Plants erupt through concrete in the video for “Plantlife”, the first single from LA-based punks Cold Showers’ upcoming album, but they cannot take root in a trendy downtown apartment. To rectify this, the video’s business-suited protagonist presumably destroys his place in a fire.
I’d like to emphasize “presumably” destroyed; the video’s final shot is of its protagonist glowing, floating above a primitive CGI landscape, and the three and half minutes preceding that shot found the camera gliding freely through screens and lingering on eyes. You cannot help but question both the reality of and the adequacy of language to this absurd scene. Long before its messianic moment, the video for “Plantlife” introduced “a divide in the order between death and disguise,” to quote the track.
Though the digital plants and protagonist seem to face death that looks a lot like the real thing, the camera’s journeys through the screen reference the work’s virtual nature and allow director/animator Paul Roper to discuss death without disguising it as merely human. The polygonal businessman is only in any mortal danger from flames and wayward trees insofar as the human bodies on which he’s modeled would be; as an animation, he was never “alive” in that sense. His existential threat is instead something like a glitch in his rendering program or a virus that erases every copy of Roper’s animation.
Of his video, Roper notes that it, “[taps] into the disheartening nostalgia of being born in a world that ‘sucks.’” His computer world sucks for its protagonist to an extent equal to the way in which our world sucks for us, but in a way that looks almost entirely different.
Almost, but not quite.
Nostalgia, from the greek nostos (return home) and algos (pain), indicates an acute homesickness borne of alienation from the world. Roper’s video, comparing existential threats of the mortal and digital worlds, illustrates both a source of alienation and a helpful response to it. Our critical engagement with his work in concert with Cold Showers’ brings out a sort of death—file corruption—that feels much less alien to our world than mortality, revealed as one of death’s many disguises. I cannot imagine what of our world looks uncannily familiar to Roper’s digital protagonist, but, floating as a crucifix above his greened world, one much imagine that he reached enlightenment.