August 8, 2008

Craig Ferguson, The Jonas Brothers, and Katy Perry

This is what 46 year old Scottish late night TV host Craig Ferguson said Tuesday night:

The Jonas Brothers... I'm sure they're fine young kids, and their music's not for me, it's for young people, I understand that, but my point is-- they're kind of too clean. With the purity rings, symbolizing that you're saving yourself for marriage. Now, I'm thinking-- what kind of a rock star is this? What kind of a rock star is this?...

It makes me a little uncomfortable, it's a little sinister to me, when the teenage rebellion is controlled and sanitized by a big corporation. There has to be some rebellion, or else it's not rock and roll.

Ferguson was in a Scottish punk band, was a drug addict, almost suicided and is now clean-- and strong enough to make nightly jokes about using drugs and still not relapse. Rock and roll cred established.

What's he saying?  He defines rock and roll as rebellion; now, and now laments is a genre.

You might say that actually, the Jonas Brothers are rebellion because they are rebelling against the established credo of rock and roll (sex, drugs, etc), but that's a ruse as well, they aren't the ones rebelling; they were selected by an industry that is trying to change it's image.

To illustrate this, take a look at the other promise ring wearer, Katy Perry, whose song, "I Kissed A Girl" has disturbed me for a long time, disturbed me because it is so not disturbing.

In case you don't have kids or contracted rubella as a fetus, here's the chorus:

I kissed the girl and I liked it

The taste of her cherry chapstick

I kissed a girl just to try it

Hope my boyfriend don't mind it

It felt so wrong
It felt so right
Don't mean I'm in love tonight
I kissed a girl and I liked it
I liked it

That's as raunchy as it gets.  Anyone who lived through the bicurious 90s knows that this kind of "kissing the girl" is about boys.  It's about being sexy for boys, even if the boy doesn't know you did it, you still feel you are even more attractive to them.  But this is by no means cutting edge material.

I will grant you that the song is technically, and artistically, more brilliant than anything by Coldplay.  Ok, you got me there.

Yet the song is everywhere, not just pop song everywhere, but everywhere everywhere.  Here are three news media outlets that have no business writing about music, writing about her.  And always the topic is sexuality, as if she's opening (or closing) doors or something.

I had a huge argument with a friend about that song. My position was that such a benign song-- this is old news-- has a popularity that cannot be explained by the seemingly relevant topic of kissing a girl, there must be something else to it.  Why would the music industry choose to push this specific song, so much?

His position was that it was MTV et al, targeting the older people, the ex-MTV generation-- e.g. me-- trying to entice them back with songs that play on their (unfulfilled) fantasies. "Why else would they be in lingerie? Young guys don't care about lingerie, unless it's a thong.  They're programming to the older crowd."

Maybe, but why this song? Why not a million other more risque songs? 

So here is this not at all provocative video, completely old news to anyone 21-45, yet it is everywhere. Go ahead and watch it, tell me why.   No nudity.  She's pretty, but come on, she's no Taylor Swift.  Song is catchy, but again...

I call your attention to the last five seconds of the video. In the final scene, she wakes up next to her sleeping boyfriend. Ooohh-- is he going to find out how naughty she is? Will he be jealous or turned on? Is it fantasy or real?

Here's the thing. Her boyfriend in the video is black.

If that realization doesn't have any impact on you at all, you are my point.   You may be so progressive that you don't even notice race, but I can assure you race is still a gigantic issue, for both races. 

We have a scenario where two maybe-sort-of taboos are present in a video, but one is highlighted as a real taboo, and the other as completely and utterly ordinary, meriting no comment or explanation. I'm pretty sure depending where you live in America, you'll either agree or disagree with her hierarchy.

In all the Katy Perry discussions, blogs, and articles, no one noticed the race issue, no one thought to mention it, nothing.  What they went all Manchurian Candidate about was that she kissed a girl.

"Well, maybe that's what she believes."  She doesn't have anything to do with it.  She didn't make a video, then go Jet Li the MTV program director's office door, slap him in the face with the reel, and say, "This is f-ing awesome, play this!"  "oh-oh-oh right away Mrs. Perry! Right away!"

The video was directed, manufactured. The guy in her bed isn't random, they selected an actor. It wasn't accidental he was black, they picked him because he was black. Indeed, he's DJ Skeet Skeet,  a friend of her real life black rapper/boyfriend Travis McCoy. Nothing here is random; even her name, Katy Perry, was selected because her real name, Katy Hudson, risked confusing her with Kate Hudson. She changed her name to differentiate herself from someone else.  They are constructing an image, they are telling you a story.

So what's happening here is that MTV isn't saying, "wow, this is so shockingly sexy, she kissed a girl." MTV is actually resetting the culture, it is telling you, telling a generation of kids,  that kissing a girl is shocking and sexy. 

"But it isn't shocking, you can't simply declare that it is. Much more shocking porn is everywhere." Actually, that's the genius of this. Reconstruct adolescent sexuality to the old days of maybe you catch a glimpse of a worn and melted Playboy down by the creek. Online porn saturates, overloads, it stops becoming arousing and starts getting frustrating, "where the hell is the exact pic I need to get off?"

MTV can't compete with that.  Music can't compete with that.  In your face, up yours, all that.  Those vibes are now elsewhere.

So it's recreating a niche by recreating a culture.  Clean, sober, and hip-hop light.

So that when you turn the amp up just a little, it catches everyone's attention. "Holy crap!  She kissed a girl!"

I'm not sure if I should be appalled that sexuality has been commandeered by MTV et al, or I should just be relieved they're pushing popcorn not penetration.

Back to the Craig Ferguson. The music industry has to make good boys cool because there's a glut of bad boys everywhere else, and MTV and the music industry can't compete.  Sex is no longer cool.   What's cool now?  Status.  Narcissism.  Rich is the new porn.

But poor Craig Ferguson.  He makes the point that rock and roll is supposed to be about rebellion-- theoretically getting a big inaudible cheer from the teenagers-- "this guy may be old, but at least he gets it!"  But he doesn't.  That cheer came from his viewers-- who have an average age of 50.  He's talking to a bunch of old guys, people who still think Smoke on The Water meant something.