another Scandinavian country and maybe England. I always thought it to be a WWII reference. Suki, Leo, Sacha and Brit also sound to be references to some Axis powers and other "games" going on during WWII. Andre's red flag sounds like it's about Communism, Chiang Ching's must've been opposed to communism I'm guessing. And I always thought of "and they all have hills to fly them on except for Lin Tai Yu" as a reference to Vietnam, continually being occupied for so long.
anonymous Oct 13th 2006 report
Although the name games without frontiers (jeux san frontieres") is a reference to a european game show, the english version of which was called "it's a knockout" (hence the reference in the song) the song was actually written about the olympics and how childish the actions of the countries competing are.
anonymous Sep 8th 2006 report
The european gameshow was called "jeux sans frontiers", trans: game without frontiers. It involved towns from different european countries playing silly games against each other. This was always light-hearted and I doubt that pg was attacking the show. I think he was using it as an analogy for conflict between countries generally. It can't be coincidence that he uses the name adolf, and other historical political characters (discussed on many other sites). The show in great britain where towns competed against each other for the right to represent gb at "jeux sans frontiers" was called "it's a knockout".
anonymous Aug 4th 2006 report
During the 70s and early 80s, there used to be a european kids gameshow called "it's a knockout", in which adults from different countries would dress up in silly costumes and frolic about on an obstacle course, with each contestant representing their own country. This song was peter's response to said gameshow, which he felt was rather childish. These silly adults all competing against eachother, basically going, "yeah! Ours is the best country! Yeah!". Kind of losing the overall point that it was supposed to be a kids show in the name of fun, but many lost the plot and turned it into a competition for geographical greatness. This scathing response from Peter is dripping in irony, and mocking the stupidity of those that took the show far too seriously.
Musically speaking, it's an instantly memorable song. It's wonderfully tuneful, encompassing those simple, yet cheerful whistles. And who can forget that opening (and continuing at various points) refrain of "she's so popular"? See, it's actually, "jeux sans frontieres", but the former is the common misconception that's almost grown into a long standing joke. You can thank kate bush for providing the vocals behind that line. It's worth noting that the song was edited from the original form, that contained the line; "whistling tunes we p!Ss on the goons in the jungle", the radio friendly version being; "whistling tunes we're kissing baboons in the jungle".
anonymous Jul 27th 2006 report
My understanding is it is a reference to the futility of all forms of human conflict and the stupidity of lines on a map dividing humanity into nations and states that fight.
Of course, that's not based on anyhting but my own interpretation.
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