Karma – exploring ethics through the music video of 1200 Techniques

Karma 1

If all the world is a stage, and we are performers, who are we performing for? Ourselves. We reflect on our deeds and make judgements on whether our behaviour has been outstanding, suitable or even woefully inadequate. As teachers, we use a range of different texts to encourage students to reflect on character motivation and actions, narrative structure as well as audience satisfaction. We often ask students to consider how they feel about particular situations, or imagine how they might react in similar circumstances. The idea of empathy, or perhaps sympathy, allows young people to think about the adult they are yet to become and how their future choices in life are linked to personal judgements.

As an introductory activity, play the song first and ask students what they know and understand about the key words. Ask them to predict how a music video might represent these ideas. Consider whether to analyse the lyrics closely as part of your introduction, or assign different verses and scenes as group work after viewing.

Karma 1200 Techniques 2002

The music video for Karma, created by the team behind Moulin Rouge, won an ARIA for Best Video in 2002. The text provides an amusing trawl through historic periods and calls on the viewer to consider how our attitudes and behaviours impact on our life choices. With stylised violence enacted by puppets, spraying blood and (at times) inept scenery changes, this clever Australian production would be very useful to study in conjunction with an historical novel in Stage 4 – see below.

Karma 2

Karma is a mix of narrative and performative styles of music video which perfectly showcases Aussie hip hop. Nfamas sings side stage, narrating the action performed by DJ Peril and Kemstar. The video cuts between this theatrical staging, the narrator and the legendary drama in a series of camera shots that heighten important lyrical moments.

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Similar to a prologue, the opening lines of the song introduce us to a popular definition of karma with a salutary warning to ‘watch out for’ bad karma.

Karma 4

The chorus effectively uses repetition and rhetorical questions to include the audience in everyday deliberations – How am I supposed to live in a world full of negatives? – before suggesting life lived on a daily basis and prayer as two options for staying positive. Whilst we are hearing these lyrics, we watch brutal pre-historic violence: man against man, with the victor slain by a dinosaur.

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Referencing masculinity and violence throughout, by throwing down a ‘gauntlet so switch the picture’, we witness a samurai duel

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before an extreme close-up of the animated Nfamas reminds us of his dilemma: How am I supposed to love in a world full of push and shove?

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Human activity that was once acceptable, such as whaling, is now seen as a means of ‘payback’ for people who behave unacceptably. This represents an interesting link between the natural world as a vehicle for retribution and other notions of ‘bad luck’ or street justice.

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Values or what a person might ‘desire’, such as greed and thievery, are shown as negative aspects of capitalist society and deserving of punishment. At the same time, the colloquial lyrics cleverly suggest limitations to raps ‘that get me fed up’ while suggesting artists should ‘grow up’ and perhaps sing about gritty topics.

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The final verse reiterates the lessons revealed in the chronological scenes of humanity’s progress ‘as what goes up comes down never the less’ reminding us of an inevitability to karma. Consider asking students who they look up to as role models for appropriate behaviour. Do they think of this world as being full of ‘lust and greed’?

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The video concludes musically with an upbeat guitar riff as the band join together and occupy an elevated position overlooking a gritty urban scene. Graffiteed train carriages rumble past the polluted skyline: DJ Peril brandishes a baseball bat and Kemstar’s guitar is swung wildly, whilst Nfamas grooves on …

Suggested Historical Novels

Viking Ships

Macbeth and Son

Both novels written by Jackie French and published by HarperCollins Publishers Australia.

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