The official music video produced to accompany the 1986 version of Word Up by the American artist Cameo features multiple scenes set in an economically deprived inner city environment with a mostly African American cast of actors. It draws heavily on imagery from street culture of the period and includes references gang culture and the interactions between citizens and the police.

Are these scenes\images intended to be taken literally, as a somewhat stylized representation of a particular time period\place and events that commonly occur there, or do they provide a deeper social\political commentary on events contemporary to the release of the video which need to be taken figuratively rather than literally?

1 Answer 1


The "street" imagery was standard for R&B/hip-hop videos of the time. It's a stylized representation of the urban inner-city environments where the artists and their core fans were typically from, and is used as a symbol of authenticity.

In this case, the macho imagery and the tension of the confrontation between the police and the citizenry is subverted by the police being drawn into the funky dancing. Even that, however, was not an uncommon trope. More striking, perhaps, is the lead singer's bright red plastic codpiece, and the video's barely veiled homoeroticism. (And also, the surprising Levar Burton cameo.)

You can compare Michael Jackson's "Bad" (1987) and "Beat it" (1982) videos from the same era for some similar iconography.

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    So, the imagery presented in the video is representative of an established style that was intended to be recognisable to a specific target audience, and it mixes serious elements with "quirks"? Sep 22, 2021 at 19:33
  • That's a good summary, yes. Sep 22, 2021 at 20:26

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