Erotic voyeurism pervades the video for Danish guitar pop group Communions‘ video “Forget It’s a Dream,” the first track from their eponymous EP (out on Tough Love Records). A man tuned into weight lifting on television; a boy turning his camera to the soft curves and hard muscles of his peers; us, enraptured, watching everything unfold. There’s power and violence in the gaze—the stance adopted by voyeurs that reduces people to objects of fascination and desire. The success of Communions’ project hinges upon both their and our ability to address that violence.
On its face as a track and nestled amongst Communions’ fun- and sun-celebrating discography, “Forget it’s a Dream” celebrates innocent teenage love-reveries: “I want to forget that it’s a dream/…/I can feel the way she spins me around.” Director Nikolaj Møller suggests that his film harmonizes with those themes: “The video is about the special time and years around being a teenager growing up and becoming an adult. Around the innocent years with the newly discovered sexual attraction and exploration” Møller explains.
Innocence, however, is a political claim. The fresh-faced Beach Boys, whose intricate pop songcraft finds itself recalled here, sang of a troubled relationship on “Good To My Baby” (from 1965’s Today): “They think I’m bad and I treat her so mean/But all they know is from what they’ve seen/And when I get her alone now/You know we’re happy as a couple could be.” That’s far from innocent, which literally means “not harming” (“innocent” is the Latin word “nocere,” “to hurt,” combined with “in-,” a privative prefix). That discourse surrounding the Beach Boys marks them as the faces of respectable American youth culture should tell us that claims of innocence often encrypt violence.
Communions, with their catchy, melodic guitar pop, are a band in the tradition of the Beach Boys and The Smiths. It is, however, difficult to condemn them. Much has been made of Mayhem, the Copenhagen practice space that houses Communions in addition to Lower, Iceage, and many other acts from Denmark’s noise/industrial scene. Like the Smiths’ Morrissey, the acts surrounding Communions do not advocate for but rather criticize their masculinity (whose conceptual superstructure is also that of voyeurism), recognizing both its reality and its problematic. For example, the pop eroticism of Iceage’s Elias Bender Rønnenfelt on Plowing into the Fields of Love is a distillation and critique of his own hyper-masculinity (he admitted as much in an interview with Pitchfork’s Brandon Stosuy). Not only voyeurism, but also responsibility; not only problematic, but also problematizing. Communions—and Møller, whose television watching man consumes exclusively hyper-masculine bodybuilding footage—may be taking the same self-critical approach here.
It’s true—teenagers are innocent. Their actions, learned from their surroundings, are not. Failing to criticize one’s own role as voyeur in relation to “Forget It’s a Dream” would be to fail the video. A successful critique, however, opens new sensitivities to struggles found in Møller’s footage and Communions’ music: the struggles not of a voyeur, but with voyeurism itself. It’s an old literary trick—artists need not necessarily advocate for their protagonists. Communions and Møller did, after all, inspire this reflection.