Poplife: Issue #15

Thu, May 16th, 2002 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Matt Fraction, Columnist

POPLIFE is a collection of excerpts from my work journal. There is no specific form or function the column serves other than to allow the reader to see what my experience in my first year as a comics-writer is like. Some weeks I get work done, so I talk about work. Some weeks I don't get any work done, so I ramble incoherently. POPLIFE's purpose is to provide a glimpse behind the process of my specific curtain.

It's been a few of these in a row actually dealing with comics. Time to beat that trend in the skull right now.

Click images to enlarge.
[Yelly Man Hates The Proletariat!  Down With Yelly Man!  ]
Yelly Man Hates The Proletariat! Down With Yelly Man!
So, I've had the rather unique experience of making a music video along with my coworkers at MK12 that MTV has rejected for being too offensive and too graphic.

No, seriously.

The band, an Omaha, Nebraska New New-Wave Band called The Faint got in touch with us through friends of friends to do the video for their first single, a song called AGENDA: SUICIDE.

As you may have gleaned from the title, the tune is sort of a bummer. Not your typical Summer Jam (Just said today in a client meeting, after we showed them the video: "It's like WHO LET THE DOGS OUT?, only about suicide.").

The band gave us a lot of rope to hang ourselves with, pardon the pun-- they wanted something that loosely connected with, you guessed it, suicide and the other themes presented in the song-- and let us be while we made the thing. So we went nuts.

I wrote up a treatment, Timmy and I worked up some boards, I did a detailed script and shot list, we rigged a green-screen setup and shot on a GL-1. The rest of the guys at MK12 did the rotoscoping, design, and AfterEffectsing-- skill-sets I just don't have. The whole piece looks and behaves like an old Russian propaganda illustration; the people look like we shot them using a Xerox machine instead of a camera. When the shots were done, the guys gave 'em to me to cut together.

[Kids: Do Not Jump In Front of Trains to Relieve Unrelenting Misery of Modern Working Life.  ]
Kids: Do Not Jump In Front of Trains to Relieve Unrelenting Misery of Modern Working Life.
The video (which for the low-of-bandwidth of you out there that can't see it) goes a little something like this: A drone-y little office nebbish gets up, self-medicates, goes to work, gets yelled at. Monotonous monoculture stuff. After a night at a peepshow, he witnesses a suicide on the subway-- a man jumps in front of his train-- and begins to crack up around the edges. More self-medication, nightmares follow. He dreams of cascading waves of people throwing themselves in front of trains like lemmings in cheap suits. Eventually, his daily routine becomes a Bosch sort of modern workday hell, violent and surreal: kitchen walls streaked with blood, co-workers becoming strange animals, screaming and yelling drones running everywhere, a body lying prone in the bathroom. He reaches his breaking point and steps in front of a train himself, only to shatter like glass.

Okay, so it's not the subtlest thing ever. But it worked for us.

We showed it to the band, the band dug it; the band's management sent it to MTV, MTV did not dig it. In fact, they refused to air it at all unless there were changes made.

MTV's problems were (paraphrased) as follows:

They wanted all the blood from the kitchen/bathroom removed.

They wanted the pill popping removed.

[Blood? Drugs?  On MTV?!?]
Blood? Drugs? On MTV?!?
They wanted all the people jumping in front of the trains removed.

They wanted the word 'Suicide' removed from the song and lyrics.

They wanted to list the song title as "Agenda."

…All of which effectively shitcans the entire piece. There's really no way to cut around that stuff, really; no way to creatively edit your way from that hard "R" down to a teen-accessible "PG-13".

The blood in the kitchen and bathroom I can understand, even if I can't endorse removing it. It's not like there were great splatters of blood or anything-- it's a subtle, creeping kind of horror (in as much as a video for a song called AGENDA: SUICIDE can be subtle and creeping). In the kitchen, a streak of red runs across a wall and in the bathroom there's just a guy lying there in a pool of it. It's a vaguely PSYCHO sort of effect, where it's used as a moment of visual contrast, a pattern more than anything literal. It's not JASON X bloodletting is what I'm trying to get at.

The pill popping is odd, because the pills are very clearly coming out of a prescription bottle, and they're very clearly being taken at a controlled dosage that gradually increases. Apparently, MTV doesn't want its viewers to begin taking more of their Ritalin than they've been prescribed, I don't know. If anyone asked, I wanted to claim that Poor Nebbish had a heart condition, and if he didn't take the pills he would've had a heart attack and died from all the stress of seeing all the suicides. But no one asked.

[Columnated ruins domino.]
Columnated ruins domino.
Okay, now, here's where it gets interesting: they want the jumpers removed.

First, let's be clear about what's shown and what's not shown. A train pulls into the station and a guy leaps out of frame, in front of it. If you look really hard, you can see the train shudder a bit. We don't cut to a corpse or burst guts on the tracks, there's no blood, just a guy leaping. Pure physicality. The dream sequence is obviously a dream sequence, and it's the same thing, really; only it's amped up and over the top. And then at the end, the only time we see the train contacting with anyone that's jumped in front of it, we see that the body is made of glass as it very clearly shatters into pieces. The other people in the subway, who have to that point been un-phased as to the wave of train-jumpers, gather in a cluster and stare at the scene.

Sure, sure, I hear you. Some people find suicide-by-subway a bit morbid. Shocking, even. Maybe disturbing.

The fact, though, is that they wanted them REMOVED. Which to me implies the shots in question-- about four, all together-- were merely offensive cutaways, and that the video would somehow make sense without them.

Um.

No. They're really kind-of plot points.

[That little guy crying in the bottom left corner?  That's you.]
That little guy crying in the bottom left corner? That's you.
(I wont even get into how upset the band-- who are currently touring with No Doubt on the now-ultraironic MTV Total Request Live Summer Tour-- got when asked to edit the lyrical content and title of the song.

THAT WORD, incidentally, the Post-Columbine Dirty Word, is said only twice. TWICE. In a four-minute track, the word 'suicide' appears twice. I know, I know, rock stars these days. Anyway, MTV says it's too bad and the dirtybad naughtyword has gotta go. Lest children being leaping in front of great fucking trains to be like rock stars.)

So. We'd made a video for an up-and-coming band. And I don't mean 'up-and-coming' the way you describe your useless drummer boyfriend's garagecrap trio, I mean UP AND COMING. Like 'em or not, these guys from outta Nowhere, Nebraska have sold out two-night stands at the Bowery Ballroom and are adored by the music press world-wide. And we got to make their first video for the first single off of their new album, which they're touring the country on a bill footed by MTV to promote. And then MTV shitcanned the piece, demanding changes they knew were impossible to make.

And there was a time, gentle reader, where this would've pissed me off.

When I read over the above, I even THINK that I should be pissed off.

Nope.

[KIDS: YOU ARE NOT MADE OF GLASS.]
KIDS: YOU ARE NOT MADE OF GLASS.
Not pissed off.

I'm pretty much the most unpissed off guy involved in the whole process, I think. I'm amused. Tickled, even. Sure, the obvious ironies, contradictions, and exceptions to their guidelines are as obvious as a parade float coming down Broadway, but… nope. No, I really don't care. I don't know if that means I've lost something young or gained something old. I don't know if I should be concerned that I'm not furious. I'm sure there was a time when I would've been. I'd be screaming about censorship and freedom of expression and fuck you, corporate monoculture and all that nattering nonsense.

As it stands, however…

I have the giggles. We got banned by MTV. Christ, man, it's a fucking badge of honor.

I went ahead and made a re-edit of the video that cuts to stills of puppies instead of the offending shots of blood and medication. I dropped in an insert of a honking car-horn over the word "suicide." I doubt we'll be able to sell the band on the compromised version, but if they do… maybe MTV will decide that we can grace their airwaves.

La dee fucking da. Whoopdeeshit.

Fuck work-for-hire.

The Faint video can now be seen at www.mk12.com.

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