HARD Summer’s Video Director: “People Are Shaming Me Back to the Fart Jokes Where I Belong.”
Agata Alexander responds to criticism of her controversial trailer—and insists she wouldn't change a thing.
On Wednesday, May 3, HARD Summer unveiled the trailer for this year's festival, and the internet went a little bonkers. The video attempts to tackle the issue of sexism and lack of female representation in the music industry, but the likes of Nylon, Jezebel, Teen Vogue, The L.A. Times, and even THUMP's own Ezra Marcus deemed it a swing and a hard miss.
The video's backlash caught its director and writer Agata Alexander off guard. Alexander has been helming the extended comical HARD Summer trailers for the past five years, and was behind putting Diplo in the "Strawberry Gang," Skrillex in "The Last Mustache Ride," and other beloved-by-EDM fan gags featuring prominent DJs. She also makes music videos, notably for Destructo, and is a photographer for the likes of Marilyn Manson. But as a director, Alexander says that "comedy is my vehicle." Still, it seems that Alexander's point about how the music industry objectifies and marginalizes women got a little lost amongst the fake boobs flapping about.
We spoke with Agata to get her take on the many criticisms of her video, and ask whether she would do anything differently.
THUMP: How have the past few days been since the video came out?
Agata Alexander: It's been a very interesting 24 hours. I'm riding it, just taking in all the comments. It's been an eye-opening experience. Everyone's going to have their thoughts, and their opinions, and their feelings, and that's all valid. But I also think that it's really important to talk about it.
How did this video come into being?
I have been doing the HARD videos for five years. I've done the Strawberry Gang, all the funny videos that you've seen. I'm a hundred percent responsible for all of it. I always write it, direct it, and edit it, it's always me. This year I felt that I couldn't go in and make a HARD trailer that doesn't have a message, because the election really was a punch in the stomach, and now we have to deal with it. It's really disheartening to be a woman in these times. So for me it felt like, I don't want to be talking in a vacuum and just writing a bunch of fart jokes. It's not the year for that. There's an opportunity here to make a difference and do something really important.
But what's the difference between a "fart joke" and the sight gag of the fake boobs on men? Aren't they similarly juvenile?
My way of communicating is through humor. So everything in the trailer is straight from my life. It's my experience, it's stuff I've dealt with. I put boobs on them because it's really important for me that boobs automatically make you a sexualized object. When I go into meetings, I have to wear certain [conservative] shirts; if I wear cleavage it's pointed out. So I thought it was really important that we make something that turns the men into sexualized objects, so they get put in women's shoes for one day. This is how it feels. I'm constantly walking around with these on my chest, and people see me differently because of it. So yeah, there's a big difference there.
Were you aware of the criticism from last year that there were only four women on the HARD Summer bill?
Actually I didn't know about it. I just called Gary and suggested the idea to put more women on the bill to him. And he said, you know it's really hard because all these managers that I'm calling say they don't really have any women. And I'm like, what the fuck's going on here, that's bizarre. So he dug deeper and found all new, up and coming artists. With the trailer, I felt like this was an opportunity to put a mirror up to the music industry and be like, hey, this is what it looks like. It's not that pretty. But I'm gonna say it with a sense of humor.
Why was putting men in this situation the strongest way to get the message of female representation out there?
I'm really glad I did it the way I did. I obviously could not put women in those positions, because that would have been just really not good. Also, I think the absurdity of the situation, exchanging a woman with a man, is clear. You really see how absurd it is to be a woman in this business. It becomes very dramatized when you flip it and put a man in this situation. You really see, wow, that is really absurd how a person is treated in life. And it's all real. This is actually happening. All the words that Harvey says, the comments, this and that, it's all straight from life.
But also, I thought it was really important to put men in there because men need to stand up speak louder than anybody, and say "listen, here's the issue. Look at it." The men need to lead the way. Because us women, we can scream about ourselves as much as we want, it's not making a fucking difference. Men need to lead the way. It's sad but it's so true. And also, I didn't want to expose women in the video to crazy comments. Someone tweeted at me "I hope you get locked in a cage at HARD without water." I didn't want any women I would have cast to get that. I will take that. But I didn't want the women to get exposed to that type of stuff.
Wow, I'm so sorry you're receiving negative comments. What do you think is behind them?
I think people are upset that I didn't go the silly route. What's behind trolls on the internet just hating on something that is absolutely not worth hating on? I don't know. But it happens a lot when a woman opens her mouth about the importance of females in the business, and how we need to make a change. People react to that. It's really strange. I hate that, but I knew that was going to happen.
Some of the criticism has been that the problem HARD was trying to address is not just the way women are objectified sexually, but also the lack of representation. So by not featuring women in this video, aren't you sort of doubling down on the problem?
For me this is a mirror to the music industry. Hopefully I'm just putting a slight crack in the matrix, you know? It can't be friggin perfect. I'm limited to what I do, too. I'm given certain people that need to be in the trailer, or whatever I can do to sell tickets. I have to put DJ Snake in there, and this is how I make sense out of it. But at the same time, I really stand by the fact that men had to be in this trailer the way they were. It's important to stir the pot and really look at it. And it's prickly, i get it. It's freaking ugly. But this is important.
Another point of criticism has been about the the sight gag of men wearing boobs, which then "makes them" women. How do you think that someone who doesn't identify as a cis-gender female or male, or a trans person, would feel about that being a punchline?
It's not a punchline. I never make fun of trans people, or this is not a punchline. I have boobs, and that has made me a sexualized object my entire life. You can put boobs on anything and it becomes a seuxalized object. It's a different issue here. It's about being a female, and this is what makes you sexualized. If you identify as a trans woman, I'm not calling you a trans woman. I'm calling you a woman. And I'm on your side, you're on my team, and this one's for you as well. All those humans deal with these issues as well. I'm just trying to make people see it in a different way.
Does satirizing serious issues like sexual objectification or the behavior of a Trump figure actually help or hurt the issue? Does it " normalize" something terrible when you turn it into a joke?
I think yes and no. I totally see that point, but I also see that it's important to make it a cartoon and show how absurd it is. This is so absurd that it's not even real, I can't believe this is real, and it's real. So I think it goes both ways, it's 50/50.
So you think you had a good mix of the real and the absurd?
I stand by what I've done 100 percent. If someone's taste isn't my sort of comedy then I can't control that. I wish I could just tell everybody "hey, I'm a girl and I wrote this and this is how I feel." But I can't do that. If it rubs somebody the wrong way it's probably because they really felt hit by it. And that's good.
I understand the practical reasons—that you didn't want to subject women to the online trolling and had to feature certain DJs—but in the wake of these criticisms, do you wish that you had used more women in this video?
Not necessarily because I still stand by what I said. I think it's important that men stand up for us. This shouldn't even be happening. It sucks that I even have to make this video in the first place.
Isn't it a little fucked up that you felt that you couldn't use women to make this point?
Absolutely. A woman can't say something without being like "Oh, she's a crazy lesbian." How is it that hard to just stand up for ourselves? There was an article written about me before because I did videos for Gary [Richards] that was about this robot being abused. And it was really from my heart. Someone pointed out that it was a sexist video, and then they compared it to other videos where girls were dancing with their butts out. I replied to that person that wrote the article, and he never acknowledged me, until a man that I know that is a very big composer called him out. Only then did he start to talk to me. And when I wrote a statement on Facebook saying, "listen I think you're a little far off here." Suddenly, blogs were picking it up, saying I'm emotional, lecturing this guy. It was like "wow, I really cannot say what I think." I had a friend ask me, "oh, you're writing feminist rants now?" And I'm like, no, I'm just saying what I think.
I agree with you. I wish I could just have a trailer with all the fucking new girls just killin it, and that would make just as strong a point. But it's like, we're not there yet. We need to get over this hurdle to get to that.
So what are you thinking for your next video? Are you staying in the realm of politics?
No. Trust me. I feel like people are shaming me back to the fart jokes where I belong.