Pipe Wrench Fight

by Scott McLemee on November 3, 2008

Jerome Weeks points out a trend-in-formation: literal video, which is something like Situationism minus Marx plus YouTube:

It’s a form of satire that seems to work best with the more inflated, ’80s or ’90s pop-rock videos, the ones that were developed as little storytelling movies, even though the “movies” had little to do with the song itself or seemed patently pretentious, with or without the song. In short, there’s a profound disjuncture among the posturing twit-lead singer, what he’s supposedly singing about and what’s going on all around him. As they used to say about political photo-ops: It doesn’t matter what the candidate is saying, it’s the background he’s in front of and how he looks….

In a literal video, the lyrics provide a running description of what is happening onscreen — commentary that, as Jerome says, “repeatedly calls attention to (and calls into question) the video’s image choices, making them appear laughably random. Or it subverts any greater, intended import they might have by flatly describing the images and thus “grounding” or re-contextualizing them in a more self-consciously ‘down-to-earth’ matter, while actually presenting a wise-ass commentary on them.”

A good description, which I quote so that there is some filling in this entry before we go on to the next video.

Situ-speak might call this detournment, though Jerome suggests the British expression “taking the piss” instead.



Katherine Farmar 11.03.08 at 10:30 pm

I never noticed how inept the video for “Under The Bridge” was. Take away the evocative lyrics and it suddenly looks incredibly badly-put-together. It doesn’t even have the random verve of something like the “Total Eclipse of the Heart” video: it’s just… half-hearted and dull.

“Take On Me”, on the other hand, still looks good even when the lyrics are taking the mickey.


HH 11.03.08 at 10:38 pm

What next? Ringtone scholarship?


Dan Simon 11.03.08 at 11:43 pm

Actually, an original video–or even a specific original song–is unnecessary.


Anatoly Vorobey 11.03.08 at 11:44 pm

This isn’t the same thing, but I think Da Vinci’s Notebook‘s hilariously self-referential Title of This Song deserves to be mentioned here.


Cannoneo 11.04.08 at 1:21 am

Something about this irritates me intensely. The difference in craft and talent between the original artists and the smartass satirists is jarring. It unintentionally dignifies the originals by calling attention to their construction. You know what, scratch that. I think I could have gotten a good larf out of it, and perceived some respect on the part of the satirists, if I hadn’t read Weeks’s pompous art-installation description.


jb 11.04.08 at 1:39 am

We need more of these, and soon!


book/daddy 11.04.08 at 1:49 am

I detect the hurt feelings of a fan. I have great respect for U2, interviewed the Red Hot Chili Peppers on their first national tour when they didn’t take themselves so seriously, saw Tears for Fears in concert when they still did.

But none of these guys is going down in history for their music videos. That’s not their artistry. Emoting for a camera while lip-synching is not their great achievement. All this could vanish tomorrow and as long as someone could still play (some of) their music (or as long as the musicians themselves could still play (some of) their music), I’d listen.

As for the video artists involved, I’m sorry, but “Under the Bridge” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” are no landmarks, and it’s pretty plain that Tears for Fears thinks their own video is something of a joke. The one work I’m truly impressed with, actually, is “Take On Me” — mostly because, in this instance, A-ha’slyrics are so vague, so generic, so unrelated to what happens onscreen (“The thing that you say/Is it live or just to play /My worries away/You’re all the things I’ve got to remember/You shying away/I’ll be coming for you anyway”), that the creators of that complicated little piece of animation get my real admiration: They started with almost nothing to work with in terms of visual content except a pretty band that had a tune with great hooks. And they produced all this stuff about a diner, battling motorcyclists and a trans-dimensional romance. Packed a lot into a song, whereas the other videos mostly drain things out of them. I hope I never see these images of U2 again when I hear their music.


Ahistoricality 11.04.08 at 3:22 am

The Austin Lounge Lizards “The Grunge Song” does the same thing in simply musical form. As Tom Paxton said, some people you don’t need to satirize; you just quote ’em.


Michael Turner 11.04.08 at 3:55 am

“An optional lead-in quote either from the blog entry or one of the comments above, sometimes blockquoted, sometimes double-quoted, sometimes both even though he suspects that the Chicago Manual of Style says something about how that’s redundant or misleading.”

Then he comments on the quote, rather acerbically, trying to balance high and low styles but often as not they tumble to the floor like a some word-juggler’s stumbling attempt to assemble a surrealistic image in the reader’s mind. There’s often some wrap-up sentence fragment that, bathetically, sheepishly, acknowledges the mess for what is, in all-too-obvious hopes that the self-deprecation will carry the day.

Seemingly undeterred, if anything seemingly plucky, but actually increasingly desperate and fearful of being misinterpreted, he either riffs on some other surrealistic imagery inspired by the inanity of the quote, or he adopts something like the tone of the passage quoted, carrying on the parody in that mode. However,in his attempt to reign in the more obvious sarcasm, he produces a paragraph whose humor might go over the heads of some in the audience (“‘Audience’?! As if ….”)

Optional final paragraph, either with decidedly more overt humor to make it clear that the above was meant as a joke, or, if he’s tired and can’t reach that low, he reaches higher (even more self-defeatingly), and begins with “Seriously, ….”. He realizes only later, when someone else points it out to Captain Obvious, that there’s no really no point in arguing with the person quoted.

Seriously, he says, partially breaking with form (after all, the above was supposed to be the final paragraph, oh wait, that’s too obvious to comment on): I think everybody has missed something here. This new culture-jamming genre is also spoofing the “bonus content” you get on DVDs these days, where the directors, writers or cinematographers often review the entire film or TV episode, and are sometimes reduced to remarks like “he looks at the camera” just to fill time. The commentary seem to me aimed more at would-be industry participants – director-wannabes, cinematographer wannabes, film bores, etc. — than at professionals in the industry.


Michael Turner 11.04.08 at 3:56 am

Despairing note correcting a typo in the above.


F 11.04.08 at 4:57 am

Or “Nice F***ing Ballad” by Anthrax


Cannoneo 11.04.08 at 5:11 am

Thinking of “Take on Me,” isn’t all Euro-pop/rock already busting on its generic source, by reproducing anglo-american lyric conventions with such apparent bland ease? Think Scorpions, Ace of Base, and, the greatest of all, Europe’s “The Final Countdown.”

book/daddy, I’m not mistaking the music videos for great art (though the A-Ha vid is all you said it is and more), I just don’t like seeing professionally crafted pop culture subjected to tortured critical prose like Weeks’s.


notsneaky 11.04.08 at 5:47 am

“seemed patently pretentious,”

Wait, is that in reference to the videos, or the constipated, inane, hip-in-the-worst -sense-of-that-word, over-analysis which is trying way too hard to thumb its snotty nose at an essentially trivial subject ? Come on, 80’s and 90’s pop-rock videos are innocent fun and a guilty pleasure all in one which is what makes them so special. If you think that you (general “you”) are being “subversive” by taking them way to seriously you got yourself a serious problem. You could use some “grounding” yourself there. I’ll take a “posturing twit-lead singer” over a posturing twit artjournaleest, please.

Anyway, if you wanna see irony done right, then look no farther than this classic video


notsneaky 11.04.08 at 5:50 am

And anyway, didn’t Mike Judge do this like more than 10 years ago, in a much funnier, intelligent, and yes, even sensitive way?


Michael Turner 11.04.08 at 9:17 am

Après this, shake all envelopes that come in the mail, and hold them up to the light to check for weaponized anthrax. (The disease, not the band.)


Katherine 11.04.08 at 10:49 am

Oh yawn. All these two showed me is that the original songs, and singers, are way better than the piss-takes. The Under The Bridge video is not a particularly interesting video, but I can’t really see what is so piss-take-able. The Take Me On video, on the other hand, still looks brilliant.


Uncle Kvetch 11.04.08 at 12:36 pm

I’m inclined to agree with notsneaky here…this has been done before, and better, and much less pretentiously, by other people. Mike Judge comes to mind, but the fact is that the best take on “Take on Me” was Family Guy’s, which walks the line between “taking the piss” and “loving tribute” so beautifully that it might actually deserve to be called “subversive.”

And I just love the way Chris dances.


Uncle Kvetch 11.04.08 at 12:40 pm

Oh…and didn’t VH1’s long-running “Pop-Up Videos” pretty much do the exact same thing that we’re talking about here, but without the annoying veneer of hipster-intellectual thumbsucking?


Lex 11.04.08 at 12:55 pm

There was once a horrible programme on the BBC, called something like “Video Jukebox” and presented by the kind of ghastly DJ who can only now be seen as a self-parody, in which classics of the 60s and 70s were treated to visuals that were as appallingly low-budget and literal as anyone could want. Arthur Brown’s “Fire” accompanying two twits running round a field between lines of – you guessed it – fire! The fact that these crimes against taste were done without irony then should not excuse their ironic repetition now.


Iron Lungfish 11.04.08 at 1:01 pm

didn’t VH1’s long-running “Pop-Up Videos” pretty much do the exact same thing that we’re talking about here, but without the annoying veneer of hipster-intellectual thumbsucking?

The entire point of Pop-Up Video was hipster-intellectual thumbsucking.


Uncle Kvetch 11.04.08 at 1:12 pm

The entire point of Pop-Up Video was hipster-intellectual thumbsucking.

Perhaps–but I don’t remember the good names of Situationism and Karl Marx getting sullied in the process, IL. 8^)


jholbo 11.04.08 at 1:21 pm

Interesting. Someone has done a ‘literal Rick Roll’ version:


Now the paradox is: if I’m lying, and that link takes you to a plain old Rick video, then you will have been literally Rick-rolled. On the other hand, if it indeed takes you to a humorous literal version of the video, then you won’t have been literally Rick-rolled, but metaphorically Rick-rolled by virtue of the literal nature of the rolling.


Lex 11.04.08 at 1:32 pm

How can you be metaphorically rickrolled? Is that like someone actually telling you the right way to get to the station, but only by mistake?


Spamzatura 11.04.08 at 2:02 pm

It’s more like meta-hipster intellectual thumbsucking, actually. Either that or hipster-intellectual meta-thumbsucking. I always get those two confused.


magistra 11.04.08 at 2:27 pm

Let me add to the chorus of ‘been done before and better’ the classic takedown of pretentious 1980s pop videos from Not the Nine O’Clock News: Nice Video, Shame about the Song”


book/daddy 11.04.08 at 2:55 pm

Um, sorry, magistra and Uncle Kvetch, but you’ve missed a basic point here: “Nice Video, Shame about the Song” and the Family Guy episode are fundamentally different from the literal videos — the examples you cite are parodies of pretentious pop videos created by the professional staff of a TV show, something of a standard device for TV comedy, it would seem. Unlike the literal videos, they don’t use the videos themselves to highlight their own. You’re just lumping them all together as “pop video parodies.”

As for Mr. Turner: I sense a kindred spirit, though one that would never acknowledge such a horror. Displaying a talent for meta-commentary will often find itself running down an ad infinitum rat hole. That is, you model your comment on mine in order to exemplify my failings — the archness, the high-and-low shiftings, the display of pop snottery, etc. etc. — embodying them yourself but making it clear to us that what distinguishes you is you know you’re doing it, which means you can do it much better. You have self-knowledge, unlike Weeks. Not such a redeeming factor, in the end: Anything can be subjected to such an approach, leaving us with nothing but attitude. But I take your point about “culture jamming.” Good catch, hadn’t thought of that predecessor.

As for Cannoneo: If you’d actually gone to Weeks’ site and read the original post instead of, apparently, just firing away at Scott, you would have learned that I am Jerome Weeks. It doesn’t take a great deal of textual examination: Scott refers to Jerome Weeks, never mentions book/daddy, but clicking on his links takes you to the book/daddy blog.


Lex 11.04.08 at 3:08 pm

No, I’m Jerome Weeks!


Lex 11.04.08 at 3:09 pm

… and so is my wife!


J Thomas 11.04.08 at 3:20 pm

Lex, I thought you were Spartacus.


Lex 11.04.08 at 3:47 pm

Nah, just call me Brian.

Now that’s a topping music video! All together now…

Always look on the bri-ight side of life, dee-doo, dee-diddly-diddly-doo


book/daddy 11.04.08 at 3:48 pm

No, Lex, I … am your father.


[Sound of inconclusive light saber battle.]


Scott McLemee 11.04.08 at 4:12 pm

All the free-floating cultural anxiety about “hipsters” and their “irony” this post unwittingly unleashed is a distraction from the deeper issue, which is that A-Ha is sacred and must not be mocked. (The very name evokes a Saul-on-the-road-to-Tarsus moment.) The fact that the thread has ended up in archetypal swords-and-sandals and Star Wars territory just proves it.


Lex 11.04.08 at 4:29 pm

Ooh, that’s good. You win.


Lex 11.04.08 at 4:30 pm

p.s. can I have my hand back now?


book/daddy 11.04.08 at 4:39 pm

Ah, good. Glad you picked up on that, Lex. Despite what Scott says, I did intend my Star Wars reference as a threat to lop off your hand.

Next up: I’m setting out to get all those golden rings back.


Anatoly Vorobey 11.04.08 at 5:02 pm

#10: brilliant! Reminded me of this classic.


Cannoneo 11.04.08 at 6:22 pm

Guilty as charged, Mr. bookWeeksdaddy. I commented only on what Scott provided. A strong reaction probably demands further investigation, but as Scott suggests, when someone messes with A-Ha, you shoot first and click links later. At least I’ve been shamed into discovering your nifty web site. But still … you attach scare-quotes and a parenthetical mock-defense to the term “deconstructs,” for double-meta-pity’s sake.


book/daddy 11.04.08 at 7:53 pm

Mr. Vorobey:

I wonder when Donald Moser wrote “Story” because it sure reads like a direct borrowing from Donald Barthelme’s famous story, “Sentence” from 1970.


Scott McLemee 11.04.08 at 9:58 pm

New category: video that almost begs to be made literal.


book/daddy 11.04.08 at 10:14 pm

Hate to say this, fellow hipsters and hipster-haters, but we all got beaten to the point by Rolling Stone, which did a story on Dustin McLean (aka Dusto McNeato, the auteur behind the literal “Take on Me” and “Head Over Heels”) two weeks ago. Even MSNBC did a story on him.

Oh, the irony, being blindsided by pop culture irony.

Take heart, though, if you really loved the lyrics to “Take on Me,” as I certainly did. You can now buy “Pipe Wrench Fight” on a t-shirt or mousepad>


Michael Turner 11.05.08 at 2:37 pm

… you model your comment on mine in order to exemplify my failings—the archness, the high-and-low shiftings, the display of pop snottery, etc. etc.—

Have you ever listened to Talking Heads’ Burning Down the House, the Dictionaraoke version? It’s so much better than the original. Well, that’s my opinion, anyway.

embodying them yourself but making it clear to us that what distinguishes you is you know you’re doing it,

But I can’t make up my mind whether the claymation version of “Leave Britney Alone!” is better than the original. What do you think?

which means you can do it much better.

You know what I think might be perfect for a literal treatment? The opening-credits part of The Sopranos. I watched the Bonus Content part of a DVD where the people who did it said it was just like shooting a music video. The only problem I see is whether you use the old version that still has the World Trade Center, or the one where they cut that part out. You don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, y’know.

Oh, I’m sorry, we’re you saying something? I wasn’t listening.


book/daddy 11.06.08 at 1:19 am


You really don’t have any other outlets for this stuff, do you? None that would really appreciate it, anyway.

Because the bitterness just shines.

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