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Old 04-09-2002, 04:45 PM   #1
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my interpretation of zoo tv...

U2's Zoo TV- Making sense of the Madness

"One nation under God has turned into one nation under the influence of one drug-television"(Heroes). These were the leading words of U2's Zoo TV concert extravaganza and an introduction into the possible meaning behind the flashing TV's and flashy stage dressing of Zoo-TV. U2, a band who had just four years ago stood on a bare stage singing songs about war and faith, had become aware of the contradictions inherent in its position. By the time of their breakthrough Joshua Tree, the band were multimillionaires, but they dressed on stage like paupers and continued to rail against the system; even though their position in the music industry had placed them in the very system they railed against. This struggle to resolve such contradictions led to a search both musically and conceptually that would incorporate postmodern realizations of the inescapability of capitalism, corruption of the media, and perversity of technology. Yet, in this ironic costume, they still wanted to communicate the message of their music, which struggled to work through this madness and refused to let go of such old fashioned topics like love, spirit and hope. This search resulted in the album Achtung Baby and the tour that followed it, Zoo TV. Zoo TV was U2's response to both their contradictions and the general postmodern condition and through exaggeration of its symptoms they hoped to transcend the conditions.
"What do you want, what do you want?" These words ring out over an introduction of military like drum beats and satellite broadcasts. A speeded up version of "An Ode to Joy" plays over news reports of the Gulf War as U2's Zoo Station begins. U2's lead vocalist Bono walks in to the electronic rhythms of the song with stiff and marionette like movements dressed in a composite rock star outfit. This is the wear of the first of two characters he will play in the course of this show, the Fly. His leather pants are borrowed from Jim Morrison, his jacket from the 1968 Elvis comeback special. One lyric he sings during this song "Time is a train, makes the future look past", speaks of the acceleration of life as we know it. Time "leaves you standing at the station, your face pressed up against the glass". Frederic Jameson also speaks of this condition in his essay Postmodernism and Consumer Society. "One is tempted to say that the very function of the news media is to relegate such recent historical experiences as rapidly as possible into the past"(Jameson 1974). Here Jameson comments on the media lampooned in the introduction of Zoo TV. It streams information in such a way that events that occurred only a week prior are relegated into yesterday's news. The postmodern west is losing its ability to retain its past, and so lives more and more in a perpetual present and a perpetual future. Recognizing this loss, Zoo Station goes on to declare that it is ready to embrace technology and the media. "I'm ready for the shuffle, ready for the deal"(Zooropa). In this the U2 declares that they are ready to embrace technology and capitalism, ready to be sold and sell themselves ( Dolinar).
Following this admission, U2 then leads into the Fly. This is first single from Achtung Baby and also the origin of Bono's Fly character. Throughout this song, the breakdown of meaning is explored. One possible cause of this breakdown mentioned is the disappearance of the modern conscience. "It's no secret that a conscience can sometimes be a pest"(The Fly) Late capitalism has completely distorted the origin of the things we consume. It has estranged the consumer from the origin of our products and erases their history. Though many hours of backbreaking labor may go into the nicely packaged shirt we purchase, we remain ignorant of it. Without a sense of history, we can deceive ourselves, and the song suggests that our ready consumption of commercials encourage that self-deception.
The nature of that deception and self-deception is explored more explicitly as "The Fly" bleeds into "Even Better than the Real Thing". At the conclusion of "The Fly" The Fly gives a short introduction to the show. He holds an exaggerated remote control and zaps the televisions mounted on the stage. This is a simulation of our own TV habits, and when he stops on a serious program, he changes it and remarks "That's the thing about TV, when something serious comes on, you just change the channel". Through this monologue the Fly, a parody himself, parodies the viewing habits of the fans at the concert. He concludes his speech by ending the channel flipping and exclaiming "but you didn't come all the way out here to watch TV now did ya", and launching into the Baudillard inspired "Even Better than the Real Thing"
In Baudillard's Procession of the Simulcrea, Baudillard claims that signs have replaced the real in culture, and U2's song points to this as well. As the Fly sings "You're the real thing, even better than the real thing" to the simulated images on the flashing television screens that surround him, he places Baudillard's theory that the hyper-real has replaced the real into the eyes of the concert audience. Through pointing out that consumer culture promises us products better than reality, U2 admits the pervasiveness that consumer culture has on the modern experience. The song speaks of false transcendence that consumerism promises in "take me higher, you will take me higher" as well as the emptiness behind its promises "we're free to fly the crimson sky, the sun won't melt our wings tonight".

The first three songs performed in Zoo TV contain shades of postmodern theory and suggest a postmodern outlook on life. The fourth song in the lineup, however, begins a transition to the second stage of this multimedia spectacle. "Mysterious Ways", which also searches for the transcendent, begins with the question "is she going to be there when I hit the ground?" Unlike "Even Better that the Real Thing" the she in this song has a personality. "She" talks of things the singer can't understand, like love and truth. The song ends affirming meaning by claiming "one day you'll look back and you'll see where you held, high by this love".
Through this song U2 transitions to the Elvis stage of their show, a stage where the trappings on the stage remain the same, but the songs sang are transparent in content. Much like Elvis sang "How great thou art" surrounded by the flash and surface in Las Vegas, U2 sing non ironic songs like the civil rights affirming "Pride" and the heaven awaiting "Where the Streets Have No Name", illuminated by TV screens. The song that begins this stage is "One" and with lyrics like "one life, but we're not the same" it addresses conditions like isolation and uncertainty, but affirms that we get to "carry each other" anyway. Also, the TV screens, which were used during the Fly as means of sensory overload and alienation, slowly flash "One" in various languages. Jameson's pastiche is in evidence U2 makes use of a stage that extends into the crowd, borrowing from the little square stage used in the 1968 comeback Elvis special. The finale song of this stage is "Where the Streets Have No Name" and the accompanying video to the song is a film of the band made in 1987. In the course of the show, the Fly turns around and waves at the film. This film, made while U2 were creating their image for the bare-bones Joshua Tree, shows the band dressed in Amish like clothing walking in Joshua Tree national park. The song itself sings about transcendence in the abandonment of material idolization. The singer wrote the song after volunteering six weeks of his time to be a relief worker in Ethiopia. One quote of his about this song was that he wrote it after seeing the spiritual richness present in their lives, while the west comparably was spiritually impoverished. It is this belief, that much of the meaningless of modern life is self-created, that I feel drives the existence of the grand narrative in U2 songs. They realize that in our media and surface greedy western world that much of the postmodern bogeymen observations hold merit. However, they perceive them as only constructs of late capitalistic society, and do not believe they represent the ultimate human reality.
It is this hope of overcoming this late capitalistic mindset that drives the final stage of Zoo-TV. In this stage we see the Fly morph into Macphisto. Macphisto, which is a stage character influenced by late period Elvis, televangelists and CS Lewis's ironic admonitions of devil named Screwtape; acts as a symbol of the late capitalist reality in the show. Macphisto's monologue "I gave you capitalism so you can all dream as being as wealthy and famous as me" asserts a satanic quality and his lounge lizard movements are reminiscent of Las Vegas performances. When Macphisto sings in Lemon "these are the days when our world has gone asunder, and these are the days when we look for something other" he speaks of the collapse of the modern belief in rational evolution. Instead, these are the days when the things we have built are destroying us. However, since U2 retain a belief in spiritual existence, these are also the days when "we look for something other".
The dual assertion that a devil like character represents the crumbling of late 20th century life, but that redemption is still possible, drives this final stage of the performance. The Fly, which symbolizes Elvis and capitalism, becomes Macphisto, a symbol of late capitalism and fat tired Elvis. However, U2 end the concert by allowing Macphisto to dissolve back into a human and in this providing hope for an eventual transcendence of late 20th century western reality. In the final song, Macphisto's make-up runs off and his vocal affections change. He asks for a lady from the audience to come up and dance with him and at the climax of the song lets out a passionate cry that symbolizes the humanity still existing in him. U2, rather than giving an apocalyptic ending to their tale of life in late-capitalistic society, allow an atonement of humanity in this symbolic performance. Thus, the resulting tour is not entirely postmodern in itself, but rather a reaction to the postmodernism that surrounds them. They exaggerate and mock the symptoms of the post-modernity through abusing technology and mimicking rock star cliches, but ultimately hold on to a meta-narrative and try to inject this into the bloated monster of postmodern life.


[This message has been edited by popsadie (edited 04-09-2002).]

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Old 04-09-2002, 06:03 PM   #2
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Nice JOb, you seemed to put a lot of thought into it, I expect that from a Sooner.

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Old 04-09-2002, 07:39 PM   #3
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I know it deserves more of a response than that, but all I can say is wow! right now

[This message has been edited by Bonovation (edited 04-09-2002).]
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Old 04-12-2002, 03:09 PM   #4
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A lot of deep thought went into that. I might not agree with every bit of it but some good points are there and it's a good writing.

~"A little out of touch, little insane, just easier than dealin' with the pain!" ~Soul Asylum, "Runaway Train"
Old 04-12-2002, 03:32 PM   #5
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Wow. Great stuff! I'm highly impressed.

One nitpicky question...
"I'm ready for the shuffle, ready for the deal"(Zooropa).
Isn't that line from Zoo Station on Achtung Baby? Or am I losing my mind and it's in both songs? lol.

If this was for a school paper, I hope you got high marks. Certainly deserves it.

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Old 04-13-2002, 03:54 PM   #6
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It seems like I have read much of this somewhere a matter of fact I am positive of it. Please do not take credit for other writer's work...that is not very much in the spirit of U2.
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Old 04-14-2002, 12:35 AM   #7
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actually....i did credit it.....the author is listed in the works cited page, as well as mentioned in the paper. The article you are referring to is the postmodern fables of zoo tv..and he is listed as a source. I pretty much just stuck stuck to Baudillard and Jameson though, while much of his artile addressed Lyotard. Also, his interpretation was different than mine...he concluded it was an entirely postmodern project while I disagree with his conclusion. To be honest..i have read about this from discussion boards and various books on my own for a long time...and my interpretation of the concert has been influenced by my reading...but the source i menitioned was the only recent read about the topic. Many of the theories Baudillard's simulcrea are common theory topics, and I've interpreted Even Better than the Real Thing that way since I saw the video. This work was my own, and this is an interp I've held for a long time....due to alot of things, including what i read in Flannagan's novel about zoo tv...various zoo tv interviews..and the videos themselves aired during zoo. Perhaps every poet is a thief...but it wasn't intentional...

[This message has been edited by popsadie (edited 04-13-2002).]
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Old 04-14-2002, 02:06 AM   #8
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Hey, I think she did a great job and put a lot of time and effort into it. I don't think she intentionally meant to copy anyone. Humans make mistakes. And if I recall, she is human. I know her personally, and I know that she would not intentioinally copy someone and give credit to herself, WITHOUT giving credit to someone who originally wrote it. She's a good person and a great writer.

Kudos to you popsadie!

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Old 04-14-2002, 02:09 AM   #9
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Let me know when this post comes out on audio tape.

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