Kero Kero Bonito and Homer; Farley’s “Only Acting”: Undermining Visual Conceptions of Realism
Because the advancement of technology allowed for digital manipulation of images, viewers often use notions of authenticity to distinguish realism from falseness. However, Kero Kero Bonito’s music video “Only Acting”, as directed with the aid of Homer & Farley, reveal that perceptions of authenticity can be digitally manipulated as well. The video portrays the singer of the band playing with the reproduction of her image on a television, the band performing the song live, and then devolving into noise and glitch visuals. Lyrically, the song depicts an actor rehearsing her lines before performing and notes how they audience rely on their perception of the stage to derive answers. The video calls into question: how do viewers derive realism in the age of technology? How are they positioned in relation to what they see on screen? What is the relationship between the spectator, art, and artist? Using reader-reception theory, derived from theories of music (of both popular music reception and philosophy informed by probability theory), analyses of technological mediation, approaches from glitch and noise visual art, and literary self-reflexive techniques, this paper will examine how “Only Acting” challenges technology’s ability to accurately reproduce reality and undermine the authority figures who repeat and construct it. To convey realism, the video initially showcases objects perform what they viewer perceives as their natural function to reaffirm their sense of objective reality. Additionally, the video also deceptively allots privileged access and imagined closeness to the band by making the camera mimic how they record them to make the video appear authentic. The video then undermines realism claimed by technology by using self-reflexive techniques to remind the viewer of the act of watching and the medium that frames their content. Furthermore, the lyrics also employ self-reflexive techniques in its description of the spectator and author relationship at a theatre production to show how the artist holds power in shaping the audience’s conception of realism. Thus, realism formed by notions of authenticity naturalize social order and legitimate authority by neglecting the historical process. Kero Kero Bonito’s “Only Acting” questions technology’s claim to realism because it distances the viewer from what they see and is subject to digital manipulation. Furthermore, it shows that when the viewer becomes uncritical of they see, authority figures can shape reality under the guise of realism.
Kero Kero Bonito and Homer & Farley’s “Only Acting” denotes realism by reaffirming the functions of the objects around them. By maintaining its diegesis, the video stabilizes the “fictional space and time dimension implied by a narrative” (Springhurst). In “Only Acting”, the fictional space formed situates objects that perform allegedly natural functions to portray an objective reality. Iannis Xenakis states that “the explanation of the world, and consequently of the sonic phenomena which surround us or which may be created, necessitated and profited from the enlargement of the principle of causality” (4). The principle of causality hinges on teleology, which requires that an object contain a preordained purpose and essence. Xenakis further argues that causality stems from the law of large numbers, which “implies an asymptotic evolution towards a stable state (see: Fig. 1)” (4). Adapted to visual culture, this suggests that the more a viewer sees an object repeatedly enact a function, they forge a supposed natural relationship between the former with the latter. Ergo, uncritical viewers assume vision is the most reliable determinant in deriving knowledge. This occurs during the chorus of “Only Acting”, the video showcases the band playing their instruments live. When the singer Sarah Midori Perry sings, the shape of her mouth matches the words (Kero Kero Bonito and Homer & Farley 1:35). Furthermore, when the drummer Gus Lobban hits the cymbals, the audience hears it as they see it (1:17). Though what occurs visually and sonically accurately depict what occurs, the former better satisfies the viewer’s sense of reality because when they see an object, they imagine its function. In reverse, the function can be attributed to many sources. For example, if the audience only hears a cymbal, they may trace the sound to a drum machine that sampled the sound rather than the object itself. However, the video disturbs this imagined association between sound and visual. During the bridge, the audience would hear drums, bass, and guitar. In the video, only the bassist Jamie Bulled can be seen playing their instrument as the unnamed guitarist walks around holding his guitar upright (2:34-2:35). By dislocating the sound from the visual, this reveals how recorded video can be disconnected from reality. Thus, “Only Acting” showcases that recorded video does not necessarily equate to reality. Because of the viewer’s identification with the camera, the natural association between objects and their functions further solidifies their sense of reality as objective and unchanging. When it breaks this immersion, it showcases how authenticity is impossible because technology can deceptively construct reality.
Authenticity: Imagined Intimacy
Kero Kero Bonito’s “Only Acting” uses shaky and grainy camera shots to deceptively elicit an imagined accessibility and authenticity. Diane Railton and Paul Watson state that the pseudo-documentary genre of music video provides a “sense of witnessing naked reality [by] the inclusion of grainy […] film stock, and the use of a shaky hand-held camera communicating immediacy and authenticity” because it presents “an illusion of privileged access” to the artists (50). Additionally, they write that the “most obvious, perhaps, is the recording of the artist(s) performing live to an audience”. However, the authors neglect to elaborate why these elements convey authenticity because poor camera angles and grainy shots distort what the viewer sees, making the presence of a camera obvious. In popular music culture, Simon Frith argues that “the less technology lies between them [artist to listener] the closer they are, the more honest their relationship [is] and the fewer opportunities for manipulation and falsehoods” (81). Adapted to visual culture, this proposes that the more a viewer legitimately feels involved in the action of a video, the more authentic it appears. High-resolution visuals and professional camera angles convey expensive technology that could be edited after recording. This would remind them someone else is filming what they see and reaffirm their distance from the object. Furthermore, in discussing the difference between live and recorded performances, Walter Benjamin elaborates that “the audience’s identification with the actor is really an identification with the camera” (10). When the viewer feels as if they were carrying the camera, then the technology that mediates the content becomes invisible. In the case of pseudo-documentary music videos that depict live performances, the use of shaky camera angles and grainy shots mimic how an audience member would film a concert: the energy would cause them dance along with the music while they attempt to capture the band’s presence. This occurs during the bridge of the song which depicts the band performing live. Here, the camera amateurishly jerks from one side to another, moving from the bassist to the singer filtered through the grainy shots (Kero Kero Bonito and Homer & Farley 2:05-2:22). By simulating how the average fan would behave at a concert, the video immerses them into the performance despite lacking physical contact with the surroundings. Because this spatial intimacy is fabricated, Kero Kero Bonito and Homer & Farley establish that authenticity can be artificially constructed, making realism difficult to via technology. Furthermore, the camera remains present, thus footage however authentic can be digitally manipulated. Thus, “Only Acting” not only deceitfully conveys realism because film better renders reality, but also because it immerses the viewer to imagine a close and easily accessible spatial intimacy.
Self-Reflexive Techniques: Exposing Mediation
While “Only Acting” communicates a sense of accessibility and reaffirms a supposed objective reality, it subtly uses self-reflexive techniques to undermine it. Before “Only Acting” ends with the chorus, the video devolves into glitch visuals accompanied by dissonant noise (Kero Kero Bonito and Homer & Farley 3:20). Funda Senova Tunali claims that “a glitch creates a momentary alienation while creating an uncanny effect and conveying information about the media it is manifested on” (296). The glitches in “Only Acting” serve to remind the viewer of the act of watching. Because this part is latched at the end, it undermines the initial immersion of the viewer. In other words, by revealing the act of watching, they become conscious of how the medium acts as a barrier to distance them from the art. Subsequently, this changes their conception of objective reality depicted via video. Around the beginning of the video, Sarah sits next to a television reproducing an exact image of herself from a different angle and at a close shot (Kero Kero Bonito and Homer & Farley 0:20). Benjamin states that “reproduction as offered by picture magazines and newsreels differs from the image seen by the unarmed eye” (5). This creates the initial impression that video can replicate reality, rendering the medium that mediates and distances the viewer invisible. However, when the video collapses, the singer sits on a chair looking at the television that depicts a sped-up recording of herself (Kero Kero Bonito and Homer & Farley 3:18). No longer does the television portray a one-to-one match of live action and recording because the visuals in the television portray the singer moving at an unrealistic speed only possible by video editing. As they become conscious of the act of watching, they realize that the music video itself can also contain editing that would arbitrarily distort reality. Because authenticity requires minimal distance from the object, the recognition that the camera controls what they see reveals their passivity because the camera mediates and controls their vision. By revealing the materiality of the medium, the viewers become conscious of the act of watching and the technology that frames what they can observe. Thus authenticity is impossible in the presence of mediation.
Authenticity as Authority
“Only Acting”’s use of glitch and noise, however, does not reject that television (or any form of visual media) cannot accurately reproduce reality; rather it indicates awareness of how they frame positions of what can be seen and who controls it. Maria Vodǎ Cǎpuşan proposes that, “making theatre explicit, the reflexive model works specifically with the three elements of theatrical communication—author, actor and spectator” to expose “the author as text producer” (105). Adapted to “Only Acting”, the video’s self-reflexive techniques reveals the hierarchical relationship between artist and viewer in the former’s construction of realism imposed on the latter via the music video’s content and showcases the latter’s viewing position. The lyrics constructs theatre imagery in the first verse to situate the band on the stage viewed by an audience. In the middle of the verse, the lyrics write, “All the crowd they’re in their seats / Looking straight at me for an answer / They just get what they see / They applaud” (0:07-0:16). Here, the lyrics showcases the audience focused solely on what they see on stage to acquire answers. Because they reside in their seats, they retain the distance akin to detachment caused by technological mediation (see Fig. 2 for visual example). In other words, the audience becomes passive because the content presents them answers based on what they visually perceive. If what they see aligns with their conceptions of objective reality, the content then elicits realism. Additionally, for that content to exist, someone must first create it. As mentioned earlier, technology mediates what they viewer sees and use editing to distort reality. This requires someone to control the technology. Expanding from Vodǎ Cǎpuşan’s ideas, because the author is text producer, they can arbitrarily portray a particular perspective on an object under the guise of objectivity. Because the viewer focuses solely on what they see, the artist becomes invisible. In relying solely on their vision, what becomes visible appears unbiased in the absence of the author. Ergo, notions of realism cause the legitimization of authority. Using self-reflexive techniques to expose the hierarchical relationship serves to unveil the viewer’s passivity in their acceptance of the author’s authority. Kero Kero Bonito’s “Only Acting” questions authority via authenticity by revealing that the hierarchical relationship between the artist, song, and viewer can reproduce objective reality.
Kero Kero Bonito and Homer & Farley’s “Only Acting” challenge technology’s ability to reproduce reality. Remaining uncritical of what technology portrays engender passivity to the viewer and legitimates the authority of the people who shape objective reality. The video matches the object with their supposed function as the viewers hear what they see during the band’s performance. Furthermore, it matches the object with their supposed function as the viewers hear what they see during the band’s performance. However, both the spatial intimacy and link between object and function become undermined when the video reveals that these allegedly authentic aspects are artificially constructed via editing. This becomes more apparent when the video glitches as it reminds the viewer of the act of watching and how mediation limits what they can see. Additionally, the video’s self-reflexive techniques exposes the authority of the author in their ability to shape objective reality. It also displays how the spectator passively accepts this authority because they only see the content instead of the artist who created it. Technology can reproduce a particular realism under the guise of the natural way of things. Heavy reliance on visual perception in the age of technology as the determinant for knowledge undermined because anyone can manipulate content and artificially construct realism. Ergo, Kero Kero Bonito & Homer & Farley’s “Only Acting” proposes that viewers then must become active participants in delineating truth from falseness rather than relying on preconceived notions of realism.
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