Tunnel Vision

I suppose it’s an occupational hazard for academics, the phenomenon wherein texts that float across our consciousness tend to be subsumed and codified by our current research and teaching. Or at least this is what happens to me. As occupational hazards go, it could be much worse; I’ve never been stuck in a mine, I’ve never had a patient die on me. I may be well on my way toward carpal tunnel syndrome and a Mr. Magoo style myopia, but that’s about it.

So I recently discovered the singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright. I know, I know, where have I been? What pop music planet have I been living on, that I’ve avoided RW? Let’s be honest; if left to my own devices, I’d be huddled in a corner listening to Squeeze’s Greatest Hits on infinite repeat. Be happy that I’ve made it out of the 80’s. The point of this, of course, is two-fold, First, how the world has changed since the last time I tried to find out information about an artist. Not only can I look up Wainwright’s entire catalog on iTunes, I can google the lyrics to songs, read his Wikipedia entry, see his MySpace page, and cruise YouTube for videos. This beats the hell out of Tiger Beat, I must say (TB was, if I remember correctly, my primary source the last time that I wanted info on a singer. That might have been Simon LeBon. It’s all very fuzzy now).

So onto the second point: YouTube. In addition to featuring a significant collection of fan videos of Wainwright, the site also houses a few of his professional music videos. The one I’m currently obsessed with?

The audio track of “Rules and Regulations” is just fine on its own, but there’s something about this video that pushes it into the realm of transcendent.   I’ve been trying to put my finger on it for days now as the tune tumbles around in my brain.  Since I’m re-reading a slew of postmodern theory right now, I thought for awhile that it was the video’s irony that was doing it.  In some ways, it’s a beautiful pop culture take on historiographic metafiction.  Wainwright takes all the signifiers of Victorian masculinity (the gentlemen’s club, the group excercising) and reveals them in all of their homoerotic glory.  [Or as Caitlin2489 writes: ” If this isn’t the gayest thing. Rufus, darling, you’ve out-done yourself.”  Couldn’t have said it better myself.]  Linda Hutcheon would be so very proud!

Later, however, I found myself reviewing the introduction to Todd Gitlin’s book Media Unlimited, in which he argues (in part) that while we tend to say that we go to media for information, our interaction with media is really about feeling—media produces not a conscious analytic making of meaning, but rather an unconscious emotional response.  While I think that this needs to be qualified a bit (which Gitlin later goes on to do in the book), I wonder if that isn’t a more authentic approach to explaining my fascination with this video.  Really, when I think about it, I get the giggles.  It’s his interaction with the camera, I think—that knowing, deadly-serious and thus definitively tongue-in-cheek, twee awareness of his surroundings and how the audience must be perceiving it.

There’s also, of course, the possibility that it’s neither, but that my courses this semester have colonized my brain.  While I figure it out, I’ll keep on watching the video.  Hee hee.

2 thoughts on “Tunnel Vision

  1. Lord, that is completely brilliant. It’s like he just shorthanded every single damn thing in “The Swimming-Pool Library,” which I guess I won’t bother to teach next semester since I can just show them this video instead. The flags kill me.

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