Friday, August 23, 2013

The Mind Your Manners Video & Review

by stip

We have our first video from Lightning Bolt (for Mind Your Manners), and it tells us quite a bit about how the band interprets the song (and possibly acts as a guide for how to understand the album).  Someone on the Red Mosquito message board (Farmer John) described it as the love child of Do the Evolution and The Fixer videos, and that’s a pretty good bumper sticker description of the video.  We have the images of a collapsing civilization that was the hallmark of the DTE animation (although much of this is actual film footage, underscoring the severity of what’s at stake) with the silly rock star theatrics of The Fixer.  Whether or not they fit together is up to the viewer, although I’ll speculate in a minute as to why they may have tried to merge them together.

My initial impression of the song Mind Your Manners was that it was an anti-religious screed (given the opening ‘I found myself believing that I needed God’ and the chorus it isn’t hard to see why), but it seemed like there was a deeper, more interesting message hovering just below the surface, and it comes to the fore in the visuals of the video. This is not a song about religion in the ‘isn’t organized religion horrible’ sense. Religious hypocrisy is too easy a target to be all that compelling.  It is instead a song about learning to see what is happening to the world around us, and being prepared to take steps to do something about. In fact, most of the religious imagery in the video has nothing to do with churches.

Instead we’re given a series of occasionally striking, occasionally subtle, occasionally heavy handed visual representations of a world collapsing in on itself.  Often the first appearance is animated, but then we’re given the real thing to remind us that this is actually happening.
  • Tidal waves, floods forest fires, floods, avalanches, sun blasted deserts where there used to be trees, tornadoes,
  • War (bombs, tanks, gunfire)
  • Pollution, smoke stacks, oil spills,  (animated, and real), poisoned air (the statue of liberty in a gas mask--a nice shot at America’s failure to lead on environmental issues))
  • Greed (the printing presses)
  • Democracy (or the United States) in chains (the barbed wire imagery on the flag)
  • The lightning bolt striking the puritanical looking figure (the rapture or a comment on hypocrisy. both?)
  • Hour glasses counting down the time we have left

This is all framed by the 1960s PSA video on manners, and it sheds light on the pre-chorus.  If this is the world around us why aren’t we howling with outrage.  Why are our problems marginalized, diminished, if they are even talked about at all? How often did impending environmental collapse or the serious structural weaknesses in the US economy come up during the 2012 election?  Why can’t our political and corporate leaders actually address what is at stake?  Why isn’t the declining state of our civilization an issue given the gravity it deserves?  Because people in power fear disruption. Disrupting the status quo.  Disrupting their ability to get elected Disrupting their legitimacy.  Even if the emperor has no clothes, as the story teaches us, it’s rude to point that out. Mind your manners.

So where does the religion come in?  There is plenty of religious imagery in the video--the lost soul stumbling through the woods (a fairly traditional metaphor for spiritual striving), the ascension up to heaven, escaping this tortured world, being directed by God (who flicks the pilgrim onto the cloud and sends him back--there is no real agency from the seeker). This song is a critique of the idea of theodicy--the belief that this is the best of all possible worlds, that the problems that exist are beyond us, and that attempts to deal with them will just make things worse. Therefore, they aren’t our problem and we are no longer morally obligated to deal with them.  It’s a philosophy of passivity. Originally this is a religious concept, but the idea can be easily appropriated by free market fundamentalists, social Darwinists, or anyone who argues that we lack the ability to DO something about the world.  And fuck it. It hardly matters anyway. As long as your soul is squared away with God it’ll all work out all right for YOU in the end.

But what if that’s wrong. What if we can do better?  What if we HAVE to? In the video, god kicks the ascending man out of heaven and back down to Earth. He’s stuck here. Trapped. For better or worse. So he might as well try and make it a place he can live in.   And so during the second chorus we are confronted with images of destruction reversing itself. If we stop accepting we can do ‘something else’.

This is not the work of heroes.  This is a project anyone and everyone has to engage. And so while the rock star cheesiness is in the video in part because it’s playful (do you really think Danny Clinch included that because he thinks it looks cool?), and in part as a juxtaposition with how serious the problems that face us are.  But I think it may also be meant to signify that there aren’t heroes that are going to make this better. There aren’t 20 people that are going to sit down in a room and solve our problems.  Nor is it enough for some celebrity to draw attention to these things, since in the end a celebrity is just some silhouetted asshole jumping up and down in front of a blue screen. After all, we frequently get this footage from within a TV in the video, implying that we’re passively being dictated to, or that being a spectator is not enough.   If the world is going to save itself, we’re going to have to roll up our sleeves, all of us, and get to work.


Director: Danny Clinch
Producer: Lindha Narvaez
DP: Vance Burberry
Editor: Grant James, Paul Greenhouse
Visual Effects: S77
Animation: Andy Smetanka
Color: Marshall Plante
Production Company: Milkt Films


Words: Eddie Vedder
Music: Mike McCready