Posted by: tdennis2011 | March 4, 2016

Censored: The “Jeremy” Video

Censorship has always been a controversial topic for all forms of media. You can almost bet that no matter what is said or done, there will be someone somewhere who is offended by it. To make sure that doesn’t happen (or, at least, to keep the number of those offended to a minimum) review boards and committees are assigned to make cuts and suggestions to the final product. However, censorship is a double-edged sword. Cutting out certain hot button issues can affect the overall quality of art and can sometimes change the meaning of what the artist originally intended. This is especially true of the official music video for Pearl Jam’s song “Jeremy”.

Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t the song’s topic that was controversial. Seemingly all of the controversy surrounding the video stems from one tiny edit made by MTV executives that totally changed the ending. To understand what went wrong you have to know what “Jeremy” was all about.

“Jeremy” was inspired by a newspaper article that lead singer Eddie Vedder read in 1991. On the morning of January 8, 1991 in Richardson, Texas, 15-year-old Jeremy Wade Delle arrived late for class and his teacher told him to get a late slip. Delle left the room, came back with a .357 Magnum, put it in his mouth, and pulled the trigger. He was known to his classmates as a cold introvert who was often in trouble with the school. The sad story was immortalized in song by Pearl Jam and was eventually released as the third single from the band’s debut, Ten.

Two music videos were commissioned. The first one by Chris Cuffaro was rejected by the band’s label, Epic, who ordered a new video. The second one was made by Mark Pellington who chose to intercut reenactments of Delle’s suicide and its preceding events with stylized collage-like images. At the end of the video, Jeremy puts the gun in his mouth and closes his eyes. We then see his classmates spattered with blood, twisting away with horrified expressions and their arms raised in front of their faces in a defensive position. It is an extremely disturbing scene that is definitely not for younger viewers.

MTV was pleased with this version of the video, but before airing the final cut they made one small suggestion. They understood that the image of a gun in a boy’s mouth would ruffle some feathers, so they opted for a close-up of Jeremy’s eyes instead. When the video premiered on August 1, 1992, it received good reviews and proved to be very popular. Before long it was on constant rotation on MTV and took home 4 Video Music Awards in 1993.

The good times didn’t last. In 1996 Barry Loukaitis shot four people at the Frontier Junior High School in Moses Lake, Washington leaving 3 dead. During the ensuing trial the prosecution claimed Loukaitis had been influenced by the “Jeremy” video, in which a kid goes to school and shoots his classmates. Other publications had interpreted the video the same way. After the shooting in Moses Lake and the Columbine massacre in 1999, “Jeremy” became associated with school shootings and was eventually pulled from regular television rotation. What happened here? How could people have gotten the story so wrong?

When you watch the video it’s easy to see how people got confused. MTV’s one tiny cut made it look like Jeremy had shot his classmates instead of himself. Consequently the video’s story seemed much more sinister than it actually was. Because of MTV’s decision to not show Jeremy placing the gun in his mouth, the video’s ending and meaning changed completely. Mark Pellington has called the edit “probably the greatest frustration I’ve ever had.” The original version of “Jeremy” with the gun was not show on television until 2009 on VH1 Classic during “Pearl Jam Ten Revisited”. Fascinating isn’t it; how 1 tiny alteration turned into a huge misunderstanding.

As you can see, censorship is useful sometimes, but it can have unintended consequences. Now that you know what the video’s about, let me ask you this. If MTV had not made that one edit, would the Moses Lake shooting have happened? Perhaps, but I don’t have any way of knowing. Maybe the video had nothing to do with it and was only singled out by the prosecutors to draw a comparison. What do you think?

Here’s the video

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