Tag Archives: music videos

Psychiatric Hospitals and Music Videos: Part 2

People seemed to like the first edition of this series! So here are some more music videos set in psychiatric hospitals! In the last post, all of the videos used the mental hospital setting as a visual demonstration of the depth and intensity of love, depicting institutionalization as a result of loving someone a whole lot. These videos do not do that.

One video that especially doesn’t do that is Green Day’s ‘Basket Case’

Visually, the video seems similar to the previous ones. The band plays in the common room of a mental hospital in which they are patients. There is no padded room, but several people are being wheeled around passively as if they are catatonic or sedated. Later in the video, both staff and patients appear wearing masks from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. So what is different? The song itself (lyrics here), which is about lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong’s struggles with anxiety and panic attacks. So while in the same setting, instead of declaring his love for someone, he is saying:

Sometimes I give myself the creeps
Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me
It all keeps adding up
I think I’m cracking up
Am I just paranoid?
Am I just stoned?

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s Eminem with the video for “The Real Slim Shady.”

There’s a lot going on in this video and I really don’t want to describe or discuss very much of it at all, because it is offensive up and down and across and diagonally in 17 different ways. (Wikipedia has a very detailed description of the video and an explanation of all the references and insults in the lyrics and the video.) Let’s focus just on the portions set in the mental hospital, where Eminem and other patients, in scrubs or hospital gowns, fidget and wander in a waiting room while Kathy Griffin and another nurse try to control them and hand out their medications. It is just as cliched as the other videos’ portrayals of hospitals, but seems to be played for laughs. And the message of the song and the video are that Eminem is so much better than other celebrities and musicians, so much more clever and original and “real,” that he’s been institutionalized to control him for speaking truth to power. This message could be read as a good reminder of the use of institutions to control and punish people both with and without disabilities for being political and advocating for their rights! Like happened just recently! However, the whole rest of the song and the video is so puerile and hateful that the comparison itself is offensive.

Ugh. I dislike Eminem very much.

Let’s move on and look at a video that is utterly ridiculous and is a tie-in to a movie that is also utterly ridiculous – Limp Bizkit and ‘Behind Blue Eyes,’ from the Halle Berry movie Gothika:

I have a really hard time doing any kind of critical analysis of this video due to the aforementioned ridiculousness factor. The song (lyrics here), which was originally written and performed by The Who, can be read as expressing the lived experience of mental illness? Maybe? But the video – which starts with Limp Bizkit lead singer Fred Durst as a patient in a phsyciatric hospital and Halle Berry as a doctor, and then they kiss, and then they have magically switched bodies? souls? something? So now Berry is the patient and Durst is the doctor! Gothika the movie featured Berry as a doctor in a psychiatric institution who became possessed by a ghost and murdered her husband and then was a patient in the institution but only because of ghostly possession, not because she had a mental illness or anything. But even putting all of that ridiculousness aside – and that is a boatload of incomprehensible creative choices – Fred Durst’s efforts to engage in “acting” when he becomes the doctor and leaves Berry in her padded cell make me laugh so hard it’s impossible for me to focus on anything else in the video.

I have a few more videos for a part 3, but if you know of any I’ve missed, please let me know in comments!

Psychiatric Hospitals and Music Videos: Part 1

After reading Anna’s recent post on Janelle Monae’s ‘Tightrope’ video and how it “is a great example of how not to completely screw up representation(s) of disability,” I started remembering other music videos set in psychiatric hospitals. And then I started watching all these music videos!

One of the earliest I remember is Melissa Etheridge’s ‘Come to My Window.’

In the video (lyrics here), Juliette Lewis is in a bare room with a cot-like bed and a barred window. She wears a white tank top and white srub pants and has a white bandage around her left wrist. She paces, climbs, cries, scrawls on the walls and the floor. Intercut are shots of Etheridge, singing with an acoustic guitar and an old fashioned microphone. At times, the song stops and Lewis speaks/screams the lyrics in the bare room. At the end of the video the bandage comes off Lewis’ wrist and there is no cut or scar.

I feel kind of neutral about that one – I think the ending can be read either as “she was never crazy the whole time!” or as “she’s healing and going to be ok!” and both are somewhat problematic. But neither is it overtly offensive. For that, you have to look for N’Sync’s video for “I Drive Myself Crazy” (I bet you can guess where they’re going with this…)

The video (lyrics here) has segments of each of the band members with their girlfriends and then breaking up with them – inter cut with scenes of them in a psychiatric hospital, acting as stereotypically “crazy” as is possible. (Although wearing satin pajamas, inexplicably.) Clearly meant by the band to be a lighthearted and humorous video, the “joke” is that losing the girlfriend has been so traumatic that the band members have been rendered “crazy.”

Another video featuring psychiatric commitment as a result of losing a romantic partner is Missy Elliot’s “Teary Eyed.”

In the video (lyrics here), Missy Elliot breaks up with a boyfriend, follows him to a building where he is with a new girlfriend, and slashes the tires on his car, causing a horrible accident that kills him. She is sentenced in a court and goes to jail and then presumably to an institution for the “criminally insane.” There are several scenes in a stereotypical padded room, where Missy and sometimes backup dancers wear and dance in straitjackets. While this video certainly brings more seriousness to the subject, it’s hard to argue that it’s portrayal of people with mental illness was any more positive or accurate.

A video I have much more mixed emotions about is Bjork’s video for Violently Happy:

The song (lyrics here) is about the wild and overwhelming emotional exuberance that can go along with love and has long been a favorite of mine. But the video – featuring Bjork and other dancers shown individually in a stark padded room – seems to depict that emotion through the imagery of a psych hospital. I’m not entirely sure how to read this video – is it mocking or endorsing equating of the flush of love with psychiatric disorder? Why is everyone cutting or shaving their hair? – but overall it leaves me with a vaguely icky feeling. (Precise language, I know.)

I had to take a little break after watching those four. All of which depicted almost cartoonishly stereotypical “mental institutions,” with bare cots, padded rooms, and straitjackets. All of them drew parallels between psychiatric hospitalization and jail – the room in Ethridge’s video was bare like a jail cell with bars on the wall, the N’Sync boys were kept in line by guards, and both Bjork and Missy Elliot were straitjacketed in padded cells, Elliot having been sentenced there for her crimes. But none of this directly relates to any actual mental illnesses or disabilities. Instead, the videos co-opt the symbols and accessories to illustrate the extremity and depth of the singer’s emotions. And in all the videos it’s the same emotion being felt so extremely and deeply – love.

Thus concludes Part 1 of Psychiatric Hospitals and Music Videos! Check out Part 2 to see if these patterns continue!