I’m always troubled by the music videos I have to watch on my annual visit to the gym. They seem to be simultaneously pornographic and narcissistic: ‘I am an object of immense desire,’ the performers seem to pout, ‘and that single fact utterly absorbs and obsesses me’. This is true of the semi-naked female performers, but it’s true in another way of the supercool male gangster types with their impassive faces, so sure of their own power that nothing can move or impress them.
This article speaks of ‘pornification’ in connection with music videos, and it’s a good word for it (in my novel Marcher I actually invented a musical genre called pornopop to try and capture the same phenomenon), but I suggest pornification is a part of an even wider process which you might call burgerisation.
A McDonalds-type burger, it seems to me, is a food from which everything has been stripped except the things that we actively crave for. Never mind subtle flavour or variety, the burger homes ruthlessly in on the basic ingredients which our evolutionary history has wired us up to find irrestistible, notably salt and fat. For why bother with the irrelevant detail? Not only will it put up the production costs but it will dangerously delay the moment of gratification for fickle consumers, who are always in danger of wandering off to other less challenging sources of pleasure.
And so with the music videos. Stories of tenderness and romance have been stripped away and the message pared down until it as close as possible to the primitive templates of desire – desire for sex and for control – that are hardwired into our brains. Why bother with anything that actually has to be listened to? Why bother with anything that deals with the messiness of actual human relationships?
Even the gym itself, in a way, represents a kind of burgerisation, for it provides pure exercise from which everything else has been clinically removed: the pleasures of productive physical work, the joys of the open air, the sights and sounds you experience when you go for a run, or a walk, or ride a bike. My son once pointed out to me a glass-fronted gym where the exercise machines on the first floor (with their dials and heart rate monitors) were accessed via an escalator, presumably to save the few seconds of unscheduled exercise that would be involved in using stairs.
That really is the essence of burgerisation. Like a call centre which has refined all possible queries to just six options, a burgerised product is quite deliberately isolated from the world’s richness, and from its own origins, in order to meet a few basic core objectives with the maximum efficiency and the minimum of unnecessary cost.
No wonder I stay away from that gym.