(It’s not as bad as it sounds. I’m pretty proud of this one actually. I should submit it to TV Guide.)
Last Sunday in Miami, having dodged potential catastrophe from a tropical storm quickly growing into a hurricane, MTV staged some kind of ridiculous awards ceremony. This is not a review. This is an attempt to understand. I don’t know why I turned it on or why I kept watching but I do know it has continued to haunt me in the days since. I think I am writing this for closure, really. It is an exorcism.
THE MTV VIDEO MUSIC AWARDS 2005, or VMAs as they want you to call them, are not really an awards show. As far as I could tell, there weren’t many awards and the ones they had didn’t mean anything. The show is a spectacle, a sort of exaggerated opera putting on display everything that is so wrong with the corporate entertainment culture today. I think I seen parts of this show before and it’s always been pretty ridiculous but this one went the extra ten miles.
The first hint was the pre-show coverage, where they one-upped the standard awards show red carpet fashion critique by having the stars drive up in their own customized exotic sports cars, which they would park on a turntable that would spin around so you could see all the angles. The only thing more ridiculous than this is the realization that somebody probaly had to pack the cars on a truck and drive them from Los Angeles to Miami during a hurricane so Ludacris or somebody could get in and drive it 50 feet for the cameras. Before MTV was content to go around and find kids driving beaters and “pimp their ride” as a fairy godmother act of charity. Now they want to make it clear that whether it’s delivered by Xzibit or not, you’re gonna have to get one of these cars eventually. Get rich or die tryin, says Fifty Cents on his album and movie.
The host for this show was “Diddy,” a former music executive producer who used to be called Puffy and then Puff Daddy and then P Diddy and recently went on the Today Show (america’s number one hip hop show?) to announce the new one. You gotta wonder about guys like this because I mean, alot of people pick up nicknames here and there, but they don’t have to make an announcement. As far as I know, this guy doesn’t even do music or anything anymore, he just goes around making announcements.
Anyway “Diddy” rose out from the bowels of the earth on a platform, and instead of tell jokes or something, what he did was stand in a frozen “I am awesome” pose. All around the huge, circular stage, spouts of water shot up what looked like a hundred feet in the air and blowtorches sprayed out flames. There was probaly fans blowin too, I’m not sure, but most of the elements were represented, anyway. Cirque du Soleil type acrobats lowered down from the sky on ropes and did tricks. There were flashes and smoke machines and sexy dancers and a guy I know named Ethan described it best when he said to me, “You know, I’ve been reading alot about the fall of the Roman Empire, and–”
Disco music played, and “Diddy” kept announcing his name over and over and saying that “anything can happen” tonight. Anything. Mr. T could ride in here on a giraffe and start throwing water balloons at everybody. Chris Rock could drop in on a parachute and become the real host. Kurt Loder could emerge from the crowd with a megaphone and announce that the show has been cancelled and everyone has to go home. Anything can happen.
It turned out what he meant was he would take off his fancy jeweled watch, the type only worn by rappers and cartoon characters like the guy from Monopoly, and “spontaneously” give it to a guy in the audience. After a commercial break Diddy had the watch again and he said, “I want to apologize to my man, the security thought I wasn’t serious, but I want you to keep this,” and gave it to the guy again. Of course, the security would not have understood if he had taken care of this during the commercial break, they would only go along if it was done on camera again. Anything can happen.
It’s true, anything did happen, anything that could be done in under two minutes. MC Hammer and his dancers appeared suddenly to perform less than one song. Snoop Dogg introduced some poor sap up and coming comedian who had to do about two minutes of jokes. Of course he completely bombed, because what the fuck are you doing coming out doing miniaturized standup at an awards show? Paris Hilton and Little Bow Wow introduced one of the very few awards that were given out, but first they compared the jewelry they were wearing and talked about how many karats each item was. If you think the world sucks now, wait until we have a generation of adults who grew up idolizing Paris Hilton and Donald Trump, watching tv shows about tricked out cars and rapper’s mansions. The weird thing is, it turns out the ’80s could’ve been worse.
One of the more elaborate segments was a tribute to the late Notorious BIG. I’ve seen BIGGIE AND TUPAC but I didn’t know much about it so I got one of my contacts to comment:
I guess it’s good he’s still doing tributes to Biggie years later. But replacing the original beats with an orchestra didn’t work. Vern, I think you would appreciate the second song they did, “Warning.” It’s like a pulp crime story about being woken up at 5:36 in the morning by a phone call from a friend at the barbershop who overheard some guys talking about robbing Biggie. Biggie raps both sides of the conversation, for this tribute Snoop Dogg played the friend. That was exciting to see, but then they cut it off halfway through the song. Anyway, I don’t think the orchestra was really playing. It sounded like keyboards, like that Guns ‘n Roses video.
Speaking of playing more than one character, I think the craziest thing in this whole fuckin mess was the performance by R. Kelly. If you don’t know who he is, he is the guy who sings the song on “Space Jam,” also he videotaped himself peeing in an underaged girl’s mouth. But he loves Jesus though. Anyway I was asking earlier if anybody could explain to me his series of “Trapped In the Closet” videos. It’s this weird soap opera thing about him, his girlfriend and two gay guys all in a room yelling at each other. He sings all their lines, which do not rhyme or flow well, while the actors move their mouths as if they’re talking. And he keeps waving a gun around.
For this he did what I think was the thrilling conclusion to the saga, not sure. On a sparse theatrical type set, he stood by himself and lip synched some parts of the song. Other parts he did not bother to lip synch. He was playing all the characters, or trying to, so sometimes he would put his hand on his hip in a feminine manner or make his wrist limp to remind you that he is supposed to be a gay guy. I can’t follow the thing at all but he keeps singing about “Rufus said this, Carl said that, I said this, Lisa said something else,” etc.
I guess you had to be there, but this was pretty much the most amazing thing I’ve seen in a long time. This guy, already famous for peeing in little girls, just had a complete breakdown live on stage. It was like Caligula without the bestiality. Guy has gone completely insane, but he’s famous so they let him do what he wants. He must know what he’s doing, he was on the Space Jam soundtrack.
I wonder, maybe he really DOES believe he can fly?
At one point, an award was given for “breakthrough video.” It went to the “Gorillaz” cartoon video which apparently is a good video. This was the only award where it occurred to me maybe they were choosing it based on the cinematical quality of the video. Another award had gone to a guy Kanye West, who unless I misunderstood said in his speech that he had made two videos for the particular song. He did not ask which video won the award, though. Because who gives a shit.
The show was 3 1/2 hours long, but I swear they couldn’t have given out more than 6 or 7 awards. You want to get mentally pummeled, try watching a show that is designed for people with short attention spans, but is also 3 and a half hours long. There were a handful of performers that were allowed the courtesy of performing one complete song. The last performer was Kelly Clarkson, who won her music career as a prize on a popular game show. “Diddy” introduced it by saying, “What you are about to see is incredible,” which turned out to mean that they spray her with a hose while she sings. I did not think it was so incredible as a performance but I guess I would have to give credit to the electricians who figured out how to do that without killing everybody.
There was also Fifty Cents, a real masculine dude who loves jewelry as much as Liberace did. He got mad at some other rapper called “Fat Joe” and started announcing that “Fat Joe” was a pussy and then whatever else he said got bleeped out. It’s amazing that these guys can go through so many hard struggles on their way to fame (as we are told in their bios and movies) but come out with the mentality of a little kid. Fat Joe called me names I hate Fat Joe Fat Joe is fat and he is a pussy and I hate him. I guess it’s not as bad as that time when Eminem almost got in a fight with a puppet.
Anyway I think this guy is sort of symbolic of the whole thing because think about it this way: even the gangsters have been co-opted. I’m sure if I sat and listened to this guy’s immense body of two or three albums, that there would be more to him than you get from his appearances on MTV. But that’s still the image he is putting out there and I am a poet so it smells like a metaphor to me. So bear with me.
I am obviously not an expert on this type of music, but let me tell you. I don’t like country music at all, but sometimes you hear Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson or the Coal Miner’s Daughter lady or somebody like that and you have to say yeah, yeah, I think I get it. This is good stuff. The album “Straight Outta Compton” by N.W.A. is one of those. These angry kids with jheri curls and Raiders jackets, talking about stupid shit but painting such a picture of their time and place. Their status symbol is a pair of Air Jordans or something, they don’t have the luxury of talking about a $50,000 car. And they drink malt liquor, not Cristal. They mention that alot. Back then, their music was not played on the radio. If they were on the cover of a magazine, it was Newsweek talking about you better lock up your children. White people were just finding out about this shit, and the FBI sent them a threatening letter because of their song “Fuck Tha Police.”
You listen to that song, and if you don’t agree with them about Fucking tha Police, you’ll at least understand why they feel that way. But maybe it was harder for white people to understand then because Rodney King hadn’t happened yet. Anyway what I’m saying is, these guys really were rebels, they really did challenge the status quo, they really did hold a mirror up to the world and bring attention to its harsh realities. And they created music of lasting importance. These days, on MTV anyway, the anti-heroes aren’t that much different from Paris Hilton. All they care about is get rich or die tryin. Their music is about jewelry and cars. They are not angry at the world, I’m not sure they even are aware that there is a world around them. The FBI won’t be tapping their telephone because they tell you to care about the same things the Man or the Matrix wants you to care about. Instead of giving voice to the frustrations of poor people, they fill poor people’s heads with unattainable, stupid dreams.
What the fuck kind of a retard wants to die trying to get a fuckin necklace. You look stupid with that thing on anyway. You really want to drive a car like that? You fuckin know you’re gonna scrape the side on a pole in a parking garage or something. And you’ll spend your days nervous somebody’s gonna steal it unless it’s locked in a secret underground compound. You’ll get pulled over all the time and if you still think you look cool in it think again. You oughta be self conscious because everybody’s looking at you thinking your an asshole or you’re overcompensating for a tiny penis.
There was exactly one shocking moment in this whole freak show, and it was when the band “Green Day” was accepting one of the awards. One of the dudes in the band said something about it being dedicated to the soldiers and hoping they come home safe. It was a weird feeling, like they had just punched Diddy’s party real hard in the gut and knocked the wind out of it, or maybe they just shut off the water. At this point even I was thinking, “Oh shit, that’s right, there’s a war in Iraq.” It never even occurred to me as a possibility that somebody might mention the war or the president or anything that has any real meaning to anybody.
You know what would be an interesting art installation? Picture this awards show projected onto the side of a bombed out building in Iraq. The piece is called “Why do they hate us?” The winners for “Diddy’s Fashion Challenge” are being announced while over 1,000 muslim pilgrims are trampled to death because they heard there was a suicide bomber.
In fact this week we could do it in New Orleans and call it “Why do we hate us?” I can’t watch the news when they’re covering these disasters, but from what I’ve read it sounds like Escape From New York out there. Or Land of the Dead. They’re talking about “bands of roving gunmen,” people shooting at the helicopters that are trying to help them. All these people holed up in the Superdome, living in piss and shit, dead bodies laying around. The air conditioning doesn’t work, all the toilets are backed up, there was a fire in the garbage chute, and nobody believes the buses are coming to evacuate them. Everybody’s lost their homes, their relatives, they can’t go back to the city for months, they have to have their children guard them while they sleep. People are sick and they’re gonna die because there’s little food, no electricity or clean water or anywhere to take them. And some of the hospitals had to close up after their supply shipments got hijacked. Police have been told to stop rescuing people so they can chase after the bandits breaking into houses to steal TVs. Meanwhile, people that just need food are stranded, starving, dying, begging for help, and nobody is coming for them. If that happened here, that would be me. I don’t have a car either. Get water or die tryin.
I read about one guy yesterday that tried to climb over the fence at the Superdome and run away. He had lost his whole family and was desperate to get away from this hellhole. Alot of people believe, or at least like to say, that the sports teams who play there have bad luck because it’s built over a cemetery. And now this. The soldiers had to grab the guy and take him to where he could see the water. There was nowhere to go. So he just started to bawl. He had no choice but to go back into the stadium, where many people have died (one a suicide) and people have been raped, including a child.
Anything can happen.
Geez I’m sorry you guys, I wish we could help. But the National Guard is in Iraq, and the hurricane and flood funds got diverted to Iraq, and we turned down your request to shore up the city a while back, because the government is broke because of tax breaks and wars. But I mean, how were we supposed to know we’d need money to help people? Can’t George Clooney and all those guys take care of that kind of shit? We got terra to kill. And I mean you know how it is. Que se ra se ra. Shit happens. Snakes on a plane. Get over it.
I know some people will be hesitant to bring politics into such a disaster. Obviously politicians can’t be expected to stop a hurricane. But I think now more than ever it makes me sick just thinking about that motherfucker in the White House and what he has done for our country. If this doesn’t show you the massive negligence and ineptitude of this government, then you are blind. Blatantly lining the pockets of the rich, endangering us by tormenting people across the world, meanwhile starving our infrastructure so when there’s a disaster, nobody can do shit, thousands die and people either live like animals or turn into animals. My motto for the Bush years: Thanks alot, asshole.
So what did we do? Were we fiddling while Rome was burning? Well no, it wasn’t a real fiddle, it was keyboards. And R. Kelly was lip synching. Turns out one of the gay guys, Rufus I think, he went back to his wife at the end. And the guy in the audience got to keep Diddy’s watch. Water sprayin everywhere. It was incredible. Thanks for the great party, Diddy.
UPDATE: I just read that “Diddy”, along with fellow rapper/mogul Jay-Z, donated $1 million to the Red Cross along with Sean John and Roc-a-wear clothing for people who need it… so I have to give Mr. Diddy credit for that. Hopefully he will only have to give the check once and not twice like his jeweled watch.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.