It's All Fun Until Someone Gets Totally Fucking Murdered: Kids and Violence In Music Videos

Playing cowboys and jihadis in the video for Is Tropical's "The Greeks"
Playing cowboys and jihadis in the video for Is Tropical's "The Greeks"

Last week, while discussing the recent uptick in apocalypse-themed videos, we spent a couple sentences discussing the angry, Mad Max-style children that stand to inherit our post-doomsday world, at least as represented in the video for Foster the People's "Helena Beat." That video was meant to exist not in an allegorical version of our world, but in a landscape grown out of the worst logical extensions of our own -- an indication similar to the opening scenes of Children of Men, littered with recognizable shops, brands and clothing styles, which made the possibilities it implied all the scarier.

Fact is, we don't need to travel into a lightly dusted, slightly sun-parched desert or recognizably dystopian London to convince ourselves that the globe is spinning just a bit faster towards a place unhappier than we're comfortable with. Did anyone else feel more like a helpless, frustrated preteen during the Debt Ceiling Crisis than they have in a long time? Childhood, that place of uncertain meaning buried inside the tactile and visible (see: Tree of Life), is an extraordinary analogy for how it feels to be an adult right now, which might explain the shifting ways kids are being portrayed in music videos and cinema -- more adult than ever in the scenarios they are asked to inhabit, just as confused as the rest of us on the best way to proceed.

In May, French directing quartet Megaforce released one of the deftest artifacts that will ever be created dealing with the place where playtime, war games, and the death fetish of modern action films intersect. Everything's done right in the video for Is Tropical's single "The Greeks" -- from the pitch-perfect G.I. Joe explosions and gun shots grazing the driveway, to the paved-within-an-inch-of-its life contemporary tract home neighborhood, to the kids' studious recreations of movie-inspired gangster scenes that morph into something much more damning by video's end.

The thrilling, discomfiting genius of "The Greeks" is the uncomfortable space between how much fun this obviously was to make and how disturbing it is to see a kid shoot a gun point blank, even with a cartoon bullet -- not to mention that the video doesn't shy from the overtly alienating effects of updating Cowboys and Indians to Us and Muslims. Everything is undeniably cute, and undeniably scary. That is not to say that they'll absolutely grow up to be xenophobes foaming at the mouth for conflict, but that they'll grapple openly with how our public conflicts become the "natural" oppositions and suspicions we'll be dealing with for some time to come.

On the Kitsune records site, Is Tropical deny any meaning but fun and fantasy as the basis for their collaboration with Megaforce: "Don't get carried away by politics - this is a straight-up kid brawl the way it played out in your head when you were stealing your mum's mascara to be like Arnie in Predator. It isn't a shocking rebuke to our drama queen, populist news culture either - just naive, blissful shoot-yr-mate until he's definitely dead war-games - the way you wish it still could be." Something in this dodge and denial is reminiscent of the critical feedback surrounding Attack the Block, another kids 'n' fantasy violence spectacle directed by first-time feature helmer Joe Cornish. Except that where Is Tropical is insisting there isn't more to their video, somehow Attack is being received as a little less than the pro-kids, pro-future, pro-globalized culture manifesto that its strongest moments prove it to be.

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We're growing away from a Jerry Maguire, kids-say-the-darndest-things era, and towards increasing instances of giving kids credit for understanding what they see, hear and feel -- for example, Sally Draper explaining infinifty and existence via the Land O Lakes butter box while her pal Glen dissects the sadness that Betty Draper is only beginning to realize she feels in the Mad Men season four finale.

A year ago, director Matt Wells plumbed this fault line between adult responsibility/misery and pre-pubescent fantasy/rage with a clear-eyed, strange, straight-up funny video for Rafter's "No Fucking Around." We're having trouble keeping track of whether we prefer arrested development (adults that join weekend dodgeball leagues and sign-up for city-wide scavenger hunts) because it's fun or because we feel as rattled and rough around the edges as that cool fat kid righteously spazzing in a button-down shirt and tie at the bus stop.

The duality we're foisting on kids right now is at the heart of what's giving some people trouble with Attack the Block. While it gets good marks in most quarters for being a fun summer action flick, objections crop up here and there to being able to get behind the protagonists, a multi-colored gang of teenage boys in the British ghetto who spend the first five minutes of the film mugging a woman, then spend the rest of the film teamed up with her against the aliens landing in their hood.

Andrew O'Hehir at Salon delivers the most succinct kneejerk response to this setup, saying, "They've behaved like sadistic creeps not once but twice, and now we're supposed to root for them when the aliens bring it for real? Sorry, guys." When the tried-and-true cinematic device of the violent, flippantly murderous anti-hero -- a trope that has worked as well and frequently in folk legends as on the silver screen -- is transposed onto teenagers, suddenly we have trouble letting our allegiances shift with the action, or at least are disturbed by that request. O'Hehir mumbles some objections to his own objection -- he knows not everyone else feels like this, he knows he might be mad that someone is trying to take advantage of his liberal guilt -- but his disturbance is made of the same stuff that actually makes Attack great, and "The Greeks" equally fun and troubling.

These kids are the future, in all their capacity to be just as human as the rest of us, in all the ways we've failed them, in all the bullshit we're laying down for them to fix later. One critic's review of Attack the Block hits this square on the head. Peter Bradshaw, writing for the Guardian, is steeped in the schizophrenic British culture of ASBOs (anti-social behavior orders) and high tea, the English Defense League and Skins. As Britain and the rest of Europe march towards their future, at once more intrinsically liberal than the US and increasingly imploding under the demands of multiculturalism, Bradshaw has the answer we have to face to the question that Megaforce, Wells and Cornish's work all pose: "It's easy to watch a film like this and wonder ... when are the grownup white actors going to take over? The answer is never."

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