Sunday, July 25, 2004

SHOCK TACTICS: A couple of weeks back, Channel 4 held an investigation into 'Who Killed Saturday Night TV?' Last night, it did its best to kick the corpse with a shoddy, predictable, wasted opportunity with its 'Videos They Tried To Ban.' It's not that the idea in itself was a bad one, but it's a topic - the moments in pop promos that caused outrage - which would easily lend itself to a sloppy, ill-conceived, poorly researched piece of half truths and wobbling breasts. Of course, there is a quick way to determine 'is this an attempt to try and examine a cultural trait, or just a lame bunch of clips, idiotic quotes from people who don't know what they're talking about, flung together without much of a thesis to hold them together?' And, yes, Gina Yahsere was indeed on board, so we knew it was the latter. It's a pity they didn't make more use of Mitch Benn, who can be funny about music and may have even pulled together a decent documentary from the subject.

It was never quite clearly established who the "they" trying to ban the videos were - indeed, a great many of them were never the subject of any concerted attempts to spare them from our children's eyes. Hit Me Baby One More Time, for all its school writhing, never had any serious attempt made to keep it off the screens; unsettling though Unkle's Rabbit In The Headlights may be, since it was never likely to pop up on CD:UK anyway.

Some parts of the programme were laughable - Jack Osbourne giving expert testimony on scandals which occured when he would have been six, the suggestions that Marilyn Manson's filmic recreation of the death of JFK was in any way a "raising" of the outrage level from Nine Inch Nail's genuinely nauseating S&M machine cut. Some were just plain wrong - was Justify My Love the first ever video single? Of course it bloody wasn't - what about Thriller, apart from anything else? Even more stupid was the claim that Like A Prayer was responsible for turning Madonna into a global star. Since the programme didn't make any mention of the main piece of fallout from her shagging-black-Mr.Jesus promo for this, that the video got her dropped like a burning cross from a Pepsi campaign, maybe none of the researchers knew about it. But the Pepsi contract itself would have been a major clue that Madonna didn't actually need any help broadening her fame at this point.

The lowest point, though, came in the section on the Prodigy's Smack My Bitch Up flick. Treating this as anything other than a pisspoor Tales of the Unexpected with a few strippers in it is bad enough, but adding in Jack Osbourne discussing it like it was the cleverest thing ever was just cruel - like those hidden camera shows where they tempt dupes into pretending to have lots of insight about a totally made up person or place. For a film with a "twist" at the end to work, there has to be some sort of value in then re-watching the movie with the knowledge gained at the end of the first viewing; but since "girls get fighting drunk and some even have sex with other girls" would come as a surprise only to people who haven't set foot in a British city centre after six in the evening, even if you don't see the payoff coming in advance, once you go "oh, she's a woman", there's nothing more left to be said.

Not that that didn't stop the programme from trying - young Jack again pops up to say "How could it be misogynistic, because it's a woman doing all those things?" Yes, Einstein. The fact the video was made by a man for an all-male band with a largely male fanbase, in an industry predominately staffed by blokes, featuring hot lesbo action, the number one male voyeuristic fantasy of choice is neither here nor their. Because it's about a woman. On which basis, we'd advise any young girls not to bother with flicking through A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and stick to the doughty feminist text that is Razzle.

What's really frustrating, though, is that rather than trotting out Relax for the hunderth time (it's funny that, while there's no shortage of people happy to yak at the camera that Frankie made lots of cash from Mike Read's outrage, nobody yet appears to have twigged that Mike Read is enjoying a healthy income from appearing on shows recalling how he banned the track), there are some interesting stories about genuine attempts to ban videos that weren't ever touched on - Jimmy Saville's moral crusade against the video that had Sid Vicious riding a motorbike without a helmet, or the Madness one with an electric guitar being played in a swimming pool; the video for Undercover which The Tube were only allowed to show providing they cut away at the gunshots to scene of Muriel Gray watching the film. Instead, we got a few clips of Tatu kissing in the rain - surely 'The Videos Most People Yawned And Turned Away From, Bored' rather than 'The Videos They Tried To Ban'?


Aaron said...

As ever, very well said. It was an appalling show. And they didn't even mention the really really really bad Nine Inch Nails video.

You know MTV2 accidentally showed that Prodigy video at lunchtime a handful of times not long after it launched.

Simon said...

Can't disagree - if it was the proper look they were suggesting at how video makers have 'stretched the boundaries' of the form, there were plenty of stylistic holes - Leftfield's Africa Shox? Add N To (X), surely? Instead we got Baby Got Back, which is hardly Bohemian Rhapsody, and that bizarre attempt at forming the history into a proper timeline. So, British bands started it, American hair metal then took it up for years, rap stole it and gave it to Madonna, British underground dance took the baton (great research, by the way, to describe UNKLE as a collective - that's DJ Shadow and, um...) and passed it onto rap. And to finish, Rockbitch, who nobody gives a shit about. They also neglected to mention that Smack My Bitch Up (or Smack Up Your Bitch, as the Times once called it) had that title, that sample, that video and a single cover featuring a crashed car just after Diana died, and on the back of the attendant publicity rocketed to... number 9. After two number ones.

Can we now have a moritorium on Alexander Armstrong voiceovers?

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