Monday, February 19, 2007

The Romance of Exoticism: John Legend "PDA"

We focus on the interesting concepts of intimacy and expression behind John Legend's latest video for "PDA"...


John Legend "PDA" (hi-quality link)

dir. by Neon

Why are foreign places always more romantic than our own? Most lovers may dream of Paris, but it's doubtful that Parisians themselves consider their own backyards the most romantic locales in the world. Beyond the adventure and appeal of unknown horizons, there is something more that draws us to exotic cultures and remote locations. On the one hand there is the privacy and excitement of being unrecognized, but that same anonymity allows for freer expressions of affection as well.

Philosopher Robert Solomon imagines love as the creation of new "worlds" between people, an environment composed of shared memories, words and emotions. Perhaps we seek out desert islands and cobblestone alleys to give face to our connections - to prove their worth and value by imprinting the physical world outside the bedroom. Though psychologists may argue over degrees of exhibitionist tendencies in human beings, we all require moments of public affection in order to feel confident in our valued place among humanity. Whether it be a concealed touch between a couple taking a walk, or an exuberant hug among friends at the airport, we participate in PDA's to feel connected to something outside ourselves.

There are also those moments when we might steal a kiss to intentionally impose our joy over others, or perhaps to feel safe when threatened in public. But John Legend's video deals more with the exhilarating freedom that can come with overflowing desire, which is inherently more about throwing caution to the wind than holding tight in fear. The artist sings "we just don't care," but there is intentionality to each choice that these couples make. The director highlights the differences among open and closed intimacy through differing film styles, locations and a contrast between native Brazilians and foreign tourists.


Legend's character carries a camera at all times in order to capture the moment permanently, and to share something private within the confines of the pictures. At the same time the need to videotape seems somewhat exhibitionist in itself, even when recording home movies. The younger couple, conversely, speed through the lanes of Rio De Janeiro in vivid color, without care for the longterm proof of their escapade. Instead they allow the streets, the markets and the onlookers to hold the memory. Both couples exercise their need to express, but Legend and his partner are portrayed as the more mature and experienced duo.

The younger pair are also native Brazilians, lovers who have yet to exhaust the romantic capabilities of their own hometown. They have yet to reach the stage of hotel rooms and videotapes that their counterparts have, but they don't really need that at this point. In this initial stage of romance they are still learning about each other and themselves (their homes as well), whereas the tourists have come to explore further corners of the love they have presumably known for some time.

The question remains whether our eventual need to hide away and suppress desire in public comes from social pressure or actual preference for secrecy. There is a different sensation in the move under the table that Legend makes as opposed to the one the younger male does openly. Yet if we eliminated the thrill one gets from doing what is considered "inappropriate", it's unclear which one we would ultimately prefer. Is there more truth in expressing in front of others what is traditionally shared privately? The bedroom scene, when the camera is set down, implies that perhaps the reason we enjoy intimacy is precisely because it is unseen and private - much like the vacation to a foreign place. There may be artificial mores and constraints that make the bedroom more exciting, but the differences between outside and inside are unavoidable.

But the final shots are of an encounter between the two sets of lovers in the open - one pair snapping photos of the other. There is a separate joy in the admiring of love, and also in the performing of affection. This seems to be associated predominantly with youth here, or at least with the beginnings of relationships. As we grow older, more accustomed to each other and our communities, we need to escape to new societies, or peer through an 8mm lens, in order to feel the same excitement of expression and show - we become disconnected in a way from ourselves and the world around us. It would be ideal if we could always hold onto the uninhibited freedom of those early emotions, but perhaps it is in the ability to contrast the two that we gain the greatest happiness. To know the rareness of what you have and cherish it for that reason seems preferable to blindly soaring through the ecstasies of grand emotion - but just barely.

1 comment:

Mr. Curiosity said...

Thanks, nice work here.

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