Medium Cool: Music Videos from Soundies to Cellphones

By Estes, Jack | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), June 2008 | Go to article overview

Medium Cool: Music Videos from Soundies to Cellphones


Estes, Jack, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Medium Cool: Music Videos from Soundies to Cellphones Roger Beebe and Jason Middleton, Eds. Duke University Press, 2007.

Jason Middleton and Roger Beebe's anthology of articles related to the history, the art, the technology, and the business of music videos is both engaging and thought-provoking. The breadth of the articles they include reveals the complexity of the topic and the challenges they must have faced in narrowing down this material. The collection not only examines the beginnings of attempts to put images to music, but also focuses on the recent developments, not only in the U.S. but also overseas (including New Guinea, Canada, and Finland). It examines the theory involved with the medium as well as the practice.

Much of the work focuses on MTV, as one would expect from such a title, but certainly the collection does not look at MTV exclusively. The articles also cover the theoretical elements of style and form, sometimes relating these elements to other art forms of the twentieth century (especially visual arts such as painting and dramatic arts such as theater).

One of the most interesting sections of the book to me covered authenticity and cultural identification in music videos. When is a performer seen to be "selling out" by having his or her work put onto MTV, particularly a cuttingedge avant-garde performer, one who is known for his or her rebellious style and attitude? How valid is a performer who stands for outsider status when he or she becomes mainstream? What happens to that performer's audience? Does it still trust him or her? These questions and more are examined in this section, particularly in Warren Zanes' "Video and the Theater of Purity." (This took me to the Frontline program called "The Merchants of Cool," showing how MTV has coopted so many major performers who had previously identified themselves as anti-establishment. …

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