March 7, 2009 / Uncategorized

Culture Watch: A Feminist U2?


It was quite a surprise to learn that U2’s video for their new single, “Get on Your Boots,” is, ostensibly, a feminist endeavor. Or, as guitarist The Edge put it, the video is “based around the idea that men have f***ed things up so badly, politically, economically and socially… Its really time that we handed things over to women.”

Not so fast, says Anna Pickard, The Guardian’s expert translator of the language of music videos. Ms. Pickard writes an occasional column, Pickard of the Pops, that examines the gap between what an artists says he meant to express, and what his music video actually expresses. In this case, the gap is a canyon. Or, as Ms. Pickard puts it, referring to a specific scene in the video: “Perhaps the early hope that a female led world might be less militaristic was slightly premature.  Instead, might it be a world readily filled with Soviet-era porn?  Apparently so.”

You can watch the video and read Ms. Pickard’s analysis here. If you’re like me, you’ll find the analysis a lot more entertaining that the video itself.

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  • Lisa

    So funny, once I read this part of the sentence:

    “what an artists says he meant to express, and what his music video actually expresses. ”

    I KNEW it would be a video that looked like Soviet era porn before you wrote it! ha! So expected…

  • ha! I did…Anna’s snark was so much kewler than the video….

  • I’m no audience for such music or videos so this is the first I’ve heard of this. But … in certain demographics, pictures of women that offend us are not meant as offense or put downs to the women. I remember seeing Yellow Pages ads for bail bond services etc that showed the woman owner, presumably tough and competent, with cleavage, big hair, etc and in an at least mildly sexy pose.

    We might doubt the musicians’ sincerity when they say “based around the idea that men have f***ed things up so badly, politically, economically and socially… Its really time that we handed things over to women.” But the same idea was presented very sincerely at a rally for Palin by what we’d call ‘redneck’ men.

  • Kiuku

    Just another version of “Men do things. Women shop”. I don’t know where this idea of women shopping comes from but I do know that the facts do not support it. I mean the majority of women are living impoverished, yet our culture constantly tells women they need to be fashion icons to be respected. However women are very intelligent in their frugality of getting this enormous task accomplished on tighter budgets. Women are so poor and our culture tries even harder to make women need men. Most of the time, when a woman is married she is doing the shopping for the family. Statistics show she spends most of the money on mutual interests for the family. Men spend most of the money on their own interests. When a woman is single, and has a familly, of course she is going to do the shopping. A well off woman does not spend any more money than a well off man; less, in fact.

  • Kiuku

    this theme plays nicely with the reducing women to body parts and objects in the video.

  • MG

    You don’t want to doubt their sincerity given their reputation, yet at best, it demonstrates the true lack of understanding on the part of some men as to how to successfully communicate on the issue. This is certainly not it.

    By using sexist images and ideas to reject sexist images and ideas; they opened themselves up to the worst type of charges – such as being nothing more than opportunistic entertainers riding the next human rights wave, treating feminism as a fad cause that just happens to generate the bucks for them.

  • MG,

    I do doubt the musicians’ sincerity. It is the ‘redneck’ men’s sincerity I tend to trust. 🙂

  • anna

    “what an artists says he meant to express, and what his music video actually expresses”

    Surely you mean “what an artists says he OR SHE meant to express, and what his OR HER music video actually expresses.”

  • {{anna}}

    Shouldn’t “actually expresses” be “what people report seeing in it”?

  • Nina M.

    @ anna- hi! you’re right in principle, and ordinarily I would have written “s/he” (my preferred pronoun, pronounced “she”), but in this case i consciously decided to go with “he.” Partly because of the many “he’s” involved in this particular aesthetic debacle; partly because men are so dramatically over-represented in the “rock” genre – not only among the artists, but the directors, the execs calling the shots, and of course there’s the golden demographic that must be catered to at all times – young straight males.

    In other words, I just really felt like using “he” this time. But you’re right, of course. 😉

    in general – I suspect the band is expressing an honest, earnest belief. I also believe they have no idea what they’re talking about. They’ve got the platitudes down, but my guess is that at this point in their lives, no one is going to contradict, re-educate, or even forcefully put forward a different point of view to them.

    In the world I imagine (for what its worth), things unfolded like this:

    The band met with the video’s director, who clearly has not the first clue about feminism, and everyone came to agreement on the video’s look and the theme (“okay, so, we want women in it, strong women, and we want to show how the world is f-cked by the military, you know, show armies and rockets and stuff, and also the poor people in Africa. Plus its got to have boots in.” “Okay, so you want women, missiles, boots – got it. This is going to be awesome, guys!”)

    And then the band saw the final product, surrounded by yes-men and yes-women, and everyone said it looked cool (“plus, look guys, he got all the rockets and armies and poor people in there, and just look at those boots — hot! its perfect!!”). The band approved it, because they have no idea what feminism looks like either, and no one is going to contradict them. And the band sincerely thinks they did a good thing.

    Except perhaps for Larry Mullin, who never says anything – who knows what’s going on his head. (Its always the drummer you’ve got to watch out for.)

  • Nina said, “They’ve got the platitudes down [….]”

    If something like “men have f***ed things up so badly, politically, economically and socially… Its really time that we handed things over to women” has become a platitude, then I’m going to take the year off to celebrate! And maybe start listening to rock music.

    The only places I’ve seen that idea are in news about the new Iceland government, some related reports from Europe — and the redneck rally for Palin which I mentioned earlier.

  • Carolyn

    And Archbishop Desmond Tutu said it way before this.

  • Nina,

    How about some constructive suggestions for what rock music and video would be appropriate to carry that message?

  • Kiuku

    Well I am going to jump in here and say if it was sincere they should be showing rape victims, impoverished women, single women with families that they are supporting, men in power paying prostituted women and children..not just war but overall men’s immorality and greed at the expense of women who toil to keep humanity running, not shop for boots.

  • MG

    You would think they would have at least vetted the film before some women. They would have had to ignore the feedback in favor of the bucks.

    Is there a website where we can lay it out for U2 – as in “Poo 2U?” Because their reputation is such an integral part of their group persona; they should connect that they can not afford to continue to “sexy boot” feminism and expect not to have sales impacted.

  • If the point is that women manage things better, they should show strong women managing something better, rather than showing victimized women.

  • HeroesGetMade

    I remember listening to U2 back in the day and one of their lyrics really hit me:

    I don’t believe in rape

    At the time I was rather boggled by that lyric because who the hell believes in rape anyway? I was so naive and trusting back then ….. but it appears the Irish boys knew the score about how (some) men really feel about women.

    Then there’s this lyric:

    When a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle
    (Trying To Throw Your Arms Around the World)

    Sound familiar? There’s not too many rock bands out there quoting Gloria Steinem!

    One last one:

    Brother take a walk with your sister the moon
    Let her pale light in to light up the room
    You’ve been living underground eating from a can
    You’ve been running away from what you don’t understand
    (She Moves in Mysterious Ways)

    Yes, I’m a fan of U2 and I think this theme of trying to balance out the yang with some much-needed yin has been with them for some time now. But no, I won’t take up for the porntastic video, even though I do believe Edge was sincere in his remarks about turning over the reigns to the women. Now I’ll have to check out their latest to see whether the lyrics support Edge’s sentiments better than that video.