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Laurie Pennny: Katy Perry's unusual breasts in new music video, 'Firework'

Mine don't do that!

Anyone who has seen the rash of cosmetic surgery adverts plastering the hoardings of London this year will be familiar with the notion that boobs, particularly expensively remoulded boobs, are the foundation of any modern woman's confidence. I had no idea that this was meant so literally until I saw Katy Perry's new music video, in which her breasts quite literally shoot jets of fiery self-esteem, prompting various young people in a generic eastern European city to make minor changes in their lives.

In the opening scenes of Firework -- a clinically catchy pop excursion released last week to coincide with the height of the season during which Anglo-Saxons burn rockets, papier-mache terrorists and their principles -- Perry wanders alone in an opulent ballgown on a balcony high above the city. The singer watches forlornly as young people face down a smorgasbord of personal difficulties: a young man is afraid to come out of the closet; a girl who is overweight is too shy to wear a swimsuit in front of her friends; a hipster-looking youth is getting mugged in a back-alley.  

But wait! What's this? Suddenly, CGI sparks begin to fizz and crackle in Perry's chest. The celebrity burns with passion to save the poor lost children with the power of song and special effects; fireworks start to explode in her bosom and begin to burst out of her nipples, trailing huge incendiary arcs across the city. A young cancer patient gazes in emaciated wonder out of her hospital window as Perry's exploding tits light up the sky.

Whoever is touched by Perry's extraterrestrial mammary flames becomes suddenly courageous: the hipster dazzles his assailants with card-tricks, the young girl strips to her knickers and dives into the pool and the boy snogs a stranger in front of his friends as the lyrics remind us that, to overcome any obstacle, all we really need to do is "ignite the light, and let it shine". Whatever that's supposed to mean. It is not entirely clear whether Katy Perry's computer-generated boobtacular light-show can actually cure cancer, but the implication is certainly there. "Katy's got a lot of substance and a lot to say, and hopefully this video represents that," said its director, Dave Meyers.

"Firework", which Meyers insists is a solemn attempt to "articulate... what it means to be an underdog", was rather hastily dedicated to the It Gets Better project, set up this autumn to console gay teenagers considering suicide with the knowledge that their lives will improve. It Gets Better is a worthy and necessary initiative in a world where LGBT youth invariably face savage bullying at school, at home and in their communities.

The problem with this approach is that it entirely evades responsibility to change the situation, accepting homophobic hostility as something young people just have to suffer through until they're old enough to move somewhere with a passable scene. The notion that personal resilience is the only possible response to injustice is burnt into the retinas after a single viewing of "Firework". There is something distinctly counter-revolutionary about the exploding tits hypothesis of personal transformation.

The serious message that "Firework" seems to be sending is that you can't actually fight the social structures that put obstacles such as homophobia, body fascism or street crime in your way. All you can do is find the strength to battle against the odds, possibly with the help of a go-getting attitude and a pair of fantastic jugs -- you're not supposed to question why the odds are stacked against you in the first place. "Show 'em what you're worth".

The orthodoxy of consumer self-fashioning is entirely grounded on this notion of desperate individual striving. Outside music-video land, fighting social injustice often involves more meetings, marches and lobbying and fewer synth beats. It doesn't just happen because some pop star in a party frock sprays magical fire from her nipples.

It is reassuring, then, that by the end of the video all the hundreds of young people blessed with Perry's bosom-burning spurts of CGI self-worth seem to have gone into a sort of gleefully pagan trance of self-immolation, converging on the town square in a bacchanalia of contemporary dance. The incendiary rabble appears to turn on Perry in an orgy of flamey vengeance.

Clearly, come the revolution, the boobs-on-fire brigade will be the first against the wall.  

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

BBC
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Would the BBC's Nazi drama SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago?

This alternate history is freighted with meaning now we're facing the wurst-case scenario. 

Would SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago? Though the clever-after-the-fact Nostradamus types out there might disagree, I can’t believe that it would. When it comes to the Second World War, after all, the present has helpfully stepped in where memory is just beginning to leave off. The EU, in the process of fragmenting, is now more than ever powerless to act in the matter of rogue states, even among its own membership. In case you hadn’t noticed, Hungary, for instance, is already operating as a kind of proto-fascist state, led by Viktor Orbán, a man whom Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, jokingly likes to call “the dictator” – and where it goes, doubtless others will soon follow.

The series (Sundays, 9pm), adapted from Len Deighton’s novel, is set in 1941 in a Britain under Nazi occupation; Winston Churchill has been executed and the resistance is struggling to hold on to its last strongholds in the countryside. Sam Riley plays Douglas Archer, a detective at Scotland Yard, now under the control of the SS, and a character who appears in almost every scene. Riley has, for an actor, a somewhat unexpressive face, beautiful but unreadable. Here, however, his downturned mouth and impassive cheekbones are perfect: Archer, after all, operates (by which I mean, barely operates) in a world in which no one wants to give their true feelings away, whether to their landlady, their lover, or their boss, newly arrived from Himmler’s office and as Protestant as all hell (he hasn’t used the word “degenerate” yet, but he will, he will).

Archer is, of course, an ambiguous figure, neither (at present) a member of the resistance nor (we gather) a fully committed collaborator. He is – or so he tells himself – merely doing his job, biding his time until those braver or more foolhardy do something to restore the old order. Widowed, he has a small boy to bring up. Yet how long he can inhabit this dubious middle ground remains to be seen. Oskar Huth (Lars Eidinger), the new boss, is keen to finish off the resistance; the resistance, in turn, is determined to persuade Archer to join its cause.

It’s hard to find fault with the series; for the next month, I am going to look forward to Sunday nights mightily. I would, I suppose, have hoped for a slightly more charismatic actress than Kate Bosworth to play Barbara Barga, the American journalist who may or may not be involved with the British resistance. But everything else seems pretty perfect to me. London looks suitably dirty and its inhabitants’ meals suitably exiguous. Happiness is an extra egg for tea, smoking is practically a profession, and
the likes of Archer wear thick, white vests.

Swastikas adorn everything from the Palace of Westminster to Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace is half ruined, a memorial to what the Germans regard as Churchill’s folly, and the CGI is good enough for the sight of all these things to induce your heart to ache briefly. Nazi brutality is depicted here as almost quotidian – and doubtless it once was to some. Huth’s determination to have four new telephone lines installed in his office within the hour is at one end of this horrible ordinariness. At the other is the box in which Archer’s mutinous secretary Sylvia (Maeve Dermody) furiously stubs out her fag, full to the brim with yellow stars.

When I first heard about The Kettering Incident (Tuesdays, 12.20am; repeated Wednesdays, 10pm) I thought someone must have found out about that thing that happened one time I was driving north on the M1 with a more-than-usually terrible hangover. Turns out it’s a new Australian drama, which comes to us on Sky Atlantic. Anna (Elizabeth Debicki), a doctor working in London, pitches up back in Tasmania many years after her teenage friend Gillian disappeared into its Kettering forest, having seen a load of mysterious bright lights. Was Gillian abducted by aliens or was she, as some local people believe, murdered by Anna? To be honest, she could be working as a roadie for Kylie, for all I care. This ponderous, derivative show is what happens when a writer sacrifices character on the altar of plot. The more the plot thickens, the more jaw-achingly tedious it becomes.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit