by Keidra Chaney
Here we go again with Mastodon and disappointment.
The last time I wrote about Mastodon was last year, when the band sold a stunningly offensive shirt for Thanksgiving, and then proceeded to defend themselves against charges of racism and sexism by trotting out the old “satire” softshoe. Not gonna rehash that again, you can read the earlier post. Well, it’s fall, and Mastodon apparently likes to celebrate the season by once again courting controversy with their fans that are women or people of color.
This time, it’s for their video The Motherload, where a 90’s style metal video is intercut with slow motion scenes of twerking video vixens, who then have a twerk party/battle in the middle of the video. I’m not kidding. White people “discovering” twerking was a real pox on pop culture, I have to tell you.
Since I am doing a moratorium on online pop culture think pieces, I found out about this video fairly later than most people, and I still haven’t read anything about it. I don’t know what it means to say this, but I wasn’t nearly as offended by this video as I was by the t-shirt last year. The “satire” defense that they were claiming in response to the t-shirt could actually be used here and I could kind of buy it, with a bunch of twerking dancers basically bursting into a paint-by-numbers metal video and making it their own.
The big issue here, to me, is how the video was shot. Even as the women are “taking over” the Mastodon video, they are never the true focus, not as actual people. The video still presents them as foreign objects. Their butts are the butt of the joke, essentially. The whole point of the video is “one of these things is not like the other.” They’re not presented as a group of women taking over the video shoot to throw their own fun party, but as visual aberrations, things that don’t belong (why is this twerking butt next to this wrinkly old druid?)
The “random twerking butt as punchline” is a popular trope in music videos these days. Let’s go down the list: Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Lily Allen, the list goes on. In order for the video to “work” (I am saying this with air quotes.) the twerking has to be displayed with the same combination of titallation and fetishization as most other mainstream videos that feature twerking. (There is an actual shot where one of the druid dudes seems to be cowering in fear at the onslaught of twerk.)
So I’m not taking Mastodon off the hook for this video, or putting any blame on the dancers that participated (it’s a gig, and they did appear to be having a great time) but saying that the video is just another example of an ongoing trend that exploits twerking – and the bodies of (mostly) women of color – as props.
Back in the day, I wrote a piece for Bitch about being a black woman into metal and I said this:
But metal did empower me. Because the music was so far away from my experience, it didn’t place definitions on who I was or could be as a black female. When I listened to Metallica or Corrosion of Conformity, I wasn’t a “bitch,” a “ho,” or some anonymous jiggling booty in a rap video; I wasn’t a woman who needed rescuing by some dream-date pop star. I was someone who felt weird in high school, who wanted a place to belong.
Well hell, if this is what it means to finally be seen and acknowledged within metal, I’d rather just not be seen.
I’m going to chalk this video up to another example of lazy “satire” (As a shorthand, I like to call it Family Guy Satire) courtesy of Mastodon and brace myself for their next round of potential offense around this time next year. See you then.
I just had a horrible realization. We’re currently in the phase of twerking that rapping was in during the 1980s. You know, when every PSA, cable access show, local TV ad etc had to have a “funny rap” to “connect with the kids”.
You know, some Ted Danson-looking asshole in dad jeans and Reeboks, standing in front of a plastic hibiscus, accompanied by the drum machine preset “RAP01” going “My name is Jeff Whiteguy and I’m here to say/ if you’re looking for outstanding deals on bedroom furniture you’d better come my way”.
I have no idea what the meaning of the Mastodon video is. At first I thought the director was going for some kind of “pagan rituals” theme. Many pagan rituals were focused on fertility, and thus women with ample butts (Venus of Willendorf would out-butt any of these skinny waifs). The faun-looking guy would fit into that theme perfectly. I thought the point was sort of “Hey, this new thing? It’s actually an old thing!” But then the druids disappeared and it just turned into twerking-to-metal-for-no-reason.
You wrote: “They’re not presented as a group of women taking over the video shoot to throw their own fun party”.
When they first appear in the video, I agree. In the latter half of the video, I strongly disagree, I thought that was exactly what they were meant to be doing. They stand in front of the band, obscuring them completely, interact only with each other, and seem to have a good time. They are not dancing FOR the band, or even TO the band. They look like they are twerking DESPITE the band.
Imagine the same basic setup (scantily clad women start dancing while The Guys are playing) in a Mötley Crüe or Van Halen video and you’ll see what I mean. These aren’t malnourished, subjugated models, gyrating patent leather crotches in the direction of David Lee Roth for a few bucks. If anything, they look tougher than the band. Quite a lot tougher.
So, given the premise “white artist video with twerking”, I find the execution of this the least offensive one yet. That they are mostly WoC is a good thing, maybe? Would it be better if they had hired white twerkers? Then we’d be talking about appropriation instead. And quite possibly how bad the twerking was.
I still don’t understand why the director wanted twerking in this video, so from that perspective your point about them being there for titillation and fetishization stands. But to be honest, I’d rather watch twerking than grainy slow-mo druids being Ancient And Mysterious. It is just too close to Spinal Tap. Maybe we can organize a cultural exchange program? Kanye and Diddy get wrinkly druids, and metal bands get twerkers.
BONUS MUSINGS: I think the offensive thanksgiving T-shirt works very well as political satire. It reminds me of Winston Smith, they guy who did a lot of collages for Dead Kennedys. He’s often juxtaposing classic Americana with horrible realism, like the perfect 1950s mother feeding her baby cruise missiles.
It works (IMHO) exactly because it is so offensive. The clip art simplicity, the “sexy injun princess” (reminiscent of those awful Halloween costumes), the bearded alpha-male super-macho pilgrim; it IS offensive, but it is obvious where the sympathy lies. It wouldn’t have been effective if it wasn’t so horrible. And it would also be less effective if it was more realistic.