Much has been said about how the Internet has altered our conception of “truth,” at least in terms of newsworthy events. Twenty years ago if you wanted the facts about a war in the Middle East, all you had was the nightly news and whichever print publications chose to cover the event. Nowadays you have thousands of websites and blogs, multiple 24-hour news stations and the continued presence of print journalism searching for that same “truth.”
On some level Thom Yorke’s video for “Harrowdown Hill” is in support of this Internet phenomenon. The bird’s eye-view that most major news services attempt to give, meaning the general impression of an event, is almost always far too narrow and biased. Yorke and his director celebrate the individual voice amongst the crowd; every hand, every incident that helps create that view. It’s important to realize that in every creative product, every political movement – every moment – there are multiple stories and multiple angles.
Thus we get the blurred images from above the land, which at first almost seems like a miniature model world. But on closer inspection these landscapes are real, just seen through the lens of a generalized vision. The fear here is not that we miss the forest for the trees, but that we miss the dead body on a roof while admiring the vastness of a cityscape.
But while that man lays alone on a rooftop, protestors march through the streets below. There is something to be said for mass movement, and the power of banding together for a cause. The images of struggle are perhaps the most affecting in the video, with large groups of the oppressed fighting the “system.” But even in these cases you can’t help but focus on the particulars of the images; for instance the trampled body under the hooves of armed police.
There will always be a choice in what we hear, read, and see. It is perhaps impossible to ever truly both see the big picture and focus on the particular, but our vision of the general does directly influence the way in which we see the individual. I’m assuming when I see video of protesters, that the police are in the wrong, and thus the trampling of a body takes on certain significance for me. So if we take a closer look at that bird in the sky it looks a lot like a certain species of bird. Whether or not it is meant to be an eagle, and thus perhaps represent the United States, it is clear that Yorke and the director are commenting on the current war with the deluge of images of resisting authority. It is amongst this sea of violence that the individual voice and individual pain are lost, as Yorke struggles beneath the water to find some truth. The artist or anyone attempting to express uniqueness drowns amidst the colossal effects of war, and the collective nationalistic ideology behind it.
Yorke laments, “I can’t take the pressure/ no one cares if you live or die,” and it’s a sentiment that seems to become especially true in times of war. But the final images of the vastness of our world also draw that conclusion out of its limited context. Because in a sense, amidst the sea of humanity and the sea of natural beauty, won’t the individual voice always drown? It’s thus the responsibility of the artist to resist that, and the responsibility of all people to search for those unique, individual perspectives on life.
The “truth” remains elusive, but the more voices we hear the closer we get.
Thom Yorke’s video for the song ‘Harrowdown Hill,” which was directed by directed by Chel White, can be seen below.