Tuesday, February 16, 2010

She was like part woman, part horrible beast

I guess I should throw in a cursory warning that the following blog post does indeed contain plot spoilers for the classic, controversial music video for The Prodigy's "Smack My Bitch Up". So if you're some time traveler from the distant past or have been frozen in ice for the 90s, maybe you should just watch it beforehand if you don't want to be denied one of the best twist endings of the 90s outside of the "Sixth Sense" (spoiler: Bruce Willis is dead).

So anyways, "Smack My Bitch Up", one of my all time favorite music videos. It really has everything I look for in the music video medium (and really all media in general): action, displays of violence, adult situations, sex (preferably girl on girl), and twist endings. As an additional bonus, I even enjoyed the music on an independent basis (my freshman year of high school purchase of "The Fat of the Land" is definitely the height of my explorations into "electronic music"). The controversial elements of the video are obviously what gives it is lasting legacy, but for me it's really the ending that I find the most shocking of all.

All the violence, sex, misogyny, drug use, etc. are really generic elements that the jaded 21st (or even the late 20th) century observer has seen countless times before. The big final reveal that the video's protagonist, with whom you've voyeuristically shared the whole chaotic video through their eyes, is actually a woman and thus subverting all your perceptions about everything that just happened; now that's shockingly unexpected! I'm sure someone can also make a up big feminist analysis of the whole thing, with lines about empowerment and gender roles in media as well. I just really dig it for the same reason I like reruns of the Twilight Zone and O. Henry short stories: those clever twist endings.

Watching the video again recently I realized that a lot of contrivances (some more subtle than others) had to go into the video to maintain the gender charade until the end of the video. Some of the more obvious contrivances are: the lack of mirrors and opportunities for reflection, the unisex clothes, the sparse bedroom, the ambiguous attention from both female and male characters throughout the night. However, I noticed that most of the entire video's ruse depends on the fact that the actress playing the protagonist has subtle "man hands".

While obviously nowhere near the comical effect of Jerry's date from the "Seinfeld" episode that coined the phrase, our protagonist clearly has a pair of mitts that would at least be considered gender neutral. They lack any hint of the telltale daintiness, delicateness, and refinement one would expect out of a young, swinging 90's, British woman's hands. These are some sturdy looking paws: no manicure, no nail polish, no rings, no signifying bracelets; and since they are basically our only physical clues to the character it's absolutely essential for the video that they are that way. Any trace of femininity would have given the ending away or at least raised questions and diminished the effectiveness of the ending. So therein lies the key to the video's greatness, whether it's taking a shower, preparing lines of cocaine, eating takeout, knocking back shot after shot, assaulting a DJ, recklessly driving drunk, or making love to a stripper; our protagonist never tips their hand.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Am I right or am I right? Or am I right? Am I right?

Dear Weather Channel Executives ,

I noticed that you've recently decided to abandon your core principles of being a channel to provide information about the weather and decided to occasionally air feature films tangentially related to the weather (Perfect Storm and Twister I understand, but Deep Blue Sea...really? Are you just counting any movie that shows the weather on screen?). I personally don't really have a huge beef with this new programming direction, since I don't really watch the Weather Channel. For years, I always found the Weather Channel to be one of the more needlessly roundabout ways to get information about the weather. It seemed like every time I flipped over to see what the local weather was like I'd be getting the five day outlook for Duluth, MN or Scottsdale, AZ. I've always found it far quicker and easier to just check the internet, the paper, the local news, or even the nearest window.

Also, it seems like it's the general trend of current cable channels to be compromising their original narrow programming objectives. MTV and VH1 hardly show any music videos, ESPN started making their own made-for-tv films, Bravo and A&E used to be about the arts and culture, and the only thing I'm "learning" on TLC is what the current lowest common denominator is for reality programming. So, really I can't fault the Weather Channel for merely trying to stay relevant in this shifting cable landscape. I figure in a few decades all cable television will just be slightly different flavors of TNT/TBS.

With that said, I have a dynamite idea for your channel that I'm willing to give away free of charge. Seeing as how today is Groundhog Day, the premier (and so far only) holiday devoted to weather forecasting, the Weather Channel would benefit greatly by capitalizing on this massive promotional opportunity. Given this and your recent decision to show movies, I think you know where I'm going with this: 24 hours of "Groundhog Day" marathon!

Frankly, I'm shocked that this hasn't already. It's an absolutely perfect synergy of weather forecasting and weather entertainment. TBS's decision to run 24 hours of "A Christmas Story" each year has become an undeniable hit and has now firmly entrenched itself as a holiday television tradition in its own right along with airings of "It's a Wonderful Life" on Christmas Eve and "The 10 Commandments" on Easter. For the small price of obtaining the rights to "Groundhog Day", the Weather Channel can gain that valuable, long lasting cultural cache. In addition, if you think about it, given the unique narrative structure of "Groundhog Day", a repetitive marathon is more than apt.

I understand that this is the first year Weather Channel is showing movies so the missing of this golden opportunity is somewhat forgivable. However the channel should not find themselves on Groundhogs Day 2011 repeating this mistake. They should immediately set out on obtaining the rights, lest some other rival network like USA or TBS or maybe even SpikeTV comes in and steals your thunder and leaves the Weather Channel out in the cold (dig those weather puns I threw in there?)