My attention was recently drawn to the music video for the current number one British hit of Little Mix called "Black Magic." It is not, you may presume, my normal viewing! In fact these sorts of music videos are actually extremely important because they are one of the main ways that our culture influences how young people think and act. Technically, this is an extremely competent video, done on a big budget and, curiously enough given that it is a British girl band, filmed at the University of Southern California. The plot involves four clumsy and geeky girl college students who are obviously failures with boys. Their lives are transformed by a magic book they find in the college library and a spell from it transforms them into sexy women capable of attracting men. With their new magic powers they proceed to wreak a fairly mild revenge on their enemies and the video concludes with them turning their lecture into a dance party.
The reason why I was given the link was the central theme of magic or the occult. The occult element is certainly present and, although it is treated in a rather light-hearted fashion, it is disturbing. This is particularly so given that Little Mix's target audience is mainly girls in the 10 to mid-20s age bracket. I'm not at all happy about this. Wisdom and experience has taught me that anything to do with the occult is a dangerous area that one should avoid at all costs. Very few people have achieved any benefit from dabbling in the areas of the supernatural and very many have had their lives ruined by it.
Yet there is a lot more than the occult going on in this video, and some of it is as bad or even worse. I think the video is making the following statements.
1) Happiness is about having a boyfriend
Actually by the standards of music videos this is tame stuff. But the message all the way through is that for personal happiness and fulfillment a girl must find a boy, preferably a good-looking hunk. What's particularly unfortunate is that the video is set in a college setting where you might have thought that educational success had some importance. Yet there is no hint of this: according to the video all that matters is boys. Now, you don't have to be a card-carrying feminist to find this view of the world depressing. There is of course a male equivalent and the message is identical: to not have a partner is to be a failure. This, of course, piles up the anguish on the single and forces many people into utterly unsuitable relationships because they cannot bear the thought of being on their own and so thought failures.
2) To get a boyfriend you must look sexy
In the video the magic produces some fairly straightforward and predictable effects. Girls instantly become less geeky: they wear more make-up, their hair becomes shiny and bouncy, they have higher heels, and their hems rise to an impractical height. The message that this sends out to anybody who is not a model of anatomical perfection is blunt: you are not going to make it. It also says that you need a good clothes budget. In short, appearances are everything. In the world of this video sexual attraction is entirely to do with physical features. Forget personality, social skills, conversational ability or anything else: to be a success a girl just has to look and dress in a sexy fashion.
3) It's okay to use power for revenge or humiliation
In fact, by the standards of many tales involving magic the revenge theme is fairly minor. No one gets turned into a frog. But there's a theme of making bad things happen to people you don't like. It's probably no accident that this is called 'Black Magic' here. We are clearly in a post-Christian world, where if you've got power, you use it.
4) Education is bad for girls
The final scene takes place in a rather ridiculous lecture room where a stereotypical professor is standing in front of a blackboard with chalked equations. The charm of science being clearly inadequate for our four heroines they use their magical powers to turn the lecture room into a dance party. Oh dear! Just when we are trying to encourage girls to become doctors and lecturers we get this message. Girls don't want to be educated: they just want to dance and get boys.
Well, I presume in the nature of things, Little Mix and 'Black Magic' will soon be history. Nevertheless, there is a lasting lesson here: evils rarely come singularly and it is easy to so focus on the spectacular threat that you overlook a no less deadly but far more subtle peril. Yes, the promotion of the occult in the video is dreadful and to be condemned. But we need not miss some of the other demonic elements that are present. Our culture is under attack. Videos like this trivialize the occult. But not just that, they also trivialize sex, life, education and -- most sadly of all for a video made by a girl group -- women.
Revd Canon J.John