‘Midd Kid’ Video Stirs Controversy

By Middlebury Campus

The much-anticipated music video to “Midd Kid,” by the Allen Jokers, which premiered on Saturday, Feb. 20, at the Donald E. Axinn ’51 Center at Starr Library, continues to stir controversy among all members of the College community. Some see the video as an honest interpretation of campus social life; to others, it represents little more than amusing satire; still others reject its emphasis on certain social groups and behaviors to the exclusion of others.

The song “Midd Kid” is the creation of Sam Robinson ’11 who, with the help of his older brother and Colin Meany ’11, composed the lyrics. Using Logic Studio and the additional vocals of Phil Gordon ’11, Andrew Plumley ’11 and Alyssa Limperis ’12, they mixed and recorded the song and, last November, shared the finished product with some friends.

Until then, the group had not seriously considered filming anything more than an amateur video with handheld cameras. But through the encouragement of Michaela O’Connor ’11, a Film and Media Culture (FMMC) major, they connected with Shane Mandes ’10, also a FMMC major, and Aaron Becker ’10, who runs the business side of Windward Entertainment, a film production company based in Los Angeles. The two offered to produce a professional music video through Becker’s company, and when Robinson agreed, the group entered into the planning process.

Two months later, Aram Rappaport, the video’s director and Becker’s partner at Windward, flew from Los Angeles with filming equipment, and shooting took place on campus over the weekend of Jan. 23-25. After two weeks of editing the raw cuts, the video premiered this past Saturday and was released on YouTube and the Allen Jokers’ Web site on Sunday.

“It started out as a small thing,” said Mandes.  “But then the popularity really started to get out of control, and we realized it could be a lot bigger of a project.”

Some find offense in the Allen Jokers’ blatant exploitation of common stereotypes of Middlebury students for humor.

“It doesn’t portray Midd in a fair way,” said Sam Carlson ’10. “It shows us as a bunch of partiers. During the refrain, they didn’t even play on the Nalgene theme. Instead, they just showed scenes of people singing. They weren’t playing off any of our cool stereotypes at all. That’s what really bothers me.”

“I thought the song was really witty, but I was turned off by the music video,” said Sarah Simonds ’11. “It was a bunch of drunk, slobbering people partying. This is supposed to be a positive image of Middlebury?”

Some members of groups directly targeted by the video have found its interpretation of their behaviors and attitudes somewhat vexing. Jack Balaban ’12, a member of the varsity lacrosse team, described the video’s portrayal of lacrosse players as a “sensitive subject” among team members.

“Obviously, we think of ourselves as more dynamic members of the Middlebury community than a bunch of bros in visors throwing up on girls,” Balaban said. “I think that if people are being honest with themselves, they would agree with that. The video simply perpetuates a stereotype. Its easy to make fun of this particular stereotype, just like any other stereotype … But it can become tiresome, and I think that it is interesting to note that were any number of other stereotypes on campus made fun of in that fashion, people would be outraged.”

“I respect the hard work needed to make such a video,” said captain of the lacrosse team Pete Smith ’10. “I think some groups targeted in the song are misrepresented which is unfortunate, but I also understand … that the song is a joke, so I’ll just take it as that.”

Other students were impressed by the video’s professional quality.

“I was really proud of the ‘Midd Kid’ rap,” said Charles Giardina ’12. “They did a really good job, and the production value of the video was great.”

Renee Igo ’11, a cabin and trail coordinator for the Middlebury Mountain Club and a self-described “authoritative granola voice,” referring to the video’s jab at outdoorsy students, said she found the video “funny.”

“I don’t take the rap seriously as a representation of Middlebury or me as a Middlebury student,” she said. “I don’t think this rap is going to change people’s perception of Midd.”

The video was funded in part by Atwater, Brainerd, Cook and Ross Commons; the Allen Jokers provided the remaining half. Becker rejected funds from Wonnacott Commons because the money came with, as he put it, “fairly ridiculous” requirements; for example, the Wonnacott mascot must be featured in the video.

Becker contacted Nalgene in order to obtain clearance to use the corporation’s products in the video; Nalgene granted clearance immediately and even donated products. Becker is currently in discussions with the company over a possible 30-second Internet advertisement, made with clips from the “Midd Kid” video.

The producers never contacted Odwalla, Inc., whose product features prominently in the video, about corporate clearance. The scene was a late addition, Becker explained, and he did not have time to contact the company.

“So we risked some, and took more practical approaches with others,” he said. “The whole idea is to limit them [corporate logos].”

The video was filmed over the course of three days, during which Mandes and others in the production team “didn’t sleep for two of the nights,” as he reported. Production schedule included 12-hour days for some; shooting began at 6 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 25, in McCullough Social Space, with approximately 60 extras in attendance.

The College never granted official permission for the filming to take place. Mandes had to register for approval as an extracurricular independent project in order to obtain what film space the team was able to procure and to rent equipment from the FMMC department. Administration officials declined to comment for this story.

“Every single second was an adrenaline rush,” he said. “We got to meet tons of people, and work with great people, and at the end of it, it was just the most rewarding experience.”

The team behind the video seemed to anticipate the range of reactions their final product would receive.

“You get different reactions from every single group,” said Mandes. “I’ve heard absolutely everything … I think it’s great that it pushes the envelope that much and it’s that prominent that we can provoke different responses. We accept all criticism, and we embrace it, and we encourage you to lash out if you don’t like it, and encourage you to back it up if you like it. We appreciate all the opinions.”

Alumni have also actively praised the video, both personally to its creators and in online comment boards on YouTube.

“I talked to a bunch of recent alumni who, when they heard the song, were reminiscing about Middlebury and how much they missed it,” said Becker. “I think adding a video to that song makes the memories that much more concrete.”

About 500 people, including three members of the Board of Trustees, attended the Saturday night premiere. The line extended from the screening room out the front door of the Axinn Center, and the video had to be shown seven times in order to accommodate the crowds.

“What I heard is that the trustees really liked it, which is good news, because we shot it without the College really supporting it,” said Becker. “So it’s good to have the trustees on our side.  That’s great news.”

The video’s creators repeatedly emphasized their essentially comic intentions.

“I know there are going to be people that don’t like it because it’s sexist, but it’s a rap video, come on, it’s supposed to be like that,” said Robinson. “It’s a parody on rap videos, and that’s why it’s funny. You’ve got to lighten up … It didn’t need to represent Middlebury accurately, and I think it’s good that it doesn’t.  The video wouldn’t be as funny.”

“It has to be taken with a grain of salt,” said Limperis.  “It’s a big exaggeration, but in order for it to be funny it has to be like that.”

“Obviously there’s more to Middlebury than what’s represented in the video, and obviously there’s lots of admirable and passionate and amazing people here, but they don’t make for a very funny rap song,” said Charlie Taft ’11, one of the video’s assistant producers, who launched the Allen Jokers’ Web site. “That was the intention — to have fun and make people laugh … I think when you say it doesn’t represent Middlebury, well obviously that’s true, but it’s also an unfair criticism because that was never the goal.”