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Freaky Friday: “Whip It”

Posted by purplemary54 on October 18, 2013

Dangerous Minds, which is often a source of both entertainment and irritation, turned me on to the terrific Punk/Rock band The Undertones today (and I will be listening to more of their stuff).  I thought about doing today’s post about them, but they’re really not that freaky.  Good, but not freaky.  I then began trying to think of another Punk/Post-Punk/New Wave band that would fit the bill.  The Mekons came to mind; so did Gang of Four.  But none of them quite fit the bill, although “At Home He’s a Tourist” comes pretty close.  Then I remembered Devo.

Like the Residents, Devo was always more performance art than music.  There was something unsettling about their red hats and blank stares.  That was the point, of course.  Devo was short for de-evolution.  Their theory was that man was no longer evolving, but regressing.  (I’m not so sure they weren’t absolutely correct.)  They lampooned commercialization and mob mentality.  Conformism seemed to be the greatest sin anyone could ever commit.  (Still not disagreeing here.)

“Whip It” doesn’t seem to be much of a commentary on our societal tendency to go along with the crowd.  But if pay attention, they repetitious lyrics turn into the equivalent of, “Go on, everybody’s doing it.  Don’t be such a wimp.”  Combined with the metronome-like synthesizers and rhythm, the words turn ominous: “When a good time turns around, you must whip it.  You will never live it down, unless you whip it.  No one gets away, until they whip it.”  It’s like the sideshow freaks pounding the table and chanting.

The video is also deeply weird.  It’s hard to describe just how transgressive this seemed back in the early 80s.  I understand it a little better now; there’s a lot of gender and race commentary to go along with the condemnation of conformity, here.  But when I was a youngster, it was just disturbing.  Mark Mothersbaugh seems like the ringleader of some sadistic, psycho-sexual rodeo.

Even stranger, this was the guy who went one to compose the music for Rugrats Now that’s freaky.

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