Xiu Xiu have said and done some horrifying things over the years. Their new music video “Dear God, I Hate Myself” is no exception. The lo-fi video, which debuted earlier this month on Stereogum, features Xiu Xiu’s newest member, Angela Seo, making herself vomit while the band’s original brainchild Jamie Stewart sits close by dancing, eating a chocolate bar. It’s pretty offensive. Some people love it. Some people hate it. (And most people, rightfully, don’t care.) I haven’t really watched the video in its entirety but I still consider myself a member of the first camp. This is a good video. Well… Only if you interpret it in a specific, sympathetic context.
Dexter Morgan is marketed as “America’s favorite serial killer.” The reason we venerate him stems, I suppose, from how well Dexter deals with his curse. There are, more pointedly, two major forces justifying our attraction. (1) Dexter does not want to murder people. But he has very little control over his actions. He has to murder because when he was a toddler he watched his mother get cut up into little pieces with a chainsaw and was left for hours to bathe in her blood. (2) He makes the best of his nature vindicating himself with a utilitarian argument. His killing, the logic goes, saves more lives than it destroys.
Do you see where I am going with this?
Xiu Xiu, perhaps, operate under a similar code and can be justified by a similar strain of thought. Jamie Stewart does not necessarily want to write songs about how much he hates himself. Angela Seo doesn’t really want to make videos about self-destructive behavior. But Jamie has to write this song, Angela has to make this video, Xiu Xiu has to do this:
This is who they are. That is how they deal and cope with their “dark passenger.” Now, it’s easy to see how Dexter turns his darkness into something ostensibly much brighter, but how do Xiu Xiu do that with this video?
I guess the “Dear God,…” video does so, as much of Xiu Xiu’s discography does, by making an incisive and cathartic comment on our culture of concealment. Think about the stuff of our world: highly edited political speeches, Tiger Woods’ manicured persona, airbrushed photo spreads, gay men married with children, Dexter’s bourgeois façade, your own makeup. So much of our culture is designed to mask imperfection and gloss vulnerability.
Enter Xiu Xiu: Promoted as America’s most honest and brutal ensemble. Test that claim out for yourself, watch the video (if you can). This presents someone at their worst. It exposes a very vulnerable moment. It unveils what the mainstream constantly tries to veil. It’s kind of like the art-school version of David Letterman’s extramarital confession. Or Lady Gaga for real monsters.
I don’t personally have anything against a culture of cover ups and plastic constructions. Masquerading is fun and often beautiful. Being a phony has its benefits. (Salinger can suck it. The Dove Campaign for True Beauty missed the mark.) Even so, as Dexter recently learned when he found his wife murdered, concealment has its price. And I find it refreshing to see people with the courage to go so intensely against the grain.