Okay, two today (tempted by three because Future of the Left have a new single out featuring a video with heavy use of strobe lights but realise the FotL fanboyisms need to take a back seat for a while, but it will be posted about. Oh it will. UPDATE: three seem to have crept in as I ended up looking at 'Sweet Escape' by Gwen Stefani as well).
Above is a very low budget video for the band Grandaddy. Not a great video, but quite sweet. And makes me sad as they split up soon after having spent a couple of decades getting nowhere near as much acclaim as they deserved.
This next one is vastly more polished. 'The Yeah, Yeah, Yeah Song' by the Flaming Lips. For reference the lead singer is called Wayne Coyne.
Today we looked predominantly at iconography so it'd seem a very sensible thing to focus on. There'll also be a bit on ideology and context as, remember, the context in which a music video is read is vital and needs to be something you consider in your own music videos.
This will not be an all encompassing analysis of everything. That'd turn in to several thousand words, so there may be lots of uses of iconography which are not commented on. Just going to post about a few of the things, otherwise it'll just snowball.
I suppose on of the things that needs considering is the oriental fetishism or, for a less overtly Marxist approach , as Said termed it, orientalism.
There's quite a few artists who have adopted in some way a strong visual use of oriental females. In Gwen Stefani's case it was a major piece of iconographic marketing as the Harajuku girls accompanied her everywhere (carrying with it uneasy connotations of colonialism, slavery, sexual fetishim and objectification). It terms of your thinkng of your digipaks and marketing campaigns it is a really useful case study which you might wish to look into and post about independently (hint hint). But, for a basic and brief account, the four girls appeared in her videos, were turned into perfume bottles and appeared in a raft of the promotional material for the album. So there was a strong link between the videos Stefani was producing, the album it was promoting, and the synergetic marketing which accompanied it. Wonder why she did that, eh?
Here, however, in the Flaming Lips' video, it is something far more mocking. Rather than an overt bout of objectification and exploitation, this video takes this representational trope and subverts it. Instead of being mindless objects of visual pleasure the three female characters are active agents in the demise of the oppressors (this'll be covered in more detail in the ideology and context section, though since it is one of the first main images we the viewer are presented with it felt a little lop-sided to not at least acknowledge its presence).
The three doors are also presented immediately and, in terms of both lighting and their actual appearance, thematically moded to suggest intertextual links to many a film or literary setting. Three industrial doors carry with them connotations of choice and imply some kind of salvation/destruction, for one example, the use in 'Alien' of airlocks. The list is actually probably as close to endless as hyperbole will allow before collapsing in on itself. Essentially we are psychologically prepared to consider doors as portals to uncertain futures when presented to us in terms of symbolism. And that is what we have here. When coupled with the fondling of tools this clearly establishes for the audience a further element of torture / twisted fate.
Communist iconography is also prevalent, with the bearskin hat reminiscent of Russian head gear post October Revolution and the images of Korean propaganda establishing the understanding of the artist as both powerful within the narrative but also in opposition to the society he inhabits in the real world. Coyne's distinct command gestures also create our understanding of his power as the protagonist (or antagonist, depending on your reading).
The setting, with high walls and barbed wire and filled with guards with truncheons and men restrained by ropes helps us further understand the power hierarchy in the narrative and, from there, using our contextual understanding, can begin to shape a reading of the text and our response to it.
The sticking of burgers to the businessman is also important. His face is rendered that of a pig, and therefore establishing the ideas of greed and filth, and also to replicate breasts and accentuate the groin - perhaps just crude scatology for the sake of humour, or perhaps a reference to the notion of the use of sexualisation to sell products. That all three victims in the three Acts are symbolically blinded could also show the victims have ignored the consequences of their actions and their fates are deserved. On an unrelated editing note I really liked how the stapling of the bacon to Coyne coincided with the stick clicks (or is it a rim shot?) of the drummer. Whilst the first two Acts occur within the confines of the dictator's stronghold, the dictator's fate is played out in the streets, with those who has used turning against him - a clear message for those in power.
As an alternative band, the impression the artist will want to convey is one of nonconformity, outsiders or in opposition to societal norms. We've seen Wayne Coyne leading the implicit (but ultimately not) torture of the wealthy, privileged and/or corrupt (possibly a distinction which the band might not make themselves?)
As an alternative band it is likely, statistically likely, really strongly statistically likely, that the groups' political views will be more inclined to be left wing. Until they get to be really successful or are Keane. 'The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song' was released during the GW Bush administration and is, as you can probably acertain from the lyrics, a criticism of his foreign and domestic policy. As mentioned above the iconography of Communist dictatorships is redolent in the piece and shows the front man taking on the mantle of the opposition to Bush and the Republican right wing. As with the Harajuku girls subversion this isn't to be taken too literally, Coyne is not equating himself with or necessarily praising Kim Jong-Il, but using the imagery associated with Communist dictatorships to:
1) oppose the main focus of his ire;
2) lampoon all forms of abuse of power, of which Communist dictators are particularly adept; and
3) highlight the inability for the rhetorical question in the chorus to be honestly answered by anyone. We know how we'd all like to answer it, but can't say for definite. None of us can, truly. And that is why Coyne faces the same fate as all his enemies in the third Act of the video. It is a deeply moral music video, which is nice. Think too about the link between the visuals and the lyrics, it is "a very dangerous thing to do exactly what you want" and this is highlighted not only by the fates faced by the fat cat and the socialite archetypes, but also by anyone who fails to think of the ramifications of their actions and just acts as they please. To mess with Nietzsche's maxim, what doesn't kill you just makes you more convinced of your own immortality and, therefore, more prone to acts of hubris. I think Nietzsche forgot about Achilles in all honesty. But then there's his idea about the abyss staring into you when you stare into the abyss which suggests our capacity for intolerable cruelty to our fellows in perhaps innate. Grrr, that's the problem with Nietzsche, massive contrarian, you have to be really careful to work out when he's got his tongue in his philosophical cheek, when he's just being moody or when he's being serious. EDIT: and what was the product of mental illness brought about by syphillis. But anyway...
The band are clearly criticising the dominant Western hegemony, not just Bush. The Bush criticisms are implicit and dependent on contextual understanding (see later) but what are clearly attacked are capitalist society in the form of the businessman and celebrity culture / style over substance in the form of the 'It Really Isn't Paris Hilton' character. The tools used by Coyne to pursue these targets could be interpreted in two ways too.
The obsese might be criticised for greed (obviously stereotypical here, not everyone who is fat is greedy), but also the criticism may be on society for how it treats and controls the appetites of the obese (or everyone, ultimately) and members of society at large in a consumer society where the act of consumption can be used to undermine ones individuality. (Go and look back at Harry's presentation of Althusser, or Hannah's on Marcuse on their AS blogs). Oh and Veblen too. Don't forget Veblen.
The police are criticised for being lazy using the well-worn stereotype used in so many different texts of having an insatiable appetite for doughnuts, but their reaction to the doughnuts also highlights the power of the power of the state and that there is a thin line between the police being able to operate as an actual force of law and order and the police being an extension of the power of the state. Coyne's dictator used them to destroy his enemy and they become the arm of the state.
Well, this is all so inextricably linked isn't it? Making the same point again and again though slightly different prisms.
This video was released during the Iraq war, the war of the '45 minutes to nuke the world claims' and my mates and I at uni taking it turns to phone up Richard and Judy during their Channel 4 afternoon show to accuse them of jingoism and getting Monsieur Madeley rather annoyed about one phone call we'd had with one of the production team (one of many, we absolutely bombarded them, the pair of apologists /rant) with the assertion that 'not supporting the war' wasn't, as they had said and accused one guest of, a synonym for 'wanting British soldiers to die' that he actually had a couple of minutes vent about how he thought anyone even questioning the validity of the war was not "supporting our troops" and should be ashamed of themselves and wanted to know what we'd say to the relatives of Britain's war dead (we weren't sure, but figured 'sorry for your loss' would be appropriate). So an audience, thinking about what you think of a stereotypical indie audience member to be like, would be well versed in the contemporary political debates of the time and know the issues surrounding the opposition to the invasion. This political stance will inevitably impact upon the reading of the text by an active audience. My reading of it is a dominant one, I do not oppose it nor do I feel the need to negotiate, it is one I am keen to whole heatedly accept. My reading is informed by my own contextual understanding and has had an impact on everything I have written about iconography and context. How about yours? Your understanding might be markedly different to mine. You may have taken an oppositional or negotiated stance to the reading of the text.
Have a good time, people.
Other things which have been making me think today: (i) why are the Ray Winstone bet-in-play adverts so annoying, (ii) does Kyriakos Papadopolous the Greek centre back look like 1980s kids TV character King Rolo, (iii) is the 'McDonalds' - proud provider of the official player escorts' tag line before the ITV matches really quite sinister in a remarkably startling number of ways and (iv) reckon Saints will buy Gebre Salassie?