Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"My Generation" - culture jamming by the Zimmers

The following video, an ironic take on the song "My Generation" by the Who, is a music video initiated by the BBC in late May, 2007. It arose from participation by Peter (aka Geriatric1927) in programming about giving elders opportunity to have a voice in popular culture. A group of elders came together as "The Zimmer Band" and recorded in Abbey Road studios with production staff with excellent credentials in making pop music videos. The result is an energetic and effective piece of culture jamming.

Wikipedia defines Culture jamming as "the act of transforming mass media to produce commentary about itself, using the original medium's communication method. It is a form of public activism which is generally in opposition to commercialism, and the vectors of corporate image. The aim of culture jamming is to create a contrast between corporate or mass media images and the realities or perceived negative side of the corporation or media. This is done symbolically, with the "detournement" of pop iconography." In another section Wikipedia explains that in "detournement", an artist reuses elements of well-known media to create a new work with a different message, often one opposed to the original. "

Peter's culture jamming last spring in the widely marketed "My Generation" was the vehicle for public activism and fundraising around issues arising from social isolation among the elderly. The skillful music video used the obvious energy and physicality of the grooving seniors to make points against the stereotypes of rigidity and stuffiness.

In the video below "Now the Secret Can Be Told" he explains to the YouTube community about his relationship to the media and about the making the video. He makes no bones that this is a promotional clip looking for support for his activity which now is moving to a larger audience through broadcast television, mainstream music distribution and live performances. For him, Zimmers is serious play, engaging his creativity and fun with the band members, but with a social agenda reminiscent of the charity work of Bob Geldof with his concerts like "Band Aid" .

As uplifting as "My Generation" is, there is also an angry edge to the video where gesture and home-made signs get the simple message across. The "Culture Jamming" article in Wikipedia goes on to note that the "... intent differs from that of artistic appropriation (which is done for art's sake) and vandalism (where destruction or defacement is the primary goal), although its results are not always so easily distinguishable." The ritualistic smashing up of guitars at the end of "Generation", as directed by seasoned producers of other high-profile rock music videos is an appropriation of cultural cliches in order to comment on stereotypes of the elderly as inhibited and passive.

It seems that the experience recording at Abbey Road studios was a positive one. But once the band went on the promotional road, and were being examined by people who were not necessarily in the socially-engaged loop, were individual members at risk of being set up to be stereotyped in an even more negative way? Culture jamming has its roots in an idealistic desire to promote change, and so I make the assumption of a degree of innocence. "The Zimmers Backstage at Graham Norton" (a live talk show) leaves me wondering if the exuberance of the band members was getting exploited by the host, who seemed to be directing them into crossing the line into vandalism, for the sake of cheap laughs. Intitially I found his comments seemed responsive to the detournment they had initiated themselves. For example, he comments that their combined age of 3000 is just short of the Rolling Stones. But as the segment progressed, when he seems to hook into the underlying frustration that was also in the music video, I found myself increasingly uncomfortable with his mocking "us/them" asides to his audience.

However, would I have been patronizing too, if I could have intervened to protect Grace, the woman that he described as "you with the purply lilac top thing" from actually went for it beyond what seems to have been the host's intention, in trashing the backstage as he had directed? Where do my own stereotypes come in? I myself have been warned that if I leave the safety of dignified gestures when I appear in my own videos, I will be leaving myself open to ridicule and embarrassment. The fear of inadvertantly crossing the lines in a new setting is a powerful inhibitor to anyone. It has really slowed me down in putting myself out there on the Internet. I'd love to get some comments on the topic of taking these kinds of risks.

No comments:

Post a Comment