Wednesday, August 7, 2013

In On The Joke

One of the best parts, IMHO, of the Monkees TV Show is the fact that they break the fourth wall . . . or as Peter says repeatedly "the third wall". (Obviously, this man has never been on stage)

And if you are an actor/character who happens to share the name of your doppleganger on and off screen, it's hard to tell where the artifice ends and real life begins.

They turn to the camera.  That's it.

Simple, right?  Easiest thing in the world to have an actor/character/actor turn to the camera and make a face or deliver a line.  Talk right to the audience, like someone in vaudeville who leans over the footlights.  Sharing the joke, especially when it is terrible, releases some of the tension.  Especially when the audience is not really laughing with you.

One modern example of a band trying to reveal that they too are "in on the joke" is Mumford & Sons' video, "Hopeless Wanderer".  But they are trying too hard.  And it is painful.  This week is is a meme, in a few months it will mark the death of the band.  Hopefully.  And I say this as someone who LOVEs folk music.  And banjos.  They just happen to be riding a huge wave of popularity in a tiny raft.  They are credited with bringing the mandolin mainstream, but will soon turn their sound into a caricature of itself.  The lyrics and music do not have enough complexity to outlive their publicity.  If you are looking for CLEVER string music, try Natalie MacMaster, the Carolina Chocolate Drops or Allison Krauss!!

Another obvious comparison is the casting of 4 comedians to "play" the roles of the band, as they are randomly playing piano and banjo as if they were in a silent movie or banjo quartet (??).  They embrace "folk" music, the kind which marks its history from the turn of the century (the year 2000) & the premiere of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"  Dirty, bearded wanderers=excellent banjo skills.  Another part of the joke is that they have enough money to HIRE the best comedians out there to take the role of each of the band members, and have them wink at the audience.   The Beatles played at being actors, and the Monkees played at being both musicians and actors, but a band replacing themselves with actors?  The reversals are just bizarre.

Much credit for the M&S analysis comes from this excellent post, "Don't Let Mumford & Sons Trick You Into Liking Them".    Which resembles the flavor of much of the anti-establishment press from the 1966-1970 era against the Monkees, from the musical snobs of the day.  Here, is where I agree with the cynics, M&S have jumped the shark.  Just because the band is in on the joke doesn't make us laugh with them.

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