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.