So Outrageous, Like we're Fam--📵
April 19, 2015 7:58 PM   Subscribe

Edward Selfie Hands.
posted by codacorolla at 8:21 PM on April 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

If a tree falls in a forest, and it knows it's falling, is it still just sound and fury?
posted by johnnydummkopf at 8:28 PM on April 19, 2015

"And the pre-teens will be wearing BDSM dog collars, too, because that's EDGY, man. Blow your suburban mind, dad! You can't handle this, 1 percenter white minivan man because it's EDGY and BREAKS ALL THE RULES."

"Thanks, Eric. Just come in under budget, 'kay?"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:39 PM on April 19, 2015 [6 favorites]

Thank you. Eric Wareheim as a music video director is a treasure. Now somebody else come and puke a pile of emojis into their comment box because I'm too tired/lazy.
posted by univac at 8:42 PM on April 19, 2015

Kept expecting James Woods and Debbie Harry to pop up in that last room.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 8:54 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

posted by not_on_display at 9:12 PM on April 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

I really need to stop listening to lyrics.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:55 PM on April 19, 2015

not_on_display: TAYLOR NEGRON LIVES

I know you're joking, but that fellow there can 't hold a candle to Mr. Negron. That's Steve Earhart (YouTube link), who seems to be somewhat addicted to plastic surgery.
posted by barnacles at 10:10 PM on April 19, 2015

Charli XCX is one of the best hookwriters working today, and what her lyrics lack in "sophistication" they make up for in giving no fucks at all. She's pretty great.
😘╯︵ ┻━┻
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 11:11 PM on April 19, 2015 [10 favorites]

Eric Wareheim is a fucking national treasure.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:22 PM on April 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

All I could think was: if kids these days dressed like that, the only reason it'd surprise me is because it looks distinctly like the sort of thing everybody was wearing in the 90s when I was in high school. Chokers and bare midriffs and ridiculous shoes. If I'm old enough for that to be the thing again, I'm just going to go cry.

...excuse me, I just Googled and ended up on the Forever 21 page and I guess crying is in order.
posted by Sequence at 11:23 PM on April 19, 2015 [7 favorites]

Thriller Thriller Thriller Thriller.

Um, if you don't see the nods between this and the Thriller video, then I'm just really old. Also, Charli XCX is great, even if I'm really old.
posted by holgate at 11:36 PM on April 19, 2015

That's Steve Earhart (YouTube link), who seems to be somewhat addicted to plastic surgery.

Watched the video. Waited for the Dr. Nick cameo. Was not disappointed.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 11:55 PM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I used to be with it! But then they changed what it was! And now what I'm with isn't it and what's it seems weird and scary to me! It'll happen to you!
posted by sacrifix at 12:00 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

...I don't get it.

But I do appreciate that they intentionally misspelled "congratulations."
posted by ostranenie at 12:02 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Eric Wareheim is not the sort of man who would consider wearing a dog collar to be remotely edgy or commentary-inducing.

I love Wareheim and liked this video and that was a very catchy song.

By the way, if you don't know Wareheim and would like some context on his approach to music videos, some of my personal favorites include The Youth, Hole To Feed, and We Are Water. He's one half of Tim and Eric, too, so if you know them as a duo, you have a better sense of where he's coming from with all this. To wit: their general approach has not been one of direct commentary per se, it's more akin to culture jamming, where their work partly exists to cause a ripple within whatever context it's expected to appear. They did the Terry Crews ads for Old Spice, which lampooned Old Spice's still-running viral campaign The Man Your Man Could Smell Like (and did gimmicks like employing actors from The Room and running hybrid commercials with other brands that Terry Crews would aggressively interrupt); on the advertising front, they made the bizarre Absolut Vodka ad with Zach Galifianakis, too. The intent seems to be, not merely commenting on the norm, but distorting and skewing the norm in exactly the location that something normal would otherwise be. Seeing them become better-known has been fun for that reason.

I know very little about the YouTube Music Awards or whatever because I'm a cool guy who has no time for such frivolous shenanigans, but I'm curious: what's the audience like? What are the expected demographics? This felt a lot more heavy-handed than most of the things Wareheim makes, in the sense that it leaves you with a clear takeaway of a message rather than an ambiguous set of images that don't perfectly add up to a whole, so I'm wondering if this is like a Wareheim Lite production for a skewing-younger audience. Or perhaps the slight-of-hand is just the perpetual equating of an Internet-equipped device with a mask over the real world, which (apparently?) is populated with boogeymen, distorted older people attempting to use Instagram like young people, celebrities with lesions, and Phone Charger Static Shock Wolverine. Either way, having seen the video just the once, all I can think is that it's generally a mistake to take what this director does at face value.
posted by rorgy at 2:49 AM on April 20, 2015 [10 favorites]

WTF is this katy perry bullshit?

Now now, Charlie XCX is more Cher Lloyd bullshit than Katy Perry bullshit.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 4:18 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

rorgy: "The intent seems to be, not merely commenting on the norm, but distorting and skewing the norm in exactly the location that something normal would otherwise be."

Yeah, I'm gonna call a Poe's Law on him. If you're using the same form, with the same principals, with the same financing, for the same purpose, are you really subverting anything? Sure, you might be mildly changing it enough to provoke some tepid reaction, but I don't really see any actual changes from the norm.
posted by signal at 5:39 AM on April 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

Cool Papa Bell: ""Thanks, Eric. Just come in under budget, 'kay?""

Seddle down and have a hamburger sandwich, pops
posted by boo_radley at 7:07 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

hell yeah. saw this a couple weeks ago and at first thought he was just making a generic cutesy girl video with a mild twist, but by the end it's pretty obvious he's been been taking copious notes from Black Mirror.

not familiar with charli xcx other than this, but if she was into the idea of this vid in the first place she has to be at least a little bit self-aware as a pop-person.
posted by ghostbikes at 1:25 PM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

not familiar with charli xcx other than this, but if she was into the idea of this vid in the first place she has to be at least a little bit self-aware as a pop-person.

Yeah, she has always come across to me as particularly canny about herself and her image.

(The chokers and fuzzy cutoff sweaters and big clunky shoes that have been noted, by the way, aren't a Wareheim thing; it's a very common XCX outfit.)
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 1:42 PM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, she has always come across to me as particularly canny about herself and her image.

So, is this a good time to bring up the video for "Fancy"?
posted by Going To Maine at 3:08 PM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I'm gonna call a Poe's Law on him. If you're using the same form, with the same principals, with the same financing, for the same purpose, are you really subverting anything? Sure, you might be mildly changing it enough to provoke some tepid reaction, but I don't really see any actual changes from the norm.

That's why I was wondering about this video — it feels a bit tamer than what I'm used to, but it was also 4:30 in the morning when I watched that for the first time, so maybe I just wasn't in a good headspace for it.

I used the phrase "culture jamming" to describe Wareheim this morning, but it not especially apropos. Neither is "subversion" quite the right word. It's more of a... pushing commercial capitalism to a very unusual place, while still remaining successful? Wareheim's work has been pretty damn critical of 21st century America, capitalism and media and all, but I think we're largely past the point where the most effective mode of operating "against" these things was to push directly back at it, for the same reason I don't kick the buildings of corporations I don't especially enjoy.

Instead, and weirdly, there's more of an all-inclusive cooperative feel about this cultural movement, and I have to be really careful not to accidentally write the novella I have in my mind all down into this comment form, because here we're getting uncomfortably close to one of the most interesting aspects of today's society, and I could go on for literally a college course about this shit. What it comes down to is, capitalism is apathetic about everything except for the numbers at the end of the game, but it's not actively opposed to things which are not those numbers — it's merely indifferent. In fact, many of the people inside our various oppressive corporate structures have some semblance of good taste, and are actively fond of weird and interesting shit; if they can somehow make a lot of money bringing it out in the world, all the better!

Wieden+Kennedy, for instance, which is the advertising agency responsible for contemporary Old Spice — and who are most famously known for Nike's "Just Do It" slogan — has from the start been something of a haven for "counter-cultural" (bleh) artist types; the agency was founded essentially by a bunch of artists who wanted money to have the financial freedom to do the shit they really wanted to do, without feeling compromised by their workplace either. Granted, no brilliant artists have come out of W+K's ranks to my knowledge (though I haven't done any research), but their ad work is frequently pretty excellent, to my artistic sensibilities and not just my marketing/advertising ones. I'm not about to get into a defense of advertising in contemporary society, because there's no simple defense that works on account of advertising's frequent shittiness (more on this on my novella), but my only argument here is that there're a lot of people working ostensibly at the highest echelons of mass media and capitalist culture who are perfectly fine with unleashing some deeply weird shit upon the world if it doesn't hurt their bottom line.

The capacity of the ruling class to co-opt art has been commented upon for a long time — I immediately think of Kubrick saying how Beethoven gets used in A Clockwork Orange to remark upon how even the sublimest pinnacles of art can be coopted for horrific means. I don't think there's such a thing as art which stands inherently apart from capitalism's grasp. If something speaks to a lot of people, it can be used to sell things to them; if something speaks only to a select few, it isn't necessarily better than the stuff which affects millions of people — and even if exclusivity were a marker of value, that would just lead to savvy marketing firms using cult classics to market things even more directly to people. Whatever marks you as "independent" also singles you out as a far easier demographic to instantly analyze and sell to. I'm not gonna get much deeper into this, but any mode of assessing art that asserts its value as being directly opposed to capitalism's intents implicitly falls into precisely the trap that it's trying to avoid: the nature of "valuation" is itself a capitalistic one, which is why no matter how much you attempt to sidestep capitalism with arguments about purity of intent or form or whatever, you only end up as part of a classifiable market. (This is the inherent flaw, I feel, with the notion of a "counter-culture" within capitalism. As we've seen, again and again, the second a counter-culture gets any heft, it gets marketed to.)

ANYWAY. Not to get into a whole long discussion about how we should think about art, much as I'm sorely tempted, the tl;dr of my thoughts is that it's very sensible to think of art/media/"experiences" through the lens of, is this enriching? Does this expose you to some new quality or subtlety of life which you were heretofore lacking? Or does this only give you what you've seen already, slash give you more of the same?

By this lens, we can pretty easy explain one of the biggest problems with mass media as a general concept: no matter how good a megastar is, the more tremendous of a scale they're known on, the more the culture centered around them dilutes somewhat with their presence. There's no way around this without shattering the concept of centralized media, which believe me is a prospect perpetually on my mental whiteboard because boy oh boy would that be great. But it can't be done in 2015 or 2020, and while our method of consumption revolves around the same massive conglomerate hubs, there's no such possible thing as subversion. Nothing Eric Wareheim could possibly do would somehow make him not a director whose videos get millions of views, unless he intentionally tried to shun his fans and make himself as unknown as possible. What he can do, however, is inject as much unusual stuff into his mass-culture entities as possible, not to critique capitalism per se but to at least make a part of it faintly worth a damn.

Which is why my first concern, upon watching this video, was that it was maybe a bit too explicit in its commentary: "Fame sucks. Internet addiction sucks. We're so worried about our devices turning off. Behind our devices, the world is ugly or something." Even there, those bunch of points I made don't add up to a consistent whole, which is good, but some of Wareheim's work has been a lot harder to pin down than that, and generally the harder it becomes to pin down, the more I like it. That critique aside, though, this is still a pretty interesting music video in a lot of ways, and I come away glad that it exists.

To continue attempting to express a fairly complex set of views simply enough not to lose steam, I think that strangeness of experience is a fairly consistent indicator of whether or not something is potentially meaningful for the person who encounters it. Not quirkiness, mind you, not cutesy abnormality, but strangeness, the presence of something heretofore unencountered, a potentially uncomfortable encounter with something you aren't sure you necessarily want. There are many beautiful accessible works of art out there, accessible media, accessible experiences, and I don't strictly have anything against them, but I am very very fond of things which brush up against the unknown, and expose people to something they're not used to perceiving or considering.

A popular method of slipping this under people's noses involves repurposing tropes that are comfortable and familiar and using them to deliver something entirely unexpected. Too Many Cooks went viral for how well it did this (and people critiqued it for "not being surprising enough", completely missing the intent behind the way it was composed); Tim and Eric's Old Spice commercials, in which Terry Crews was parodying a commercial that was still on the air, took things pretty astonishingly far, and then took things a step further with their Tide commercial. It's a fucking brilliant ad. It's also pretty damn funny by culture-jamming standards. But it exists separately from those two realms of consideration, in this territory that makes commercials unexpected and potent precisely for how they fuck with the existing ways that commercials are done. For their "commentary", in a sense, only it's not commentary so much as it's playing around with a thing that's usually taken straight. In a world where every known form of media is being threatened by vast expanses of Internet wilderness, being rote or predictable is death; embracing the wilderness is the only way to keep up. Which is just how things ought to be.

I don't think, by the way, that the Internet is creating a "new norm" per se. Looking at, say, Tumblr culture, and going, "Yeah, I see what's happening there," as if there is a "what" that's happening, misses that the principle behind the thing is one of relentless innovation, remixes, commentaries, repurposings. In my writing I refer to "platforming" a lot, both in the operating systems sense and the old-school Mario sense, because these days literally anything can be leapt off of, can be repurposed and made into a base of operations, can be instantly reformed by any of a million people into a brand-new thing, a brand-new platform to spring forth from. The nature of this will change as computers themselves change, but there is no way to remove that sense of perpetual playfulness (that "ludic culture", if we feel like sounding vaguely intellectual) without entirely removing people's freedoms to participate in it.

Which, by the way, was what happened with the advent of newspapers, radio, film, and television, as well as the dawn of fast foods, industrial production, etc etc etc etc etc. The ratio of producer-to-consumer for any medium, physical or artistic or otherwise, went entirely to shit, until the norm became everybody sitting down, shutting up, and taking in whatever was passed their way. We're beginning to see a reversal of that, not a dissolution of the predominantly 20th century modes yet but at least the realization that things are not quite as controllable or institutional as they used to be. The most absolute cultural centers today are all the platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, MetaFilter, what-have-you. And those centers are only potent because of how little they attempt to control people's interactions within it. Ben Thompson, in an essay published only last week, wrote about just how many of Twitter's core features were just them institutionalizing what users had already informally devised; look at how the youth use any given medium and you'll be astonished by how they fuck with what you might assume to be a straightforward mode of communication. (Indeed, the easiest way to spot an Old on a given medium is that they use it the way it was intended to be used. Barely any exaggeration there.)

I'm not offering this as a panacea for our cultural problems, by the way. The lowest common denominator isn't that much better when it's actually devised by the lowest common denominator than when it's created by a bunch of suits attempting to interpret the lcd's wants and needs. This culture of fanbase-pandering has given us some remarkably shitty (and remarkably acclaimed) media. But I like to keep in mind the words of Alfred Jarry, who as time goes on seems like more and more prescient of a thinker than he already appeared to be:
We shall not have succeeded in demolishing everything unless we demolish the ruins as well. But the only way I can see of doing that is to use them to put up a lot of fine, well-designed buildings.
This is the cultural landscape in which Eric Wareheim operates: one in which capitalism has a weird relationship with itself, not entirely comfortable with its own nature but incapable of either embracing its potential reform or quashing those who find it problematic. And I would cite The Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job! as one of the definitive landmarks of this new emergent culture — once you see it, you spot its influences everywhere, and it did a fantastic job of crystalizing many aspects of this beyond-meta media landscape, from the parodies to the whimsy to the all-pervasive uncanniness, the sense that this might all dissolve into something horrific and monstrous, the sense that it already has and that we only don't recognize it because we are a part of the monster ourselves.

Looking back on my youth, I get the sense that the cultural lines were never between "the good guys" and "the people trying to fuck the good guys up". Rather, they were between groups of people who were uncomfortable with a particular kind of difference, a particular unusual thing, and the people who couldn't help but be or love or belong to whatever that different thing was. And there is no escaping these cultural lines. We are none of us fully-embracing of the world around us, and every bugbear we hold onto, every personal grudge, every particular preference or opinion which puts us at odds with a group of people, prevents us from coming together as a weird and highly diverse society. Obviously the answer can't simply be that we should unconditionally love everything, because how do you love something that hurts somebody else? Choosing not to have principles or stand up for what you believe in or offer your opinions doesn't make you a saint, it makes you a nonentity. So how do you figure out where the fuck to stand at any given point?

The shorthand for the answer I discovered (through the writings of Christopher Alexander and Max Wertheimer, if it's at all worth a damn — two people who are about the opposite of "hip to contemporary concerns" as you can get, seeing as one's a seventy-something architect and one's a German psychologist who died nearly a century ago) is as follows:

You look for richness. You look for vitality. You look for things which you can return to, things which will mean something tomorrow and next month and a decade from now, and you look for many, many such things, because none of us can predict what's going to last. But above all, you look for people, and as many people and as many kinds of people as you can, because nothing is richer, nothing is more alive, nothing is more potentially surprising and strange and unfamiliar, as another human being, and it doesn't matter how much of the world you think you've seen. If you can find ways of giving people the opportunity to see and think and try new things, you're probably doing some kind of good; if you're acting in a way that shuts down other people's freedoms, you'd better be giving some other group something even better in return, or else your actions are on some level entirely impossible to justify. This is probably a little bit deeper of a conclusion than we're supposed to derive from a music video where a dude's got a power plug in his belly button, but I like to overdeliver if-and-when possible.

I go this far and this absurdly philosophical because Eric Wareheim is one of the greatest forces for strangeness in popular culture that we've got. He takes popular bands and moves them into prickly, thorny territory. He embraces all manner of unusual person — if there's a stranger bunch of people presented on television more lovingly than the ensemble cast of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, I haven't found them yet. For all the show was unsettling, for all it was a vicious satire of the vapidest shit in our culture, for all it sometimes was immature and unpolished as all hell, it was a perpetual embrace of the weird, unusual stuff lurking just beneath our cultural radar. And ever since then, they've been pushing that weirdness to vaster and vaster audiences, until now Wareheim's directing music videos for a pretty damn big name, and he's continuing to be pretty unusual with his stuff, and I love it.

Yeah, it's for an audience of millions, sponsored by YouTube or whatever. Yeah, it's still very much capitalism, and unabashedly so: I don't think Wareheim has any interest in alienating his audience per se. Rather, he wants to give them something they'd normally feel uncomfortable with, presented in just gaudy enough a packaging and just popular enough of a context that they'll take it in, let it sit with them, maybe see if they wind up liking a part of it after all. I'm reminded, perversely, of Jeffrey Beaumont it Blue Velvet, who realizes he's into sadism in the midst of a highly disturbing situation — though Wareheim is far less of a monster than Frank Booth, I'm sure we can all agree.

This is the way in which art becomes really powerfully transformative, in my oh-so-incredibly-humble opinion. Sure, occasionally you hear a pop song that just flat-out fucking saves your life, and that can be really damn incredible. But art is at its best when it forces you to expose yourself to facets of the world that you didn't see a reason to expose yourself to before, and that you might find yourself resonating with — or, at the very least, growing more understanding and accepting of — in a way you wouldn't have done voluntarily before.

I hope I doesn't come across as saying that this is somehow unique to the last fifteen-odd years, by the way. This has always been the case. Somebody made comparisons to MJ's "Thriller" above; I'm not the biggest Michael Jackson fan, but he absolutely had one fuck of an impact on society. Great art has had a decent relationship with popular culture since popular culture began; not all art is palatable to all people, but some of it resonates with a significant chunk of people, and it's not less meaningful just because capitalism finds it valuable by its own rules. (Though see my disclaimer about mass media a little ways above.) That said, I think we're seeing a trend of artists who don't see capitalism as an enemy so much as an obstacle that they have to work around, and who are finding ways of spreading messages about things, including the nature of capitalism, via means that are highly lucrative and appealing to vast breadths of our population. It makes me really happy, even though I'd much prefer to see society actively reaching out to find the non-mass-appealing art (and I feel that there just might be a way of getting people to do that in a similar broad-reaching manner). There's room for a lot of other approaches to art and social critique and reaching out to people, but this one resonates with me in a lot of ways, and I'm glad to see Eric still doing his thing, for larger and larger audiences. Capitalism isn't necessarily the enemy: it's a problematic system that foments a lot of awful things which are the enemy, but it can be used for good, too, and I think that Eric's found some marvelous ways of using/exploiting/collaborating with it that've inspired other tremendous people in turn. The wider a net he's allowed to cast, the better, and if he's paid well for doing it, that says good things about the people paying him rather than bad things about him for managing to get paid.
posted by rorgy at 3:51 PM on April 20, 2015 [10 favorites]

posted by Krazor at 4:53 PM on April 20, 2015

So, is this a good time to bring up the video for "Fancy"?

It's pretty awesome, right?
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 5:59 PM on April 20, 2015

And I would cite The Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job! as one of the definitive landmarks of this new emergent culture
I just wasn't made for these times.
posted by pxe2000 at 7:29 PM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Don't worry, pxe2000, the past is still there, waiting for anyone who wants to go there. Plus, it's less crowded than the party everyone wants to get into.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:21 PM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

The past is a foreign country, and after a certain age, the present is too. If we're going to be permanent exiles, the best thing to do is relax. Soak in the local culture. Stare at the pretty boys and girls passing by. Do your best to learn the language of your new nationality even if you'll never lose your exile's accent. Sit at the sidewalk cafe and argue passionately about the revolution your ideas will ignite, if only you could get back home. Wherever, whenever home is.
posted by honestcoyote at 1:59 AM on April 21, 2015

Popular culture has felt like a foreign country since I hit my teens. Some of it is (and was) fun or pretty, or kind of clever, and I glad have come to be able to enjoy these things for what they are. But so often I still don't understand what the big stink is, and have just come to accept that some people can get really excited over anything.

I've got no objection to spending an afternoon watching the pretty boys and girls pass by on the central plaza, but after a few days I start to remember that if you go a few blocks away from downtown and open a few doors that don't get a lot of attention, you can see some things that will grab your heart and steal your breath.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:44 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

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