Lots of good things have been going on lately. This, though, results is a lack of ideas for my little bloggy. We all know that my secret powers comes from my gravitas. Without that, I am nothing. Well, actually, I am still the most desirable man on the blogosphere – but I am just the most desirable man who has not much to say.
While we wait on that gravitas to return, take a look at some old music videos from the eighties. You know, sometimes I get to thinking about those old videos, and I miss them. Yeah, it’s not particularly original to bemoan the days when MTV actually played videos. When I was a young lad, however, my sisters and I spent hours glued to MTV. We memorized every detail of the original VJ's and created elaborate back-stories for them. We were pretty sure that Martha Quinn was sleeping with everybody. Who knew that she would later marry (in the t.v. world) on the Brady kids? Then MTV had this other woman we always referred to as "Tweety-Bird" because of her blond spiky hair -- Anybody remember her name? Eh
Still, that early eighties witnessed the creation of a stylistic art for music videos. It was not enough to simply get air-time, artists had to create visual entertainment to accompany their song. Many succeeded at this venture, but The Eurythmics and Queen became masters. Each of their videos had a particular tone. Those videos, in turn, became self-referential and mutally reenforcing. One needed to know all (or at least some) of the previous videos for the newer ones to make sense. Annie Lennox created alternate personalities and characters that almost had lives of their own. Freddie Mercury brought every gay iconic image to the small screen: Leather guy, eighties clone, weird-mechanic person. He had them all in his videos.
Some artists still put the same effort in videos (That cute lesbian Eminem comes to mind. She is a lesbian, right?). Where do those videos even get a venue?
Of course, as much as MTV always liked to claim it was avant-garde, it often balked at things that seemed too confrontational. We all remember the Cher-in-a-leather-band-aide verses Madonna-chained-to-the-bed controversy. Many people forget that long before that MTV-created cat-fight, the network policed gender roles with vigor. Two videos, in particular, made the MTV executives very nervous in the eighties: Queen's "I Want to Break Free" and The Eurythmics "Love is a Stranger."
Looking at both again, we can see why they made the suits so squirmy. Both are devoted to drag performances of different types. Yet, they are such absurd and cartoonish takes on gender, they suggest that all gender roles are just learned social performances (Judith Butler must have been a huge MTV fan) with no real root in biology.
Queen recreating the women characters of a popular British soap made the video a big no-no. Well, at least it made it a no-no until 10:00pm. After all, MTV still wanted to make a buck off the video if it could.
Mercury (without shaving his mustache) and the other members of Queen made exaggerated gestures to their female personas. They wore giant wigs, heavy makeup, and skimpy-minis. They all went about their business trapped within the urban domestic space. Mercury did the drudgery of housework while singing about wanting to break free. It's small wonder that Mercury opens a closet door in the middle of the video as the proposed escape from domestic hell. Opening doors, closet doors in particular, figured heavily in Queen's videos... I am just sayin'.
Beyond the closet door, we see all sorts of scenes of sexual freedom. Mercury romps around shirtless. He then rolls across virtually naked bodies of all genders. For Queen, breaking free was about tossing aside the crushing gender expectations of the household and escaping from the closet. Queen dissmised the unwavering conformity of the Reagan-Thatcher era. They suggested that young queers (or queens, if you will) could find happiness and contentment outside of the confinement of the traditional home.
Annie Lennox didn't get any warmer reception from MTV. An oft-repeated story is that Lennox had to provide confirmation that she was biologically female before MTV would accept the "Love is a Stranger" video. She so easily transgressed gender costumes, MTV allegedly became confused about her "actual" gender.
Lennox starts out the video in one of her eighties-personas: the blond bimbo. She gets into the car, mentioned in the song's lyrics, and vamps it up for the camera. As the video moves along, though, she rips off the wig to reveal the artifice of her gender performance. In that one step she moved from hyper-feminine to androgynous (or even masculine).
The rest of the video she tries on all sorts of different gender identities. Each becomes a play-thing and a mask, none any more real than the next. In case we missed the point, the video concludes with Lennox doing the robot dance -- Suggesting that all the previous gender performances had been as mechanical and artificial as any automaton.
None of the videos on MTV made a direct plea for sexual freedom. Yet, some still acknowledged that many people wanted more out of life than the rigid sexual conformity offered by the eighties. They provided a visual representation of things that many of us wanted to do if we had a little more freedom: Rip off the wigs and bust open the closet doors, all to a catchy tune.
Video, someone still loves you.