Video provocation just isn't what it used to be

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      The more elderly among the Straight’s readership will no doubt recall the furor over Madonna’s “Justify My Love”. Way back in 1990, MTV and MuchMusic both declined to play the song’s video, an artsy black-and-white short featuring some vague, blurry suggestions of sadomasochism and bisexuality. Viewed through the lens of 2009, it seems scarcely possible that a) there was a time when MTV and MuchMusic broadcast music videos, and b) a clip showing a few cross-dressers and a blink-and-you’d-miss-it flash of nipple would be considered too racy for cable television. You’ll see more tits and ass in an average episode of Co-Ed Confidential or Californication than Madge has put on display in her entire career. And good luck finding anything on MTV these days that isn’t a third-rate, entirely scripted “reality” show about some privileged assholes you’ll never be convinced to care about.

      Nineteen years later, the Internet has become the primary medium for disseminating music videos, along with just about everything else. And as the makers of “2 Girls 1 Cup” discovered, you can post pretty much anything on the Internet with impunity, and people will watch it.

      Even if MTV still showed music videos, it likely wouldn’t air the one for “Pussy”, the latest single from German shock-rock veterans Rammstein. Shot by Jonas Akerlund (a Swede who, incidentally, has also made three Madonna videos), the “Pussy” clip is so jaw-droppingly nasty that the band opted to post the uncensored version on a porn site. While the song lampoons stereotypical notions of German male sexuality (sample lyric: “Steck bratwurst in dein sauerkraut!”), the video satirizes the conventions of pornography. But it doesn’t stop there. Instead, it crosses the line and becomes the very thing it is parodying: all six members of the band cavort with various schwanzlutscher until the inevitable climax; the whole thing ends with singer Till Lindemann blitzing some anonymous blond’s bunker with his Teutonic wad. (It bears mentioning that the real grunt work—money shots and all—was done by stunt cocks.)

      A blatant bid for attention from an act whose star had faded since its late ’90s heyday? Sure, but it worked. With “Pussy” as the lead single, Rammstein’s latest album, Liebe ist für alle da, charted in 24 countries, hitting the number-one spot in eight of them. It even peaked at number 13 on the Billboard 200, making it the biggest stateside success in the band’s 15-year history.

      Rammstein’s fellow Columbine-era scapegoat, Marilyn Manson, should be so lucky. His career is on a downhill slide into the shitter, with his latest album, The High End of Low, starting strong but dropping off the rock ’n’ roll radar within a week of its release. The once-mighty Manson has become a Gollum-like creature, grasping to regain his rightful place as pop culture’s reigning bogeyman. In a May interview, Time’s Lauren E. Bohn asked Manson about his transparent need to shock people. In a refreshing moment of honesty, the singer admitted: “Yeah, I understand that it seems like I’m trying too hard.”

      His latest attempt is the video for “Running to the Edge of the World”. It’s a lacklustre power ballad, but the clip tries to punch it up (so to speak) with a dash of explicit violence. For its first five minutes, the video shows Manson lip-synching through a sheer curtain, but we get glimpses of a young blond woman sitting in a hotel bathroom, clad only in her underwear. Then, in a move that makes Chris Brown look like a contender for the title of Gentleman of the Year, Manson winds up and delivers a right hook to her face. And then another one. And another. By the end of the song, the woman is naked and unconscious (or dead), and her bloodied body has been dumped in the bathtub.

      It’s surely no coincidence that the girl in the video looks a lot like Manson’s ex, Evan Rachel Wood, and you don’t have to be Carl Jung to figure out that the singer is sending his former girlfriend a message. The implicit statement to the rest of us is equally hard to miss: if things don’t work out with a woman, a man has the right to take his frustrations out on her with his fists. The relationship’s failure is all her fault, after all (a great catch like Sméagol—er, Manson—couldn’t possibly be to blame, right?), so she has brought the brutality on herself. It’s a lesson straight out of Caveman Etiquette 101, and it doesn’t make Manson look like the challenging, button-pushing artist he so desperately wants to be, and which Madonna most certainly was back in 1990. Instead, it unmasks him as the colossal douchebag and shameless attention whore that he really is.

      Do you suppose if we all just ignore him from now on he’ll go away? Probably not, but let’s give it a shot, shall we?