Ghoulish rocker Marilyn Manson, self-proclaimed "Antichrist Superstar" and nemesis of all who consider themselves good and decent, is at it again.
In his new "Coma White" video, Manson re-creates the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Manson, dressed in a suit, portrays the president riding in a motorcade. He is seated next to his real-life paramour, actress Rose McGowan, who is wearing a pink Chanel-style suit and pillbox hat. Manson as Kennedy appears to be struck by a bullet in his neck, then McGowan as Jacqueline weeps as she cradles his head.
In borrowing the indelible images of the Abraham Zapruder film, Manson is appropriating one of the most painful episodes of American history, up to and including the first lady's horrifying scramble on the trunk of the car.
This time, has Manson--whose creepy persona has led him to be demonized as a corruptor of misguided children and molester of small furry animals--gone too far?
Tom Calderone, senior vice president of programming and talent for MTV, which started airing the video this week, doesn't think so.
"If you just saw the video without an introduction, you would say, 'What the heck is this guy thinking?' " says Calderone. "But when you hear [Manson's] statement and then you realize the vision behind the video, it makes a lot of sense."
In a statement released by his publicist, Manson says the video uses the Kennedy assassination "as a metaphor for America's obsession and worship of violence. My statement was always intended to make people think of how they view and sometimes participate in these events."
He said that when he filmed the video six months ago, "little did I know that the tragedy at Columbine and the accidental death of JFK Jr. would follow. But it was telling to see the media shamelessly gorge itself on these events, which ultimately made my observations in the video even truer than I had originally imagined."
MTV "Total Request Live" host Carson Daly read the statement before MTV debuted the video on Monday; since then, the station has offered Manson's insights on its Web site and several more times on the air. "Coma White" is currently one of the station's most requested clips.
So far, representatives for the Kennedy family have not publicly discussed the video. A spokesman for Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) declined to comment. A representative for Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend did not return calls, nor would a spokesman for the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston comment.
MTV's Calderone says that as of yesterday, the station had received no complaints.
"We give our audience a lot more credit than a lot of people will," says Calderone. "I think our audience is smarter, and the bands and directors take that into account--that our audience is smart and will get it, will understand where their vision is coming from."
Still, says Calderone, MTV was more comfortable airing the video with Manson's explanation. "Fairly or unfairly, Manson is sometimes a lightning rod for controversy, and I think it was important for us not to throw the video on and be exploitative about it, but to actually explain where his vision is coming from."
The "Coma White" clip arrives at a time when music videos seem to be looking beyond thrusting pelvises and jiggling booties for ways to be provocative. Sometimes they are innocuous: The clip for Blink 182's "What's My Age Again?" depicts the skate punk trio running naked--parts pixelated--through the streets of Los Angeles. The new video for Limp Bizkit's "Re-Arranged" is a little edgier. It depicts the band members standing trial for inciting the rioting at Woodstock '99--"Limp Bizkit: They're Guilty Until Proven Innocent" reads a fictional newspaper headline--then being executed in a chamber equipped with lethal shower heads.
Calderone says competition for air time is driving the phenomenon. "If you're a band right now, and you produce a video, what are you going to do to cut through all the other videos on the channel? These videos have to be provocative, whether through technology or storytelling or images and the star power. There's different ways of going about it. There's the comedy way, like Blink 182 has done. . . . And then there is the artistic statement on society, like a Marilyn Manson or Nine Inch Nails or TLC."
The song "Coma White" appears on Manson's latest album, "Mechanical Animals," which was released last September and has sold more than 3 million copies worldwide. The song's video is included on a new compilation of Manson's video clips titled "God Is in the TV."
This is not the first time that the Kennedy family has been invoked by a pop music artist. In the early '80s, a group of San Francisco punk rockers established their anti-Establishment credentials with their name: Dead Kennedys.
But Manson insists he intends no disrespect. The video, his statement says, "is in no way a mockery. In fact, it is a tribute to men like Jesus Christ and JFK who have died at the hands of mankind's unquenchable thirst for violence."
CAPTION: Marilyn Manson, whose video "Coma White" reenacts John F. Kennedy's assassination--starring himself and his girlfriend.