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.

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