Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Unwatchable is the New Watchable

Maybe I'm the kind of person who likes to spot trends where there are none to be found, but I've seen a bit of an upswing in indie/internet-based bands releasing dirty, gross, or just plain unappealing/unwatchable videos.

I'm not talking about stuff like the "XXX" version of Girls' "Lust for Life" video. Yeah, there's lots of nudity, but unless you're a homophobe or really don't like happy, naked people, there's nothing really to get to up in arms about. The video is tastefully done, and if anything, the uncensored version's lack of inhibitions bolster's the song's theme of simple, unbridled happiness.

No, I'm not talking about videos that add to one's enjoyment of the song, but rather ones seemingly separated entirely from the idea that music videos are supposed to be for enjoyment. The first example I came across was Xiu Xiu's new video for the title track from Dear God, I Hate Myself (which is, ironically, their poppiest record to date.) Instead of a storyline, some random psuedo-artsy images or performance footage, Jamie Stewart and new member Angela Seo opted for a very different approach. Instead of these usual music video trappings, the clip is painfully straightforward -- the entire video consists of Seo and Stewart sitting in front of a checkboard background, Stewart (half-obscured in the frame) contentedly chewing on a chocolate bar while Seo self-induces vomiting via fingers down the throat for the entirety of the 3:06 runtime. Yeah. That's it.

Now, I have a huge love for Xiu Xiu, Stewart, and all the painful weirdness they drag along with them. These are the kinds of things I expect from Xiu Xiu, a band whose lyrics deal with the kind of things you wouldn't tell your shrink or your mother. Yes, the band is most likely (but not definitely -- sometimes they just choose not to make any sense at all) trying to either make a point about eating disorders, one's freedom to inflict pain, or something similar. But to drag it out for three minutes? At that length, any point they were TRYING to make mostly gets lost, and the video turns more into an endurance test than a musical showcase. Though this is a band who constantly deals with tough issues (like gender, sexuality, loss and domestic violence) in a bald and darkly comic manner, and whose lyrical repertoire includes such head-turners as "Cremate me after you cum on my lips" and "Why would a mother say such things?/Why add tongue to a kiss goodnight?," this simple video of a diminutive Asian girl throwing up for three minutes might be the most confrontational thing they've ever done.

Another video with similar grossout aspirations comes from Drew, author and co-author, respectively, of popular webcomics Toothpaste for Dinner and Married to the Sea. His video for "Expert Chef," lead single from his surprisingly awesome new hip-hop/electronic/sorta-comedy project Crudbump, from the album Na$tyjam$. After jokily panning over random objects like an old woodstove and an animal poster, it seems like the video is going to simply follow the song's bizarre chef theme, as Drew combines such incongruous foods as Cheerios, baby corn and sunflower seeds in a large glass. Since the song itself heavily evokes the girl-centricity and out-there boasting of early Kool Keith solo efforts, this seems pretty innocuous at first. As the foods start getting grosser (and older,) though, we start getting the joke less and less. Once Drew starts cutting off large chunks of his hair (and, we notice, accidently cuts his head open in the process) we stop getting it almost entirely. Then comes the car-crash-inevitable part where he starts shoveling huge chunks of the stuff into his mouth. And, as if following Angela Seo's lead, he then projectile vomits the orange-brown mixture, which one of his dogs begins to lap off of the floor (what doesn't remain in his beard, that is.)

I know questioning someone's artistic decisions in video-making seems unfair, especially coming from someone who ranks Eraserhead and Gummo as two of his favorite movies. Aside from being kind of mad that two songs I really like have unwatchable videos, though, it more becomes a question of the artists' true motives in making these videos than of their artistic merit. In an environment where scat porn abomination "Two Girls One Cup" and the ass-gaping .gif known as "goatse" gained such a level of notoriety, I have to wonder whether a large part of the decision to make these videos and ones like them stems more from hopes of gaining some level of grossout virality, like other non-musical exercises in non-taste have, than true artistic motivation. That's what I find fault with more than anything, the possibility that these videos are more marketing scheme than labor of love. The difference between something like John Waters' grossout opus Pink Flamingos and PETA's animal slaughter videos, on a base level, is that PETA is trying to sell you something (in their case, an idea.) Waters, on the other hand, is doing it simply 'cause that is the kind of movie he likes to make; even if nobody ever came to see it, I guarantee that wouldn't have stopped him from making more.

I guess, to sum it up, I have this to say: If you want to gross me out to tell a story, for the sake of art or even for the sheer dadaist "fun" of it, then I suppose be my guest. In the end, I can't argue with art. And if that's what these videos are truly aiming for, then, (although I'm certainly not going out of my way to ever watch them after my initial viewing,) I hope the people creating them make videos like these to their heart's content. I just ask that they do it for the right reasons.

[Note: I considered including the videos so you could make up your own mind, but decided that for the sake of good taste I'd leave them out. If you'd like to search these videos out, the info here will be more than enough to find them. But be warned that they're every bit as gross as I've described them, and if you watch them, you do so at your own discretion.]

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you didn't post the videos. Your descriptions were more than enough to get the gist of them without having to suffer through 'em. I just spent the last few hours reading everything on your blog and I have to say great stuff! Your really have some cool eclectic interests and your prose is humorous and well written. Probably the best of any blog i've ever read. Keep it up for those of us who need something to keep us entertained while putting of writing a b.s. poetry paper.