Aesthetics Bending Content Over a Barrel

While watching a video from a fellow MSU graduate who has recently stepped into the world of shooting music videos for signed, well-known artists, I realized today that the flashy production values I’ve always secretly wished I had can, in fact, actually ruin music videos. This video was gorgeous, which was obviously the only pre-requisite anybody had for hiring his crew as content-wise and atmospherically, it was complete fucking garbage.

If your only goal with a music video is to make somebody go, “that’s pretty” or “wow what a cool shot!”- to make an aesthetically pleasing final product- there’s no shortage of directors of photography that can make that happen. And because music videos are generally lumped into the category of “promotion”, does anything else even matter?

Yes. It does.

Whatever my own shots lack in technical execution, I make every attempt to compensate for it with relevant content. That’s me though; if you want to impress other cinematographers first and foremost, then yeah, your first thought should always be “how many toys can I use to make this video look interesting?” For the rest of us that give a shit about moving people to an emotional response, it’s always “will what’s in front of my camera be relevant to the music?” It’s common sense to make that the order of importance with linear narratives like shorts; for whatever reason the concept seems to have stuck with (most) people there. But music videos? It seems that the aspiring DPs I know working in this medium simply don’t care to extend their train of thought beyond “it’s just promo bro, check out this sick jib shot!”

This is a debasement of everything wonderful about music, turning it into a product where the aesthetic property overpowers the emotional ones without working in tandum. Yes, you can have cool shots, but you damn well better be asking yourself “Why? Why is this in 60p? Does that match the energy of the song or provide a relevant juxtaposition? Is suddenly using a dolly here motivated by a dramatic shift in the lyrics, music, or track pacing? Is this character or scenery related to the emotions the song is conveying?” If your answer to any of that is “no, but-” don’t even bother finishing the thought. Scrap that shot until you find one where the answer is simply “yes”. The only way your content will ever be anything more than a promotion for L glass and Redrock is if you FEEL the music, if it moves you personally in some fashion emotionally. If it doesn’t do that, why the fuck are you even bothering? Money? There’s a thousand other- better- ways to make a living than producing music videos. In the same way that emotions inspire writers to write screenplays based on that emotion, music has to inspire you to want to say SOMETHING with visuals relevant to the track.

The images have to match the song, or they won’t connect. Your audience may not know how to articulate it when there’s a disconnect, but they sure as shit know how to when there isn’t one. I’ve shot my fair share of official videos, but two of the unofficial videos I’ve done- Explosions in the Sky and Agalloch- have netted by far the largest amount of heartfelt, honest, moving comments anybody has ever given me about my work. Beyond the compliments regarding the aesthetic value (which I do appreciate), there’s ones like this, which I received in my Facebook inbox a few years ago:

“Hi Chris, I’m from Italy, just saw your wonderful video on the youtube for the song Have you passed through this night by EIS. So I wanted to tell you it made me feel better for few minutes, and thank you. I have not passed through this night yet.”

And this from the Agalloch video:

“I always come back to this video to remind me that life is worth living.”

I have zero connection to any of these people, they are not my friends or even friends of friends, and yet the videos affected them (and many others) on a deeply personal level. You know why? Because the songs deeply affected ME, and that feeling was present EVERY SINGLE MOMENT my camera was rolling. Of course I wanted to create something visually interesting, but visually interesting and INSPIRED. Never, ever just the former. Climbing up a mountain in the middle of nowhere to get a shot of a dead tree in an open field for the opening of the Explosions video in order to present the thesis for the entire video, or sitting in my truck in the dead of night out in the woods for three hours for a shot that would demonstrate the limitless grandeur of the natural world in a song concerning just that, and a thousand other moments that only I will ever know about, I did none of that out of want for a cool shot or because “I’m totes gonna Facebook about how cool shooting this is!” I did all of it because I love music, and I desperately need to express in some way how that music makes me feel.

That’s why I shoot music videos, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s the only good reason to shoot them. If the music you listen to doesn’t have the ability to completely change the course of your outlook or mood for hours, days, or weeks at a time- you have no business putting moving images to a song, ANY song, and can fuck right off from shooting music videos. There’s a dozen other avenues for producing visuals that you can pursue which don’t involve taking a shit on a medium as precious and wonderful as music.

The Anti-Social Network

We’ve all got that friend on Facebook. Yeah, that friend. The one who posts about politics, the one who shares their religious views, the one who posts nothing but emo-esque updates, the one that doesn’t seem to care about anything other than proving to the world that mass-produced food is (surprise!) awful for you and you should really be writing your government about that sort of thing, and so on. Blogs like this are usually dedicated to lambasting such people and maybe eight years ago when I started, I would have. Back then I may have made a big, snarky, ugly post about how these types of people are the scourge of the earth, should be cast out and stomped on like so many goombas, and ended the whole thing with something wonderfully self-righteous. Today, however, I’d like to begin with you, dear reader. I’m not sure who you are: Close friend, acquaintance, stranger, foreigner, spambot, or hell- maybe just me. Chances are, when somebody talks to you about “this one person on my Facebook”, you’ll respond with or at least think about how “yeah, I’ve totally got one of those friends.” And to you, I’d like to say something I’ve been thinking for awhile now:

Fuck you.

Yes. You.

Yes. You.

Facebook “friends” are not the same as “real friends”, and that shouldn’t be news to anyone. We all know the word “friends” on Facebook is more of a list title than anything; a collection of people in your life, some of which you call real friends, others acquaintances, relatives, whatever. It’s why most of us have lists with hundreds of people on it. We don’t care about all of them the same way, but many of them have lives we find superficially interesting and hey: It’s not really stalking if nobody catches you, right? But this isn’t about your colleagues, your co-workers, family or relatives. Brief acquaintances that you may one day sleep with or receive a job from (or both). It’s not about them either.

This is about you and your actual friends, and how you interact with them online. Because here’s the thing: I’ve got good friends spread across the U.S, and since I’ve yet to unlock omnipresence in real life, Facebook is often and unfortunately the best way to stay in touch with them. Because of these extended absences from each other, I want to hear what they have to say about things, to know their frivolous thoughts about random shit in ADDITION to anything of substance- politics, religion, emotions, all of it. I may disagree completely, but I want to know those things about my friends; I’m curious and interested in what makes them “them” as that’s what being a friend is supposed to be based on. But we can’t express these things online. We can’t because there’s an unwritten code of what’s acceptable to share and what’s not in social media, so expressing anything along those lines simply doesn’t work anymore. And if you don’t believe that, I’d like to buy a house in the underground district you clearly lived in for the months leading up to November 6th and ever since December 20th. I imagine there’s even a handful of people that would respond to these sentiments with “well maybe you should pick up a goddamn phone”. Maybe indeed, but you’re missing the point.

The list of things we find inappropriate to discuss online has grown long and unwieldy, to the point where Facebook now looks like a link dump for amateur food porn Instagram photos, Youtube videos, shit you’ll never get around to doing on Pinterest, and omglookatthisgrumpyasscatlololo memes. It’s called a social network, but anymore it’s just the inbred mute recluse cousin of Reddit. Why aren’t we using this enormous tool for self-expression to… Express?

At least Twitter has its shit together.

At least Twitter has its shit together.

“Tell a therapist, not Facebook,” a close friend of mine wrote awhile back, to many a like and applause. That is why. We want to see photos of your beautiful exciting life and/or your cleavage and cats, funny videos, cliché one-liners about life that have been floating around since forwards were hip, and memes because MEMES ARE TIMELESS PIECES OF COMEDY. What we don’t want to hear about is you. We’re busy people with lives, jobs, kids, and our own issues. We’re here for a few meaningless giggles, not you.

Let me be clear: “Fuck you” is for all of us, even me. I don’t know how many times I’ve come home from work, checked Facebook, and thought “oh get over it” or “thirty seconds with Google says you’re completely full of shit”. I’m probably just as guilty of wanting superficiality over substance online as anybody else. The sad result of this is that we’re now frightened of using our little corners of the internet to express ourselves out of fear that we might offend, annoy, close doors that haven’t even opened yet, and most of all: Fear of reproach. Social media isn’t breeding individuality, it’s breeding the most politically-correct online environment imaginable as a result of everybody trying to express themselves without offending several hundred “friends” in some way. It’s not possible, and it’s bullshit to try.

We’re all pretending that we can have our cake and eat it too, that we can use social networking to both network and socialize. We can’t. We don’t network out of any real interest in other people, we do it for some sort of gain instead of curiosity or compassion. Networking is putting on a face that you believe others want to see and focusing on being as ambiguous as possible in order to gain access to whatever those others have to offer. Whether it’s an upgraded social status, potential job, future mate, or just being included in their seemingly more interesting life, whatever it is, networking isn’t usually successful for someone awake at 2 am and trying to figure out life via introspection masked as status updates. Such personal updates are scoffed at, despite the fact that they are a far more valid extension of ourselves than that hilarious video with the cat we posted the other day. You know, the one that garnered over nine-thousand likes and half a dozen shares.

Goddamn that cat is silly.

Goddamn that cat is silly.

I’m not saying there shouldn’t be rules for internet etiquette and everybody should post exactly what’s on their mind 24/7. I’ll be the first to admit how frustrating it can be to see someone fervently expressing an opinion based on wrong or misleading facts, but there’s a difference between finding flaw with someone’s opinions and not wanting them to express it at all. This notion that we should include everyone because they’re old friends, family, hot, whatever, but completely in spite of the fact that we can’t stand or don’t care what they have to say, is one of the most blatantly hypocritical things we’re capable of. The sad magic of Facebook is that with an online persona, unlike real life ones, it’s extremely easy to select what parts of that persona we pay attention to. “This person is a raging asshat, but goddammit, they’re gorgeous so I’m keeping them around” is now normal behavior. We label it “acceptance”, when really it’s just strategic ignoring.

And that’s what Facebook has become: The way for us to share just the parts we know others want to see. Our profiles are one of the largest, most intricate forms of self-expression we’ve ever been able to create online and what do we use them for?



Should we change this? I recently attempted to have a political discussion with a friend and within an hour it devolved into an unrelated argument with some guy I’ve never met who was terribly concerned with impressing me. I certainly did nothing to stop this from happening, even egged it on in places. A week or so prior, I got into an argument about arguing, also with a complete stranger via a mutual friend’s post. It was one of the most surreal moments of my online existence. While this no doubt says something about my ability to engage strangers in online discussion (sarcasm isn’t a great ice-breaker, who knew), it also speaks to the larger issue: Even if Facebook were just about socializing, it’s still futile to attempt any sort of meaningful discussion. If you’re lucky enough to not have a thread derailed by a third party, you’re still battling the fact that nobody really wants to read several paragraphs of tiny text. And when it comes down to it, Facebook discussions aren’t often about considering what each other has to say: They’re about who can beat the other person into submission with the most Wiki links supporting their own point. And again, this kind of activity is largely frowned upon (the aforementioned political discussion was completely erased the following morning by the original poster). There’s occasional exceptions (usually in the form of preaching to the choir) but sadly, any attempt to turn Facebook into a forum for debate, if pushed far enough, will only ever lead to that oft-feared end result: Consequences in the real world.

More likely than you think.

More likely than you think.

We can’t discuss politics. We definitely can’t go anywhere near religion. We can’t talk about our feelings because “ain’t nobody got time for that”. In fact, if there’s a chance it might lead to any sort of discussion that could vaguely be applicable to your day-to-day life, you best just keep it down. This is the attitude of Facebook now, and it’s why “fuck you” is directed at you & me rather than those who either don’t get the system or refuse to acknowledge it. Those people aren’t the problem, we are. We’re the ones that want everybody in our online community, but only if they can leave their potentially dissenting views on life at the door. Our daily use of Facebook revolves around what gets shared on The Wall, and how dare anybody use that space to challenge or provoke. We all know that’s what face-to-face conversation is for, because politics, religion, and emotions are totally things everyone wants to talk about in the real world.

Anyways, back to posting silly cat photos.

It's funny because he looks angry!

Haha, it’s funny because he looks angry!