I’m slightly older than most of my grad school colleagues and my cultural references often miss the mark for that reason. Last year I was floored when my good friend told me she had never heard of Erasure or Depeche Mode. Yet I floored myself when I realized that I had actually never seen the videos I promptly sent her. In response my friend pointed out the subtle BDSM/leather culture messages in these videos: from the harnesses and chains in “Chains of Love” to the biker apparel throughout Depeche Mode’s oeuvre; check out the quartet in this still from “Enjoy the Silence.”
For reasons I still don’t fully understand in the 1980s leather culture was a go-to visual not only in music videos but also mainstream films, like “Armed and Dangerous” (1986).
Eugene Levy is actually wearing assless chaps. But perhaps the most enigmatic use of leather culture in a mainstream film took place in “Police Academy” (1984).
I loved the Police Academy movies as a child, especially since they filmed one in my backyard. I never knew what this scene meant as a kid, it just seemed funny. Now that I watch it I’m baffled by what to make of it: is the bar there just for comic effect? are the gay men threatening in their apparel? are the policemen in uniform unwilling participants? What’s interesting is how the men that “accidentally” appear are always made to dance. With this movie as my guide, child-me thought all gay men went to these types of bars and danced serious tangos.
As yesterday’s post illustrates, 80s pop culture wasn’t destined to make sense. Another enigmatic leather culture reference materializes in Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough” video.
This is one of the least Depeche Mode-y songs and it makes more sense when you consider that Vince Clarke wrote this song before leaving the band and eventually forming Erasure and letting Depeche Mode become the brooding blokes we love. But before that, Depeche Mode ca. 1981 wore leather and they wore it well, even if they were awkwardly dancing to this pop song. Perhaps the strangest part of this video is the yuppie double-life the band leads, reminiscent of “American Psycho.”
In the end this decade really was about the leather-self clawing to get out of a corporate suit.