by Keidra Chaney
Here we go again with Mastodon and disappointment.
The last time I wrote about Mastodon was last year, when the band sold a stunningly offensive shirt for Thanksgiving, and then proceeded to defend themselves against charges of racism and sexism by trotting out the old “satire” softshoe. Not gonna rehash that again, you can read the earlier post. Well, it’s fall, and Mastodon apparently likes to celebrate the season by once again courting controversy with their fans that are women or people of color.
This time, it’s for their video The Motherload, where a 90’s style metal video is intercut with slow motion scenes of twerking video vixens, who then have a twerk party/battle in the middle of the video. I’m not kidding. White people “discovering” twerking was a real pox on pop culture, I have to tell you.
Since I am doing a moratorium on online pop culture think pieces, I found out about this video fairly later than most people, and I still haven’t read anything about it. I don’t know what it means to say this, but I wasn’t nearly as offended by this video as I was by the t-shirt last year. The “satire” defense that they were claiming in response to the t-shirt could actually be used here and I could kind of buy it, with a bunch of twerking dancers basically bursting into a paint-by-numbers metal video and making it their own.
The big issue here, to me, is how the video was shot. Even as the women are “taking over” the Mastodon video, they are never the true focus, not as actual people. The video still presents them as foreign objects. Their butts are the butt of the joke, essentially. The whole point of the video is “one of these things is not like the other.” They’re not presented as a group of women taking over the video shoot to throw their own fun party, but as visual aberrations, things that don’t belong (why is this twerking butt next to this wrinkly old druid?)
The “random twerking butt as punchline” is a popular trope in music videos these days. Let’s go down the list: Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Lily Allen, the list goes on. In order for the video to “work” (I am saying this with air quotes.) the twerking has to be displayed with the same combination of titallation and fetishization as most other mainstream videos that feature twerking. (There is an actual shot where one of the druid dudes seems to be cowering in fear at the onslaught of twerk.)
So I’m not taking Mastodon off the hook for this video, or putting any blame on the dancers that participated (it’s a gig, and they did appear to be having a great time) but saying that the video is just another example of an ongoing trend that exploits twerking – and the bodies of (mostly) women of color – as props.
Back in the day, I wrote a piece for Bitch about being a black woman into metal and I said this:
But metal did empower me. Because the music was so far away from my experience, it didn’t place definitions on who I was or could be as a black female. When I listened to Metallica or Corrosion of Conformity, I wasn’t a “bitch,” a “ho,” or some anonymous jiggling booty in a rap video; I wasn’t a woman who needed rescuing by some dream-date pop star. I was someone who felt weird in high school, who wanted a place to belong.
Well hell, if this is what it means to finally be seen and acknowledged within metal, I’d rather just not be seen.
I’m going to chalk this video up to another example of lazy “satire” (As a shorthand, I like to call it Family Guy Satire) courtesy of Mastodon and brace myself for their next round of potential offense around this time next year. See you then.