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THE BIG PICTURE / PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

Satire busts a hump

Morissette speaks volumes about sex, power and YouTube with a sly spoof.

April 24, 2007|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

As Lefsetz put it: "The less she does, the bigger the story is." By refusing to explain her intent, Morissette invested her clip with an irresistible layer of inscrutability, something that packs extra punch at a time when all too many found objects -- even Will Ferrell's "The Landlord" video -- turn out to be a marketing come-on for a website or movie project.

According to Kirkup, Morissette has no new album or tour to hawk. As she has remained mum, others have jumped in to stage a healthy debate about whether the sexual antics of today's starlets represent girl power or pathology. It's an issue that goes way beyond Fergie. As Natalie Nichols wrote recently in CityBeat, TV shows like "America's Next Top Model" and "The Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll" "perpetuate the notion that a woman's hotness is directly related to the amount of 'power' she has. As though the best power women can hope to wield is sexual sway over men."

After "My Humps" appeared, the blogs were full of similar passionate argument.

When the Coterie of Zombies' Howard James Hardima wrote off Morissette's video as a "misguided potshot at confident, powerful sexy female figures everywhere," his post inspired heated response, led by Auros, who wrote: "Confidence and power don't come from trying to get boys to buy you stuff by playing the tease.... I believe the common term for that is 'gold digger.' Sexy is a girl who is smart, self-sufficient and couldn't give a fig for whether anyone thinks she's sexy."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday May 01, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Alanis Morissette video: The Big Picture column in the April 24 Calendar section about an Alanis Morissette video incorrectly gave the last name of the Coterie of Zombies' Howard James Hardiman as Hardima.

Sex, of course, fuels debate everywhere, not just on the Internet. But the Web today is also brimming with a new kind of participatory activism, one that uses video as a tool for social criticism, from pop issues to political ones.

Robert Greenwald, who used to make issue-oriented films and TV movies, is now an Internet pamphleteer, having launched the websites FoxAttacks, which runs critiques on Fox News, and TheRealMcCain, which highlights flip-flops in Sen. John McCain's policy positions. Greenwald says his pieces, posted on YouTube and other sites, have reached 2.4 million viewers without him having to spend a penny of marketing money.

Like Morissette, Greenwald uses video as social critique, with the issues he once addressed in a six-hour miniseries now framed in two-minute commentaries. The shorts have just as much visceral immediacy as Morissette's video, not just because of their eye-catching visuals but because they are passed along -- i.e. endorsed -- by peers and friends. One of Greenwald's most viewed pieces, "Fox Attacks Black America," has been credited with helping spur the leading three Democratic presidential candidates to pull out of a September debate co-sponsored by Fox News.

"People spread these short pieces around because they want to, not because they're being bankrolled by a giant studio marketing campaign," he says. "Our young staffers can shoot and edit these pieces in three days and have them up for people to see. It's not just user-generated content. When someone watches it and hits the forward button, it's user-distributed too. You're replacing Universal Studios with a peer-to-peer network with the click of a mouse."

Universal Studios isn't going to disappear anytime soon. Nor, sadly, will Fergie and her humps. But the era of video activism is here to stay. Whether you're a political activist or a singer eager to try your hand at social comment, the pop culture playing field has never been more open to ideas than it is today.

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"The Big Picture" runs each Tuesday in Calendar. Questions or criticism can be e-mailed to patrick.goldstein@latimes.com.

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