Freaky Friday: The Residents


The Residents are a performance art/music group from Northern California.  They are freaky.  To say the least.  I have no other words for them.

The Residents are officially anonymous, although there are some names attached to the current lineup (see here for more info on their history and rumored members).  They retain their anonymity by wearing huge eyeball masks.

Who was that masked man?

Because of a dearth of music videos, and because The Residents have always used film/video as part of their creative modus operandi, they were an early MTV staple.  I know that’s where I saw them first.  As a teenager, I was flummoxed by them.  I still am.  While clearly interesting and creative, The Residents are also deeply unsettling.  They seem to take delight in making audiences uncomfortable.

Good art often is uncomfortable, though.  The point of art is not to mirror society, but to question it.  From the Renaissance to Pop Art, artists have made it a point to challenge convention, morality, and social norms.  My favorite artists are the ones who say something about the world they live in, for better or worse.  I don’t mean topical or political art, necessarily; that kind of work is important, to be sure, but can also seem too rooted to a particular time and place.  (One of my all-time favorite comic strips, Bloom County, is a perfect example of this.  It is still very funny, but reading it now is like looking at a time capsule of the 1980s.)  I’m always interested in art–paintings, music, television, whatever–that looks at the world and asks “Why?”  Elvis, The Beatles, and Bob Dylan are so endlessly fascinating because they changed the rules of how music was made, because they did something new that essentially upended conventional wisdom about popular music.  Picasso and Andy Warhol both challenged viewers to look at the world from a different perspective, literally.  James Joyce and Virginia Woolf both refused to be confined by traditional narrative styles and helped forge new literary frontiers.  These are just a few examples of how art and artists of all sorts influence the world.  And then there’s The Residents.


The Residents follow in the footsteps of most great creative and talented minds by questioning the world we live in, by asking why we hold the values we hold, and what kind of damage are these values doing to us.  Why is money and material wealth so important?  What is success?  Just what is it that we’re running from?

This video is long, and, frankly, disturbing.  But I think it’s worth watching.  I love how it takes an old children’s song and brings out a deeper, darker meaning.  You can have all the stuff in the world, money and power and security.  You can build empires and fortresses, but it won’t make a difference if what’s in your soul is corrupt and empty.  “Run, run as fast as you can.  You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man.”


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