Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Cross-dressing on Ed Sullivan - In Bloom by Nirvana

How can you show rebelliousness in a music video? It isn't easy, as I discussed on Monday. Most of the things you can do end up seeming sad and desperate. Just take a look at these pictures from the video for Fat Lip by Sum 41:

They hired someone to pretend to be a cop and then had someone pretend to not care about the cop's authority. Eventually he shows the cop his butt.

This isn't rebellious at all, it is rebellion theater. Hiring a cop just to show him your butt is low. On a side note, I don't think white people, regardless of the number of ill-conceived facial piercings or neck tattoos, really get oppressed by the police so this kind of display is in bad taste. You'd be better served trying to prevent a cop from killing a black person because they can do so with impunity.

Anyways, I think the best way to be rebellious is to indicate that you know you are not a true rebel. Nirvana wanted to be popular. They made music videos, appeared on MTV, and did magazine interviews. They did everything they could to become one of the biggest bands in the world. (I think it is good to remember when thinking about Nirvana that Guns N' Roses, a ridiculous and stupid 1980s-style metal band, was simultaneously extremely popular. Culture doesn't magically shift. It only seems to in retrospect.) At the same time, though, Nirvana thought that the whole system is bullshit and anyone who plays into it (including themselves) are like dancing monkeys.

We get to see both of those sides to the band in this video for In Bloom:

The video opens with a Ed Sullivan-type TV host introducing them.

He calls Nirvana (which he mispronounces, I love it) "thoroughly all right and decent guys." I think this is pushing the concept a bit into the realm of the painfully obvious, but subtlety isn't always the name of the game. The name of the game is sometimes Risk or Monopoly. Scrabble, too. That's a good one.

We see the band dressed in their ridiculous suits playing in front of a bizarre sultan's palace cut-out. The drummer is wearing a hilarious blonde wig.

Here Nirvana is in their non-rebellious, fame-seeking mode. They play along in a carefree manner to appeal to the masses. This coincides with the lyrics for the chorus, "He's the one who likes all our pretty songs... But he don't know what it means." People respond to the catchy surface of Nirvana, and the band must push that.

But the band simultaneously thinks that their music, and the attempt to publicize it, is corrupt.

This is the face of a monster.

Now we get to see the other side of Nirvana. They are all wearing dresses and moving freely across the stage rather than staying in position for easier close-ups. Their hair is unkempt with the drummer losing his blonde wig. He also has a cymbal on his head.

This is the face the band would prefer to present to the world. Without the other, clean-cut face, though, no one would get to see the band's wild side. They are both necessary. Also, I'm not sure how subversive wearing a dress really is, but I think we're supposed to find it subversive.

I do love how the drummer in the crazy shots holds up his snare drum while playing it. Did the stand get kicked away? Maybe he just needs to hold it next to his head to hear it better.

The shots switch back and forth between the straight and wild versions of Nirvana. Once the guitar solo starts we start to see a raw, sexualized version of the band.

The bass player uses the old instrument-as-penis move.

The bass player and guitar player then rub their instruments together.

Is this gender bending? Homosexuality? An excellent idea for a Christmas card?

The singer then grabs his crotch while singing.

All of these moves are very much in the 1980s metal band vein. I think you could probably find a video where this exact sequence of penises and crotch-grabbing happens in a video by Great White or a similar group. I think it is here that the dresses really start working for them. They are making fun of the sex obsessed groups who seem to brandish their penises like clubs. Instead, Nirvana place themselves in a woman's clothing to show how ridiculous this posturing really is.

The band destroys their instruments. At the end they appear in the ruins but in their clean-cut clothing. The Ed Sullivan stand-in calls them, "nice, decent, clean cut men." He says "they will be really big stars."

And they were. I think this video does show a little bit of rebellion. By not ignoring the ways they are not rebellious, we are able to see the ways they are. The video plays this theme pretty hard, probably too hard. Also, the first 2 minutes of the video are brutally boring. We get to see something we don't always see in videos, though, so I'm thankful for that.

Get ready for tomorrow when we bring you the first edition of Satorial Sursday on Another Flavor!


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