Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Race, What's the Prize?

Attempts at humor, gaining credibility and rejecting the trappings of fame all backfire horribly in Fall Out Boy's "This Ain't A Scene, It's An Arms Race"...

VIDEO: Fall Out Boy "This Ain't A Scene, It's An Arms Race" dir. by Alan Ferguson

It's unfortunate for Fall Out Boy that the word "race" appears in the title of this video. Even though it's used in a different context, perhaps we'd be less likely to take issue with it if the word wasn't just right there in front of us (not to mention being repeated at the end of every pop-punky-emo whatever chorus). Yet regardless of the song title, within the first few seconds of the video it's fairly clear the band is trying to use racial stereotypes in order to make a joke and to further their own commentary on the state of the music industry - and in the process they ignore (or just don't really care about) the obvious consequences of that insensitivity.

The attempt at self-mockery in reference to Fall Out Boy's actual enlisting of a hip-hop producer for some of their new songs is undercut by the ridiculous "recording studio" scene. The number of stereotypes in that scene alone is staggering, but none are as blatant as the breaking of the bottle in a brown paper bag. Not only are all hip-hop producers and associated contributors supposedly black - but if you mess with the drinks they always seem to be carrying around the studio you will be subsequently kicked out of the "hood." This simultaneously mocks the practice of pouring liquor in remembrance of lost lives (which is echoed in the funeral scene) and basically suggests a large amount of alcoholism among the hip-hop community. Furthermore, the implication is made that violence would be the necessary and immediate reaction to this type of incident.

All of which is apparently opposed to what Fall Out Boy stand for - white, safe, fun. This juxtaposition is what is supposed to be so funny. It also seems that the reason the people in the studio don't like Fall Out Boy's music is not because it sucks, but because they are unable to respect or understand the FOB image (once again - white, safe, fun). The fact is, though, the only reason these guys would ever be kicked out of a professional studio is for playing horrible music.

The idea that Fall Out Boy and director Alan Ferguson missed all these problematic undertones is made more believable by the total misguidedness of the rest of the video. They begin on the set of their "Dance, Dance" video, and the audience are all cardboard cut-outs - unfortunately making a reference to that video 's very similar themes (which implied white guys can't dance, but there is something more lovable about their style than those other styles). Then during a homophobic photo shoot scene the man in charge attempts to indirectly take advantage of a member of the group (and he just happens to be old, bald and creepy as well). The over-the-top hotel and mansion scenes with jumping half-naked models are meant to satirize the use of these settings in other videos as a front for the pleasure of the band itself - but of course are also being used by this band for the same reason.

It's clear that FOB wants us to see this hypocrisy throughout. From the inclusion of MTV moon men to the use of characters from their own past videos - they are winking fairly hard. The funeral at the end isn't just a jab at My Chemical Romance and Guns 'n Roses, it's also what band member Peter Wentz is imagining his own death ceremony to be - a commercialized, Hollywood extravaganza. But of course he wakes up and realizes he's still the same guy he was in 2003, just a musician trying to make it.

Yeah right. Perhaps that kind of funeral really would be a nightmare for Mr. Wentz, but in admitting this has all been a dream - his dream - it underlines the idea that all this comes from inside his head (and the rest of the band as well). This means they not only fear becoming a hugely self-conscious super band - but also black hip-hop producers, homosexual photographers and the loss of their own masculinity (all three of which could be closely related).

Filming the last half-minute of your video in black and white does not make you a credible rock group, or convince anyone that your band is not interested in the creation of a popular image. After all, even in jest, the band spends 3 minutes detailing how big, how fun and how hot they are (it's not a random coincidence Wentz wakes up with his shirt off either). They use the same tropes as any other typical pop video (including hip-hop) - dancing girls, alcohol and band member posing.

Fall Out Boy want to present themselves as something different than the rest of the "scene," but they have no alternative to present. Unlike other popular pop bands (who are laughed at here) which at least have the guts to present a unique concept (My Chemical Romance and even Panic! At the Disco) - Fall Out Boy want to negate everyone else's image in order to promote their own hollow one. They aren't the rock 'n roll band that plays small venues for the love of the fans like they present themselves as, because if they where, they wouldn't need to make a video to prove that point - especially one in which they just make fun of other people (even when they include scenes of self-critique, they are hardly representative of FOB's "image" - which is in fact why they are included). Instead they are consciously crafting themselves as the ultimately inoffensive non-weird alternative - white, safe, fun. Which, when scrutinized, actually happens to be really offensive.

The fact that this band is so afraid of somehow misrepresenting their race, sexuality or culture actually does create a sort of race (the other kind) - one that is ironically heavily concerned with social status and has little to do with actual music.


Anonymous said...

It looks like you're just trying too hard to hate Fall Out Boy or give other people a reason to hate them. From an academic point of view your argument is not credible and completely biased. Pete Wentz has a better thought process than you. This rant was a waste of my time.

Anonymous said...

Imran, usually I agree with you or at least find your reviews to be thoughtful. With Fall Out Boys review, however, I can't help but think you over analyzed.

It seems everything these days is a stereotype. I agree that Fall Out Boy's video was a not so thinly veiled chide at the hip-hop industry and super-stardom, but it's nothing one hasn't actually seen in a video from each genre. These images are latent in our society and when someone decides to portray them when they are not "part of that culture" they are bringing out racial stereotypes.

Are they? Yes. But I remember when we used to laugh pretty hard at the collaborations between Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor -- when were they ever adverse to 'stereotype' humor?

Didn't Good Charlotte (and Green Day and Sum 41 and every pop-punk band in existance) all ready make these videos anyway? It seems like every pop-punk bad wants to shout from the tops of buildings that they are hard rock bands they aspire to be. If they wanted to be these sort of acts they would be playing in clubs for the rest of their lives making nothing more than DV music videos from live concert footage or moments when they dicked around on a lazy Sunday. You made it big, congrats, enjoy it, throw a cheap show in that huge tour of yours for the kids who saw you when you were nothing -- that's the way to thank a fan base. Don't make some fabricated video about how all you want to do it rock out when the video cost more than your first five 'tours' put together. Don't do this especially when the video misses the point. Hip-hop culture is not the problem, the problem is Fall Out Boys inability to remain the pimply punkers they once were in the face of money. It's their fault, not societies.

And the 'cardboard cutouts = white people can't dance' issue. I think not. It's jab at the new/false fanbase they have. I am hard pressed to believe that Fall Out Boy created a 4 minute racial diatribe. (And the photography segment was homophobic, but is the balding gay man really an issue or prevelant stereotype?)

The crux of the problem is that the video is built around a terrible song. Music videos work on two mediums -- visual and aural. When one of these is subpar (or a complete failure) the entire endeavor is compromised. Perhaps, if FOB created a song worth listening to one wouldn't be so keen to scrutinize the subsequent video.

Keep up the good work man.


Anonymous said...

wtf? i think this is bull...and that's all i have to say

Anonymous said...

wtf? i think this is bull...and that's all i have to say

julie. said...

i could take a really long time and prove basically everything this article said wrong, but i won't.

i'm just going to say that the only people that really know what the video was making fun of are the fans. if you're not a fan, you probably won't understand the jokes, other than the pete pictures.

and by the way, they assumptions you've made about all of them are very offending and you should at least try to figure out the stories behind what is going on before you diss on a lot of people's heroes, idols, etc.

everything you said was either wrong or over-exagerated.

the true fans know this and that's all fall out boy cares about. the video was for the fans.

Anonymous said...

Completely biased and untrue. You are looking WAY too far into these things, bud. Lay off.

Anonymous said...

You pretty much got the whole concept of this video wong.
The video isn't based on race or anything you said.
Try again.

Anonymous said...

wow you really should have looked into this before making such serious asumptions. most of the jokes were for the fans and people who aren't really into the band might not get them. but i promise you they were not tring to offend anyone on anyway with this song or video

raghda said...

The only thing this was missing was a giant "...Only not really" at the end.
This video was made for the fans more then anyone else. The more of a fan you are, the more you get it.
Maybe you should have gotten a non-bias opinion before you wrote an entire article about why you dislike a band. You just came of sounding extremely un-informed.

Anonymous said...

You're kidding, right? Because you are way off base on your "analysis" of this video--which is basically one long inside joke. If you haven't been a fan, or at least aware of the band, for a long time, you're not going to get it, and your reading of TAASIAAR plainly shows your ignorance. Please, take the time to learn the background before making assumptions.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the best laugh I've had all day, over analysing much?

hopelessly hopeful said...

WTF. You are REALLY overthinking it. There is NOTHING racial in that video ftw. Srsly, get a life.

hopelessly hopeful said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ox-es said...

seriously, if you would take a second to do the research behind the video, you'd see this video was meant for the fans and for no one else.

When I say for the fans... everything in that video was a cameo of past things we old school fall out boy fans miss.

Don't be hating my friend, the hip-hop community [which you aren't a part of] doesn't have a problem with the video, therefore you have no right to say it's offensive.

ps- who doesn't dream of extravagant things every once in a while

obviously you're trying to make some kind of name for yourself writing envious rants like this, don't try to put someone else down just because they're so talented, they made themselves known.

stay gold ponyboy. stay fucking gold.

Anonymous said...

i hate fall out boy, don't get me wrong, but i guess you didn't know that pete wentz is actually half black.

Imran said...

I really appreciate all the comments and feedback. I'd just like to say that I am not reviewing the song or giving some definitive word on what the video was intended to be. I'm simply reflecting on how it came off to me - yes I'm not a fall out boy fan or an expert on the band's history, but this video is being shown to a mass market, it isn't simply sent via secret e-mails to fans, so to argue that it's made for the fans is not entirely valid. they are obviously also attempting to market and promote their song, band and video to the masses. and for those who commented on me not understanding the subtlety of the lyrics: I most definitely read the lyrics and I completely understand the metaphor being employed. but I'm writing an essay on the video, and the song in a music video is only relevant in relation to the video - as colin pointed out above. perhaps the initial scene in the recording studio is an inside joke that I don't understand - but that's not really relevant. a million people will watch this video without being insiders either, and I'm simply reflecting on how that scene might impact their thoughts - to me it still comes off as "some real insecure white people shit" as The Village Voice noticed as well -
And simply because these stereotypes abound does not mean we should accept or promote them, it's the fact that they are so common, the fact that so many could watch a video and not even notice them that troubles me so much. when something like this becomes internalized it can be accidentally promoted - which I believe is the case. but I don't really care what Fall Out Boy really think about race, because they made a video that looks racist to me - and to a lot of other people as well. I still haven't seen an adequate defense of the actual video and particularly that initial scene, so it still comes off as offensive to me.

Anonymous said...

I think you looked past the fact that the whole video is meant to be a joke. It's not supposed to be taken seriously. They were poking fun at themselves.

Imran said...

thanks for the reply. i understand they are laughing at themselves as the black people laugh at them while they perform in the studio. but it's important to understand what exactly the joke is. to me it seems that the joke is fall out boy are trying to do a beat with a hip-hop producer even though they are emo/pop-punk. so they intentionally look as out of place as possible to underscore how much that isn't their "scene" and they know they may look ridiculous trying to do hip-hop. fair enough. except my main problem is what follows, and the reasoning behind why they don't fit in this scene. it would have been fine if it was just about the music being so different, but the 40 joke and subsequent newspaper headline about being thrown out of the hood makes implications about black people that is troublesome. it would be different if fall out boy where making fun of their fear of hip-hop, but here the fear is actually being justified since if you are too white you get thrown out and beat up.

Stephanie said...

I totally agree with this:

It looks like you're just trying too hard to hate Fall Out Boy or give other people a reason to hate them. From an academic point of view your argument is not credible and completely biased. Pete Wentz has a better thought process than you. This rant was a waste of my time.

bri said...

Just for everyones clarification, Fall out boy is NOT pop/punk, punk, rock, rap, classical, or even jazz. It is EMO. To some, emo is ok, but to others its not. Punk has been destroyed by emo and fall out boys are a clear example. To even mention sum-41 and fall out boy in the same sentence just doesnt make sense.

Anonymous said...

Actually the film clip is about how everybody seems to think the way life for them is :partying all night, hot-tubbing it up with gorgeous women...etc when really they're still a down-to-earth band who still know where they come from in the end. and maybe, yes, there is a reason pete wakes up without a shirt on, but that defeats the purpose

i dont see the point of you wasting youre valuable time bitching about a band that you dont even like...its called "build a bridge and get over it"....stop trying so hard to be something youre not!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this essay. That music video has bothered me since I first saw it but I couldn't put it into words as well as you have here. There's also a fight with a black "gang" and a white friend of the band getting killed by black vampires in the video for "A Little Less Sixteen Candles." Given that Andy Hurley was in Racetraitor I don't know how he condones this bullshit. And I am a fan of FOB - I get the jokes - and I still think they're invoking racist stereotypes with impunity. They need to find someone else to make their videos.

Anonymous said...

the director of their videos is alan ferguson. he's black, btw.

Anonymous said...

It's true when people say that this was a video made up of the collective inside jokes that their career has spawned, if you don't get the inside jokes, and don't follow the band that closely it is easy to see that you would come to the conclusions you did. At the end of the day though, you have seriously over-analysed a simple thing.

Depth of Focus Videographies: Radiohead / Bjork / Michael Jackson / Bowie