(please disregard the typing errors that are in the following piece. thank you.)
I have always adored music videos. This is in spite of the fact that they are not taken nearly as seriously as films, due to being one of the youngest art forms currently around . One reason I think I love the music video actually ties in a bit with my love for literature: Just like a lot of the most important literature out there, music videos are, basically as a rule, almost always short and sweet. They’re very much short stories in their scope, even if no one except 1 particular character is saying anything.
While it is true that they don’t really have any acting in them (and if they do its often terrible ) it is also true that they pull you into a world – often a very odd & surreal world – and spit you back out just as quickly as you arrived. In the very early days of the Internet, when it was still hooked by 56k, I was never able to watch music videos anywhere aside from television, and thus I did not watch all that many. Once YouTube came around, of course , this all changed dramatically. All of a sudden, almost overnight, literally every music video that had ever been created was blown out into deep Cyberspace for everyone to see. Thus began a long and very passionate obsession of watching all of the videos I had never had a chance to see, as well as the new ones that were coming out each day. Like anything else, some are better and others obviously far worse than others. Some of the old ones in particular from the original MTV days- but even many from the 1990s- are so bad that you turn them on and …you almost want to scream. Just the other day in fact I was watching the 1980s Rolling Stones music video for “Waiting On a Friend” and could not help but feel horrendously embarrassed for everyone involved. The acting really was …that bad.
Of course, this aspect about how odd the music video sometimes is, is just one of many things that I find so odd about the entire music video culture because many times, when I get into a discussion about this particular sphere of the Arts, I likewise start to realize that many of my most preferred videos actually have no connection whatsoever to my most preferred artists or groups or, yes, even songs!
This means to say that, while my favorite music to listen to when I am driving or trying to really get into “my personal zone” has always been music that bands like The Doors or Led Zeppelin made…it’s also true that, when it comes to the sphere of the sacred post MTV video …I suddenly could almost care less about literally anything that The Doors or Led Zeppelin have ever done.
The reason why should be obvious: These bands from the 1960s and even the vast majority of the bands from the 1970s were not “video bands”. They were mostly all just record bands. To this day it’s still always shocking to me that The Doors really only ever made one music video, that being the one for “People Are Strange”. Beyond that, I don’t think Morrison himself ever did anything else with this form. On YouTube these days the curious reader will see that there are videos for the popular Doors songs “LA Woman” & “Roadhouse Blues” – but it seems to me as though they were put together using clips that the artist maybe intended to use for something else. This is very much also the same for Jimi Hendrix, Zeppelin, and many, many others. The sad truth is that when it comes to all of these early bands it was almost solely the Beatles & the Stones that went ahead and made a bunch of videos — but even when one goes to look at those, one quickly begins to see just how ….strange they all are. The music might be fantastic, but they absolutrly cannot compare to the sort of videos that the new stars of now are putting out, because at that point in time the music video was not at all the cultural Ground Zero that it is today. The truth of today is that the success of the new music is almost completely intertwined with the video that is released for it. I want to make it very clear that I am not saying this is a positive thing and for a long time I despised it myself, particularly as a musician. But eventually I realized I had to give in and admit: Many of my greatest & even most inspirational & informative modern musical experiences have undoubtedly happened while I was inside of a music video….
It is just always so strange, however, since such a great deal of the videos I enjoy getting lost inside are accompanied by songs that I know for a fact I would never have even considered liking for a second , had I heard them with no video attached…..
The fact of the matter is that the song …in some ways…almost doesn’t make much of a difference if there is a good enough video in front of it. You turn it on and you just get sucked in, plain & simple. One does not have to try very hard with a music video. There is nothing else to it. No effort involved. The dream that the video sends you is often so immersive that all of a sudden the song doesn’t really matter. You’re just sitting there in this capsulized experience, safe & secure. Not only that but you’re also living an experience which, especially in this YouTube age where the number of views are displayed for all to see, makes you feel apart of something. The more views the video has, the more “apart of something” the viewer feels. There is very little that is solitary about the modern music video watching experience. It is a group activity. It has also become, in my opinion, one of the chief art forms of this current generation — if not the chief art form.
Of course, as I said when I began this piece, most people do not see the music video as being this significant. It seems to me that most people interpret it as “childish” and “infantile” and many times, if I try to bring it up , I find that folks almost look at me as though I have 3 heads. They don’t really think the music video is having as much of an effort on this culture as it is, I don’t think. They think it is maybe even, to a degree, culturally irrelevant.
What these folks don’t realize is that this is exactly what people said about film in general in the beginning as well. Casablanca and A Wonderful Life might be “classics” now – and young people in my generation often look at them as though they are very serious artistic creations on the same level as a Michelangelo – but in the beginning even films like Casablanca were very much considered a joke.
They were not taken seriously by the “culture” at the time and thus they were not picked apart & examined from a psychological or a philosophical perspective. Like everything else, they traveled from the street and then upwards. These days you look around and you see glorious writers and “academics” analyzing and examining these films. When they first came out, only the people on the streets were watching them. It is very much the same right now with the music video. MTV debuted in the year 1981. That means that at the time of this writing the music video, as a popular medium, is basically only 35 years old. Once you start looking at it like that…it all of a sudden starts to look A LOT different. This really is a seriously young culture we are looking at here.
Now, if I had to list what I think I love most about my personal experience with music videos, before I get to the bad stuff…. then I think I’d have to tell the reader that it is the probably the fact that, unlike film and, again, absolutely unlike literature, the music video almost seems to have been the first “Google Earth” sort of satellite device that ran through every neighborhood and literally ate up everything, snapping a picture of every road. This was a first.
A major cultural first.
You see, in my opinion, one of the biggest problems with film (that the cultural lords won’t admit) is that a story needs to be very big and also very accepted to get itself made into one. It also needs to be, more often than not, rather extraordinary and not at all commonplace. With literature, unlike film, there are a very wide range of stories being told, both commonplace and extraordinary, and so it avoids this problem that film has with “only the real big stories”— but the issue with literature, unfortunately, is that, the second you start reading it, you know you’re dealing with the perspective of someone who is kind of “intelligent” or, at the very least, able to read & write. Yes, the author might be scribbling in regards to the disenfranchised and the impoverished- he might even be pretending to be disenfranchised — but it doesn’t change the fact that the Author is typically not themselves the disenfranchised. Even in the cases where an Author is dead poor and marginalized, in fact, like many would say Charles Bukowski or some such poet was, there is still always the fact that…well, at the end of the day, Bukowski was obviously rather different than the other folks in his social class, and thus he wasn’t a completely qualified representative. Yes, Charles lived in the commoners ghettos, he ate the commoners food, he drank the commoners beer, he lived very much just as the commoners around him lived, on the surface — but up in his head (which is where an Author lives) he was nothing at all like the typical commoner. This is very important to make note of.
When reading Bukowski, you see, one typically gets the feeling that the man felt horrifically out of place where he was living, and this theme is in fact a major part of his poetry that he does not make any attempt to hide. Bukowski did not like his family, he did not like his co workers, he did not like his friends, he did not like much of anyone. He was an outsider. Certainly: As a reader of DH Lawrence and Shakespeare and EE. Cummings, he probably wasn’t exactly eager to engage in the typical everyday conversations that the others in his neighborhood were often having. His entire narrative therefore revolves around despising the others, feeling alienated, isolated, and wishing more than anything that he could just get away somewhere, to find some reasonable people who would discuss literature with him and understand why he felt so lonely. It’s often the same with most Authors, this sense of alienation.
Hence, as I am saying, the Author becomes something different and almost – if I can say it – something “above” or at least “removed” from the rest of the people. The Author is, after all, the Creator, and he thus becomes like a sort of God when you are reading him (or her). God has historically been painted as someone who is not exactly part of the crowd. He is also often painted as someone who is “disgusted” and “enraged” or even “indifferent” with what the people below him are up to. This is exactly how it has always been for the Author. The Author writes the characters. He does not necessarily become them…
This isn’t really the case in a music video, as far as I am concerned, however, because in the case of a music video one is almost always thrown straight into the perspective of a person who, oftentimes, seems just like every other person who is also trapped inside of the music video. In fact, the entire theme of most music videos is that the star in question is often trying as much as possible to look just like all the other folks in the video…no matter who or where they are. If Oscar Wilde or Balzac or Edgar Allen Poe were able to see some modern music videos, they would probably find it very bizarre, something tells me, since when one reads most of the literature that has come down through the centuries, one is not typically reading a manual on how to be “hip” in the time in which the literature is set. One is instead reading a manual that explains how to get yourself away from the others.
Again, just as i said with Bukowski, the tradition of the Author has always been a tradition of aloofness and alienation. Often he is not only not at all concerned with fitting in, but he is actually very adamant about trying as hard as possible to purposely go against fitting in. If not this then he is simply not very concerned either way, maybe even totally unaware. Even in the case of very popular US authors this is almost always the case. Stephen King, as much as I have often ripped him to shreds, is the perfect example of this. He doesn’t seem to have a distaste for the commoner, but he also doesn’t seem, thank the Gods, to be just like him, either. It seems he doesn’t know what to make of him. With the music video star, however, this changed…more or less for the first time, and it changed dramatically.
With the music video, the commoner who loved to be nothing more than another, run of the mill commoner..,suddenly became a God of the screen himself. In fact, it has never been any coincidence to me that the first real star of the whole music video affair was a young woman such as Madonna. Like it or not, women have typically been the first in line through the centuries to conform and get into step with the others and wear the mask of the others, to please the others, even if that mask is a poisonous and lethal mask, since the woman was always unfortunately the most threatened and thus the most frightened. Never forget that when a city was sacked and burnt to the ground in the distant past, it was the men who went to their deaths fighting to uphold the city and its individual ways …and it was the woman who often just sat and waited until the fighting was over – and then conformed and assimilated to the new victorious enemy. Women and conformity, historically speaking, in some sense, do indeed go hand in hand. When I was growing up it was often extremely difficult – and still is- to find a woman who thought “out of the box”. Women are given quicker rewards for conforming. They’re also punished more if they don’t.
For someone who is made uncomfortable by this, then the fact that the pop culture woman in modern times is currently often known as the best “choreographed dancer” (like Madonna or Beyonce et cetera are) should tell you a great deal about how compelled the common woman has always been to march precisely and exactly in time with the other soldiers. She is unfortunately terrified to do anything else. Yes: It is at its core a problem the man has created for her but it is still being acted out through her nonetheless. Hence, it is sadly the case that, when we look at modern pop culture, we see the woman who wants to dance out of line….currently seems to be having a rather hard time of this all. Many feminists often complain of how “all the women stars are the same”. Well, I will stress one last time, this is not surprising once you look at cultural history over the centuries and also (this is the most important step in the dance) you must make absolutely sure to remember that, despite what the Americans are now telling us, a glorious and beautifully colorful World did, in fact, exist long before this dreadfully tedious country called the United States. And in that world things happened and people lived and all of this had an effect on the World in which we now live in today, even if the Americans want to take all the credit for it. Notice also how all of the big name so called “diva” singers in this country who have followed in Madonnas wake – Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Mariah Carey, Miley Cyrus et cetera – have all sung that horrendous “National Anthem / Star Spangled Banner” at least once in their careers. Madonna, as far as I can tell, having been the pioneer artist who just so happened to give rise to this music video culture that then became obsessed with conformity, has never once sang this abysmal thing in her entire life. Not surprising. All of the other girl divas in her wake have however, to the point where it almost seems like it has become a necessary career move for them….
For those who still doubt that there is something seriously off about many of these new post MTV stars and in particular the female ones, this article excerpt might help change your mind:
Raise a glass of mull to Mariah! Twenty years since she donned a sexy Santa outfit and pranced around in the snow, sales of All I Want For Christmas Is You have finally reached 1 million in the UK. Merry Christmas. Though it seems Mariah’s biggest presents aren’t delivered by Dasher, Dancer and Prancer but Mutassim, Muammar and Dos Santos.
As Mariah was receiving the good news about her sales record, she was heading off to Angola to play a concert for President José Eduardo dos Santos. In a country where 70% of the population live on less than $2 a day, Carey is rumoured to have been paid $1m for her appearance. During the show, which featured three outfit changes – including the slightly worse-for-wear Santa costume – Mariah said she was “honoured to share this show with the president of Angola”.
The article goes on to explain that it wasn’t Mariahs first time – and that Mariah is not the only one:
This isn’t the first time Carey has played for a despot. In 2008, she performed at the New Year’s Eve party of Mutassim Gaddafi, one of the sons of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Eventually apologising for the gig three years later, she said she was emarrassed and that profits from a forthcoming song, Save The Day, would be given to a human rights organisation. The song is yet to emerge.
This story is becoming well-worn. Beyoncé also performed for the Gaddafi family, although she has since donated her fee to charity. Kim Kardashian was reportedly paid $500,000 to say less than 10 words at an event in Lagos earlier this year, and Jennifer Lopez was moved to apologise after performing “Happy Birthday” for Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, a noted human-rights violator.
It is as I said: Conformity is on the rise, my fellow citizens.
Hence we see indeed that, when MTV first gave birth to the music video, we suddenly had our cameras aimed – for the very 1st time-at someone who was very much obsessed with being exactly like all of the others in whatever place he or she found themselves- and this is the precise sort of dangerous thing which ultimately led us to idiots like Kardashian and Carey and Beyonce et cetera. These people are not artists in the traditional sense of the word. They’re just folks who can’t wait to be exactly like all the other folks. We no longer as a culture reward difference — but sameness , and this is all so much more amplified when it comes to our fair SISTERS.
I cant keep stressing enough what an enormous cultural switch this switch from rewarding the “outsider” to the “insider” was in so many ways. In fact, to again mention The Doors and Led Zeppelin, and even someone like Dylan, one of the major reasons those bands seem so odd to modern eyes is probably directly connected to this fact. What folks just don’t understand now is that men like Robert Plant and Jim Morrison had very little previous pop music culture to draw on when they began in the early 1960s, so mostly what they drew on was the classic “alienated artist” ideal that the literary world had tossed them. They had Old World European literary heroes (Europe is to this day still the true Western continent of differences, not the USA) and from these heroes they learned the exact same thing Bukowski learned: It is important to be different, to be unique, to get yourself away from the group, to not dress like the group, to maybe even despise the group, to forever question those who wave flags, etc. Thus….yet again I must say….it has never at all been any coincidence to me that it was, of all the people on the Earth, yes of course- who else?-the Americans who created the conformist music video and tossed it into true orbit, since this sort of isolated & alienated individual, who strives to be different and think for themselves, like Bukowski or Oscar Wilde certainly would have, is the same sort of individual who would have never given the Americans much of the military might they now have and are, unfortunately in this current time period, very much seriously disrupting and endangering the peace and safety of the World with. They have this power because it is a country of people who have stopped asking questions now. They think it’s fantastic to go around and salute the flag over and over now. You don’t need to read statistics to know the average American does not read much. It’s very obvious just by looking at the culture for a second. No nation of decently informed people could ever be as obsessed with the military as they are — especially for this long now. This has been going on for awhile now after all, and it very much only really seems to be peaking….
Thus I shall keep stressing it: it is no surprise at all that the country which is currently the most famous for the music video of total and utter sameness is also the most famous for having the Worlds biggest and most violent military. The music video culture – as entertaining and as culturally informative and even as similar to a short story as it can be- thrives around conformity and sameness, and it also typically wants everyone to speak the same language….just like – surprise surprise -the modern day, new Americans do. Americans look at the European idea of difference and think they understand it – but they don’t really understand it, because the average American is threatened just by hearing a bit of Spanish, let alone a dozen other tongues! The original Americans and even those in the early 1900s understood differences – but we no longer understand it now. This country is honestly as isolated as could be.
Which is why we just keep seem to be getting more and mor obsessed with all being precisely the same. The music videos just …well…they wound up being where it all went to get reflected back to us.
Anyone who has watched even 2 music videos in my opinion can see this immediately, and this whole aspect about the language is actually the exact reason why the Europeans were never really able to move in on this musical video terrain, try as they might . The Americans did not and still do not like them, and won’t even give them a lousy chance, even if they are making videos, because the Europeans were speaking in other languages inside their videos, and when the common American hears another language, he grabs a gun, not a dictionary. As the old joke says:
A person who speaks two languages is called bilingual.
A person who speaks many languages is a polyglot.
What about a person with only one language?
Oh, I know very well that it might seem silly to some that I could possibly make a correlation between an aggressive and seriously militarized culture obsessed with conformity, and a supposedly “simple snd infantile” thing like the music video, but I can assure the reader: There are enormous connections between these phenomenons. Think about it: Social activism and anti-war attitudes were very popular in the 1960s and 70s, even in this blood thirsty wolf of a country, and now many people often wonder what happened to all of that…? Well, I told you before precious reader: the music video was invented, and the young, new Americans thus became very enthusiastic about the “joys” of conformity, instead of thinking they ought to be against it.
Indeed: The music video is beautiful and creative, just like the literary short story, in the sense that it suddenly pops you into Brooklyn or Texas or Los Angeles for a few minutes, with a set of characters you maybe never met and will never meet – and this part is very inspirational and beneficial to someone studying culture – but the thing that ruins the music video is..again…that everyone in it is almost always the same as the next person. In every video there is always a certain “uniform” that all of the characters are wearing. The average American does not seem to take much note of this, they seem to think these videos are “extremely individual”…but then again the average American also does not seem to take note of the fact that they are living in one of the most brutally aggressive & militarized cultures that has come about in the World in centuries. I really must get off of that, I know, but it seems it’s a fact that insists on popping up continuously in this piece, I don’t know why….
Hence I declare again that, when the music video characters finally popped out of the screen & into our living room with MTV, this whole cultural element of the Arts that had existed previously- this element which was deeply intrigued by individuality, not conforming, thinking for ones self, & getting away from the others, speaking some unique language – changed and was no longer at all the case. Now, as I mentioned before, when we look at the very early pioneers, like, again, Madonna, who got her start the second MTV did, we see that SHE was fairly individualistic,different and unique –yes I realize this is the truth —but by the late 1990s and 2000s not even this element of individuality was visible any longer in the characters we were being sold.
Once the pioneers were thrown out of the way, the Militarized conformists were able to get started on what they really probably wanted the whole time — and now you look and you can see very clearly: the roads have now seemingly diverged completely. From the modern cultural perspective, music videos have next to nothing to do with being an individual who thinks for ones self, and instead everything to do with being a part of some enormous group to which one must desperately try to be accepted into . The music video, the shopping mall, the department store, the absurdly enormous US military, the Church – these things are all very much in the same category. Imagine for a moment just how many sneakers or hats or particular shirts the American music videos have managed to sell..?
Works of art and fun though they may be, there is nothing, in my opinion, even slightly individual about them at their core. They are the epitome of group think and conformity – the 2 traits that the new militarized, gung ho Americans (who have very, very little to do with the old 19th or early 20th cent. Americans) prize above all else.
Yes, it is true, the camera often focuses on the voice of one person and the face of one person – but there is also almost always, for me at least, this strange feeling that the person whom the camera is focusing on was chosen completely by utterly random chance, and really could have been ….once you strip their voice away and remember the image of sameness these performers always portray….just about anybody. I think everyone has had the experience when they slip inside a music video and they suddenly start to see a myriad of faces that they went to high school with. That isn’t a funny sign. It’s a bad one.
Alas this is a major part of the reason, I think, maybe even perhaps the only reason, that our current culture is having such a hard time understanding itself these days: The people who are now being chosen to represent us oftentimes don’t seem to understand even themselves as individuals, let alone the rest of us and the culture from which they came. In other words, they’re so much like everyone else we know here on the helpless and overly patriotic ground level – that they’re actually just as CLUELESS, STUPID, and WEAK as we are! Perhaps that is why we like them so much. When we watch them, we feel like we are watching our own ignorant selves.
(To be continued)