As I sang and danced to the 1983 Culture Club hit “Karma Chameleon,” I was completely unaware of the Pop South associations that I would totally get today if the song were new. Recently, I watched the YouTube clip of the music video “Karma Chameleon” and was astounded when I saw “Mississippi–1870″ claimed as the video’s setting. Clearly, I hadn’t paid attention when it was shown on MTV. That is, when MTV really meant “music television.”
Filmed in Weybridge, England, the video features blacks and whites dancing together (not possible in 1870s Mississippi) dressed in all manner of costumes that are not necessarily of the period. The Chameleon, in this case, was a Mississippi gambling boat souped up to look like a nineteenth-century steamboat. Of course, Boy George looks like he always did, like Boy George–in makeup, colorful clothes, braids,and his signature hat. About the only thing reminiscent of the South might be the harmonica riffs, yet even those are far from bluesy.
It’s just a small reminder that what passes as “southern” has long been a favorite trope for the producers of popular culture. It was also fun to watch again.