First things first: Who is Jean Vigo and what does he have to do with Block B’s subunit Bastarz? Jean Vigo was a French director in the 1930s who made only four films in his lifetime due to bad health. Knowing that he had only a short time to live had an obvious impact on his career. All of his films have an exuberant anarchy to them that reflected his troubled life, none more so than his 1934 masterpiece “Zero de Conduite” which translates to, yes, you guessed it, “Zero For Conduct.” So the links between the song by Bastarz and Jean Vigo are not that much of a stretch. Bastarz’s using this as the title for their debut single shows an obvious influence from Vigo, but the links go deeper than mere reference. Block B’s situation within the K-pop environment mirrors that of the young protagonists– Caussat, Colin, and Bruel– of Vigo’s film.
“Zero For Conduct” the film is about three young French boys who hatch a plan to start a rebellion in their strict school. It involves all manner of playful plans and schemes. It plays as a critique of French society so stuck to their rules and authority that they have lost all meaning of fun. Similarly, “Zero For Conduct” the song is about the K-pop industry. Bastarz make fun of boys who prance around in makeup while still trying to be macho. Both parties are criticizing the systems they are stuck in; they are starting revolutions within the system.
You could say that all revolutions happen within the systems they are striking against, yet the particular settings of the school and K-pop world are particularly personal.
In Vigo’s films, the three protagonists’ lives are portrayed completely through school. The only times they are not on school grounds are when riding on the train on their way to school or on a walk around the town with their class and teacher. They spend all their time in an oppressive school so, naturally enough, they revolt.
If you are at all familiar with the life of a K-pop idol then you’ll know that this is not far from their lives. We always see idols on TV shows talking about their hectic schedules and how they have no time to rest. They go from recording an album to learning choreography to performing on shows to promoting their album to radio shows and so much more. It sounds like an oppressive situation, yet all are there by choice. What if they aren’t really though? What if the only way to get your music out to an audience is to be a part of an idol group? Which brings us on to the true author of this song, Zico.
With his solo work, producing work, and appearances on “Show Me The Money,” Zico seems like a man wanting to get back to his roots. Along with this “Zero For Conduct” is his call for revolution. He’s sick of the exhausting idol lifestyle. He’s sick of the pretty boys, the endless practicing, and the scolding agencies. According to him, “playing on stage without manners is the answer.” It’s time to take things a little less seriously in order to rebuild the system. This way, Zico’s work could go back to being as he originally intended, the work of the underground.
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This line from the Bastarz song also brings up some more similarities. The film, being about children, naturally contains many scenes of childish behaviour which becomes quite absurd at times. This sense of fun is included in the song through the visuals. P.O jumps around like a giant child. He wears dungarees and pirate hats and pulls all manner of ridiculous poses. He seems to be mocking the fashion and dance obsessed boys in other groups. There’s a nonchalance to his body language on and off stage that might look like a lack of commitment but is really just comfort in doing what he know he can do.
Using the visual is just as important, if not more, as the lyric to make a point in pop culture. To me, it’s clear again here that Bastarz are criticising the system they are in the middle of. There’s also an acknowledgment of the hypocrisy implicit in this. Bastarz and Zico can criticize K-pop all they like but they remain a part of the machine. To show their awareness of this they did not completely subvert the K-pop visual. The members still wear a lot of makeup. In some places it’s actually really heavy makeup suggesting they are happy to let us see it clearly, perhaps letting us know that they are aware of these rules that they must still follow.
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Hypocrisy is something that Vigo is quite aware of as well within his system. In one scene, the headmaster of the school is giving out about a boy saying something to the effect of, “I heard that they were disciplined for child-like behaviour.” When children are not allowed to behave like children, then some kid somewhere will try to change that. Yet the very fact that they are a child going up against those in power means that things won’t ever really change. They may make a dent, make themselves known for their courage, but the system always wins. Zico and Bastarz probably know this. That won’t stop them though. They will continue with music that is fun as hell and have as much fun as they can while doing it.
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