Month: September 2016

Harmonicas and Frilly Panties: Culture Club – “Karma Chameleon”

Culture Club Karma Chameleon

Well, we start out with some helpful words on the screen that we’re in “Mississippi-1870”, and right away you know this is going to be a very realistic video because there were so many opportunities for drag queens back in that day. We’re staring at a river, but I have my doubts if it’s the Mississippi River because it only looks about 10-feet wide and ain’t no riverboat gonna get up in that.

The camera pans back from the opening shot and we have an elaborately staged scene with lots of extras dashing about, apparently preparing for the arrival of a riverboat on the river that is not the right river. (In the 1870s, the anticipated arrival of anything was cause for overcompensating celebration, with folks getting all gussied up and putting in their good set of false teeth.) Everybody’s wearing period clothing, so at least the wardrobe mistress was going for authenticity, unlike the location scouts who were clearly drunk and made a wrong turn at some point.

But the fact that the band members are still sporting modern-day haircuts sort of throws things off a bit. (You guys couldn’t wear a wig? Your leader doesn’t have a problem with it, why should you?) Nice atmospheric touch with the cameo of the old guy pretending to play the harmonica, just as we hear that instrument on the soundtrack (it’s magic!), but it’s very clear that gramps had never seen a harmonica before he walked on the set and somebody told him to get busy with the juice box. He’s inappropriately manhandling that thing like he took a Hot Pocket out of the microwave before it had cooled off a bit.

Then, lo and behold, the camera runs across Boy George, dressed in an outfit that is not from any period, perched uncomfortably on top of what might be a tarp-covered Buick. He starts singing as the camera zooms in, and Boy makes sure that he artfully turns his head so we can see he did his own makeup, apparently using a watercolor set and a fistful of pharmaceuticals.

We then focus in on a guy in a top hat (oh wait, all the guys are in top hats, except for the poor folks lugging steamer trunks around for no apparent reason). Anyway, we learn that this particular top-hatted guy is nimbly working the crowd, discreetly stealing gold and jewels from the clueless people who are just trying to look attractive and ignore the fact that mosquitoes are eating them alive and that brown rivers smell very bad in the summer. (We get a shot of one lady who was probably the original inspiration for the phrase “she could eat an apple through a fence”, an unfortunate descriptor that could bode poorly for her self-esteem and marketability. But her dress is really pretty, so if she works it just right, she might be able to score a matrimonial hookup before this video is released.)

Boy George does a nice ambisexual move with his fingerless-gloved hand, which causes everybody to think “hey, we got us a drag queen on that there Buick, let’s go closer!” So they do, marching up to surround Boy, who was obviously born for the spotlight, even if that spotlight is a kerosene lamp held by an urchin wearing a potato sack. Folks are all jigging a bit to the mesmerizing beat, including some out-of-place showgirls who got fired in Tupelo, probably because they insist on wearing dead parrots in their hair, and now they are looking for jobs in a more accepting place where no one judges them for their accessories.

Brief close-up on one of the showgirls, who makes it very obvious that she doesn’t really like the song (honey, don’t snarl like that, ain’t nobody gonna put a ring on it), but she’s going to whip her skirt around anyway if it can get her a smidge of attention. (She’s that girl in high school who would bang anything if it meant nudging her closer to being selected Most Popular by her classmates, only to be stunned when she received the certificate for Most Likely to Procreate.) Quick image of Natalie Cole and Lyle Lovett clapping their hands (no idea) and then we zip over to two blonde-headed boys shoving something in a wicker basket. (Was that last bit a subtle reference to Boy duct-taping his manly bits before a show?)

We get another shot of the worthless guy who can’t play the harmonica (why is he still here?), followed by the other band members shaking their groove thang while standing near one of the dead-parrot showgirls, this one looking amazingly similar to Joan Collins. (Who asked her to be here? Did she just get fired from “Dynasty”?) Then we are treated to a montage bit that is not the finest hour of the editor, with random shots of extras proving that they know the words to the chorus and/or not realizing that the camera is on them whilst they fiddle with body parts that should not be fiddled in public. Meanwhile, Evil Top Hat man is snatching jewels left and right as his many vapid victims gaze upon Boy George and his mesmerizing performance.

Sadly, the montage continues, because once you choose the low road, you discover that there are roads even lower. We are presented with one guy in a straw cowboy hat that is clearly listening to a different song, his body shimmying discordantly in a manner that will not become acceptable until somebody invents Burning Man decades later. And there’s a little girl kicking her legs in musical abandonment, with her tiny feet, which probably should have stayed under her dress per the director’s memo, clad in those “jelly shoes” which won’t even be invented for another 100 years or so. Then again, neither will Boy George’s glitter makeup.

We have even more shots of the crowd in a religious fervor over Boy’s dreadlock drag and hand choreography, hootin and a hollerin and embracing diversity in a manner that wouldn’t have, and wouldn’t still, happen in Mississippi. It’s starting to get a little boring, so thank the personal deity of your choice that the damn massive riverboat finally pulls up on the puny river that couldn’t support a surfboard even on a good day. Everybody is very excited about the arrival, with the chorus girls waving what looks like the national flag of Ghana over their heads and having small orgasms.

Then people start scrambling onto the boat, with an extended shot of that one irritated show girl who is still not happy to be here, stomping along with a pout and getting her flag dirty (among other things). Oh, look, there’s another unhappy woman, this one in a yellow dress and glaring at her man like he ain’t gettin’ nothin’ for dinner. Why are these people so angry? They get to ride on a boat now, and they no longer have to watch a British pop star sing the same four words over and over while flipping his braids and turning to face cameras that aren’t really there.

Anyway, the ship launches toward somewhere that isn’t here, and we now have a poker game going on, because most people never study history and the scriptwriters don’t realize that people can do other things on riverboats besides gambling. The other Culture Club members join the game, as well as evil Top Hat man, while several ladies in pretty hats pretend to be completely interested in the action. Boy George is apparently not allowed to play, and is, in fact, forced to stand outside the room and look in a window while playing the harmonica. (I guess they finally fired that first useless guy and Boy is picking up some extra money because you never know when the record sales might plunge.) I don’t know why they are making Boy-Girl stand out there, but it is 1870, so there may have been some maritime compliance issues concerning flamboyant couture.

The poker game is fairly uninteresting (how many multi-camera shots of people studying their cards and contemplating can a person stand before they lose interest and go review porn on the Internet?), so we’re actually happy when evil Top Hat Man finally wins, even if he cheated. The band members are not so thrilled, however, with one of them even smoking a cigar to show his displeasure, a defiant stance that should not be considered a reflection on his sexual affiliation.

We get a very quick shot of one of the ladies making a startled expression that is entirely too much, an example of over-acting that you rarely see outside of the dinner-theater circuit. (If you pause the video at this point, you can study the women on both sides of Offended Ophelia casting glances at her that one shouldn’t eat the broccoli casserole if they can’t handle the after effects.) Then we roll into a montage of lots of people we don’t know intimately having a Sherlock Holmes moment and realizing that personal items they owned at the start of the video are no longer in their possession. The angry crowd races off to seek revenge on evil Top Hat Man and his sticky fingers, even though Top Hat is sitting right there and all this mess about racing is completely unnecessary.

Still, revenge is a dish best served when other people can see you getting it, so we have a rousing scene with Top Hat being forced by the angry mob to take off his stylish jacket and then walk the plank to his doom. (Proving once again that the scriptwriters are not fully connected to the space-time continuum.) Top Hat hits the water and presumably does not live to resurface, a bit of a stretch considering this river is only about two-feet deep, but his presumed departure puts everyone in a very festive mood.

The chorus girls jump on top of the captain’s cabin and do a nice dance routine, showing us their frilly panties, because Pinterest hadn’t been invented yet and there was nothing else to do. Then everybody else decides, in a very progressive move for 19th-century rural Mississippi, that if the nice drag queen can’t come inside, we’ll just go out there and join him on the deck. And so they do, with the first known gay pride riverboat parade taking place as they sail down the river and the song fades…

Red, gold and green, people. Say it with me. A hundred times.

 

Click here to watch this video on YouTube.

Originally published on 08/18/10, revised and updated with extra flair for this post.