Weezer’s Pork & Beans: So Long MTV-era

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Does art have to last to be valuable... and joyful?

Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” video brought together most of the elements of my childhood. The chunky guitars echoed seventies rock from bands like the Raspberries. Weezer embraced their inner geek by casting themselves within a homage to the sitcom, “Happy Days.” For a kid who grew up on Richie, Potsie and The Fonz, it was the ultimate trip, a delicious embrace of disposable pop culture. It put director Spike Jonze on the map, winning MTV’s 1995 Breakthrough Video award. “Buddy Holly” made music videos a respectable, cut-and-paste art form.

With their new video for “Pork and Beans,” Weezer has buried the MTV era and embraced the network that matters most, YouTube. The first single on their red album is classic power pop: short, sweet, and anthemic. But the “Pork and Beans” video takes the song to another level by embracing the absurdity of instant Internet celebrities. It is a massive, viral video test. The humor will be completely lost upon those who ignore those forward emails with links to strange outtakes. But for people who can’t get enough stupid human tricks, Weezer creates a wondrous chance to play name that meme.

For those who can’t name the meme (because they don’t know what a meme is!), Richard Dawkins coined the word thirty years ago in his book, THE SELFISH GENE. A meme is a thought, catch-phrase, or in the Internet era, a link, that is passed from one person to another in rapid fashion. Whenever we choose to forward a joke, a video, an article, we are engaging in a form of natural selection. Some may argue with Dawkins’ theories, but he offered a viable explanation for why the funniest, craziest and most memorable videos rise to the top on YouTube. And Weezer put all of YouTube’s most useless bits into one slamming stew of “Pork and Beans.”

Amongst the weblities populating Weezer’s universe-the geographically challenged Miss South Carolina, the giddy Numa Numa guy, the Star Wars kid, and the Dramatic Look Prairie Dog. It allows amateur singers like Tay Zonday of “Chocolate Rain” to sing with the pros (if Weezer would embrace the term, ‘professional’).

Video director Matthew Cullen of Motion Theory told Wired that he “wanted the video to be a celebration of that creativity. I wanted it to be redemption for those who’d been unintentionally embarrassed by the power (to become an overnight YouTube star). The Afro Ninja‘s eighteen seconds of pain can be erased by almost three minutes of affirmation in “Pork and Beans.” Weezer even embraces poor Miss South Carolina.

The video is united by Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz’s volcanic Diet Coke and Mentos experiments. The wacky “scientists” are the perfect companions for Rivers Cuomo and the band. They honor their roots, but never take themselves too seriously. To see the Weezer logo spelled out with Coke and Mentos is a glorious sight. They send up all the rock and roll bombast that has preceded them but celebrate with their own sense of silliness. It is supposed to be big, loud and fun.

Of course, as a Harvard man, Rivers proves himself smarter than the average rock competition as well. He turned a snub by his record company into a smash, composing “Pork and Beans” on their demand for a hit single. By embracing viral video stars, they’ve tapped into the largest self-promotion engine on the planet. In one week, Weezer’s “Pork and Beans” generated almost 5 million hits on YouTube. The song, the video and YouTube all dare us to sing, shout, and dance for sheer joy.

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Craig Detweiler directs the ReelSpirituality Institute at Fuller Seminary. His feature documentary, Purple State of Mind, premiered in early 2008.