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Goldfrapp: "Number 1" (2005) (music and video)

From the album Supernature

Video directed by Dawn Shadforth

Mute Records

 

Nursing rating 1/2 star

Rating guide:
excellent = 4 stars; good = 3 stars;
fair = 2 stars, poor = 1 star

Artistic rating 3 stars

Watch the video of "Number 1" on iFilm

When you're thinking of hip new media--like, say, a new music video from a respected U.K. electronic-alternative-pop duo--which one of the following items does not belong?  

  1. Edgy, cool, yet sensual text.
     
  2. Comically subversive imagery.
     
  3. Retro-futuristic sound and visuals.
     
  4. Mindless reinforcement of old stereotypes.

You're probably going with number 4, right?

If so, you just haven't been paying attention. The new Goldfrapp video takes the band's single "Number 1" to a plastic surgery clinic where everyone but singer Alison Goldfrapp has a human body and a dog's head. Goldfrapp acts like a dog, dances with the human/canine clinic staff, and spins the tale of animalistic sexual obsession she wrote with bandmate Will Gregory. The key lyric: "I'm like a dog to get you." But in director Dawn Shadforth's video, the "nurses" are all females in short dresses who hand things to the all-male "physicians." The camera dwells on the nurses' bottoms. At one point, the physicians playfully apply their stethoscopes to said bottoms. The video confirms that most of the cultural elite has no more understanding of nursing than the purveyors of naughty nurse porn. It may be the 21st century, but the sun still rises in the east, and nurses are still subordinate sex objects.

The song itself, from the album "Supernature," has no overt health care theme. It's a catchy, synth-driven expression of artsy club lust. In the concise lyrics, Goldfrapp confesses that the object of her desire is "my Number 1." Her words focus on the primal, animal nature of her urge ("Howl under the moon"), and on its transience. She compares her "Number 1" to her "favorite moment," to her "Saturday," and to a sunset: "Just right, then it's gone." Her desire is almost ineffable, as there's "[n]othing more to say."

Since all this seems to be working so well, we'd better get some surgical instruments involved. The video places us in a modern, somewhat surreal plastic surgery office, with lots of futuristic white-light backgrounds. The dog-nurse-receptionist's computer monitor shows us Goldfrapp herself in some adjoining room, dressed in a revealing hotpants outfit and singing, dog-like on all fours on a white platform. The computer screen says "Pooch and Tuck." Goldfrapp is the only figure in the video with a human head (her own).

Back in the waiting room, a dog-nurse wheels a dog-patient away from the camera in a wheelchair. The camera follows the nurse's swinging behind very closely. Dog-patients wait in the waiting room, all dressed in satiny white robes. One reads a magazine-like book titled "Doggy Style." (Get it?) The nurses wear short green dresses, white stockings and white caps. From time to time we see Goldfrapp on the platform, wiggling her body, at one point dropping on her back to pump her limbs like a dog. At another point we briefly see the software on the receptionists' monitor placing Goldfrapp's skin and clothes on her body, as if reworking them.

Later, the video focuses on what seems to be an operating room. "Nurses" surround a patient, sticking out their butts. Then they scatter and we see two "physicians" in traditional front-button white smocks do more serious things for the patient, as the nurses assist. Eventually Goldfrapp appears in this room, staring at the camera as she mouths the song words, at times slapping or scratching her own behind. The physicians take the lead in what little "care" we see. The nurses hand things to them, and each other. And everyone dances and scratches, swinging stethoscopes in a sort of S&M way. At one point, the two physicians appear to place their stethoscopes briefly on the butts of two (very willing) nearby nurses. You can't be too careful when it comes to gluteal health! Goldfrapp herself seems to be dancing with a leash.

Goldfrapp is known for playful but unsettling sexuality. And it's easy to see this video as a wry commentary on our silly surgical efforts, and those of science generally, to juice up the most natural impulse there is. In the natural order of things, desire happens, is perfect, and then is gone. Bodies change. Why these desperate, doomed efforts to evade the essence of life? More importantly, what would a dog think of cosmetic surgery? Supernature, indeed. And there is plenty more under the surface for those with an interest, such as the convergence of the "number 1" with group sexuality.

But the wit and clever ideas decay into regressive stereotypes when it comes to the health workers. It's like it never occurred to those involved with this video--whose work often questions standard social assumptions--to question their own assumptions about health workers. Why not make the nurses male and the physicians female? All the health workers dance, but the "nurses" are obviously just sexually-oriented females who assist the male physicians. There's a big focus on the butts of the nurses, but not on those of the physicians. Even if the sexuality were more even-handed, the suggestion that nurses are at work to engage in sex play with physicians exploits naughty nurse images that have long held nursing back. And although the health workers' clothing may be retro, and the music references classic synth-pop, the sets, the computer monitor, and the plastic surgery theme all suggest that this is not intended to be a picture of some bygone era.

The problem elements in the "Number 1" video are more likely just unexamined parts of the overall concept. They're like the waiting room furniture, set props that the creators probably did not think twice about in their effort to use canine chic to say something provocative and new. But when it comes to nursing, the video is chained to the distant past.


Reviewed by Harry Jacobs Summers
Nursing Editor: Sandy Summers, MSN, MPH, RN
Reviewed March 27, 2006

The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board Members or Advisory Panel of The Truth About Nursing.

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