Filed under: art, Music, Philosophy, Rock | Tags: Agamben, Heidegger, Icons, Imagery, Music, Nietzsche, Political Emancipation, Potentiality, Religion, Rock, The Coming Community, The Open, TV on the Radio, TVOTR, Video
Among the things that make TV on the Radio’s music so rewarding to listen to are the currents of intense, uncontanable energy running through it. In my opinon, their music’s the closest thing that comes to an original, radical intervention in contemporary Ameican popular music.
Daniel Hernandez points out the band’s merits as an outfit who infuse the cosmic into the everyday. He’s right. I would add to his point that TVOTR do so in a way that George Clinton and the Digital Underground (who made no secret of their desire to emulate Clinton’s stylings) were only hinting at with their experiments in playing with images, figures, and live performance.
TVOTR’s video for “Golden Age” attests to an adroit sense of production, fusing visual, lyrical, and musical elements and leaving a thematically potent package of insights left at the viewer’s door. It’s also a philosophic treasure trove. View the video a few times and you just have to wonder whether the band’s been reading Giorgio Agamben, Nietzsche, the Judeao-Christian Bible, and watching the Care Bears as sources for useful references. A few examples:
- Scenery evoking, among other references, the revelation atop Mount Sinai, the transfiguration of Christ, and the mountain retreat where Nietzsche first introduces us to Zarathustra: These are elevated spaces where its dwellers are transformed by a gift or bestowal of some sort: of the law, glory, wisdom, or light. We can also say that these are sites of experiences that occur at the limits of experience, language, and comprehension. In the case of the video, it is quite possible to interpret it as taking place in a state of exception.
- The use of halos and auras as indicators of potentiality, the exposition of identity-shifting figures over and against the figures of sovereign power (the police), and the use of figures fusing the animal and human are found in various works of Giorgio Agamben: Not to belabor the point, but reading The Coming Community, Homo Sacer, and The Open opens up a sensitivity to these themes being played out in cultural products, music videos included. The nexus of magic, genius, and play at work in the video might also offer examples that point to items that Agamben works with in Profanations as well.
- In the process of a face-off between the band as figures of humanity and the police as agents of the state, there is quickening of pace, a heightening of tension, and an anticipation of an unknown event. Hints of Heidegger’s accounting of anticipatory resoluteness and the moment of vision in Being and Time linger within scene. In the process of transformation to a quickening beat, the police officers no longer operate as agents of the state in the face of a humanity reconciled with its animal nature. The police’s gestures no longer direct energy towards reservation, distraction, or repression but towards humanity in dance, where gestures are made artful (useful) and traverse the chasm separating spectacle and spectator. The scene brings to mind a quote from The Coming Community: “The novelty of the coming politics is that it will no longer be a struggle for the control of the state, but a struggle between the State and the non-state (humanity), an insurmountable disjunction between the whatever singularity and the State organization” (84) Golden Age’s video offers a visual rendition on a variant of such a struggle that Agamben addresses above.
- The exposition of the black male body as a means of performance and transmitter of communicability in American culture. Daphne Brooks writes about this particular topic at length. Theres’s also a lecture of hers named after TVOTR’s stunning track “Staring at the Sun” on YouTube that I’m eager to watch. If only the techs at USC’s Annerberg School followed the European Graduate School’s example by posting the video in chunks, they would satisfy my inordinate frustration.
I’m sure there are other philosophic themes and references at work in the video (Plato comes to mind), but these stood out most immediately. References aside, “Golden Age” is very succinct rendering of the band’s political mytho-theology, condensing mysticism, mythical symbolism, liberation, redemption, transfiguration, illumination, music making, collective struggle, pop culture, and political emancipation in three minutes. After all, are these not the promises the holiday season offers to its celbrants, aside from food, companionship, and the prospect of staying in all day?
It’s fantastic what an outstanding music video can do, especially when the visuals and audio complement each other so well. Enjoy; or rather, be jilted, provoked, distressed, even moved to explore the yet unknown and unspoken possibilities the video offers its viewer.