Mumford & Sons' Viral Video Doesn't Change the Fact They Suck (or Don't Suck)
The weird fuss people are making over Mumford & Sons' recent self-parodic music video -- "Hopeless Wanderer," embedded here after the jump -- has taken two forms, in particular. One: People seem to be glad that Mumford & Sons is "self-aware" and therefore can be liked without fear of not seeming self-aware themselves. Two: People seem to be annoyed that the band is "self-aware" and found it much more satisfying to dislike them when they seemed unaware of how easy it was to parody them.
Both of those are understandable, but both of them are missing something really important about famous musicians: They know what you think about them. Of course they do! That's their job! From the first moment you realized Mumford & Sons' sound's ascendence into car-commercial heaven, they were undoubtedly worried about it.
Here's the important thing about that: It doesn't make them any better or worse as a band or a cultural force.
Actors have been clued into how good self-parody can be for PR for years already; Ricky Gervais' post-Office sitcom, Extras, was basically built around it.
Here's Ben Stiller, another star who had to navigate the gap between cult-stardom and overexposure, making himself look like an astoundingly bad person and, haha, laughing about his performances in Starsky and Hutch and Meet the Fockers:
Because he's acting and he's an actor, it's easier to see the gears turning in this than it is in the fake-Mumfords sketch: He's not really making himself look like a bad person at all.
He's making himself look like a funny, self-aware actor who can laugh about doing unnecessary reboots (although teenaged-me enjoyed Starsky and Hutch at the time, I think) and late-in-the-game sequels.
Despite all that, he's still making the reboots and the sequels.
All the spot in Extras is doing is reminding you that he's a human being, and therefore more complex than the picture of him you derived from his appearance in two movies that offended your sensibilities.
Obviously Ben Stiller worries about whether the movies he's doing are necessary or even any good. Obviously he's a talented actor and comedian who can do funny things with a good script.
What you're left to do, though, is totally unchanged: Like Starsky and Hutch if you thought it was funny, don't like it if you didn't. Assume Ben Stiller is a mercenary if the evidence pushes you there.
But don't assume that his self-awareness is a cover for any of that -- that's just normal. Assume, instead, that most people have at least some modicum of self-awareness and should be judged as whole human beings rather than people who produced one song or one movie.
That is, if you're going to hate Mumford & Sons' music, go for it. And if you can infer some moral disorder from the music they make, and the way the bell-and-shouting-hey! sound has become indie rock's most pervasive crossover success, hate Mumford & Sons.
But don't hate them because you think they're somehow unaware of your cool detachment -- don't hate them because you think they're dumb. At least give them that much credit. Before they were famous -- before Ben Stiller was famous -- they were in exactly the same place you were.
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