Twin Peaks of Excellence

Despite the problems we may have adapting forms of media amongst themselves, music and videos are something that are generally accepted, and are an artform in and of themselves.

One month ago, to the day, I posted about Amanda Palmer’s Guitar Hero. Since that time she’s released two new videos in her ongoing series, and her album (Who Killed Amanda Palmer?–the allusion in my title reflecting that of the album name) has gone up for presale. When I saw her live she mentioned this video series, where she had two choices, use her budget for one or two videos to promote singles, or create a series of videos instead. She opted for the latter.

The least two videos have been concerning the two songs I mentioned previously, Strength Through Music and Guitar Hero. Since I’ve already delved into the lyrics somewhat, this post will look at the videos released for them. They are also the only two in the video that are directly following one another (though they all are linked). First, Strength Through Music:

As Palmer explained before performing it at the Lakeshore Theater, she had written this song about Columbine, but as she was recording it in Ben Folds’s studio in Nashville, the Virginia Tech shootings occurred. The message seems to be pretty clear. Again, the line that sticks out to me, at least when writing about it for this blog, is “don’t bother blaming his games and guns–he’s only playing, and boys just want to have fun.” There’s a lot going on in those few lines. From the indication that both of these shootings had a media furor around the causes, including videogames, to the similar sounding lyric to Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Want to Have Fun. These travesties are every bit a part of our culture as anything else packed in these words.

They resonate with us.

This video sets itself up well for the following:

I’ve already made a small attempt to explicate the lyrics, as provided in the link at the start of the post, so I shan’t focus on it fully again (though, as any densely packed poem, it would be quite easy to type out a five page or more explication of it).

To start, this video has a clever way of introducing the title of the artist and title of the previous song via iPod, implicating Palmer herself as a musician to whom the shooter was listening. As the video continues, there are many allusions to our current culture’s use of the peripherals with which we commonly come equipped (e.g. cell phones, with their texting, and even guitars in some form or another). For better or worse, we in the United States and many other countries in the ‘West’ are very tied into our electronics and media.

As the song indicates, there are many lives. As such, all the victims we saw piled in the beginning are alive again, with the notable exception being the shooter himself.

The guitars are of course a focus in a song entitled Guitar Hero. While not using the game controller peripheral, all of the guitars are the same, and if you watch them being played, until Amanda Palmer’s solo, they’re being held and played the exact same way by everyone. Even more importantly, none of them outside of Palmer have any expressions or are even engaged in playing. Contrast it to this commercial:

However, when Palmer does start her solo around the 2.30 area, all manner of cultural signifiers are occurring. Suddenly Palmer’s hair has a life of its own, mimicking the windblown look that seems a standard in today’s music and fashion industry. Her finger placement on the guitar during the closeups also becomes extremely exaggerated while her imitating guitarists turn into clapping support. This is showmanship. In fact, while there are a few chords to be heard from the guitars themselves, the keyboard, drums, and clapping are the mainstay of the music.

Along with the shift in the lyrics to a more sinister turn, suddenly the scene changes from a classroom to a stage. While Palmer intones, “Shut up about all of that negative shit. You wanted to make it and now that you’re in… you’re obviously not gonna die, so why not take your chances and try?” the stage becomes slightly livelier; after the sardonic verse that follows into the chorus, the stage jumps alive with action. Remove consequence and the feeling of real failure, and what do you get?

Perhaps the most dramatic and symbolic portion of the video comes at the very end. Suddenly the shooter, who has remained dead the entire video (and whose iPod displayed the title–intoning the intro of Strength Through Music‘s discussion of the symbols F and S, ‘fool’s gold,’ or a false goal), opens his eyes as the camera starts to pull back and focuses on a little plastic cowboy. While I’m rather bored with Marilyn Manson these days, during the release of Holy Wood, he had a phrase that I feel poignant: Is adult entertainment killing our children, or is killing our children entertaining adults?

What is our mandate and when are we responsible? I don’t believe in the idea that violent videogames beget violent acts, those who would be violent would find some means of doing so (and being inspired) anyway. However, I feel the larger point is that we tend to go into polarizing opposites (which can also be seen in the government/factional mandated violence–did Al-Qaeda or Georgie Bush play videogames?) and don’t even really address the issue at hand. We’re seeking to cure the symptoms.


About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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