Two videos passed along to me by my band mate Hilary who is the Executive Director of Girls Rock! RI. She has taught classes to youth on media literacy which are totally amazing, and in her quest she found these two videos which she passed on to me, which I would like to critique.
You’ll have to search these out online, since I can’t embed them.
The first one is Pink’s “Raise Your Glass” – which opens up with a young woman eating a corn dog punching a cardboard cutout of a skinnier blond woman. While I appreciate that the intent is to embrace yourself and feel good about yourself whatever your weight, it felt a little contrived. To feel good about your weight means you should be able to eat crappy fried foods, and everyone who is thin must be starving themselves and one dimensional. While I agree that American standards of beauty for women (and increasingly men) are unrealistic, unhealthy, and harmful to our entire society, the presentation is flawed. Rather than present an alternate world celebrating all of us in whatever form we are, this image creates an “us versus them” attitude that pits people against one another rather than celebrate our uniqueness or the wide array of sizes that humans are. (Also, I think we should be aware that the choices that americans are presented with as “food” is little more than fried cardboard and factory farmed meat byproducts. The true problem we have in America regarding our body health has little to do with our personal choices as individuals and more to do with corporations controlling our diets and food distribution. For instance, most neighborhoods in cities have several fast food joints and stores on every corner, but the nearest supermarket is miles away. But, I digress). The video continues on to display Pink posed as Rosie the Riveter. I’m not sure if we are to assume she is drawing a parallel between her own role within the male dominated music industry to be similar to the role women played in WWII when they were hired in mass numbers to take over work at the factories (because the men were at war); or if we are to assume she is calling all women to work; or if she simply likes the aesthetic? At times the video is interesting, though at most times confusing with the almost random conglomeration of messages. At one point she is in bed with a Hassidic Jew while men (and a nun) from several other religions wait in line to sleep with her. At another point she slays a bull fighter dressed like she is a part of the Black Bloque. Women in blindfolds (dressed as Lady Justice) are giving their milk to a baby cow fed by Pink, who is dressed like she is in the Animal Liberation Front. There are cute moments; two men who share a kiss at a dance, and later two awkward folks wearing glasses and dancing a-rhythmically find each other on the dance floor at a prom. The exaggerated situations in this video also fail to express the realities of living like an “other” and therefore the message just seems to be “let’s get freaky”. The video ends up feeling to me just like most pop videos which try to vaguely address social issues– to overly simplify them and turn them into jokes rather than create a real critical dialog. Their interactions are largely confrontational- her fight with the bullfighter; later she is dressed like a cheerleader wrestling with a man dressed in underwear and a tuxedo jacket (kind of a cross between the man from the game Monopoly and a Sumo wrestler). It seems like she is romanticizing the aesthetics of diverse groups of people (a handkerchief on a head as she is dressed as a “gansta”, the Payot on the Jewish man, the bulky glasses on the “nerd” characters) and therefore reducing people to aesthetic stereotypes. The message this video conveys is definitely “let your freak flag fly”, which makes any of the political messages she is working at conveying seem trite and shocking instead of presenting a real critique of mainstream morality or beauty standards. The result is that the people representing the “other” of this video almost seem to be even more odd or freakish than they are in real life. People are pitted against each other, instead of celebrated for their differences. The people become presented like props rather than to actually celebrate difference or diversity.
The Rage Against The Machine video “Sleep Now In The Fire” seems to be to be an example of a very different and more effective method of engaging in critical dialog through the use of pop culture. The video was directed by Michael Moore and opens up with a picture of the US Stock Exchange at Wall Street – which is the literal stage for this video shoot. In real life, they set up to play on Wall Street- which had to close it’s doors midday for fear of the growing crowd that arrived to watch the show. The video includes a mashup of video footage of the TV show “Who wants to be a Millionaire” with inserted questions and answers about wealth and poverty, such as, “The richest 10% of people in America owns 80% of the wealth.”
It also includes facts such as the number of uninsured Americans with no health care (45 million); the fact that women make 30% less money than men, and that 1 billion people in the world live on less than $1 a day. The song addresses the obvious issue of greed and inequality and also includes flashes of historical footage including Hiroshima, the Battle in Seattle, and the use of Agent Orange in the American war with Vietnam. I’d argue that the fact that the video itself was a direct action, and actual real information is transmitted to the viewer, separates this video from a pure “pop” video. Instead, we are presented with a video intent at transmitting real information and engaging in actual dialog on historical and current issues.