Monday, 29 March 2010

Pop Criticism: A Shot-by-Shot Analysis of 3Oh!3's "Don't Trust Me"

[Preface: This piece was something I wrote last summer while in severe essay-writing withdrawal (yes, that exists). It occupies that tenuous space between parody of a genre and actually being a genuine attempt - in this case, film criticism. I feel like it is too ridiculous to be serious, but a bit too earnest to be parody. This idea (ridiculous, yet earnest literary criticism of popular culture) was actually the original idea for my blog...however, I soon realized it was not all that sustainable...or would at least lead to a blog that was not updated all too often. However, this essay was alluded to in one of my grad school statements of purpose. In fact, that school is the one I will be going to. But enough about me. Enjoy and maybe even have a few nice flashbacks to the summer of 2009.]

“Song is awesome vid is gay” (airballer 13)
“umm the video is kinda........... if you know wat i mean like WTF!? Lol” (aliciaboo12)
“This song rules I mean it but the video just sucks. Love this band and song” (Nevertrustme232)
“never ever ever trust a ho HAHAHAHA this song is kinda insulting to girls but i frickin love it” (chickyboheimen123)

These quotations are a few YouTube responses to 3Oh!3’s music video for “Don’t Trust Me.” After an initial viewing, one is tempted to dismiss the short film and the song as fatuous and misogynistic. The lyrics, with their refrain of “Don’t trust a ho” and their urging girls to “do the Helen Keller and talk with [their] hips,” elicit such a reaction quite understandably. The video ostensibly seems to be an accomplice to this ideology. It proffers us the enticing image of scantily clad women throwing themselves all over the last two men in the world. It submerges us into a stereotypical, imbecilic straight male fantasy. All the men on earth can die, but as long as two remain, they will still be king and women will persist to be objects that exist only for their desires.

Or is this interpretation the case? Let’s look again at the responses. People who love the song find themselves hating the video or are confused by it. Some label it pejoratively as “gay.” In fact, this work may actually be undercutting every other music video that revolves around the scenario of “straight man singing as girls throw themselves on top of him.” For, upon closer inspection, every attempt by the 3Oh!3 to assert their masculinity, to prove themselves as the ultimate alpha males and the quintessence of heterosexual male potency, only acts to further feminize or queer them.

The story commences by informing the viewer, “A global virus of catastrophic proportions has attacked the entire male population. Only two male models from Colorado survive.” For starters, let us observe that “the entire male population” has been attacked, not “the entire male population except for two male models from Colorado.” These two men are merely survivors; they have sustained the plague’s assault and lived. But does that which could not kill them really make them stronger? Or have they emerged unmanned, lacking their most essential parts?

Even if they believe they have survived completely intact, they still have another problem: they are no longer in the world of men. Two male protagonists of this video have descended from their familiar world of men into the world of women: a world of modeling, chandeliers, and fine drapery. This reality is one without typical masculinity and the comforts it enshrouds its patriarch inhabitants within. The world of men has left them. The men have left them. They are stuck among the women and are therefore women themselves. These two, stranded among 3 billion women, have can no longer rely on their phallic power of being in the majority. Instead, they are left unmanned with only their sexuality as a weapon: a situation traditionally assigned to women. The virus did not kill off all the men; it manned all the women, thus killing off all the women, but two.

The two men have already (for lack of a better term) embraced their position as the new females in this society. They are models: subjects of the feminine (now masculinized) gaze. They are on display for everyone else to ogle and objectify. They are in lingerie, their near naked bodies exhibited as they dance.

Furthermore, the underwear itself is important. It appears to be Ginch-Gonch underwear. Ginch-Gonch’s entire advertising strategies infantilizes its audience. It encourages men to be “boys” and “to live like a kid.” But are not kids always-already, by sheer nature of not having gone through puberty, castrated? Is not a boy inherently under the power of his mother? Are not mothers meant to “watch” their boys in order to control them? In the relationship of boy and mother, the mother is the man, and the boy is the woman.

Yes, there are women in the first shot, and yes, they are wearing lingerie, but they are static. They sit in the background as motionless as the chairs they occupy. Are they even models, or just furniture? For the first minute, they are content to sit in the background, barely noticeable, as the two men entice our eye, and dance for our pleasure. Even the camera seems aware that these females are furniture. It cuts to them during the beats, but then in turn cuts to the lights in the same way. The women at the photo shoot are no different than the lights. They are necessary props, but not interesting in and of themselves. Finally, the two different beings merge into one self-same creature: the photographess whose face is obscured by her camera.

The women eventually rise and dance, but are we even meant to care? 3Oh!3 remains center stage, dancing more than any other party. Why? Because we are meant to know that they are indeed the alpha males. This video is not meant to showcase the women that they can get, but the two men and their ability to get the women. But, through such an attempt to attest masculinity, the film cannot showcase the women and therefore can only showcase the men and the men therefore become the women that are showcased. Even when Nathaniel (the one with dark, long hair) sings “Don’t trust a ho” he refuses to point at one of the scantily-clad women. Instead, he becomes the ho. He imagines himself with breasts and then starts to again remove his newly-acquired clothes. He ends his refrain by saying “Don’t trust me,” since he and the “ho” are one and the same.

Of course, by becoming women, 3Oh!3, being womanish men, are queered. We can already see this in the choice of Ginch-Gonch underwear. The line is popular among the gay community and even has aimed certain ad campaigns particular at the homosexual community. But this destruction of 3Oh!3’s supposed hetero-sexual normality goes further. While the women do rub themselves over the two models, the singers in fact seem much more predisposed with caressing each other. This idea, only hinted towards in the first scene, becomes nearly explicit in the wrestling scenario.

The women in the wrestling scene are even more forgettable and invisible than those in the prior one. The photoshoot premise also seems to have gone out the proverbial window. Now we are just watching some sort of wrestling match, or more appropriately, we are just watching two guys all over each other. Sean (the blonde) at one point chokes Nathaniel and calls to mind asphyxiation as orgasm draws near. He soon pulls Nathaniel back by the leg, like a cartoon caveman about to have his way with his newest acquisition. He even is on top of Nathaniel at one point, ostensibly pinning him, but insinuating he could sodomize him at any second.

The men in this manless world do not have their choice of women. By being alone, by being singled out against the world, they can only turn to each other, only have each other, and have been married already by their circumstances. Even if these men were attracted to women, they would still be queered. We have already established that as the lone men in a world of women, they are women. If they are women attracted to women, they are queer.

Therefore again in this wrestling scenario, this display of masculinity, this showcasing of how strong their bodies are, of how well they could seize women, only transforms into another thing: how well they are at “getting” each other. The showcase is now of their bodies, and of Sean and Nathaniel’s bodies abilities to obtain Sean and Nathaniel.

Finally, the video transitions to its third, final, and most curious vision: the two members of 3Oh!3 (and those curious women) as cavemen. Again, their bodies are exposed and on display (Sean even tries to make up for lost skin, so to say, by stripping off the top of his wrestling uniform during this part of the video). Again, the women are forced into the background. Again, Sean and Nathaniel are the ones dancing for our pleasure. Again, they are the same as the props (or are they? Nathaniel seems much more interested in having sex with the prop bison than any of the cavewomen).

Finally, the work reaches its climax when Nathaniel says, “Shush girl. Shut your lips. Do the Helen Keller and talk with your hips.” When only heard, this part is misogynist and perhaps even offensive. However the video undercuts that elementary interpretation. Sean is first Helen Keller as he mimes feeling his way due to lack of sight. Nathaniel soon joins him. They have placed themselves in the role of the ultimate woman of male fantasy: the completely castrated woman. In this role, they can neither see, nor hear, nor talk…nor penetrate. They accept their necessary roles as subservient creatures in what was supposed to be the society that they ruled with the last two remaining penises. This conclusion reaches fulfillment as Nathaniel is the one who “talk[s] with [his] hips” and showcases his anus for the world to see.

Suddenly, the video goes fuzzy for a moment. We have reached critical mass. The proposed reality, this “Planet of the Apes”-esque world where women have the power, men are objectified and the subject of the gaze, and where the last two men are anything but men as they “do the Helen Keller” must collapse. A “proper” music video must take its place.

The first image is one of the most undressed models from the first scenario, now front and center and ready to entice us, just like she should have been from the start. Next is Nathaniel, who wears the protection of sunglasses and looks out from them only to assure us that he has reclaimed the gaze and is using it. The photographess reappears, now emerging from her camera so we can see her whole face. She can no longer shield herself from the newly reconstructed male gaze. Finally, Sean appears. He is a fully covered man (we can’t even see his eyes), no longer the boy who paraded around in his Ginch-Gonch briefs. The first model from this montage soon reappears, just in case we still had any doubts what direction this video was taking.

When the montage is over, Sean and Nathaniel fall. The former fantasy of the past three minutes is over, having already reached its orgasmic climax. Their charade of their post-ejaculation penises only works to affirm the fact that they did ejaculate and therefore must have had an erection for the entire three minutes. By falling, ironically, they become men.

In the last 30 seconds, they are men and the women are now on display. They force their way to the front of many shots. In the wrestling match, they have gotten into the fight, just so they can be all over the bodies of Sean and Nathaniel. They even do the split jumps that 3Oh!3 had done less than a minute earlier. However, this new world cannot last, not even for 3 minutes. Once the women start moving, once they get up from their chairs, everything becomes unstable. The cuts grow even more frenetic. The furniture that the girls had mimicked flies around the room of the photoshoot. Furniture should not move on its own, and neither should woman in a music video. Do they not know the video was about 3Oh!3, not them? Finally, this world has no option but to combust, which it does in a symbolic mushroom cloud.

Ultimately, this video shows us the necessary dilemma of the stereotypical rap video (i.e. that in which a bare-chested, well muscled man is surrounded by women fawning over him, e.g. Nelly’s “Hot in Herre”): the men must either showcase himself and his body and therefore become a woman, or he must let the women take center stage and therefore lose control of his video. Furthermore, when the video stars not a solo artist, but a duo (or more), this showcasing must invite hints of homosexuality. When two men have their bodies on display, they are creating a type of gay porn no matter what they do. Their only other option is not to be on display, which leads us to the former problem of loss of control.


  1. You argue that this video shows the members of 3OH!3 as gay, but some of your reasons for this do not actually support the claim. The men have their own scenes where they are interacting with the women, and interacting in a sexual way. They do not constantly ignore the women to be with each other. Also, traditionally women as seen to be as mere objects and have no agency for themselves—the same way that the women are portrayed in this video. The guys of 3OH!3 are still the ones who have agency in the video while the women are in the background acting as objects or being pushed to the back by the men who are still showcasing that they are the ones in power—not traditionally a role a homosexual male would hold. You also say that this video is meant for 3OH!3 to prove their position as alpha males,. But then say that the video showcases them as women. These two statements contradict each other. The evidence of the wrestling seen hinting at homosexuality is also not correct. You are correct in saying that wrestling is a showcase of masculinity—but saying that it becomes queer when it is showing their ability to get at each other is wrong. Wrestling is a sport about one body being stronger than another and being able to pin the other one, a highly masculine thing. Their abilities to pin win another and win do not come across as queer, but as masculine based on the idea of wrestling. The video is the ultimate evidence (premise) of the argument and it shows that the men are not acting in a homosexual manner, but in a very masculine, heterosexual way.

  2. Awesome bid whats the name of the stunning girl in the bid?