Sunday, February 20, 2005

TV: Video Mods

You never know when intimations of mortality will strike. Sometimes all it takes is a reminder that the entertainers of your youth are aging.

Any milestone will do. Over the holidays, a friend of the family said, “Did you know Dustin Hoffman turned 67 this year? Doesn’t that make you feel old?” I had to say that it didn’t, because Hoffman was always older than me. But when I heard Tom Cruise was throwing his 40th birthday party? That was a rude shock. Maverick and me, I thought we were gonna live forever.

The friend looked at me like I was nuts. I don’t know what she wanted. They were both in RAIN MAN.

Another sure way to feel old is when the next generation gets into something that is beyond your comprehension. I don’t mean grousing about how the kids’ music is too loud, or too fast, or too filthy. I mean something that your mind refuses to process.

Like this MTV2 show, in which music videos are recreated with characters from video games.

MTV was a year old when I started high school, which puts me in the last generation of people who could listen to a song and not automatically associate it with a predetermined set of images. (I came of age at an odd time. When I was a kid, black and white TVs and manual typewriters were common. People only five years younger than me regard those as relics.) Videos quickly became another part of the music experience. They may have stunted the imagination, but the best of them provided additional insight into the artists’ sensibilities.

The performers have no input on VIDEO MODS other than the music. Evanescence’s “Bring Me To Life” is one of those swooping rock songs that instantly fills me with high school-grade angst. Lead singer Amy Lee is a beautiful woman with a powerful voice, and in the original music video she climbs up the outside of a building clad only in a thin nightgown. It’s awesome. The VIDEO MODS version features dead-eyed CGI sprites with butterfly wings. I’m not a fan of the multiculti aerobics class vibe of Black Eyed Peas, but their video for “Shut Up” is a perfect hip-hop mini-musical. VIDEO MODS gives us a creepy alternate take using characters from LEISURE SUIT LARRY. In fact, every VIDEO MODS clip is creepy.

Does it bother the audience that the show is essentially an unpaid advertisement for video game companies, or are they so used to commercialization that they don’t notice or care? Are these impersonal videos a sign that younger people now regard music as a disposable product like any other? Or that they view the artists themselves as so plastic and unreal that they’re interchangeable with game characters? Or, even worse, that the simulacrums are just as real to them as Gwen Stefani is?

Of course, it’s entirely possible that the show isn’t that popular and that everyone who watches treats it as a joke. That may be the most telling way of revealing your age: by reading too much into things.