Behind the Music Videos

There are some pretty cool videos out there, but you won't see them on MTV

The thing that got me curious about all this in the first place was a trip two weeks ago to the San Francisco installment of ResFest, which celebrates technologically and ideologically progressive works of film, video, and animation. A chunk of ResFest is devoted to music videos -- and good goddamn were there some mind-blowing pieces on display.

Floria Sigismondi's video for Sigur Rós' "Untitled #1" is a gorgeous, lyrical depiction of doe-eyed children frolicking after school -- in an ash-covered post-apocalyptic world in which they are required to wear gas masks just to go outside. Roman Coppola's piece for Phoenix's "Funky Squaredance" is nine minutes of Coppola self-consciously pursuing his most whacked-out music video fantasies, including a segment that asks the viewer to blink on either the up or the down beat; the video is then edited so that depending on when you have your eyes open you'll experience one of two image sequences. (Coppola, who has directed videos for the Strokes and Daft Punk, among others, told me, "It's just a total given that they would never, ever even consider playing [the Phoenix video] on MTV. You just don't expect that 'cause it just won't happen.") Then there was the crowd favorite, Ruben Fleischer's video for DJ Format's "We Know Something You Don't," in which Fleischer replaces the hip hop tropes of gold chain­wearing rappers, their obnoxious posses, and scantily clad dance troupes with rappers and break dancers dressed in giant shark, bear, and alligator costumes. You don't know funny until you've seen a big green fuzzy alligator gettin' jiggy with it.

So the thing I'm wondering is why I have to go to a special film festival, which takes place just once a year, to see intelligent, humorous, entertaining music videos. I know it sounds whiny and codgerly and all that, but are this many people really so dumb and tasteless that half-naked girls and gold chains and animated dishwashers are the only things they feel like watching? (Such collective stupidity would, perhaps, explain the U.S. Army's decision to advertise nonstop during these time slots.)

Here's a hard-knocked posse of 
rappers and break dancers. What, 
you couldn't tell?
Here's a hard-knocked posse of rappers and break dancers. What, you couldn't tell?

Worst of all is that it's so clichéd to complain about this sort of thing that the people who would ordinarily be in a position to do so avoid it, opting instead to shutter themselves up -- "I've got my college radio and a long list of books to read, thank you" -- as millions of kids are inundated daily with this shit (including, for what it's worth, my 14-year-old sister). This ever-widening chasm between high and low culture is what's really scary, because the more people distance themselves from the mob in the pit, the easier it is for the "Ministers of Culture," for that's the de facto identity of Big Media, to tell/sell them whatever they want (as, meanwhile, some of us continue to wonder how 70 percent of Americans could believe Saddam had a hand in 9/11).

But hey, maybe it's not such a big deal. After all, in the '80s we had hair metal, and that was eerily similar to today's commercial hip hop, with its flashy clothes and busty chicks and projected reality that all those rock stars ever do is get fuckin' laaaaaid, bro. Now, follow that thread to a semicomforting thought: What waits for R. Kelly and Lil' Jon and all the rest is the same thing that greeted Vince Neil and Axl Rose and C.C. DeVille in their middle ages: obscurity, rehab, and Behind the Music. I guess that wishing such a fate on these fatuous demigods makes me somewhat of a player-hater. But, if it's any consolation, I hate the game just as much.

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