Michael, Michael, Michael… why the male privilege?

Posted in music video, Rant, Unsung Feature by Jen on December 22, 2009

Oh, Michael. It’s not that your name has a legacy of royalty. Nope, not that. It’s not that you are the cutest big band singer, and quite possibly the hottest crooner to ever walk this Earth (ok, except for Jakob Dylan, but I digress). It’s not even that you are dating an Argentine actress and model who is 12 years your junior. I love your voice, I love your songs, you’re easy on the eyes… you really have it all.  But that video… oh, Michael, that video. It just, let’s say, enrages me. Let me backtrack and explain a little more thoroughly what I am talking about here.

Crazy Love, Michael Buble’s new album, hit the stores in October 2009. Finally aware of the release of a much anticipated record, I awaited his soft voice in tunes that had earlier been graced by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Brook Benton, Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison and others. Between his caressing of notes with his vocal chords and his charming looks, this man is a feast for the senses. Therein lies the pleasure of the modern art of the music video. So far so good, and his track record made me believe that I was safe clicking on the new audiovisual Youtube link. Previously, I had always loved his videos. The video for “Home” showcased his girlfriend at the time in a story of how much he misses her, and the one for “Everything” was absolutely adorable. However, the one for my favorite track of the new album, “Haven’t met you yet”, not so much.

The video takes place at a grocery store, or as highlighted by the sign above the door, a market. This already gives us a hint of what the video will be about: Michael shopping for something, in this case, a woman. The analogy of groceries/commodities/you name it with a human being, especially of the female denomination provides, at the outset, the sense that something problematic is about to take place. The opening sequence, right after the establishing shot, shows a succession of: bananas, hands, cream puffs, yogurt and melons. Ok, call me dirty, but it is really not too hard to see the sexual implications of all this. To add insult to injury, as Michael’s soft voice lulls us with the lyrics “I’m not surprised, not everything lasts”, Michael shops in the frozen foods section, and later his video features a store clerk pricing canned goods. As his 22 year-old girlfriend enters the frame, also grabbing something from the freezer, the chilling message I take away from these images has to do with preserving looks, avoiding ageing and being frozen in time. All that matters in this market is to have the most appealing packaging, to be appealing. As the butcher wields his knife, we are introduced to the idea that this store really is a meat market.

While Michael waltzes down one of the aisles with a giant phallus, and other men blow on theirs (trumpets and other miscellaneous instruments), we are reminded of who really reigns supreme in this diegetic world. As the store patrons dance unprompted, confetti and all, the heteronormative patriarchy crucial to musicals of the 1950’s resurfaces in this modern context, one in which the male lead can sing big band music wearing sneakers. This patriarch, one that stands in all his Canadian whiteness, has conquered the Latin American woman, the locus of exoticism that has no other purpose in life than to turn herself over to the colonial power. Even the end of the video cannot alleviate this strong message. When Michael ‘wakes up’ from his musical reverie, he sees his dream woman entering the store. Firstly, the ability to conjure up the female he has imagined places him at a prime position as a creator, or somebody who, much like Scottie in Vertigo, can ‘make’ a woman exactly how he wants her. Secondly, her lack of agency throughout the whole video (he is the one speaking and singing, and she is not able to even mimic the sound of a word) also plays into this male dominated diegesis. And finally, her entrance into the store suggests that the place of the market, in which the female is a commodity, is simply inescapable.

What Buble’s video tells us, whether we like it or not, is that male privilege, money and fame can buy everything, maybe even a young, sought after female actress and model. I wish he would remember that Beatles cover he reprised in his 2005 album It’s Time. As much as you want to believe the contrary, the old adage still holds true: money CAN’T buy you love.


Graphically Challenged: Why Covers do Matter

Posted in Books, Unsung Feature by Joie on December 8, 2008


Left (Design: David Pearson), Right (Design: Ralph Steadman)


Better famously known through its abridged snippets scattered among the master theses and PhD dissertations in collegiate dungeons around the world, the Ur-essay of all aesthetic manifestos still retains is ever mystical aura. A perpetually renewable source of enlightenment, Walter Benjamin, as pop historian Howard Hampton, rightfully notes, “has become become a convenient, all-points totem, one who blessing and validation are sought through the offerings of a host of supplicants…in this shopworn, once-upon-a-time-academe form, he stands for an indivisible synthesis of blissful disenchantment and unshaken theoretical faith.” Despite Benjamin’s dying belief that the age of Fascist fetishization has passed, that we should acquire a richer visual literacy unfettered by commerce and prestige, he couldn’t have imagined the marketing battle between publishing rivals for his 1935’s “Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility (a second, much longer variant from the famous, widely circulating first edition, “…Age of Mechanical Reproduction).

Two editions released and refurnished this year, conspicuously with dissimilar translations in each, but ultimately (over)determined by their physical allure, their pulpy facade vulnerably exposed to the discerning consumer. Which book will be adopted, which book will be put to sleep in the inventory storeroom?

Intellectually-speaking, means I’m here for the “official” version (the right side, by Harvard University Press), this newly extended essay (“Reproducibility”) ventures into more prodigious discussion of film as a medium that can liberate art from its confined spaces to even more confining spaces, from museums to bedrooms, from Dennis Hopper to Joe the Plumber. Despite its fawning, tasteful cover, I’m sold only because it will bear me future fruits of critical rigor, as it attempts to say something about the insidious nature of repetition with the floating cartoon heads of the dead Frankfurt bookworm.  Thanks to Kevin from HUP for pointing out that the cover art was an original from Ralph Steadman, known for his collaborations with Hunter S. Thompson.

To the left side is something else altogether, a dilapidated curiosity shop that rings true to its title, a familiar version, like a baby blanket, I’ve encountered so many times in all my undergraduate classes. Yet, it keeps me coming for more, with the outside matching the thematic aspirations of its insides. Radical to the end, old-fashioned only by appearance, the design (for “Reproduction”) captures the author as a brand, the modern equivalent of aura, a work of art itself thanks to the printing revolution. Replicating the experience of reading itself, as the same book is multiplied in the mind as many, the trompe-l’oeil of a cover unveils the material act of holding a book, with its stubborn dimensions and the endless row of spines awaiting at the library shelves. It thrives on minimalist simplicity and renews the reader’s interest in the cosmopolitan writer’s prismatic observations, contradictory projections, and his weary, utopian voice, alive through the incantation of reading, albeit still full of glory and melancholy.

Penguin Series

Penguin's Great Ideas Series, all covers designed by David Pearson

Like many unsung anti-heroes of any industry, the cover designer’s work exhibits the same fate as Poe’s purloined letter, open to the world, but everyone only noticing the “author,” (the director) the one whose existence rests on a prominent name, horizontally slashed on the surface. The success of one does not mark the success of the other, but the failure of either will lead both to the trenches of obscurity. In a parallel manner, taking a quick browse through the Criterion Collection yields an even more difficult decision. Since the auteur mantle is already a given, the real question lies in the search for the other auteur, literally, the winning poster child on the DVD.

In this post, my initial interest of these two books, sharing the same author, but lacking identical appeal, will now funnel down to a self-motivated promotion of graphic extraordinaire, industry-secret typographer, David Pearson, who is the executive designer of the Penguin Classic branch, which includes this new edition of Benjamin’s essay in novella form as part of their GREAT IDEAS series. Surgically beautifying the so-called masterworks of literature, Pearson may have already carved his own legacy among the great morticians of cultural remains.

Great Books Series

Great Books Series

History of Logos

History of Logos