Computers in Media: Cradle of Love

As my work has taken a decided turn into the realm of computer and gaming history, this is the first of a series of posts looking at computers in media. This time it is the Macintosh computer featured in the 1991 Billy Idol video “Cradle of Love.” Another post about Billy Idol and his album 1993 album Cyberpunk, a pioneering (or ill advised) musical foray into early transmedia, digital media, internet culture, and cyberculture aesthetics will eventually make its way onto this site.

Although the computer in “Cradle of Love” only features in a few scenes, it plays an important part in setting up the scenario of the video and establishing the character of the nervous businessman who finds his night upended by the intrusion of a young woman named Devon and her taste in music. The computer screen is a tool for exposition, giving us the character’s name of Stuart Naughton through a quick shot of the screen. Stuart is using his computer to create his wedding invitations (note the photo on the desk) which furthers the tension his character faces throughout the video. Portrayed by actor Joshua Townshend-Zellner, the computer associates Stuart with the archetypes of the 80s computer nerd. Bespectacled, slightly disheveled, nervous, and ultimately unable to cope with the sexually charged antics of Devon, played by Betsy Lynn George.

The computer is a Macintosh IIcx with a distinctive 15 inch vertical Macintosh Portrait Display grayscale monitor. The Macintosh IIcx was released to the public on March 7, 1989 for the princely sum of $5368. The Portrait Display was introduced alongside the IIcx at a price of $1049. The IIcx ended production on March 11, 1991 while the monitor was discontinued on December 1st, 1992. Like the monitor, the IIcx could be turned to stand as a tower rather than the usual horizontal configuration of most 1980s computers, although the photos of the IIcx with the Portrait Display usually show the monitor perched atop the computer case. The IIcx moniker is derived from the computer being a compact successor to the IIx, with the x referring to the 68030 processor.

The striking and unusual vertical orientation of the monitor was likely the reason it was selected for the video, both to showcase Stuart’s white collar position, wealth, and computer acumen in a expensive looking and tastefully (for 1991) decorated apartment as well as for the visual effect of actor Townshend-Zellner working on the monochrome 15 inch display. The camera never shows the computer in closeup, with the exception of the tight shot of the screen that establishes Townshend-Zellner’s harried character’s name and his impending nuptials. The IIcx is always shown with the actor in the shot, as he moves from calming working, to anxiously trying to get back to work, to pacing in front of his desk. The scenes of Townshend-Zellner attempting to work on the Macintosh IIcx in a relatively spartan room are juxtaposed against Betsy Lynn George’s exuberant dancing to Idol’s music. All work and no play as it is.

The video for Cradle of Love was directed by David Fincher and is notable for literally framing Idol. Due to a motorcycle accident that reportedly cost Idol the role of the T-1000 in Terminator 2, Idol was in no shape to walk or dance. Fincher decided to keep video of Idol within picture frames of the apartment, lending both a narrative continuity across scenes and allowing Idol to be shot only from the waist up.

“Cradle of Love” is off the 1990 album Charmed Life, reaching #2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts. The song was featured in the film The Adventures of Ford Fairlane and the original version of the video featured clips from the film. Due to Ford Fairlane star Andrew Dice Clay’s MTV ban, the scenes were removed.

References and further reading

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