“Why do you work it?” Love in this Club by Usher featuring Young Jeezy

Part 1 of a series where we over-analyze pop music videos.

Envelopes are being pushed all over the music video world, not just in Erykah Badu’s recent Window Seat video. Usher declared his society-challenging intentions in the disarmingly complex short film from 2008 (I guess we could call music videos that?) “Love in This Club” by Usher featuring Young Jeezy even has a Matrix (2): Reloaded quality to it in its flashy yellow-gold-on-blackness lighting, like the scene from that uneven follow-up to 1999’s genre-breaking The Matrix where the multiethnic survivors of the Zion settlement sensually rave together in a momentary break from fighting a bleak galaxy dominated by computer-monsters.

“I want to make love in the club” croons Usher – then, what could be a disembodied bouncer/security chorus interrupts “Heyy…” as if to put to kibosh on the love-in-club-making unfolding on top of the precious-gem-studded, deep pile plush booth-beat.

This club is weird – Keri Hilson keeps slinking out of nowhere and draping herself sexily on Usher’s perplexed-expression-ed belting hunk, to which he reacts the way that Usher knows how to react – and things and people keep disappearing – while some of hip-hop’s superstars show up sunglass-ed and astounded for just a moment to be handed a length of diamonds (Blood diamonds? We wonder when Kanye West leans on the bar and plays melancholy air guitar) while Young Jeezy raps about setting us free “mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally” over impossibly persistent horns – or is it just synth? – and perhaps this club is the manifestation of fame – confusing, making you follow urges that might not end in the best outcomes – unless you’re URsher or one of the other male stars featured, who MAYBE could make Love in a Club consequence-lessly, but more likely it could end up in the tabloids or on the Gawker mini-article feed:

“Usher fined $750,500 for ‘lewd behavior’ after love-making incident in Las Vegas club.” “Mel Gibson recorded ranting at parking lot attendant about taxes in Aramaic.” “Kim Kardashian’s Disasterous Vanity Fair Photo Shoot.” “VIDEO: LeBron James humiliated in melodic freestyle by Krayzie Bone of Cleveland’s Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony in Miami Jamba Juice.”

But maybe not, perhaps discretion is assured, part of the “deal-with-the-diamonds/divas” these rappers have seemed to have made.

Nevertheless, nothing prepares us for the end. After chasing Ms. Hilson around the club which alternately fills and empties with fellow aspiring love-makers, Usher, almost out of breath from a dope dance number heads shoulder-first into a door and is suddenly in the ruins of a windblown bluish-gray dystopia – there is no club, no Kerri, no Cristal, no icy strings of diamonds, no swirling yellow lights, no superstars (maybe there never really were any) and all you have left is your head full of a beat that thankfully still bumped through your head like a speeding dune buggy in a nearer-future, more feasible Mad Max scenario.

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You may have won the last 500 years, but you’ll never colonize Space!!!

by Lauren Pabst

Just as District 9 indicated that there are enough realistic big-budget blockbuster movies about the horrors of apartheid in South Africa, there are apparently enough realistic big-budget blockbuster movies about the American genocide, according to Avatar.  Just kidding.  I know the value of a sci-fi satire as well as anybody.  But these are actual historical events, the repercussions of which persist today and are largely unrecognized by the cultural mainstream that Cameron is playing with, so heavy on the “real 3D” and CGI and lite on the story and context.

I would love to see a realistic epic historical blockbuster movie about people of color battling invaders and oppressors.  Hollywood does epic European versus European very well (see Braveheart) but notably Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto faded to black just before Jaguar Paw and his folks’ impending struggle against the arriving Europeans; the villians in that flick were Mayans.  Danny Glover’s plans to create an epic film about the Haitian Revolution and Toussaint L’Overture have been stalled more than a decade, as financing has been a real problem.

Cameron’s recycling a trusty myth that’s been kicking around the U.S. from James Fenimore Cooper to Dances With Wolves (as many others have pointed out, including David Brooks in the New York Times) of white man goes Native and finds his soul in the indigenous culture, which he then goes on to not only be accepted into, but to master, exemplify and then lead to (SPOILER ALERT) victory.  In Avatar, anyway.  Stay tuned for the real updated score for the Black people of South Africa and the original people of the Americas on your nightly news.  Oh, wait…

Akin to the fishiness pointed out by comedian Paul Mooney of a couple blockbusters of the early 2000’s [“First you had The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise.  Then you had The Mexican starring Brad Pitt”], like authorities terming Zapotec Mexicans aliens for setting foot in Arizona, the indigenous people of Avatar also happen to be aliens.  Writer, director and producer Cameron tells a story of plundering land and attempting to destroy a people who were living in harmony with nature in the name of a outrageously coveted mineral (actually called “unobtanium”) – IN SPACE.

But wait a minute.  Leaving aside the Dances With Wolves plotline, isn’t there value to the themes of Avatar?  What about the kids – they’re hearing the lessons of live in harmony with nature, don’t take what you don’t need, honor your ancestors and (ahem) paint with all the glow-in-the-dark colors of the wind.  The story that emerges has many touching moments, as the Na’vi culture (aesthetically like a glow-in-the-dark combination of Lakota and Masai – only the people are massive, catlike and blue) believes that all energy is enduring and that they can communicate with their ancestors through nature – cool, right?  It’s not often that you hear those sentiments expressed on the screen – big or small.

And the $500 million spectacle that unfolds on the screen is not to believed.  Thanks to the “real 3D” that I saw it in, even things like the foreground edges of desks seemed real enough to touch.

But the creation of an indigenous culture from whole cloth by Cameron is a little weird.  Though the Na’vi are grounded in nature, there is also something subtly high tech about them – their natural world glows neon like a Tokyo nightclub and they can “upload and download” ancestral memories from fiber-optic trees and communicate with animals by literally plugging in their long braids (as emphatically pointed out by Sigourney Weaver’s scientist, still game to tromp around a space ship in cargo shorts and an undershirt).  Also, when hero Jake Sully’s Na’vi avatar appears, they don’t seem to question how a “sky person” could inhabit the body of one of their own, but then are horrified when he turns out to be an avatar.  This is just one part of the eerie blue pall of condescension that Cameron casts over the people of his imagination.

And there is even precendent for Cameron allegedly co-opting the artistic expression of people of color before.  A lawsuit filed by African American author Sophia Stewart claims that Terminator 2 is lifted from her sci-fi epic novel The Third Eye.  Stewart’s lawsuit also names The Matrix creators the Wachowski brothers.  According to Stewart, in her book, the young boy character of Terminator 2 grows up to become the Neo character of the events of The Matrix (which in The Third Eye is a deeper allegory of slavery and colonization than appears in that film, also produced by Terminator and Avatar studio Fox).  After a judge ruled that the muti-million dollar lawsuit could go forward, it was thrown out when Stewart failed to appear at a hearing.  (Check out this interview with Stewart for more details.)

Leaving aside all of that, Avatar provides an intriguing parallel universe story of victory of people and nature over colonization and exploitation.  The film has been endorsed by President Evo Morales of Bolivia (after he saw it in his third ever trip to the movies) and condemned by the Vatican, which is offended at the suggestion that nature can replace religion (sort of like they were during the 15th Century).  But $500 million could probably finance five epic historical blockbusters of actual battles between indigenous people and colonizers (lite on the CGI, heavy on the story and context).  Which ones would you like to see?

Let me know: