towers

The 21st century has, thus far, been a century of fragile towers. The mid-20th century might have been the time of skyscrapers’ flourishing and growth – but not only was the 21st century (at least as cultural moment) brought into being by the destruction of one, its various crises have been negotiated through and typified in its towers. (See this, for instance.) Some towers are for something, and solve problems; some’s entire purpose is ostentation (and, well, yes, it’s a phallus: let’s get that out of the way); the best are both. (See Owen Hatherley on towers: here. And in other places, talking about them just as well.)

But while 9/11’s importance in bringing the 21st century into, well, itself, might be a favourite of cultural theorists, another movement happened at the crest of the 21st century. It looked a lot like this:

Korn

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It was also, perhaps, the age when the music video became normalised, a commercial and artistic form distinct and as valuable as the music itself. (OK, this isn’t quite true: I just grew up watching lots of MTV then. Anyone who grew up since or after the 80s will tell you that the age they grew up watching lots of MTV is the age that the music video Happened, or whatever. But there is something about music videos from that time, to me at least.) The two things combine in that form.

Exhibit A is this video: Limp Bizkit’s Rollin’ (Air Raid Siren). To get any potential arguments about the lasting cultural significance of 9/11 on nu metal out of the way, this video came out at the end of 2000:

(Like, say, Ryan Adams’ New York, New York, this is an accidental commemoration of the World Trade Center (and, by extension, New York). This is, obviously, a much less good one. But that doesn’t really matter.)

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There’s something exciting about standing on top of a tower. I think Fred Durst is excited about standing on the tower for the same reasons as he is (it seems) also excited about: dancing around in a room full of slightly more scantily clad, female, versions of himself; stealing Ben Stiller’s car; picking up street dancers; driving very slowly in a car; and so on: he can and other people can’t.

(All the same, age will take us all*:)

Old Fred Durst

‘You might be standing on a tower now, but eventually bad things will happen to you’ is a common sentiment, it seems. (According to Lawrence Wright,) at a wedding just before the 9/11 attacks,  “[Bin Laden] quoted from the fourth Sura of the Koran and he repeated it three times. And the line is: ‘Wherever you are, death will find you, even in the looming tower.'” Horace is obsessed with this, too: he reckons that “Pale death, with impartial step, knocks at the hut of the poor and the towers of kings.”

Towers serve the concurrent purpose of keeping people out, and making very clear what it is that those people are being kept out from. The OED uses the word ‘lofty’ an awful lot. You can see everyone, and — more importantly — everyone can see you, being lofty.

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But this is just one example of the towers of nu metal. There are many:

and,

(I wonder whether this is fair: a tower might just represent another place Ville Valo can get blown by lots of wind, as happens in almost all of other HIM’s videos.)

and,

and,

A few different spectrums emerge from these videos: night vs day; old vs new; industrial vs natural; populous vs empty; and so on. The HIM and Evanescence towers, for example, seem related; and so do the Creed and Linkin Park ones.

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That’s probably enough of that. But the point is, it’s very easy to find towers in nu metal videos. There are hardly any videos of any other genre that have people standing on top of a tower.

There are two potential reasons for this:

  1. There is something about wanting to be in a nu metal band that leads people also to want to stand on top of towers.
  2. There is something about the time that nu metal emerged that led those with enough time and money to get filmed on top of towers to do so.

Both are true, I’m sure.

I dismissed the phallus thing before, but there certainly is something masculine about these videos. As before, there is something proud about each of these videos, like we are being dared to push them off (but can’t). All of the people in them are men, with the exception of Amy Lee in Bring Me To Life, who is first kicked out of her room in the tower, and then kicked off the whole thing altogether. Further to that, there are obviously huge numbers of reasons why the convergence of money, time, etc etc would lead people who can build and stand on (and destroy) towers in the early 21st century to do so.

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Despite the hardy attempts of its progenitors (including Fred Durst’s Limp Bizkit revival), nu metal is gone now. So are the towers in videos. Most of the towers themselves are still around, and their number continues to grow. We are still interested in climbing up them, too — the Shard just opened its viewing deck, with a sky-high entry fee and the tagline ‘Stop Looking Up, Start Looking Down’ (on other people, presumably). But lots of the towers are empty, now; that may always have been true but it’s getting truer. People have never needed towers, and now they know it. The same might be true of nu metal.

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