Adventure of a Lifetime and Animal Carnivals
The first thing I thought when I saw Coldplay’s video for their new release Adventure of a Lifetime was: “Uh-oh”
Despite what’s thrown around on Never Mind the Buzzcocks, I think Coldplay are generally fine. And I have basically nothing against the song.
But the video….damn.
For any of you who haven’t got round to seeing it yet, the animated video uses motion capture technology to transform Coldplay’s four band members into all-singing, all-dancing, instrument-wielding, brand-endorsing (yes, we all saw that Beats pill) CGI chimpanzees. Yep….
Undeniably the video is, on a technical level, brilliant. The band apparently worked for six months on the video, collaborating with VFX and post-production team Mathematics and Imaginarium Studios’ Andy Serkis. Now I adore Andy Serkis and he is, without a doubt, the king of motion capture. And it needs to be said that his portrayal of Ceasar in the Planet of the Apes movies was freakin’ outstanding.
But, and I’m sorry, I just can’t see this music video as anything other than grotesque!
My conception is obvious born from my research into my thesis from last year which focused on precisely this issue: the anthropomorphisation of apes in visual culture.
Anthropomorphism, in short, is the attribution of ‘uniquely’ human characteristics on nonhuman animals. Basically, Adventure of a Lifetime is the archetype of anthropomorphism.
Now there are, crudely speaking, two kind of anthropomorphism: serious anthropomorphism and naïve anthropomorphism.
Serious anthropomorphism suggests that nonhuman animals are really like human beings in important, ethically-relevant ways. It is this kind of anthropomorphism that is argued to be a useful tool for deconstructing the animal-human binary; that is, the idea that humans are separate from, and superior to, all other animals ¹
Naïve anthropomorphism, however, is the kind often found in animated movies and adverts and is overall unrealistic, with animals given human speech, clothes and props. This is the kind of anthropomorphism we are confronted with in Coldplay’s video, as Chris-Martin-Chimp throws some shapes whilst the other apes pluck guitar strings and play percussion.
It is generally thought that this naïve anthropomorphism reinforces the idea that humans are separate, unique and important.
In the context of Coldplay’s video, as well as in other familiar contexts such as the Cadbury gorilla and PG Tips chimps, animals become performers. We find these animals amusing, and that’s entirely the point: these videos are comical because the apes incongruously emulate ‘cultured’ behaviour, and humans, reaffirmed in their superiority, enjoy the absurdity.
As academic John Sorenson has stated, “laughing at inferiors reaffirms our own abilities”. In the end, the singing, dancing, drumming, tea-drinking ape allows human spectators to enjoy a parody of behaviour while reaffirming humans as ‘cultured’ and, therefore, ‘special’.
Now I’m not saying that Coldplay, in making the video, did so with malintent.
All I feel is that when confronted with these representations it’s hard to discern harmless entertainment, a display of technical prowess, from that which could serve to further entrench the idea that humans are special.
But hey, maybe there’s a deep and meaningful message buried in there?
Nope. Director Mat Whitecross is quoted as having said, “So the head of the studio, Ben Lumsden, put together some ideas – we had zombies, rock stars, aliens… and the one avatar everyone went for was the chimp! So we tried one take with the whole band as chimpanzees – and they enjoyed it so much we decided that was the way to go.”
Maybe (for what it’s worth…and just in case Chris Martin reads science blogs), if you’re a world famous band about to make a music video, think about what it means and don’t just do it for shits-and-giggles.
- ‘Anthropomorphising Apes in Visual Culture: a Tool to Desconstruct the Animal-Human Binary?’ Own work (2015)
¹ Examples of this kind of anthropomorphism can be found in the works of photographers such a Brita Jaschinski, James Mollison and Tim Flach.