Music Video Analysis #2: Devo – Beautiful World


The American band Devo produced the video at some time in 1981. I Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 09.23.10cannot find much evidence of media commentary relating to the video; unlike Sexy and I Know It, the content of Beautiful World is not really a departure from the music videos normally shown in 1981, and Devo was far from a mainstream band. The extent of the controversy was some censoring that took place on the ABC music show Countdown: a scene in which a woman is engulfed in animated fire was considered too violent, and cut from the version broadcast.


The song itself, much like many other Devo songs, is a political statement, and the message is not immediately clear to the viewer/listener. The video Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 09.47.16was made to reinforce the intended message of the song, because it is not entirely obvious that the singer is being sarcastic if given just the audio. The implication of the video is that the singer is lying to the character watching the television he appears on; Mothersbaugh is shot in black and white and directly faces the camera, Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 09.45.33his actions aggressive and vocal delivery strong and deliberate, to create a threatening image reminiscent of Big Brother from 1984 (pictured). The repeated insistence that “it’s a beautiful world” initially fits with the video used; the imagery of beautiful women and flowers fits well, but by the end of the video has given way to footage of World War One, African famines, car crashes and race riots to create dissonance and show clearly that the singer is not telling the truth.

The world depicted in the video is a dark place. As mentioned before, it becomes clear by the end of the song that the positive events and happy imagery used at the start are merely a cover. A character stands in front of the screen that the videos are played on, which is given a prominent place on a wall and controlled by an elaborate control panel, which further suggests a 1984-style propaganda device, a la the Telescreen. Additionally, Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 09.59.32it is implied from the way Mothersbaugh stands that he can see the viewer. The character is absolutely shocked once the race riot footage appears, which suggests that he is entirely ignorant of anything outside of what the screen tells him, further supported by his childlike demeanor through the video.


The majority of the video takes place while looking through the observing character’s eyes, watching the screen with the propaganda on. The establishing shots of the video do show the room that he stands in, though, which gives information to build the world with. The lighting itself is mostly low key, with spotlights on both the screen and the character watching it. This both shows that he is ignorant to everything outside of what the screen shows and shows the audience what to focus on in the scene. The set itself is futuristic, or more accurately was considered futuristic in 1981, with an elaborate control surface used in the beginning Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 10.06.30to turn the TV on, and then tweaked throughout the video. The watching character wears an odd jumpsuit looking thing, another part of the ‘future’ setting. This goes further again to suggest that the character lives in a world controlled by the TV; this would be technically possible in the time shown on screen, but not in the early 80s. There is too much iconography in the video to name all of it, but the main iconography is, as mentioned before, the ‘1984’ Telescreen used, to imply the sort of world that 1984 takes place in.


The video is full of ethical issues, because the point of the video is to show bad things happening in the world. The sexism of a man implied to be throwing his wife around (literally), the racism of a race riot and the KKK and an actual group of Nazis are all shown on screen, to point out that these things are bad. The video cannot be accused of being racist or sexist on these images, as the videos are explicitly shown to be examples of the wrong thing to do: they are literally there to show racism and sexism are Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 10.17.46wrong. Due to the video’s message, it is unclear whether the mildly sexist parts towards the middle, with the dancing girls, are sexist, as these begin appearing at around the same time as the war footage and bridges exploding and so forth. It is entirely possible that these are mildly sexist because that was the attitude of the filmmakers at the time the clips were made (the late 1950s to the 1960s, from the look of it).



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