Music iN You1n CuI1unr

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Music iN You1n CuI1unr
A LncnNinN AÞÞnoncn
jan jagodzinski
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© jan jagodzinski, 2005.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any
manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief
quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
First published in 2005 by
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This book is dedicated to my son Jeremy
When he reads it he will know why.
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Introduction: Aural/Oral Connections 1
Tnronr1icnI CoNsinrnn1ioNs 5
1. Stuttering In-Between Deleuze and Lacan—Acts of Transposition 7
Lacan Bashing/Bashing Lacan 8
Sexuation: Beyond Sex/Gender 13
Skin-Ego as BwO 18
The Jouissance of the Death Drive 24
Music as Sound of “Matter”: The Clamor of Becoming 28
2. The Figurality of Noise and the Silence of the Death Drive 33
Musical Transgressions: The Event 33
The Virtual Body and the Real 38
3. The Uncanny Figural Voice 45
Ethical Paradoxes of the Deadly Jouissance of Postmodernity 45
Forms of Jouissance 48
Perversions and Hysterizations of the Music Scene 51
On Castrati and Divas 57
PrnvrnsioNs or Tnr Music ScrNr: Tnr Bovz ⁄ Bois ⁄ Bovs 59
4. The Perversions of Gangsta Rap: Death Drive and Violence 61
Death Row Records: Taking the Rap? 61
Rap as Rhythmic Repetition of Resistance 64
The Ambiguities of Rap’s Style 68
Racial Profile: The Public Enemy 69
The Gangsta Rapper as Spectre 72
5. Gangsta Sadomasochism: Tails Yo’ Good, Heads Yo’ Bad 77
The Sadomasochism of 2 Live Crew 77
“I ain’t nobody’s bitch”: Post-Oedipal Fallout 80
Hitting the Target with Word-Bullets 81
Stealing Back Jouissance: Crime as Law, Law as Crime 82
Word Bullets into Golden Eggs: When Rap Turns Empty 86
W(rap)ping Up Rap with Eminem 89
The Schizophrenic Self: The “Real” Slim Shady 92
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CoN1rN1s viii
6. Plummeting the Gothic Depths of the Soul: Nü Metal and
its Beyond 95
Disturbing the Skin-Ego of Nü Metal: Obsessive Drives 95
Forging an “Ugly” Aesthetic: The Grimace of the Joker 98
Ko}n’s Real Kernel 100
The Biting Noise of Nü Metal 101
Freaks! The Searching Bullet 105
The Bullet’s Death Drive 108
Decadence: A Time to Reap in the Ko}n? 109
7. The “Grunge” of Punk-Rock: Slacking Off 111
Separation Woes: The Ambiguous Paternal Function 111
Approaching Psychosis: Kurt Cobain’s Grunge 115
Suicide “Note” 118
Authenticity as Sinthome: Musical Noise as Strange Attractor 121
8. Serial Connections: The MM Show 123
Serial Connections 123
Addicted to Scream 126
Columbine’s Holy Wood: Third Strike and You’re Out 129
9. Beyond the Law: The Anti-Slacker as Mass Murderer 135
Unmasking Patricide: Wish Fulfillment Gone Astray 135
Mass Murder and Serial Killers in Fantasy and RL 139
Psychotic Delusions: Mass Murder as Media Glory 143
School Tragedies of Overidentification: 15 Minutes of
Twisted Fame 146
10. The New Castrati: Men II Boys 151
Public Castrations: Boy Bands 151
Making of the Band: Inverting the Truman Show 154
More Heaven than Heaven 158
American Idol 2: Pop Karaoke 159
Stardom 101: Hiding in Front of the
Obscene Underbelly 163
Cloning Pop Stars for Global Success:
Civilized Racism 165
Tnr Hvs1rnizn1ioN or 1nr Music ScrNr:
Tnr GunIz⁄ GinIs ⁄ GnnnIs 169
11. Postmodern Hysterics: Playing with the Virginity Card 171
The Paradox of Dirty Virgin Divas 171
The Dirty Other Feminine Jouissance 174
The Sadean Fantasy of Sexual Equality 176
Midriff Virgins: Spears and Company 179
The Masquerade of Virginity 181
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CoN1rN1s ix
12. The Dilemmas of Gurlz’ Desires: Perverting the
Post-Patriarchal Order 187
Desire and the Law 187
Conflicted Desire in Gurlz’ Narratives 189
The Perverted Maternal Superego 192
Not Just One of the Bois: Being Wild and Free 196
The Perversions of Tin(k)y Desire 198
The Fourth Fetish 199
13. The Good Witch-Bitch: Grrrl Power as the Desublimated
Ugly Aesthetic 203
What Do Grrrl’s Want? 204
Lipstick in Your Face: Preparing and then Losing Ground 206
Fly Grrrls: The Erotic Full-Figured Body 208
Femme Fatale as the Color of Red: Shirley Manson of Garbage 210
From Red to Pink: Miss Undaztood’s Schizophrenia 213
14. The New Virginity: The Nostalgic Return of the Veil 217
Miss America Becomes Virginal! 217
The “Storm” of the Ego Ideal: Teenage Girls’
Loss of Self-esteem 219
Wearing a Chastity “Belt”: Nostalgic Virginity as a
“Knockout” Punch 224
The Recodified Veil of the Hejab 227
Re-Veiling/Revealing the Courtly Lady 229
Propping Up and Striping Down Paternity 232
IN1rnIunr 235
15. The Fan(addict): The Sinthome of Believing in the
Multiples of ONE 237
The Postmodern Groupie Today 237
A Wry Look at the Fan(addict): Galaxy Quest 240
Omega 13: Twisting Time and Space 243
Punkbaby: Silke’s Skin-Ego 244
Silke’s Tattoos 247
A Drummer is Beating 249
The Politics of the Skin-Ego: The Split-Screen Mirror 251
16. Let’s Rave not Rage! New Age Techno Hippies and
Digital Electronica 255
U(h)r Klang of the Real: The Techno Beat of the
Machinic Fetus 259
The Paradox of Rave’s “Natural Technology”;
Or Technology as Antitechnology 262
Going Back into the Womb to Be Born Again: Posthuman
Cyborgs 263
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CoN1rN1s x
CoNcIusioNs: AN E1nics or 1nr RrnI 267
17. An Ethical “Act” in the Real: A Brief Meditation to Close 269
Coda: To Jeremy 274
Notes 277
Bibliography 291
Index 303
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IN1nonuc1i oN: AunnI ⁄ OnnI
CoNNrc1i oNs
Music in Youth Culture: A Lacanian Approach is a companion book to
Youth Fantasies: The Perverse Landscape of the Media (2004), which examined
postmodern youth from a Lacanian psychoanalytic perspective by concen-
trating on the medias of video games, Internet, and television. This second
volume continues to examine youth fantasies specific to music that emerged
in the past decade, from approximately the early nineties to the present
contemporary musical scene. It can be read as a portmanteau book (mot-valise)
within Youth Fantasies in the sense that it exits as an enfolded space within
that first volume—bracketed by it, so to speak. In Youth Fantasies, the thesis
concerning the post-Oedipalization of postmodernist society was developed
where it was argued that there has been a fundamental “enfoldment” of space
between postadolescence and adulthood blurring any distinct boundaries
between them as a symptom of the subsequent loss of trust in authority of
the Symbolic Order. This thesis is dramatically illustrated by the music industry.
Odd spelling throughout this book is used to indicate the newly created
space of postmodern youth. Bois, Boyz, and Boys are the differential signi-
fiers for the psychic conflicts over the limited modernist hegemonic image of
Man used to demarcate the skater crowd from punk-metal-Goth-rap Boyz,
which are yet again differentiated from pop culture’s Boy Groups. Similarly,
Girlie/Gurlz, girls and Grrrls indicate similar differentiations among females
in various postfeminist contexts. These distinctions are developed in an
exploration of fantasies associated with virginity and being called a “slut.”
This differential array of signifiers is predicated on the cauldron of psychic
struggles that are taking place precisely within the enfolded space opened up
by the postmodernity of designer capitalism. Purposely (at times), these sig-
nifiers have been capitalized to indicate their particular psychic relationship
toward libidinal bodily energy referred to as jouissance, which demarcates
the experience of intensity through bodily drives.
Lacan took a dim view concerning developmental stages that were based
on biological growth when it came to youth. Rather, the “bio” of life took
a backseat to the way the rhythms of past “psychosocial” events impacted
future growth. Talk of stages referred to the libidinal body of the drives; to
our oral, anal, sexual, gazing, and vocalizing bodies, which constantly inter-
rupt the regularities of living, making us undergo processes of repression,
frustration, and regression. For example, “tweens” may be identified as a
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Musi c i N You1n CuI1unr: A LncnNi nN AÞÞnoncn 2
biological cohort aged nine to twelve, but their struggles are shaped by
socioeconomic structures bringing such issues as body weight, bullying,
styles of dress, parental desires, and drug abuse to fore at the level of their
virtual affective “driven” bodies. These become revealing “nodal points”
around which symptoms are structured, and are thus far more revealing of
their psychic struggles than the cognitive literature of psychological develop-
ment based on well-known stage theories such as those of Jean Piaget and
his followers, which dominated the modernist theorizing of early child devel-
opment. At the very least, a psychoanalytic account both supplements and
decenters such cognitive accounts as we have already argued in the early
chapters of Youth Fantasies.
To what extent can this array of music youth cultures be theorized as
examples of “becoming-woman” in Deleuzean terms? Are they the rhizomatic
and productive mutually transformative results of the impossible gap between
the masculine and feminine heterogeneous binary appositions, like Deleuze
and Guattari’s (1987, 293) famous example of the orchid (a plant) in
exchange with the wasp (an insect) where a becoming-wasp of the orchid
and a becoming-orchid of the wasp take place? Is the emerging psyche of
youth cultures in the past decade dispersed into hybridic becomings? But,
isn’t this all simply another instance of Lacan’s outspoken claim that “desire
is the desire of the Other” which also recognizes difference? This last series
of questions raise a pressing concern: just how are these psychic struggles to
be characterized? Given the claim of post-Oedipalization, does the neurosis
of the Freudian familial drama still apply? Many scholars have turned to the
schizophrenic account of the capitalist socius (conduct of relations) offered
by Deleuze and Guattari with their strong rejection of Lacanian psycho-
analysis exemplified in their two-volume work Anti-Oedipus (1977) and
A Thousand Plateaus (1987) to theorize another possibility. Becoming-
woman, a Deleuzean term, seems to sit uncomfortably within a book that
utilizes Lacanian psychoanalysis, who is often accused of transcendental phal-
logocentrism against the author(s) of empirical transcendent immanence.
To what extent, then, do I find myself “Oedipally” still loyal to Lacan, or to
his most eminent practioner in the English-speaking context such as Zizek?
Gratefully perhaps, an exploration of pop music can result in a productive
misreading so, at the very least, some form of “betrayal” can take place that
furthers an understanding of youth today? Such questions address my own
anxiety when venturing into the space “in-between” two such powerful
systems of thought. The first chapter, Stuttering In-Between Deleuze and
Lacan—Acts of Transposition, attempts to define my own position.
The homonym aural/oral in the subtile characterizes the intimacy of the
two drives in youth cultures. It refers to two registers of meaning. First, it
brings together hearing and voraciously consuming music together as a way
to capture the musical entertainment industry of advanced capitalist coun-
tries, which is a haptic event that is performed on a dynamic field that is
both unifying as well as disruptive. Second, as developed in the second and
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IN1nonuc1i oN: AunnI ⁄ OnnI CoNNrc1i oNs 3
third chapters, the oral and aural form a hybrid “diadeictical” relation
(Lyotard, 1971, 39) between the drive-demand of oral consumption (pure
desire) and the desire of the aural voice through the intervention of the
death drive as bodily jouissance. This identifies a transgressive stance toward
the accepted performed musical codes. The performative side of music since
the Beatlemania phenomenon of the 1960s has now advanced into the concert
and television spectacle making marketing based on serialization as simulacra
the central concept for commodity production. The political economy of
repetition, which is how musical industries supplement commodity serialization,
demands that a mold be manufactured from which the mass reproduction of
an original can then take place (Attali, 1999, 128). It is the labor that goes
into the production of the mold by its producers and design engineers
(“molders”) where the greatest costs are incurred followed by the costs for
its media spectacularization to maintain its currency and demand for its
repetition. The costs of reproduction of the commodity are significantly
lower as profit is recovered through sales of the music CDs, musical videos,
guest appearances, performances, and paraphernalia. It should be apparent
that Attali’s conceptual language draws on a Deleuzean paradigm with its
stress on repetition and moulds. His conceptualization of “noise,” as devel-
oped in chapter 2, however, is appropriated under Freud/Lacan’s death
drive when theorizing musical youth cultures.
Designer capitalism signifies a repetition and a serialization of all forms of
consumption, from fast foods to ready-to-wear clothes. Repetition in music
requires an attempt to maintain diversity and meaning for demands. The
artist as performer acts in the capacity of a replicant, a form of upgraded
social Darwinism when the spectacle of performance becomes repeated so as
to act at a point of idealized unity rather than difference. An American,
British, Canadian, or Australian “idol” emerges in the currency of the pop
music industry where such repetition enables a leveling of power to superfi-
cially appear by making the music “popular.” Yet, on the one hand, each Idol
is “translated” into its respective culture to make it appear unique. The
universal/singular tension seems to be solved through such a repetition of
difference. But, on the other hand, power becomes concentrated in the
record companies and producers who front the spectacle and invest time and
money in it. I attempt to describe this paradoxical process in chapter 10,
“The New Castrati: Men II Boys.” Ironically, one might call this a “becoming-
child,” after Deleuze.
Repetition and serialization contain within it a difference, a conceptual
articulation generally bestowed in contemporary philosophy to Giles Deleuze
and Jacques Derrida’s notion of différance as the non-presence of the other,
which is already inscribed within the sense of presence. However, Lacan’s
complex notion of the psychic Real had already explored this same territory
in the early 1970s, which Deleuze and Derrida were to claim as their own
through their own unique explorations of it. Their debt to Lacan remains,
by and large, an uneasy one, dividing scholars in various camps rather than
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acknowledging the many similarities between them when it comes to the
realm of the “impossible.” This divisive aspect is articulated, explored, and
questioned in the first chapter.
The question remains as to whether such repetition by the music industry
simply produces “silence” by eliminating “noise” (or non-sense) through the
conformity of popular repetition—as Attali maintains. Just when does the
repression of noise erupt? The thesis forwarded here is that the eruption of
“noise” has taken place through the perversion and hysterization of the
performer/audience relationship throughout the last decade and into the
new millennium in ways, I hope, that will be surprising to the reader.
In the second chapter, “The Figurality of Noise and the Silence of the Death
Drive,” I attempt to establish my own position regarding the transgression
of difference in music, while in the third chapter, “The Uncanny Figural
Voice,” I explore the conceptualization of jouissance in such transgression
“against and beyond the Law.”
The following seven chapters consist of part II, entitled, “Perversions of
the Music Scene: The Boyz/Bois/Boys.” Here, I explore the masculine
postadolescent “stretch” as captured by the signifier(s) bois/boyz and boys
of Gangsta rap and hip-hop, metal, punk, and Goth, ending with the pop
culture of Boy Bands and the making of American Idol. I claim that these
masculine musical developments pervert the music scene. In chapter 7
I attempt to make connections to the much publicized school shootings and
suicides. This is then followed by Part III, “The Hysterization of the Music
Scene: The Gurlz/Girls/Grrrls,” which consists of four more chapters that
explore the developments by cultural music forms of postfeminism. I try
to discuss the fantasies around the virgin/slut dichotomization and the
responses to this. I end the music section with Part IV, an “Interlude” of two
further essays, one on the Fan(addict), which maps out our understanding of
a new kind of fan that has arisen in postmodernity, and the other develops
Techno music as a utopian fantasy of global harmony. Techno music lends
itself to a Deleuzean analysis, thereby providing another opportunity for a
comparison with Lacanian psychoanalysis. The concluding essay is a medita-
tion on “the ethics of the Real,” hints of which the reader will encounter
throughout most of the chapters.
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Tnronr1i cnI CoNsi nrnn1i oNs
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S1u11rni Nc IN-Br1wrrN
DrIruzr nNn LncnN—Ac1s or
TnnNsÞosi 1i oN
In Youth Fantasies, an attempt was made to steer a course that incorporated
Deleuze and Guattari where it was felt that a certain transposition between
their conceptual systems was possible; namely the concept of nomadology
could be transposed as the discourse of the analyst as no-madic research.
The no-madic researcher occupies the impossible position of Lacan’s objet a
to theorize the drive/desire dialectic, both individually and socially, always in
a state of “becoming” to act in the capacity of a “vanishing mediator” so
that a fantasy might be traversed. His or her position becomes useless or
redundant after such an occurrence. Post-Oedipalization was the term used
to transpose their anti-Oedipal stance. But, just how “anti-Oedipal” were
Deleuze and Guattari anyway? Guattari, a gay Left activist trained by Lacan,
was still a practicing analyst and member of Lacan’s École Freudienne de Paris
when Anti-Oedipus was written. If one reads Flieger’s (1999, 2000, 2005)
many attempts to sort through their critique of Freud and Lacan, Deleuze
and Guattari often begin to sound more Freudian than they would ever
admit; their “lines of flight” being less successful than the written bravado of
their neologisms would at first suggest. Their critique certainly applies, but
only if Freud and Lacan are read as caricatures in the most orthodox way
possible. Flieger forcefully shows that Anti-Oedipus brings out the most
radical elements in both Freud and Lacan at a historical moment in the late
1960s and early 1970s when Freud’s ideas had become psychologized by
neo-Freudians, while Lacan’s concepts had been cast into a structuralist
straightjacket. The time was ripe to further radicalize psychoanalysis through
their form of schizoanalysis. Atoms now not only “swerved,” as the young
Marx had maintained in is doctoral thesis (following the Epicurean–Lucretian
doctrine of the clinamen as the “free” declination of atoms) in reply to the
atomism of Democritus, but now “molecules” became a flux of “schizzes
and flows.” But, by this time Lacan had also moved on. His rethinking of
sexuality freed of both gender and identity had already begun to be worked out
in Seminar XIX, . . . Ou pire/ . . . Or Worse (1971–1972), and fully developed
the following year S XX, Encore (1972) with his formulae of sexuation, the
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very same year when Anti-Oedipus was publicly released. This development, as
argued later, contests any easy accusations of binary logic, and offers an alter-
native to the endless differentiation of sexes claimed by Deleuze and
LncnN BnsniNc/BnsniNc LncnN
When one reads Braidotti (1991, 1994, 2002), Deleuzean theory is proudly
proclaimed as anti-Oedipal, and used as a wedge against Lacanian psycho-
analysis of the 1950s and 1960s. Alice (in Wonderland), as Deleuze devel-
oped this figure in The Logic of Sense (1990), now becomes the non-Oedipal
poster child (Braidotti, 2002, 69), as if it were possible to remain forever in
Wonderland. Avril Lavigne and Michael Jackson, as I argue in chapter 11,
however, are doing a good job at trying to stay down the rabbit hole for as
long as possible. Apparently, becoming-woman/animal is not about signifi-
cation, but about the transcendence of the linguistic signifier. “Expression is
about the nonlinguistically coded affirmation of an affectivity whose degree,
speed, extension and intensity can only be measured materially, pragmatically,
case by case” (Braidotti, 2002, 119). Alice is a special case. In Wonderland
Alice’s antics illustrate her “becoming.” Wonderland is a world where present
time never “actually occurs” but remains “always forthcoming and already
past” (Deleuze, 1990, 80). In the book’s opening pages, Deleuze argues
Alice is simultaneously getting larger (than she was before) and smaller (than
she will become), caught in the interval of “pure” time (aion). However,
should one take the trouble to read Feldstein’s (1995) Lacanian rendering
of Alice, the differences between the two approaches seem, once more,
transpositional. Feldstein also reads Alice as “an emblematic study of the
representation of the representational process itself as it relates to the
reconfiguration of Alice’s identity” (152). The difference is that Feldstein
offers a sociopolitical questioning of Carroll’s fantasy concerning women.
In Wonderland, Alice is deprived of the right to grow up; she remains a
Philosophers in the Academy are continually engaged in territorializing
their tuff by calling on names, while at the same time claiming to be irreverent
and disrespectful of them. Disciple-hood is often an anathema, but theft of
fragments stolen from here and there is common fare. In the heated intel-
lectual circles of Paris parallel concepts amongst Foucault, Derrida, Lacan,
Deleuze, Blachot, Barthes, and lesser well-known figures, were developed in
the late 1960s and early 1970s, but their sources disavowed and never
acknowledged. In an exchange between Braidotti and Zizek during the final
panel discussion of IAPL’s (International Association for Philosophy and
Literature) 2002 meeting in Rotterdam, it became very clear that each hard-
lined their own stance to maintain a distance from one another. Braidotti had
published Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming that year,
while Zizek was busy writing his own “encounter” with Deleuze, Organs
Without Bodies, which came out two years later. Rumors have it that they will
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be now writing a book together to “encounter” their differences! As might
be suspected the theoretical claim of this book is to transpose their similarities,
which may help in grasping the post-Oedipal musical cultures of postmodernity
rather than insist on differences. But, of course, some differences between
their ontological systems can never be reconciled.
How is becoming-woman to be understood in the context of the prolif-
eration of signifiers for youth employed here (girls, girlz, grrrls, boys, bois,
boyz), since Deleuze and Guattari’s term is not itself a gender theory; it is
not necessarily a condition of possibility for femaleness or feminine concepts,
nor is it biologically, hormonally, or chromosomally defined? Deleuze and
Guattari made no claims concerning the experiences of “real women,” nor
did they provide any direction to becoming-woman, although they were crit-
ical of neoliberalist feminist positions. Rather, their term refers to a nomadic
or itinerant machinic vector or force, a “middle-line” in-between a system
(logos) and its dissipation—in-between, in their terms, molar and molecular
lines of flight—in-between order and chaos, the proviso being that such a
“quanta” of energy can “cause” a collapse back into order (molar state of
closure) or offer new potentialities. Becoming-woman is thought of as “the
first quantum, or molecular segment” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, 279,
emphasis added) because woman’s identification is absent: she is Other,
unrecognizable under masculine Law that is defined in terms of a “striated”
space; that is a homogeneous space of quantitative multiplicity. A form of
becoming is inseparable from three specific forms of becoming: “becoming-
woman, a becoming-child, a becoming-animal” (Deleuze an Guattari, 1987,
299) because of the asymmetrical binaries of social coding in Western societies:
namely male over female, adult over child and rational over animal. For
Deleuze and Guattari, sexuality is, therefore, a distributive category rather
than a bilateral one. This is contrasted to “smooth space” of becoming-
woman, which conjures up an image that is completely opposite to what they
mean. Such a space is heterogeneous and rhizomatic like an urban sprawl,
characterized by quantitative multiplicity and continuous variation where
there is no overarching principle or directionality. Such “lines of flight” of
deterritorialization are characterized as open intervals (Deleuze and Guattari,
1987, 477–481). In short, Deleuze proposed a state of “pure” becoming
(without being) that is extracted from corporeality. Such becoming takes
place in the “transcendental empiricism” of time itself, which is the key to
understanding the Deleuzean worldview. Transcendental empiricism refers
to the actuality of preontological virtual possibilities (potentia), a level of
vitalism (life) of presubjective consciousness that takes place prior to con-
scious experience itself. Like Lyotard’s (1971) figural that coexits with dis-
course, such sensate life coexists as a “stratigraphic” superimposition with
conscious experience. Such a transcendental plane of experience refers to time
itself, but not the time of movement (as chronos which he explored in his first
book on cinema, Deleuze, 1986), but time as the infinite virtuality of the
transcendental field of Becoming, the time of aion as the Stoics developed it.
Aion was “the pure empty form of time” (Deleuze, 1990, 194).
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Feminists such as Braidotti (1991, 122–123; 1994, 118) have criticized
Deleuze for his failure to directly engage with this question of feminism.
Braidotti throughout her writings always takes a stance of disavowal in this
respect to his work, which goes something like: I know that I am disagree-
ing with Deleuze’s claim that there are an infinite number of proximate and
singular sexes (n-sexes, or polysexes), which emerge from his insistence that
difference is an immanently differential process, nevertheless for a “feminist
Deleuzean” like myself (2002, 68), sexual difference is still the primary or
defining difference. Such statement of disavowal can be found in each of
her books (1991; 1994, 123; 2002, 68). She forwards feminism as the first
difference, which certainly politicizes “becoming-woman” and throws it, once
again, into the metaphysics of representation—as exemplified by Griggers
(1997) whose book bears the very title Becoming-Woman—a position Deleuze
tried to avoid. It is precisely this avoidance that has Braidotti (2002, 82) iron-
ically claiming that it is Deleuze (and by implication, not her) who disavows
the consequences of his conceptualization of becoming-woman!
Where are youth to be placed? Are they not “automatically” becoming-
minoritarian by virtue of their place in the social order? Oddly, I would agree
with Braidotti’s summative claim that comes at the end of a long chapter
defending her appropriation of Deleuze within and against Deleuzean
followers. “The only way to resist this death-bound machinery [referring to
military violence and lethal technologies of death] is to elaborate hybrid,
transformative identities working inside and outside, on the majority and the
minoritarian front simultaneously” (Braidotti, 2002, 110, emphasis added).
The various sex-gendered signifiers throughout this book are not all politi-
cized as “minoritarian” positions, in Deleuze and Guattarian terms. Some
forms of music cultures are caught by the molar powers that define their
identity, yet there is a desperate attempt to redefine and reterritorialize them-
selves. In this sense I tend to also concur with Braidotti (2002) when she
says: “I think Deleuze [and Lacan] can help and even do a lot, but I would
never advocate total reliance on his, or for that matter any other, theoretical
framework. This seems to be the age of hybridity, transversal and transdisci-
plinary connections and non-Oedipal creativity also and maybe especially in
media and cultural studies where the intersection of feminist with Deleuze
theories can be most enriching for both” (89).
In this book the transposition of Deleuzean concepts of “force” and
“affectivity,” which are of such central importance to his stance on radical
immanence, play a major conceptual role in music. In Deleuze “force” is
conceptualized as a degree of affectivity or intensity of an embodied subject,
but the contradiction is that the immaterialism of such a “sense-event,” the
flow of pure becoming cannot be reconciled so easily with the “embodied
subject” who must then actualize this virtual space-time into Being. In this
book, the death drive (more below) does the same conceptual work as the
immanence of life, in that it has the same intensity (potentia) as well as resist-
ance and constraint (potestas) for transformation. The pulse of the drives is
the force of affectivity—“positive desire.” But, why should the “desire of the
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Other”—claimed as “negative desire” or lack, be dismissed so forcefully by
Deleuzeans? An overemphasis on positive desire as part of the virtual space
of multiple and impersonal singular elements that are not as yet synthesized
into “reality”—in my mind a simple transposition of the Freudian/Lacanian
drives—does not allow any symbolic intervention between these affective
drives and the social Other, outside of repression (see Dean, 2000, 244).
Most Deleuzeans who are critical of Lacanian psychoanalysis reduce desire
naively to lack, as essentially being negative. Desire becomes images of what
we lack; or we desire to be “whole” again, to achieve some sort of nirvana
of a lost plentitude at the mother’s breast; desire becomes “other” than
life. Then there are criticisms based on representation—conscious imaginary
desire, which Lacan never adhered to. Lacan never posited an imaged object
of desire, quite the contrary—objet a, the cause of desire is in the Real, not
visible and not signifiable. The image of desire is only a lure. Speech and
language theorized representationally is what Lacan struggled against. Desire
is precisely what alludes language, what is only half said, or slipped up.
Unconscious desire is aimed at the impossibility of representation itself—that
we can “never” be whole, never complete, a way to “live” with our “flaw.”
Where there is lack in Lacan, there is also excess—the bodily drives present
the paradox of life and death, of Law and its transgression.
Every time one reads “desire” in Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, it
is just as easily replaced by the jouissance of bodily drives, with the death
drive remaining unmentioned but desire (drives) as the flows of productive
difference equally “deterritorializing” and destructive of any closed order, as
is jouissance. Deleuze and Guattari argue that desire is only successful when
it “breaks down,” when it is no longer repressed, destroying and dissolving
structures. Geminal influx of intensity (Deleuze and Guattari, 1977, 164) or
“geminal implex” (162), sometimes also referred to as “chaosmos” or
“intense geminal influx,” is characterized as a “machinic assemblage” mov-
ing in one direction toward organization and in the other toward free flow.
For Freud the most primary drive was the oral drive. How different is that
from Deleuze and Guattari’s first synthesis of a life producing “distionic”
intensity—by one flow of desire intersecting with another as mouth/breast?
Is not the drive “mechanism”—its circular loop—machinic? The importance
of Deleuze and Guattari would be their attempt to update a theory of the
drives—what they refer to as positive and productive desire—through an
updated biologism of complexity theory. In this sense I would argue they fail
to capitalize on the more radical aspects of Freud that surpassed biology and
recognize anthropology as a distinct philosophical “science” that pertains to
homo sapiens. Despite anthropology’s modernist racist roots, its quest is to
think through what is distinctly human.
Deleuze and Guattari claimed the virtual field of molecularity as being
productive while representation was confined to the molar. The result was
the failure to recognize production as the very passage from the virtual to the
actual (Badiou, 2000). Representation, for Deleuze and Guattari “is always
a social and psychic repression of desiring-production” (1977, 184). This is
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why desire as lack (its negativity) is also required. Without such a
conceptualization, Deleuze and Guattari, like Foucault, eschew a theory of
fantasy, in favor of a materialism. There is no mediation to complicate the
relation between unconscious desire (in the Real) and the social, which
Lacan’s Symbolic and Imaginary registers take into account. But, as argued
below, Anzieu’s (1989) concept of the skin-ego is a materialistic bridge to
Lacan without sacrificing the notion of fantasy. In Youth Fantasies, Lacan’s
matheme for fantasy (] a) was, of course, a key consideration, as it is in
this book. The book’s subtitle: The Perverse Landscape of the Media refers
to Lacan’s inversion of his formula of fantasy into the matheme of perversion
(a ]). Fantasies are always potentially perverse and in flux. The lozenge
sign (poinçon) placed between the elements allows for the multiplicity of
possible heterogeneous readings. The sign indicates the multitude of
possible relations between the subject of the unconscious (je) and its object
cause of desire (a), which are engaged through the readings of popular music
One site of the Real is interpreted here as the embodied unconscious self
(je), the place of affect—what is “feelable” as opposed to what is “seeable”
(Imaginary register) and what is “sayable” (Symbolic register). Affect and
jouissance, especially when it comes to music, while not completely equiva-
lent, nevertheless, point to similar level of occurrence (more below). They
overlap in the affective disruption that jouissance provides. Jouissance is not
an experience of pleasure, but is connected to a momentary break from the
symbolic fictions that constitute identity. In a skewed sort of way, it can be
read as “positive” in the Deleuzean sense. This is where Deleuze and
Guattari’s axiomatic statement “[t]here is only desire and the social, and
nothing else” (1977, 184) appears to hold, but not entirely for jouissance is
connected to the Symbolic Order precisely in the moment when it throws
the Symbolic Order into question. As an eruption of “non-sense” it indicates
either a hole (or lack) in the Symbolic Order of the signifier or an excess of
over-presence in it. In this particular sense jouissance can be interpreted as
being “productive” given its transformative potentiality, while desire, caught
up in fantasy as a lack, is theorized in terms of reproduction, consumption,
and exchange where the narrative structure of the signifier covers up jouis-
sance as sense making. Jouissance can, therefore, be excessive and abundant,
or lacking; at the same time it is painful, addictive, and dangerous, outside
the Law where the death drive comes to fore. Jouissance can produce an
interruption when the subject is completely unconcerned with the Other’s
desire. The subject loses symbolically situated identity as opposed to narcis-
sism where the subject’s identity is invested in the Symbolic Order. I fail to
see how the theory of the drives cannot be read as “positive” desire, which
is the “market” corned by Deleuzean supporters. As I argue below and in
chapter 2, the death drive can be read as a “positive” site of transformation
as an “ethics of the Real.”
How different is Lacan’s understanding of the unconscious from Deleuze’s
stance that unconscious subjectivity is a passion-driven network of
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“impersonal” machinic-like connections? Lacan always took the unconscious
as a system in-and-of itself, interconnected with the Imaginary and Symbolic.
While Deleuze can be read as updating the biological paradigm along the
vitalist lines of chaos theory, Lacan’s concept of the unconscious as the site
of a “mathematical” acephalous Real, developed further in the late stages of
his life, can be marshaled to do much the same work as Deleuze’s appropri-
ation of chaos theory (e.g., Milovanovic’s many writings in criminology and
law, 1997, 2002), as can the theory of the drives (Triebe). The death drive,
in particular, as immanent to experience, becomes the “zero” that is added
to the body. It is inevitably present but unregistered. The drives are trans-
posed as the affective embodiment, and are a transposition of Deleuze’s
claim of “positive” desire, which Braidotti always pits against Lacan’s notion
of lack, as if lack has been simply theorized one-sidedly as a negative con-
ceptualization rather than the paradoxical “full and empty” at once, which
Lacan always put subtly into play. Although Braidotti attempts to maintain a
hard line against psychoanalysis by forwarding Deleuze, she slips up once in
a while. For instance: “The subject is a process, made of constant shifts and
negotiations between different levels of power and desire, constantly shifting
between willful choice and unconscious drives. . . . [the subject] is the fictional
choreography of many levels into one socially operational self. It implies that
what sustains the entire process of becoming-subject is the will-to-know, the
desire to speak, as a founding, primary, vital, necessary and therefore origi-
nal desire to become” (Braidotti, 2002, 75–76, emphasis added). Statements
such as these show the transpositional possibilities between the two, often
claimed, disparate systems. The issue of sexuality, in particular, is identified
as a dividing line between them. Lacan is accused of binarism, while Deleuze
and Guattari, for the most part, receive “warnings” and “possibilities” for their
potential for feminist and queer theory as exemplified, for instance, by Grosz’s
(1994) questionable and hesitant support of becoming-woman “as going
beyond identity and subjectivity, fragmenting and freeing up lines of flight,
‘liberating’ a thousand tiny sexes that identity subsumes under the One”
(207). How far are Lacan and Deleuze apart on the question of sexuality?
Srxun1ioN: BrvoNn Srx/GrNnrn
Sexuality, as theorized within Lacan’s “formulae of sexuation” (S XX, Encore),
belongs to the category of the Real. It is neither a constructed category
(unlike gender), nor can sex somehow be articulated once and for all.
Potentially, sex is perpetually differentiated by a gap that separates two logi-
cally heterogeneous systems: masculine and feminine. Sex is also not “manip-
ulable” and “pliable” as transgendered and transsexual theorists often claim.
Every culture has an origin myth regarding the sexes (Moore, 1997). I would
argue that this unconscious abyss concerning sex—that is, there is no signifier
for sex in the unconscious—emerged as a result of the sex/gender confusion
that developed during the evolutionary “rhizome” from the Australopithecines
to Homo Sapiens (jagodzinski, 1986–2004). An impossible gap emerges
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between a sexuality still defined in biological terms (irregardless of any
updated scientific findings based on the complexity of socio-genetic-biology)
and our species-specific sexuality, which requires minimally a psychoanalytic
explanation—the path of which was first trail blazed by Freud. Through
his theory of the bodily drives (Triebe), Freud offered a philosophical anthro-
pology that steered a path between biology and culture understood in construc-
tivist terms, as strongly anthropocentric. It is the body subject to jouissance, to
traumas and the excesses of the drives, governed by the death drive that
makes it “human.” Put another way, the mystique of the male penis, the
“truth” of which is embedded in the phenomenon of impotency—of impos-
ture as the “failure” or limit of the phallus, of (conscious) fatherhood and
authority, and the feminine mystique of the vagina, the “truth” of which is
embedded in the phenomenon of the disappearance of estrus—as the “failure”
or limit of the chora, of motherhood itself, that is being barren, present the
complex of reproductive sexuality. Both phenomena are governed by an
unexplainable “will” of their own. A male is unable to entirely “control” his
erection, whereas a female, unlike the animal world, is potentially fertile all
the time, but neither can she control the moment of her pregnancy. Viagra,
artificial insemination, and birth control certainly take the mystique away,
but then sexuality becomes desexualized (more below). Having an erection
and having a child become instrumental functions with no necessary pretense
to inexplicable desire. Designer sex can and does become instrumentalized.
At these limits of “failure,” queer positions emerge where the economy of
sexual reproduction is no longer necessarily considered primary; sex becomes
overdetermined as sexual production in its variety of perverse forms where an
inversion of fantasy takes place offering a variety of performative masks (male)
and masquerades (female) that quickly confuse any gender/sex binaries or
biological claims to the determination of sex. The binary differentiations of
being gay/lesbian/transsexual or straight are no longer in tight opposition
to each other as designer sex makes everyone queer in some way, illustrating
once more Freud’s (1905) position of polymorphous sexuality as developed
in his “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality.” “All human beings are
capable of making a homosexual object-choice and have in fact made one in
their unconscious” (SE 7,145) and “[I]n human beings pure masculinity and
femininity is not to be found either in a psychological or biological sense”
(SE 7, 220). This, indeed, is also Lacan’s position.
Sex is therefore a metaphysical category whose riddle will never be solved.
So while the phallus-penis slippage is certainly evident in Lacan’s phallocentric
formulation, the same may be said of Luce Irigaray’s gynocentric position
where the slippage between the vaginal and the transcendental “two lips” is
a homologous occurrence. The masculine body as a solid opposed to the
feminine fluid body repeats the abyss between them. The visibly tumescent
penis and the hidden vagina that hides the usual visible coloring—the heat of
estrus—shaped the “sex/gender” confusion of our species. Such a confusion can
be theorized abstractly as the impossible relationship between the masculine
One (closed system logic) and the feminine Zero (open system logic).
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To stage a “betrayal” of Lacan/Zizek here, I believe both Braidotti and
Irigaray are right to continue their insistence on the fundamental impossibil-
ity of sexual difference and to question whether the phallus is binding on
both the transcendental dualism of both sexes. In his usual brilliant flurry of
rhetorical tropes, which continually reverse accepted assumptions until the
reader finds him-or herself walking the paradoxical stairs inside one’s head as
if caught in an Escher illustration (one is not quite sure if there is a way out,
logical directions no longer seem to apply), Zizek (2004, 87–93) defends
the phallus, bending and twisting the usual charges (reproaches) brought
against it, so that it does double-duty for both sexes. Amazingly, the phallus
emerges as an “organ without a body” (87), as the empty signifier of “sym-
bolic castration.” A castration occurs when one enters the Symbolic Order
essentially because the signifier (of language) has to “write” the body, the
“body” has to find its place of identity, that is to be disciplined by it through
the various micro-practices of power as Foucault argued. An identity has to
be taken on, and such a symbolic “insignia” or “mask” is made possible by the
intervention of the phallic signifier since it “materializes” (enables the creation
of such insignia, mask, symbolic identity to take place) by actualizing the
“immanent” autonomous asexual senses of the body (Deleuze’s virtuality of
the senses). Such a process is best explained through dialectical materialism—
as the dialectic between Becoming (the flux of asexual or polymorphous
senses) and Being (their actualization as sexuality). The phallus mediates this
exchange, says Zizek.
If I have it right, the phallus acts like a “vanishing mediator” (in Zizek’s
sense) between the paradoxical interplay of a desexualized and a sexualized
world of experience. Given its status in the Real, the drive of sexuality is never
complete, therefore its appearance is either excessive—when, for instance, the
usual instrumental and asexual purpose of an object involved is suspended,
all experience can become sexually charged (from the most crass Freudian
reading, for example, a cigar becomes a phallic symbol, to the most sophis-
ticated one, for example, the paradoxical link between sex and violence)—or
it remains insufficient, left at the desexualized level. If sex is reduced to
“fucking,” to pornographic instrumentalism (Hustler’s motto is “lighten up,
it’s only sex”) it becomes just another object, desexualized (see chapter 10
on the “dirty virgins”). The Lacanian–Zizekian claim is that sexuality can
never directly enter into language (the “body” cannot (entirely) pass into
symbolic “thought”; put another way, polymorphous sexuality at the level of
sense is only partially, in a skewed way, present in language that enables
flirting and a “guessing” game to go on: “Is s/he straight or queer?” “Is she
interested in me or not?”). It is always a “missed” approach, either excessive
or insufficient, either too soon or too late, but never direct and unproblem-
atic, again confirming that sex is a failure of language. The phallus, which
has no signified is theorized as the signifier that sustains this gap—of failure—
in other words, of castration.
Here is where a turn can be made: Is the feminine castrated the same way
as the masculine in the Symbolic Order? Does Woman labor under the same
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or another economy? In the social order, is not sexuality overdetermined
through a feminine body rather than a masculine one? Isn’t it more excessive
than insufficient? It doesn’t take much to feminize a man, but it is much
more difficult to masculinize a woman. The art of bodybuilding is ample evi-
dence of this (see Ian, 1995). Why must the phallus be the privileged signi-
fier, and not recognize that another “vanishing mediator” is also operative?
Lacan, himself, posited the ambiguity of the feminine: there is the Woman
who is caught by phallic jouissance and the Woman who is mercifully free of
the phallus. Does this mean she is not “symbolically castrated,” and as such
has no “identity,” identity being the preserve of the Symbolic Order as actu-
alized by the phallus as “vanishing mediator?” Opposing phallic jouissance is
the “jouissance of the Other,” meaning feminine jouissance that is not rec-
ognized by the Symbolic Order—a jouissance that it lacks. As opposed to the
Man, who wears a mask, always fearful of exposure (all the masked comic
book super heroes have this anxiety that their “true” identity will be
revealed, that they will be found out as being simply “ordinary” men like the
rest of the population) and the non-phallic Woman who always wears a mas-
querade to keep others guessing as to who she “is,” never too worried if she
is exposed or caught for her alleged claims to the heights of authority, she
can always escape by exposing another face, for there is “nothing” under-
neath the masquerade—except another face. Oddly, the controversial playing
with identity becomes a great strength and ruse in a phallic world.
Here, it is possible to read the feminine Zero also as One, challenging the
One that is already in place: the feminine as a “supernumerary” element that
has no place in the closed masculine order, as a particular subtracted element,
which paradoxically claims a universal right for all, referred to as the paradox
of a “singular universal.” As the “supernumerary” element, the feminine forces
a passage from difference to antagonism since it stands for a “pure” differ-
ence that suspends all other differences in the social field (Zizek, 2003, 65).
In this sense, those excluded from the social order speak an “objective truth”
or a “half-spoken truth” since they are the “objects” (not subjects) that stand
for the lack or inconsistency in the Symbolic Order itself—the part that does
not exist. They are the “slips” in the system, pointing to the “impossible” of
any attainment of the w(hole) truth itself. Theoretically, it would seem, that
neither One (masculine) nor the other (feminine) should be dominant, but
a static harmonious balance is not possible since the temporality of movement
of a system would be dismissed. If masculine and feminine are theorized as
opposites, then the possibility of an “outside” appears, for example, a third
term such as androgyny, which would make them equivalent to each other,
or cancel their difference out. As opposites these two externalized poles
mutually rely on one another to maintain a self-enclosed organic definition,
like Master–Slave—the masculine is that which is nonfeminine and vice versa.
To avoid the quagmire of such logic is to posit a gap within sexual difference
itself as Lacan does. Namely, that there exists a “minimal difference”
between them, the Real of an antagonism, an irreducible gap that causes a
distortion, which never settles into a harmonious organicism.
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This is where Zizek (2004) points out a crucial difference between Lacan
and Deleuze when it comes to an understanding of difference. If more than
a fundamental binary antagonism is posited—more than the immanence of
two, that is, if a multiple of antagonisms (or differences) is claimed, as does
Deleuze, then a “logic of nonatagonistic One-ness” appears. A homoge-
nization occurs as these proliferating multiple of antagonisms “exist against
the background of a neutral One as their medium, which is not itself marked
or cut by an antagonism” (67, original emphasis). “Against the plane of
immanence, the pure flux of Becoming as encompassing a single plane, the
Whole or One of Being, governed by the Aion of Time we have Lacan’s
meaningless Real, where there is no One, but only pure multitude, the vast
infinite coldness of the Void” (Zizek, 2004, 29). Historically, the irresolv-
ability of this gap (the gap between Zero and One) has led to all sorts of
metaphysical speculations and resolutions within specific sociopolitical and
historical conditions. The postmodern decentering of One (as the masculine
Same) and the theorizations of non-One as the feminine multiple within
itself by Irigaray and her followers is yet another instance of a rethinking of
this impossible asymmetrical gap. From a Lacanian–Zizekian point of view
“there is no ‘primoridial’ duality of poles in the first place, only the inherent gap
of the One” (2004, 65, original emphasis). The One in this statement should
be interpreted as nothing. In chapter 14, which articulates the fan(addict),
I also introduce the signifier ONE, but this time it is a dispersed and decentered
ONE, which refers to the way fan(addicts) elevate and center themselves
around a particular soundscape (the ONE) so as to differentiate themselves
from the inexhaustible variety of available soundscapes generated by what
can be referred to as the “clamor of becoming” as developed below.
For Lacan, masculine and feminine as conceptualizations are failed attempts
to achieve some sort of totality, wholeness, or final teleological unity. Sexual
difference is not one of an opposition but an effect of incompleteness. They
form a fundamental irresolvable antagonism. The masculine closed system is
open through an impossible exception (The Man). The feminine open sys-
tem is closed by an impossible exception (The Woman), neither one of which
can “exist” since they are Real non-visible and non-signifiable concepts—
simply unconscious fantasies. Their impossible unity forms a dissipative sys-
tem that is constantly in flux. Chaos theory also characterizes Lacan’s latter
writings in the 1970s. These are not binary, dualist, or dialectical conceptu-
alizations as is so often claimed. Such terms are imaginary and apply to a two
system gendered position, but not to the vicissitudes of sex in the unknowable
unconscious Real. Sex in Lacan’s late formulations is equally as “distributive,”
multiple, interconnected, and in constant flux as Deleuze stance on poly-
sexuality because of the failure of fulfillment of the two positions: The Man
and The Woman. The infinite gap between masculine and feminine result in
endless possibilities of imaginary representational sexualities. Given that The
Man and The Woman “do no exist”(both are cultural myths, since there is
no perfect empirical ideal in either system), the various paradoxical con-
tradictions that are generated within the “formulae,” from the attempted but
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always failed interaction between a closed (masculine) and open (feminine)
system, result in a finite array of sexual representations within a historical
period. While other representations are possible, the material conditions for
their emergence is always in a state of becoming.
The dominance of the transcendental phallic signifier (as One) is a historical
development (see Goux, 1992), not some teleological or prescriptive claim
that is often charged against Lacan. Further, while Braidotti (2002, 77–80)
argues that Deleuze’s position of becoming-woman presents an “unresolved
knot” in his relation to feminine: on the one hand, it is the prerequisite for
all becomings, on the other hand, it then dissolves into poly-sexualities.
Braidotti is unwilling to accept the paradox and insists in forwarding femi-
nine difference as primary, privileging it as Deleuzean “minority-becoming.”
Lacan’s formulae of sexuation also presents a paradox on the “feminine”
side, which preserves on the one hand the impossibility of masculine–feminine
sides from falling into a whole (One) by positing a dualistic understanding
of the feminine. There is the “phallic woman” who labors under a phallo-
centric regime (the sedentary molar woman in Deleuze terms), as well as
the “true” woman (see Miller, 2000, 17–20) who does not, a woman who
searches for her own feminine jouissance (the molecular or nomadic becoming-
woman). Lacan preserves the impossible asymmetry that Braidotti protests
(2002, 81) while Deleuze does not. There is no discrepancy with Lacan’s
position when Braidotti writes that the feminine “is radically and positively
other”(82) from the masculine. How far does then such a transposition take
us away from a similar division between striated, molar, closed territorialized
space as opposed to smooth, heterogeneous, deterritorialized, molecular
open space? Are not Lacan’s “formulae of sexuation” a web of rhizomatic
interconnections? Are not the possible sexualities, which are generated just
as nonlinear and complex when their failed logics are articulated? The mul-
tiplicity of sexed subjectivities and the differences in degree marked between
them, it seems to me, are but different lines of becoming.
SxiN-Eco ns BwO
In Youth Fantasies (2004, 105–106) it was suggested that Deleuze and
Guttari’s conceptualization of “positive” unmediated and unregulated desire
of the primary processes of the libido—the flow of immaterial becoming, the
delirium of unconscious libidinal flows—is transposable with the drive forces
of jouissance that are no longer prohibitory in a post-Oedipalized milieu of
designer capitalism. A confusion of terms occurs between the two systems
in Deleuze and Guattari’s rushed zeal to differentiate themselves from a
psychoanalytic orthodoxy so that it appears as though the Lacanian paradigm
has very little to say about bodily materiality (everything is reduced to rep-
resentation via the mirror stage), while Lacan’s statement that the “uncon-
scious is structured as/like a language” is reduced to a naïve representational
structuralism, replaced by an unconscious that is structured like/as a machine
(more specifically, an open system machine that involves heterogeneous,
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independent parts—machinic in their operation). The unconscious is now
based on production/formation rather than representation/writing. Their
term, desire, as free-floating energy, has the same equivalency as Freud’s bod-
ily libido, Nietzsche’s “will to power” and Lacan’s drives. “Desiring machines”
are nothing more than the pulse movements of the drives, whose description
has been updated along open-system terms of a decentered biological vital-
ism, as the ebb and flow of intensity at the molecular level. Such an updated
scientism is often referred to chaos and complexity theory (or nonlinear
dynamical systems theory), the two developments are not necessarily identi-
cal with one another, nevertheless both are post-structuralist open-system
orientations, which attempt to grasp autopoesis (self-organizing systems)
and states of disequilibrium, Ilya Prigogine’s “dissipative structures” (see for
instance, Taylor, 2001). Desiring-machines, like the drives, are partial-objects.
BwO goes in tandem with desiring machines as a “plane of consistency,” a
surface latticed with “longitudes and latitudes, speeds and haecceities”
(Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, 266), on which flow “pure intensities, free,
prephysical and prevital singularities” (58). Desire is a “pure multiplicity” that
cannot be reduced to a unity. It remains pre-personal and pre-individual.
BwO, therefore, becomes “the field of immanence of desire, the place of
consistency proper to desire” (191).
I am inclined to transpose BwO with Didier Anzieu’s (1989) notion of
the skin-ego as developed in Youth Fantasies and utilized in the course of this
book (see especially chapter 15). Anzieu first developed the notion of the
skin-ego in Nouvelle Revue de Psychanalyse, published in 1974, which is
approximately the same time frame as Anti-Oedipus. Given Deleuze and
Guattari’s description of BwO, the “ego” in skin-ego seems contradictory,
for this already seems to be a “molar” representation and not a molecular
one. Does it not already suggest a body image? This would be the most
obvious reproach, but what if the skin-ego is theorized similarly as a plane of
virtual potentiality, as an active “material surface” before a “picture” of the
psychic Ego becomes registered—as a body ego without an image? For critics
such as Tyler (2001), who challenge Anzieu for his alleged deficiency in not
sufficiently attending to social differentiations of skin, fail to recognize that
he is not dealing with representation as yet. This would be my reading of the
skin-ego’s conceptualization. By skin-ego Anzieu means “a mental image of
which the Ego of the child makes use during the early phases of its develop-
ment to represent itself as an Ego containing psychical contents, on the basis
of its experience of the surface of the body” (40, emphasis added). The oper-
ative terms here are “make use” and “surface.” The formation of the imaginary
ego takes place always in the past tense, drawing upon experience that has
already been affectively felt or not felt, as in trauma. The bodily envelope
(skin-ego) is always-already in-tension figurally (cf. Lyotard) with the drives,
the erogenous orifices of the body, which not only include the most obvious
ones—mouth, anus, ear, nose, and so on, but also the pores themselves where
touch plays such a significant role in human psychic formation; that is, the
skin-ego heterogeneously coexists as an “invisible image” of the self, activated
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through the drives (Triebe) in a similar “repulsion and attraction” that arises
between the desiring machines and the BwO. The pulsations of the drives in
conjunction with the skin-ego can be read similarly as the functioning of a
multiplicity of intensities one moment, and a zero-intensity the next, as these
pulses become registered on the skin-ego. Multiplicity comes before the Zero,
making these concepts transposable.
Anzieu goes on to say that such a bodily ego is “not recognized by the
subject as its own” (therefore it is prepersonal and preindividual) and “the
cutaneous and sexual sensations which emanate from it are attributed to
the workings of an influencing machine in the service of a devious seducer/
persecutor” (40, emphasis added). This statement, it seems to me, not only
has the same machinic sensibility about it, but also obliquely refers to the
“demon” in Deleuze’s scientism, the “dark precursor” introduced in Difference
and Repetition (1994, 119–120), which mysteriously functions as a differ-
entiator of continuous variation, an “object ϭ x” that lacks place and identity.
This “dark precursor” acts to maintain perpetual difference. It plays the
part of a “differenciator” between two heterogeneous series, the “in-itself
of difference,” or the “differently different.” Such a formulation has Zizek
(2004, 81) claiming that this is simply a euphemism for the phallus—the
signifier without signification! But, back to Anzieu.
What Anzieu is referring to by mentioning seducer/persecutor are two
heterogeneous intensive systems that act on the skin-ego; namely, the para-
doxical interplay between primary narcissism and masochism, between well-
being and suffering, which then become secondarily eroticized through the
constitution of the skin-ego (BwO). The shift from primary to secondary
masochism and narcissism is constituted by the same continuous “break-
down” as desiring-machines (see Deleuze and Guattari, 1977, 8). Primary
masochism and narcissism can be interpreted as coexistent but different
orders of intensities that are temporally dispersed by the skin-ego of the
infant through the contact with the mother or caregiver, which communicate
excitation and signifying information in a logic of both/and since there is
a confusion in the early stages of infancy as to which is which. Deleuze and
Guattari’s (1977, 76) articulation of a “disjunctive synthesis,” or “inclusive
disjunction,” which allows impossibilities to coexist paradoxically applies
here; that is, not as either/or but as “either . . . or . . . or,” what I would deem
as the logic of both/and—the excluded middle. Alternations between over-
stimulation (satisfaction) of contact and deprivation of physical contact
(frustration) with the infant by the “influencing machine” (i.e., usually the
mother or her substitutes, but it could also be the social environment per se)
results in the topography of primary masochism—the skin-ego’s jouissance
(its intensities) are governed by an envelope of excitation and suffering.
In secondary masochism the fantasy of a skin surface that is common to both
mother and child results in an exchange of sensory stimulation, while the
unconscious fantasy of the “flayed” body underlies the behavior of the per-
verse masochist. Primary narcissism, on the other hand, is also governed by
the fantasy of a common skin surface to both mother and child, but the
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topography changes. The skin-ego is an envelope that acts as a protective
shield of well-being. Its caregiver meets the baby’s needs; the illusion being
that the infant has an omniscient double who reacts immediately in a sym-
metrical fashion to its every signal. Anzieu makes the case that skin-ego,
which develops in a narcissistic direction, transforms the fundamental fantasy
of a common skin into a secondary fantasy of a skin “reinforced and invul-
nerable” (44); while a skin-ego that develops in the masochistic direction,
transforms the fantasy of the common skin as being “damaged, torn-off.”
These insights are of use in the discussion of the fan(addict (chapter 15)
where we discuss the skin-ego of a particular fan, Silke. Such a direction also
raises the “desire of the Other.” What does the Other want of me? What is
the Other’s demand? Thus drawing the question back to Deleuze and
Guattari’s notion of the “quasi-cause” that is explicitly linked to Lacan’s
objet a (1977, 26–27) as the non-sense that is inherent to sense. The “quasi-
cause” is a signifier without a signified in as much as it presents an impossi-
ble transcendental plane of ideal identities that are striven toward, so claims
Massumi (2002a), a key translator and interpreter of Deleuze and Guattari’s
oeuvre. If this is so, the “quasi-cause” registers as a Freudian “slip” in Deleuze’s
disavowal of Lacanian signifying system.
The advantage (or disadvantage depending where one positions oneself
on the postmodernist landscape) of Anzieu’s formulation of skin-ego over
Deleuze and Guattari’s BwO is that their post-structural biological scientism
of the unconscious as a “factory” or a “production machine” of various assem-
blages is based on the template of the psychotic experience of a “fragmented
body” (psychotics experience parts of their bodies as separate entities), and
the schizophrenic experience of catatonic states and multiple personalities,
while Anzieu brings the materiality of the body in line with its anthropolog-
ical human specificity. In Deleuze and Guattari’s terms, the relationship of
repulsion and attraction between desiring machines and BwO is modeled on
paranoia as extrapolated from Freud’s case concerning Judge Schreber
(Deleuze and Guattari 1977, 16–19), whereas Anzieu retains the question of
human suffering (masochism) and love (narcissism). We might think of their
difference in terms of an egg, a “tantric egg,” which Deleuze sometimes
referred to make his points. “The body without organs is an egg: it is criss-
crossed with axes and thresholds, with latitudes and longitudes and geodesic
lines, traversed by gradients marking the transitions and the becomings, the
destinations of the subject developing along these particular lines (Deleuze
and Guattari, 1977, 19). For him, it was not the embryology of the egg
(its development) that mattered, rather more interesting were the dynamics
of its “kinematics” or “morphogenetic movements” such as the stretching of
its cellular layers, invagination by folding, and so on. The egg in Anzieu’s
(1989) terms is more a psychical “container” where depersonalization is
bound up with the image of an envelope capable of perforation. Primary
anxiety becomes a flowing away of vital substance through holes, “an anxi-
ety not of fragmentation but of emptying . . . as an egg with a broken shell
being emptied of its [yoke]” (38–39). The libidinal quality and intensity of
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the bodily care and its failure identifies a specifically human dimension that
the question of the affective skin-ego raises, especially important to music.
Does this sound too sentimental in the time of the “posthuman” where
the anxiety of subjectivity produces a self that can no longer be properly dis-
tinguished from the multiplicity of circuits that traverse it? The performance
artist Sterlac and the cybernetic scientist, Kevin Warwick are perhaps the
exemplary cases of such futuristic possibilities? The cybernetic account of
subjectivity updated by complexity theory, informed by nomadic schizophre-
nia suits designer capitalism very well. Baudrillard, Jameson, Deleuze, and
Guattari, are all in agreement that designer capitalism breeds schizophrenic
subjects of one form or another with the emergence of a hyperbody that
intends to leave the organic body behind. In particular, good old-fashioned
sexuality of the flesh is abandoned for a hypersexuality that escapes genital
and biological referencing, creating desires that are no longer describable in
sexual terms. The skin-ego is perforated with new erogenous holes where
nanotechnology is inserted into the body as an electronic prosthetic. The cir-
cuitry of “thinking” (autopoetic) machines are symbiotically integrated with
the human body. We could call this “becoming metal” to add to Deleuze and
Guattari’s generalized list of “becomings,” claiming that flesh has always
dominated the mind. But there is no need to continue this cyborgian line of
flight since it has had overexposure. More important are the consequences.
In Lacan’s notorious essay “Kant with Sade” (1989[1962]), he shockingly
shows that these two positions are but two sides of the same Enlightenment
coin, as inversions of each other. Kant’s categorical imperative, the striving to
reach a universal moral principle leads to the impossibility of a purified body.
It becomes a detached morality confined to the rationality of the mind,
which is inversely congruent to Sade’s universe of radical evil where the body
is elevated to a universal principle of sustained pleasure (jouissance)—also an
unattainable possibility. Could not this eerie parallelism equally apply to Sade
and the new enthusiasm for the posthuman? In a little known essay written
by Paul McCarthy (1992), which could just as easily bear the title “Deleuze
and Guattari with Sade,” McCarthy forcefully argues that there is an episte-
mological affinity between Deleuze and Guattari’s two-volume schizo-feast
and de Sade’s Juliette. In brief, their schizophrenic body of desire (drives)
updates de Sade’s jouissant body, already prefigured as the “matrix of malef-
icent molecules” (de Sade, 1968, 400) along inhuman scientist lines. “Juliette’s
machinic organizing conjoined sadism and code-breaking to raise the level of
excitation of the nervous system, so that the experience of pleasure is height-
ened in intensity” (Paragraph 17). In Chapter 11, I discuss this Sadean wager
in relation to the claims of sexual equality.
To be fair, in one sense Deleuze and Guattari have updated Lacan’s own
project concerning the unconscious, which was also thought of as an
acephalic machine. This is evident in his continual “matheme-atization” of
unconscious process, his typological charts and diagrams. The appendix to
Bruce Fink’s (1995) The Lacanian Subject is evidence enough of Lacan’s
own scientism. However, Zizek (2004, 102–103) has identified two
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additional conceptualizations of the Real. The Real is not only mathematical
(the world of quanta physics—a “symbolic Real”), but it also has an imagi-
nary possibility as to what is nonvisible, that which is non-seeable and sub-
lime (Imaginary Real), and a “real Real,” which refers to das Ding, the
primordially lost object. Nevertheless, one wonders whether the endgame
of the free ranging productive libidinal energy of unconscious desire, which
unleashes the productive “subject” that is so often celebrated in Deleuze
and Guattari’s writings, does not end in postmodern terror, where the anar-
chic and threatening transformative powers of transgression are at work “full
bore.” Is not terrorism a “joyful” and “creative” act par excellence? The
sadism of its jouissance celebrated by its devastating effects? Are not terror-
ists exemplary of the perfect nomadic schizophrenic subject, characterizing
the subject of postmodern warfare itself ? Al Qaeda is the perfect example of
an open-system organization with their “cell networks,” being the “singu-
larities” that are so thoroughly theorized in their work? In this regard
Deleuze and Guattari’s oeuvre can be appropriated for both capitalist and
terrorist ends, as inadvertent apologists to their respective system of har-
nessing creative drive energy. Becoming “minoritarian,” their ethical stance
against the molar powers of the state is to intensify this schizophrenic ten-
dency of capitalism to the point where the system shatters. In such logic,
terrorism would be sanctioned as a creative Event. 9/11 can simply be
called a “traversal or mobile diagonal line” (Deleuze, 1988a, 22), an exam-
ple of an ethical act producing the New, as a “fourth person singular.” But,
the same can be said of G.W. Bush’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to
mention any number of U.S. global and political interventions in the past
that have taken place on sovereign soil. The novelty of “difference” presents
“life as a work of art” (Deleuze, 1995, 94), and one wonders whether the
destruction wrought by terrorism is not simply the disavowed consequences
of such thinking? The Event of terror presents the horror of sublime beauty.
The suicidal Al Qaeda operatives present a “literal” death of the subject,
which too is not “mourned,” but in fact celebrated. Deleuze and Guattari’s
stance toward the sociopolitical possibilities of their minoritarian position
remain ambiguous, despite attempts like that of Patton (2000) to shore
them up by drawing out possible rethinking of aboriginal land rights and
colonial “capture” based on their conceptualizations. But as he admits,
“Deleuze and Guattari do not offer a concept of the political as such” (133).
More disturbingly, in Spinoza: Practical Philosophy (1988b), Deleuze’s
incorporation of Spinozian ethics is along ethological grounds. Is this not a
fall back to a biologism? Human affections—feelings, emotions, action
states of the body—are treated in terms of power rather than addressing
morality, that is, the forces of the body are mapped against any system of
laws and judgments. Deleuze asserts that for Spinoza ethics replaces moral-
ity: a “typology of immanent modes of existence” replaces an axiology,
which “always refers existence to transcendent values.” In this suspended
deontological dimension there is no “Law” and no superego. The “animal”
is encountered in the force of a thought or statement, not “reduced” to a
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meaningful value. But, as one reads Foucault’s endorsement in his forward
to Anti-Oedipus, this was “the first book of ethics to be written in France
for a long time” (1977, xiii), its appeal based on its anti-oedipal life style. A
moral ideal does not enter Deleuze’s discourse on the grounds that an
Event is always a becoming. The ethical responsibility becomes a practical
affair. The embodied subject is left to his or her being, mode of existence or
style of life. “There are never any criteria other than the tenor of existence,
the intensification of life” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994, 74). It is statements
such as these that has Zizek (2004) characterizing Deleuze and Guattari as
offering an “ontological ethics, an ethics of ‘is’ without an ‘ought’ ” (41),
the consequences of which present the evacuation of “life-denying negativ-
ity.” The subject is offered an insight into the empirical necessities that have
a determining affect on life style; that is, eating fatty foods will cause a build
up of cholesterol and lead to possible heart failure, but there is no injunc-
tion not to eat such fatty foods. Such an ethics, for Zizek, is a rather somber
indictment of the indifference to “guilt and feelings of moral outrage.”
It is troubling to think that Goodchild (1997, 49), a keen and perceptive
commentator on Deleuze, ends his essay on ethics by referencing of life’s active
joy and friendship which “ends in the joy of flight: death by self-defenestration”
(49), a thinly disguised reference to Deleuze’s suicide of leaping out of his
apartment window to fall to his death because of a profound illness that
caused him so much pain. In light of this, Zizek’s accusation has a chilling
reverberation when Goodchild writes, “philosophy is a preparation for death,
an acceptance of fate, so that the philosopher appears to be unaffected by
whatever events occur” (47), echoing Deleuze’s own stance that the goal of
life should be led “so intensely . . . that death, always external, is of little sig-
nificance” (1988b, 41). For Deleuze, death does not define human existence
(as it does in the philosophical systems of Heidegger (being-toward-death)
and Derrida who follows him in his The Gift of Death (1995)) (see Baugh,
2000). It is “an impersonal event provided with an always open problematic
structure (where and when?)” (Deleuze, 1990, 145). “Germinal life” defined
his system. All this raises the difficult question of an ethics when it comes to
a place of stutter between Deleuze and Lacan for both sought an ethics of
the unconscious. However, I have relied on the Freudian–Lacanian under-
standing of the death drive to generate an “ethics of the Real,” which ends
this book.
Tnr JouissnNcr or 1nr Drn1n Dnivr
Deleuze’s sensate “body” is often interpreted biologically, in vitalist autopoetic
terms. This vitalism should be understood as the libidinal body of the surface,
of the erogenous zones that operate on the skin-ego as was argued in Youth
Fantasies. Put another way, the boundary of the skin-ego is itself a retroac-
tive loop or an autopoetic logical bootstrap, with one differential difference
from the biological world as theorized by the ground-breaking work of
Maturana and Valera (1980, 1992): it is subject to the death drive and the
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jouissance, which characterizes it. The difference is that Deleuze and Guattari’s
vitalism fails to recognize that the “first symbol in which we recognize human-
ity in its vestigial traces [already with Neanderthals] is the sepulture, and the
intermediary of death can be recognized in every relation in which man (sic)
comes to the life of his history (Lacan, 1977, 104, emphasis added). While
I recognize this to be an anthropocentric position, only humans elevate
death to a symbolic function. Jouissance is libidinal satisfaction, cast in
human terms. The drive as a “compulsion to repeat” is a transposable con-
cept with the “short-circuit” of Deleuze’s “minimal difference,” thought as
the intensity of a punctual line, always interstitial, involving the interval,
which throws the organism into a state of becoming. Symptomatic repetitive
actions are only meaningful by the force of their repetition. They are
“beyond the pleasure principle” in the sense that they do not satisfy desire as
defined by the Law, but neither do they put an end to desire. Rather, they
derail the human being into states of pathological disequilibrium. In this
sense, the death drive “seduces” the autopoetic reflexive Deleuzean self (the
acephalic flow of prelinguistic vitality and intensities) into “beyond the pleas-
ure principle.” The subject is caught by an “element,” a non-sense attractor
that sticks out (objet a). The immaterial excess of potentiality, Deleuze’s vir-
tual, is short-circuited. The realm of conscious freedom is foreclosed in one
sense, but in another sense transformative freedom is open as the Symbolic
Order is no longer an infringement. We might call the death drive the
moment of a subject’s “dissipation,” like Prigoggine’s dissipative structure, a
moment of difference. If language causes an entropy because it devitalizes
the body of jouissance by exteriorizing it through the sexual drives, to
recover a little “bit” of lost jouissance requires going “beyond” the pleasure
principle as confined by the Law. The human being can be caught up in the
deadly bodily jouissance to become a mass of frightening flesh, like the suf-
fering of so many obese people plagued by fantasies of thinness brought on
by the inexplicitly stated ideal—the “quasi-cause” to use Deleuze’s term—
of the Symbolic Order that idealizes a particular unattainable body image, or
those suffering from the various available forms of substance abuse—from
legalized drugs like alcohol, to semi-legal drugs like codeine enriched Tylenol
to the whole host of illegal drugs, as so many ways to numb (or hype) the
sensate body, to chemically dampen (or intensify) the drives.
The death drive for Deleuze and Guattari is not given any special anthro-
pological consideration. “Every intensity controls within its own life the
experience of death and envelops it” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1977, 330).
They oppose Freud’s elevation of death to a transcendental principle. “The
death instinct is pure silence, pure transcendence, not givable and not given
in experience” (332). So, the question is whether the human being should
be given special consideration, that our species “self-enjoyment” is such that
a certain “discipline” is required because we are subject to Freudian death
drive, a violent excess that is absent in the animal kingdom, which is why there
is a need for education. Entry into language installs the Law and primary
repression (Urverdrängung). Deleuze and Guattari do not reject primary
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repression outright, rather they recast it into the cybernetic terms as
“repulsion.” “We are of the impression that what is ordinarily referred to as
‘primary repression’ means the repulsion of desiring-production by the
body without organs” (1977, 9). The drive forces are not “biological” and
“instinctual,” rather they occur retrogressively. It is only after the subject’s
entry into the Law that they come into existence. The death drive is there-
fore an artifact of culture, of existence itself in the Symbolic Order, which
then attempts to mask it. Without the Law there is no need for the drives.
If there was nothing forbidden there is nothing to desire. The death drive
represents the absolute refusal to conform to the Law. It consists of “pure”
pleasure. It is this paradoxical death drive that plays such an important con-
sideration throughout this book on music. The stutter in-between Lacan and
Deleuze recapitulates what was for Freud an irresolvable historical constant:
namely, the preservation of civilization was predicated on the repression of
the drives. A deadlock exists between the liberal potential of the drives as fur-
thered by capitalism and the more conservative position of accepting repression
(Zizek, 1995, 12) indicative of post-forms of religious fundamentalism
(see chapter 14).
Most obviously, the signifier “death” in “death drive” seems to be in stark
contrast to Deleuze’s productive “life drive” (machinic desires) where “neg-
ativity” has no place. The death drive is a paradoxical construction, which
takes into account the complexity of life and death without privileging one
(Deleuze) or the other (Heidegger, Derrida). I follow Copjec’s (2002)
thoughtful analysis to support my claim that Freud/Lacan escape the path of
a reductive biologism offered by Deleuze and Guattari, which, at best offers
a life style of immanent “joy,” and at worst, a cybernetic scientism that can
wrought sadism through its potential indifference to judgment, or put
another way, where judgment may come too late (May, 1995, 11; D’Amico
1981, 71–72). Could such desperate readings of Deleuze be two sides of the
same coin, revealing a hidden antinomy? The paradoxical claim of the death
drive by Freud is that the “aim of life is death,” summarized by Copjec as:
“while the aim (Ziel ) of the drive is death, the proper and positive activity of
the drive is to inhibit the attainment of its aim; the drive, as such, is zielge-
hemt, that is, it is inhibited as to its aim, or sublimated, ‘the satisfaction of
the drive through the inhibition of its aim’ being the very definition of sub-
limation” (30, original emphasis). I have tried to illustrate this in chapter 6
through Ko}n’s music video, Freak on a Leash.
Life is cojoined to death, figurally or heterogeneously, through the drive’s
repetition of its own trajectory. The drive has no goal, no “object” per se, only
an aim to repeat itself so that satisfaction (jouissance) is achieved. The drive is
indifferent to external objects. The name Freud/Lacan give to the signs of
these “objects” as apprehended by the psyche is Vorstellungrepräsentanz. The
concept refers to how these imaginary partial forms (objects) “appear” or are
registered in the psyche, commonly translated as “ideational representations.”
Such signs are paradoxically non-visible representations. They do not belong
to the Imaginary psychic register, which would give them representational
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status, rather they exist in the “imaginary Real,” one of the three modalities
of the Real (as mentioned earlier) by Zizek (2004, 102–103).
The registration of these partial objects in the psyche constitute a distinctly
“human” body of jouissance, which the skin-ego delegates. The skin-ego,
therefore, confirms Freud/Lacan’s materialism, the way body and mind are
linked equally and heterogeneously together. The death drive applies to a dis-
tinctly psychic human body of “unnatural excess”—of libidinal energy as
“enjoyment” that is theorized throughout this book as being “against and
beyond the Law.” The jouissance of the Other becomes an enigma all human
beings face: What does the Other want from me? On the one hand, the body
is disciplined through desire in the way fantasy formations and the Law catch
it, in the way the drives sublimate excessive jouissance through their aims,
which continually turn around their object. On the other hand there is a
“beyond” of castration—a desublimation, where human finitude is transgressed
and the Symbolic Order is disregarded, the Other falls away.
In Youth Fantasies (2004, 82), rightly or wrongly, the concept of zoë, as
“bare” biological life; that is, life common to animals and men denuded of
any political protection, was interpreted as the presence of “youth” as such;
that is, as the libidinal energy of the body that is to bring its possessor
immortality—to stay forever young. The scene was recalled from Zemeckis’s
Death Becomes Her (1992) where Lisle Von Rhoman (Isabella Rossellini)
opens up a vial that contains this mysterious elixir of life (zoë). Not insignif-
icantly, the scene is presented in its Gothic context in support of the claim
that the fantasy of the divine or innocent child of modernity was a fabrica-
tion of Romanticism. Also not insignificantly, it is the star system as repre-
sented by the two competitive actresses in the film—Madeline Ashton
(Meryl Steep) and Helen Sharp (Goldie Hawn)—which supports such a
drive for future immortal fame: to have one’s “star” appear on Hollywood
Boulevard cast in concrete so that is never fades, or to be forever immortal-
ized by the flicker of one’s former ghostly shadow on the film screen long
after one is dead. If Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (1818) can be read as
science’s dream of creating life from “dead” body parts, thereby overcoming
and staving the advent of death itself, a postmodern Gothic film like Tim
Burton’s Edward Scissorhands (1990) becomes an ironic comment on such a
dream where living organs are replaced with (non)functional mechanical
ones that limit and confine the body’s performativity and cause it self-injury.
Edward is forever cutting himself in the face, unable to touch his own body
or anyone else’s. Edward can be read as the monster created by schizo-
phrenic capitalism, reduced to the “intensity” of the part-object that controls
his body, which is in stark opposition to his gentle, kind, and trusting nature.
His scissor-hands can only self-mutilate and cut, and when they are subli-
mated, all they are capable of is trimming uncontrollable Nature into a trite
aesthetic—sculptured hedges and exotic hairstyles.
To recall the distinction first made by Agamben’s Homo Sacer (1998)
(see chapter 2), which marks the difference between zoë (libidinal life) and bio
(life characterized as a way of living within a political sphere), both of which
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were conflated by the life science of the nineteenth century. It is life as zoë,
the pulsation of the drives, which is responsible for creation through subli-
mation and desublimation, characterized throughout this book as being
“against and beyond the Law.” In sublimation, “[t]he object of the drive is
never identical to itself ” (Copjec, 2002, 39). Rather, due to the constant rep-
etition of the drives the object itself changes. In Deleuze’s sense, sublimation,
therefore, creates a “minimal difference,” a “pure difference” that differenti-
ates an element from itself, that is, from its own bounded place of inscription.
However, the drive can also be oversaturated by its object, pulling the subject
into a vortex of excessive consumption, emptying desire, but forwarding the
impulses of the drive, causing a desublimation, which devastates the subject
through addictive “enjoyment.” Zizek, throughout his many writings and
Internet postings, often references Adorno and the Frankfurt School by
forwarding their thesis of “repressive desublimation,” a term which seems to
be a contradiction in terms. How can desublimation be repressive, when gen-
erally it refers to a liberalization of drive energy and possibly social liberation?
For the Frankfurt school there was a consonance between such narcissistic
liberalism and advanced capitalism. Repressive sublimation specifically refers
to “postliberal” permissive capitalist postmodern societies where transgression
“beyond the Law” is encouraged. No longer are the libidinal drives repressed,
but “derepressed” or desublimated through the superego’s command to
enjoy! But, just as there is this uninhibited release of unconscious libidinal
creative energy (zoë), there is equally as much trauma introduced by way of
an “anesthetization” that comes with the price of consuming goods uncon-
ditionally (Welsh, 1990) and psychasthenia (Olalquiaga, 1993) that plagues
urban living. Such a thesis was followed in Youth Fantasies.
Music ns SouNn or “Mn11rn”:
Tnr CInron or BrcoriNc
In the Deleuzean paradigm, most obviously, music provides subliminal
intensities at the bodily level, what Brian Massumi (1996) has called the
“autonomy of affect.” The musical pleasure we experience as listeners, which
is incidental to the ideological import of the signification of an accompany-
ing text. The affect of music has to deal with extremes, like the death drive
itself. On the one hand it points to the impossible excess of pleasure, at the
same time there is a repetition of the Same, which is to say that a certain
centering is involved in the very repetition of behaviors and habits that “fix”
us into symptomatic stasis and inertia.
The subtitle references both Deleuze and Guattari (“terribly disturbing
sound of matter,” Anti-Oedipus, 1977, 19) and Badiou’s book on Deleuze,
The Clamor of Being (2000). Such as clamor is transposed as “noise” in this
book—noise as the chaos of matter that is harnessed in a particular way by
music. Noise again raises a paradox. On the one sense there is no such thing
as noise; that is, noise as discounted nonmeaningful information is simply
another order of meaning in another register; on the other hand, noise may
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be theorized as “cosmic” vibration. “Noise is the inarticulate, the confused
mass of vibration, in which sound relaxes and dissipates. Perception requires
a contraction, but noise is the uncontracted. Imperceptible, insensible and
sense-less, noise is the depth which gives to be contracted. . . . Sound is
a modulation of difference, a difference of difference. This eternal return
of difference, noise, is what gives to be contracted, but is not in itself
contracted. . . . [Noise] makes sense or gives sense to sound, by providing
sound its direction and by focusing sound to a point of clarity. Noise is the
reservoir of sense, the depth in which sounds connect to each other, the
background, the difference whose modulation is signal” (Evens, 1997, 702,
emphasis added). Again, before the binary surface/depth is too hastily applied
to Aden Evens’s formulation of noise, it is once more better to grasp noise
as non-sense, as being on a heterogeneous plane on which sound is
already taking place: that is, the fused sum of all vibrations that reaches a zero
point in time and space. Uncontracted noise and contracted sound have a
“diadeictical” coexistence (Lyotard, 1971, 39), the gap between them being
silence that mediates their interactions like a vanishing mediator. The para-
dox of the heterogeneity of these systems of difference (their figurality, see
chapter 2) is perhaps best captured by Deleuze’s interesting statement from
the Logic of Sense (1990). To avoid any notions of organicism or harmony
between the two systems, or two parts, so that their singularity is preserved
he says: “But this is not a circle. It is rather the coexistence of two sides with-
out thickness, such that we pass from one to the other by following their
length” (21–22).
Deleuze and Guattari’s stance on music has been usefully summarized by
Bogue (2003), explored by Murphie (1996) and given editorial attention by
Buchanan and Swiboda (2004). As might be suspected, their theory, developed
mainly in A Thousand Plateaus (1987), is rooted in the post-structuralism of
chaos theory, offering an ecological perspective that draws on the biological
base of the “in-human.” There are, once more, many transpositions to be
made with the death drive. In their section, “becoming-music” an explicit
link is made to “music[’s] thirst for destruction, every kind of destruction,
extinction, breakage, dislocation” (1987, 299). “Is that not its potential
‘fascism’?” they ask. “Whenever a musician writes In Memoriam, it is not so
much a question of an inspirational motif or a memory, but on the contrary
of a becoming that is only confronting its own danger, even taking a fall
in order to raise again: a becoming-child, a becoming-woman, a becoming-
animal, insofar as they are the content of music itself and continue to the point
of death” (299, emphasis added). Sound is the “cutting edge of deterritori-
alization” (348). It “invades us, impels us, drags us, transpierces us. It takes
leave of the earth, as much in order to drop us into a black hole as to open
us up to a cosmos. It makes us want to die” (348).
Such a tone directly addresses music as “for and against the Law,” which
we theorize through Attali’s (1985) theory of noise (without incorporating
his pessimism toward pop music) and Lacan’s drives. In a nutshell, music
for them is “the active creative operation which consists of deterritorializing
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the refrain” (300). Territory as musical refrain is intimately linked to music’s
ability to also deterritorialize this relationship—refrain referring “to any kind
of rhythmic pattern that stakes out a territory” (Bogue, 2003, 17). Bogue
identifies three types of refrain that shape their respective territories: a point
of order or stability that presents a locus of order in a nondimensional space;
a circle of property or control, and an opening to the outside as a line of
flight. These three functional refrains can be thought of in another way:
First, the point of order of stability is the musical refrain that creates a home
in our hearts amidst chaos, thereby it stabilizes and calms a person/group/
society, like the lost child who sings to him or herself in the dark on the way
home. Second, as a circular refrain it creates a home we can return from the
lived chaos outside. Third, as line of flight to the outside, it points excursions
away from home, into the chaos, as when traveling and adventuring.
From this an entire complex is developed where territories are milieus and
rhythms that are created out of chaos; chaos being “the milieu of all milieus”
(313), as the plane of immanence, the virtual world of potential (of life)
from which emerge identifiable things, while a milieu is a directional space,
a “coded block of space-time”; this code itself being defined by a “periodic
repletion” (313). Murphie (1996) attempts to apply this elaborate schema to
some aspects of popular music maintaining that an ethics emerges in the way
refrains connect territories and bodies, since the refrain also has the power to
break territories or change the very nature of the body and its connections.
The form of the refrain becomes the site of ethics, case by case, since music
is capable of both connection and an escape from sovereign domination. For
Murphie an ethics of popular music “consists of knowing when to make a
territory disappear and when to create one” in specific communities.
Deleuze and Guattari speak of comic sound, of the impermanency of
territories when it comes to music: the “forces of an immaterial, nonformal,
and energetic Cosmos” (1987, 342–343). The late twentieth century has
entered “the age of the Machine, the immense mechanosphere, the plane
of cosmicization of forces to be harnessed” (343). The distinctions between
territories are collapsing as the connections between milieus are expanding
globally. The assemblage of such a machine is the synthesizer, which “makes
audible the sound process itself ” (343). The synthesizer has become the
technological instrument to harness this cosmic energy, as well as the “non-
sonorous forces such as Duration and Intensity” (343). “It unites disparate
elements in the material, and transposes the parameters from one formula to
another. . . . its synthesis is of the molecular and the cosmic, material and
force, not form and matter, Grund and territory” (343). While Mackay
(1997) theorizes music as a “phonographic diagram.” The diagram referring
to Foucault’s development of it as the mapping of the forces and the distri-
bution of power to affect, as well as be affected, in a particular sonic forma-
tion. For instance, “the contact between vinyl and hand, the technique of
‘scratching,’ is an interface between temporal systems: rendering the abstract
tactile . . . , this unplanned interaction makes audible more about the tech-
nology than even its designers were able or willing to realize” (251–252).
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Through a dry, almost machinic syntax (reminiscent of Deleuze in his classic
Difference and Repetition), Mackay lays out the implications of sound
that has been technologically synthesized, sampled, and digitally archived
(through CD technology) utilizing the Deleuzean concepts of sonic assem-
blage, diagram, abstract machine, and so on, to strip music of its humanistic
metaphors. This is transposable to Lacan’s stress on the way language can
become the “dead letter” of the Law, just technological abstract matter,
alien and exteriorized from the body, owned by no one, the cold signifier
mortifying the body as it pleases—psychotic rather than schizophrenic.
Anzieu (1989) conceptualizes a “sound envelope” or a sound mirror or
audio-phone skin (158) as a concept that complements his notion of the
skin-ego. Again, this refers to a space-time before its representation as an
“acoustic mirror,” theorized by Silverman (1988). It can again be asked
whether such a concept is simply “too humanistic” given the way music has
been “exteriorized,” the materiality of synthesized sound manipulated by
sonic engineers in pursuit of “escap[ing] from molar commoditization by
means of a constant flight underground” (Mackay, 1997, 256). Hip-hop’s
sampling techniques generate a “subterranean diagonal,” which acts on the
body “accelerating BPMs (no time to understand [the music]), reprocessed
percussion (neither harmony nor noise), timestretching (violating the
chronogenic homeostat of pitch/duration) and sub-bass (sound becoming
uncompromisingly physical) retune the neuro-auditory apparatus to awesomely
intricate and dense abysses of sound, and permeate the body as an amnesiac
addiction” (256). In chapter 16, Let’s Rave not Rage! techno music is
explored in light of Deleuze’s “cosmic” claim of a “sonic phylum.” In this
chapter I have staged a confrontation “of sorts” between a Lacanian and a
Deleuzean reading of the technologization of music into its posthuman
forms. This tension leads to the last chapter, which argues for an ethics based
on Lacan’s Real.
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Tnr Fi cunnIi 1v or Noi sr nNn 1nr
Si IrNcr or 1nr Drn1n Dni vr
MusicnI TnnNscnrssioNs: Tnr EvrN1
Given all the popular cultural possibilities that young people engage in: going
to movies, sports, dress, playing video games, surfing the Net . . . all take a
backseat when it comes to the music scene. Why is this so? From a Lacanian
viewpoint there can only be one answer: Music is the pivotal place where the
voice exceeds the word so as to transgress and go beyond the Law. This
is where the drive meets desire, where excessive jouissance meets logos,
excess or “surplus enjoyment” meets satisfaction rather than metonymic
deprivation. To unravel and support this general claim regarding music, in
this chapter the death drive, and in the next chapter the phenomena of lethal
affective pleasure Lacan identified as jouissance are described. Jouis-sense, or
enjoyment-in-meaning, was Lacan’s neologism for the moment when meaning
is eclipsed, inverting into the excesses of a consuming self-enjoyment. In
music, the glimpses and attempts at a pre-symbolic agency unbridled by the
Law of castration are opened up for singers, as well as their fans. In the con-
temporary music scene such transgression against and beyond the Law is
staged across a number of registers offering unconscious fantasies that
directly cope with the de-Oedipalization of postmodernity with its paedo-
morphic extension of youth cultures well into their late twenties and early
thirties. Some forms, as we shall see, submit to the Law of the signifier
(especially Pop music and Boys Bands as we develop it in chapter 10). They
constitute forms of repetition and serialization in the commodity market, act-
ing as unifying master signifiers—the moulds of identity for youth to mimic.
Other affective forms such as Gangsta rap, Punk Rock, Goth, and Heavy
Metal have attempted forms of transgressions to introduce a dissonance for
youth rebellion and resistance against the Symbolic Order.
The more difficult question of what is “beyond” the Law is developed in
chapter 9, “The Anti-Slacker as Mass Murderer.” While we propose a
dangerous pathological link in this chapter between suicidal “acting out” and
more radical death metal music, this is not the only way to grasp this rela-
tionship. Beyond the Law can also be understood as a “proper ethical act,”
a wager that Zizek has developed throughout his many writings.
Here the
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death drive is put in the service of an individual or group action that can lead
to political change. How different this is from Deleuze’s sense-event will be
left for another occasion. It concerns an act of “total” or “absolute” freedom.
The subject
commits symbolic suicide whereby s/he withdraws from symbolic
reality so that a new beginning may unfold. A point of absolute freedom is
reached where the ground for life’s meaning looses its value with no regrets.
A double “loss” is incurred. The “destitute” subject becomes aware that
s/he has nothing to lose in the loss of symbolic ground. This is unlike an
actual suicide where the subject attempts to send a message to the Other for
some form of recognition, acknowledgement, warning, or guilt. In an ethical
act proper the subject is radically transformed, as if redemption has taken
place and the birth of a new subject has emerged.
Where difficulties begin to emerge as to whether an act was properly ethical
or not is in its consequences, which often remain radically unaccounted for.
The consequences cannot be foreseen in the way the existing symbolic space is
transformed. More difficult is how to identify an act or event that furthers
social democracy or hinders it. Each rupture is a singularity that requires a his-
torical verdict that is never entirely settled. The dropping of the atom bomb on
Hiroshima and Nagasaki was an event ; an act proper since the Symbolic Order
was forever changed. But was it an evil act? Robert Oppenheimer thought so,
but he was out-voted. The Jewish Holocaust and the Mai Lai Massacre, on the
other hand, are clearly acts of evil. 9/11 has been judged as an evil Event glob-
ally changing the West’s relationship with Arab speaking countries in its “war
on terrorism.” But that same Event has led to the horror of the Afghanistanian
and Iranian wars, and the clawing back of human rights by the United States
in the name of protectionism from preemptive terrorist strikes. Since the act is
always a “crime” or “transgression” of the limit of the symbolic community to
which one belongs, how is it to be judged? Transposing this conceptualization
to the music scene, does Gangsta Rap qualify for an ethical act proper within
the culture of hip-hop? Or, is it outright evil within the hip-hop movement that
sought social awareness through nonviolent means? Is this a restaging of the
Malcolm X versus Martin Luther King controversy? Both were driven toward
change beyond the Law but through opposite means. How is a figure like Kurt
Cobain to be judged? Does he constitute a proper break in the annals of punk-
rock where a new point de capiton (new structuring principle) emerges causing
a “symbolic death” to the socio-symbolic field of music “behind” him? In the
“high culture” of music should John Cage be identified as the spoiler of musi-
cal aesthetics, redefining music as simply “sounds we hear,” the realm of ais-
thesis (sensation)?
The final possibility of answering these questions because of
the radical indeterminacy of the act is precisely what makes an act or event in
the Real point in the direction of justice, which strictly speaking, always lies
“beyond” the Law since it challenges rather than disturbs it. But the price paid
may indeed be more than merely symbolic, but a physical death as well.
Transgression in contrast is not “beyond” the Law; rather it recognizes
the Law in its very transgression, and wishes that this Law reveal itself. We
can understand the relation between transgression to the Law in terms of
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chaos theory, as a form of “turbulence.” Musical transgression as turbulence
or “noise” is stochastic behavior; that is, random and aleatory within the
broader structure of hegemonic music. In contrast a true event dissipates and
changes the structure. The point is, no one knows just when a particular
transgression as noise will “cause” an event. Beatlemania, rock ’n’ roll, and
rap, arguably, were events. They changed the way music was heard and the
way the body responded to the changed refrains. A new affective force was
introduced. Hence, both order and disorder have laws. Transgression as
“musical noise” has increased in contemporary youth cultures in their desire
to be recognized and heard by authority (Law). Significantly, Tricia Rose’s
(1994) brilliant study of rap music and Black culture in contemporary
America is entitled Black Noise. The clamor of “noise” in the disturbance and
violence it brings to the accepted Symbolic Order is a form of imaginary
transgression. At what point does it lead to an ethical act proper to cause an
obvious break or limit in the established order always remains indeterminate
and contingent. There is, for instance a “White Noise” movement in
Sweden, which began in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which was nation-
alistic and anti-Semitic, celebrating the mythology of the SS and warrior
violence. No one would support that their racial claims are ethical? But, did
Grrrl culture (chapter 13) cause such a rupture in rock music? Or, was it
confined to forms of male mimicry? Should Gangsta Rap then be identified
as an ethical act “beyond” the Law, rather than merely transgressing it? To
limit an ethical act only to a revolutionary event (as does Zizek following his
influence by Alain Badiou
), identifies it with an argument formulated in
different ways by Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962)
and Stephen Jay Gould’s notion of syncopated evolution; an unexplainable
break in history always occurs due to creatio ex nihilo. History “proper” is an
unpredictable and nonlineal array of events.
Transgressive antecedent acts have their own political import. In terms of
chaos theory, one never knows just which one becomes an event, an ethical
act proper. In Deleuzean terms, a potential is always available in the virtual
before it becomes actual. As Attali (1985) maintains, in all cultures noise is
associated with the idea of weaponry, blasphemy, and plague, becoming a
source of fear and pain. The terror of noise always brings with it anxiety,
death, and the concern of power to control it. As language is the “murder”
of the object in Hegelian terms in the way it removes the speaker from any
direct grasp of the linguistic referent, music might be thought of as the
“murder” of noise. It tames and harmonizes what are taken to be non-sense
signifiers into pleasing form. Mothers sing to their babies to sooth the
demand of their temper tantrums, giving form and containment to the baby’s
crying; they rock and sway their bodies to calm them down. Music tames the
“beast,” the demands of the drives. For Attali music becomes “a simulacrum
of sacrifice [and] an affirmation that society is possible. . . . The code of music
simulates the accepted rules of society (29, original emphasis). The paradox, of
course, is that noise is a source of mutation carrying with it—although the
new sound is strange at first—new information with its absence of meaning
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actually challenging the accustomed auditory sensation, thereby freeing up
the listener’s imagination. “What is noise to the old order is harmony to the
new” (35). A new order of noise dissipates the old structure. There is chaos in
harmony and harmony in chaos. The music scene is always already conflicted
by unbound noise, which is usefully theorized by Freud’s death drive as rein-
terpreted by Lacan in S VII, Ethics, and again in S XI, Four Fundamentals
where he demonstrated that the death drive holds a paradox. While the aim
of the drive is death, it achieves its satisfaction precisely by failing in this very
aim. The drive’s inhibition as a failed satisfaction is none other than an act of
sublimation. The “true” nature of the drive is, however, desublimation, a
constant becoming, to find a satisfaction that is different from its aim. The
question is how subversive is this desublimation to the established musical
order? The critique made by the Frankfurt School (Adorno) maintained that
this creative energy of desublimation would be appropriated by capitalism to
further an economy of consumption. Adorno, in his piece “On Popular
Music” (1941) was well-known for his distaste of popular music. As opposed
to “serious” music, pop music was standardized, offering only passive
escapism from the dullness and repetition of work under capitalism. It would
appear that the consumption of popular music for economic gain is obvious
globally, but, as we shall see, this is only part of the story.
The death drive of noise is (de)sublimated by counter-hegemonic forms
of music not caught by the circuits of desire. Counter-hegemonic cacophonic
noise still belongs to the Lacanian Imaginary psychic register of the ego in
the sense that it consciously insists in its attempt to shatter the harmonic
frame of established music, which as an entrenched form of signification,
belongs to the psychic register of the Symbolic Order. Noise invades the
established fantasy as the taken for granted soundscape that conveys stability,
wholeness, structure, reliability, harmony, and so forth. However, noise is
also “driven” by an unconscious and unrepresentable force of primary (basic
or fundamental) fantasy,
in the Lacanian psychic register of the Real where
silence expresses the disarticulatory power of the death drive. Within the gap
of the dialectical relationship between noise and acceptable music we find a
kernel of silence, an intervening force that destroys the established sonic
body of meaning by opening up a new temporality and spacing between the
oral and the aural, between the voice and the ear. An entirely new perform-
ing, hearing, and listening becomes possible. This takes place below the
level of language and the imaginary, at the site/sight/cite
of the audio-
phone skin-ego (Anzieu, 1989, 158), the bodily threshold that mediates the
outside from the inside, as an affective intense feeling (more on the skin-ego
below). This silence of the death drive is already found in the heart of
intractable noise that has already been filtered out (exteriorized) by socially
acceptable musical forms. It is a repressed and inhibited “sound sense” not
registered, amplified, nor formed into soundscapes of significance, and
hence, there is an implied ethics of its demand, which we address as
the chapters unfold, but more fully as an “ethics of the Real” in the last
chapter of this book.
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Silence is the “cause” of difference in repetition of sound (Lacan’s famous
objet a) that undermines any concept of structure with its uncanny force.
While noise de-forms the accepted musical landscape, its “cause” as non-sense
lies in the unheard Real psychic register. Transposed to the language of quan-
tum theory, silence forms “black holes” of enfolded bundles of potentiality
from which new intensities emerge that clamor with the Eros of negentropic
noise as creation ex nihilio. Such silence is a contingent temporization of
space that resides at the heart of music as an unconscious force of the death
drive. As a “pulse” or drive of negentropic energy, its effects intervene
between sense (awareness, intuition) and meaning.
But how can death (Thanatos) “cause” life? Death forms the backdrop of
our existence, a source of negentropy (the background cosmic noise of the
big Bang), the unknown silence before creation of the universe. All we know
of death is that it will happen—Real knowledge. Such cosmological specula-
tions bring us into the realm of “string theory” of quantum gravity, which
admirably speaks to the paradoxical tensions of effective silence. String
theory has close ties to the complexities of music and Lacan’s theory of the
drives (Triebe). It speaks of tension, intensity, and the excitation of an infin-
itesimal relativistic string only a Planck length long (10
centimeter long,
about a millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a centimeter),
which vibrates and moves “warping” space-time relative to a unique observer.
String theory posits open and closed loops of vibrating strings with quantum
particle differences attributed to variations of vibrations. Superstring theory
as supersymmetry has an open string (bosons, particles that transmit forces)
coming together with a closed string (fermions, particles that make up matter—
a particle being like a note played on a string). All of this is “pure” imaginative
mathematical speculation, no one has ever “seen” a string.
In the context of what is being developed in this chapter, this is not unlike
Lyotard’s articulation of a “diadeictical” relation (Lyotard, 1991, 39), a variety
of a dialectic which is qualified not in terms of binary contradiction, but as
a paradox where no emergent Aufhebung occurs in the interaction between
two systems, only an incommensurable gap between them during an exchange.
What I have in mind is the “diadeictical relationship” between the demand
of the drives and the desire of fantasy that is mediated by the ego-skin where
they “touch” (exchange) with one another. The sense of touch is most apt
in this case given the indistinguishable relationship between what is touching
and what is touched as Merleau-Ponty (1968) developed in notion of the
“chiasma,” a metaphor for the hyperdialectic exchange, which differentiates
and unifies opposites in a continuous movement.
The fantasy of the mutual
skin shared between mother and child is an example. Similarly, Anzieu’s
(1989) notion of skin-ego follows Merleau-Ponty’s notion of “flesh,” which
allows for the mutual interaction and exchange of the “world” (environment)
with the body. To allow oneself to be touched means dropping bodily
defenses—one’s “posture image” in Charles S. Peirce’s terms. The skin-ego as
“flesh” acts as an “index sign” of the body, registering affective memory traces
as a synesthetic bodily experience composed of graphic, acoustic, haptic, and
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kinetic bodily registrations. However, in the digitalization of post-photography,
indexicality disappears. To apply such a process metaphorically to the body’s
construction of an image, I feel, pushes in the direction of becoming-metal,
which might have some validity when it comes to body piercing.
Lacan, demand and desire are linked together like two torus forms (dough-
nuts) intertwined, one torus (doughnut) fitting into the hole of the other
(figure 2.1). This would be a model of enfolded space-time of Thanatos
(demand and death) and Eros (desire and life), which in string theory is
currently set at nine spacial dimensions with time being the tenth. Such
speculation will necessarily continue to fall short and remain reductive of the
hypercomplex exchange between the incommensurable closed and open
loops of life and death. No final answer is ever possible because death is the
final limit.
The death drive, paradoxically, is not the simple termination of life—
although it certainly can lead to suicide, but rather addresses death’s trans-
gression as an animating dynamic principle of life through sublimation and
desublimation: Eros and Thanatos are intimately bound together in hyper-
complex ways as represented by figure 2.1. Every birth carries within it the
seeds of its own death. Another way of saying all this is that death is
“enfolded” into life in a space-time of the Real, which Lacan identified by
the neologism “extimate” (extimité) to capture such possibilities. The prefix
ex refers to exteriority (extérieur), while intimate (intimité) refers to interi-
ority. There are no hard lined boundaries between them as much as affective
intensities that become exchanged, like the process of a left glove inverting
itself into the right one and vice versa by pulling each inside out. Freud’s
term, the uncanny (unheimlich) is an instance of this Real extimate space-
time since it posits something strangely opposite already embedded in what
is comfortably understood. The moment of its realization sends a shock, a
shudder to perception. The “silence of noise” is that very uncanny dimension
that dwells in music. As “dead silence” it is a “frame” that does not exist.
It can’t be heard, yet it structures the sounds of life.
Tnr Vin1unI Bonv nNn 1nr RrnI
Lyotard’s Discours, figure (1971; see Rodowick, 2001), offers a theory of the
death drive in aesthetic matters through his notion of the figural in discourse.
The figural is theorized as part of the primal fantasy, as a force that erodes
Figure 2.1 Demand and drive as intertwining toruses.
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the distinction between letter and line; the letter being a closed invariant line
while the line opens the letter that is closed. The line, like noise, is the
“Other” of discourse, referring to the realm of visual art, which has remained
a separate sphere from textual writing in Western aesthetics. Lyotard pro-
ceeds to deconstruct their opposition through the force of the figural. The
figural then is the chiasma between text and figure. The aesthetic force of
the figural derives from the ineluctable and uncanny disorderly repetition of the
death drive, just as silence plays the same function between transgressive
noise and established popular music. The figural silence, if it can be put that
way, belongs to the time of the future anterior (Rodowick, 2001, 19); it is
untimely and indeterminate, but when it occurs it reorders the past memory.
Lacan in Seminar XI makes a distinction between repetition (Weiderholung),
which is a missed encounter with the Real when time metaphorically stands
“still”; that is, a missed encounter with an existential moment, and a repeti-
tion (Wiederkehr) where difference is encountered. (Kehr in German means
a turning around.) Something “happens” that throws the normal reoccur-
rence of representation and lineal time into disarray. Like Bill Murray in
Harold Ramis’s Groundhog Day (1993), the deadly repetition comes to a
halt, and an escape from the time-loop of automatic repetition occurs. It is a
sublime moment filled with pain and pleasure as the imaginary frame that
holds the conceptualized reality together gives way to a new beginning.
A new signifier is invented. We might say that Bill Murray’s repetitive move-
ments to get out of the loop in time only occurred when the object cause of
his drives changed, enabling him to confront the Real of his desire.
The “diadeictical” and paradoxical relationship between bodily interior and
exterior, which can be theorized in any number of ways as a non-deconstructable
relationship between hate/love, demand/desire, umwelt/innenwelt, and so
on, is mediated by a virtual body of the developing skin-ego. The skin-ego
presents the space-time of an excluded middle between the body’s inside and
outside, a vacuum zone as a field of forces that is filled with potential for
exchange. This is the enfolded space-time of fantasy. Fantasy is virtual, and
hence intimately intertwined with the Symbolic meaningful order and the
nonsensical Real, which is where the affective states of the body are regis-
tered but remain unprocessed. This virtual envelope, which makes possible
an alter ego or imago, can be likened to Winnicott’s notion of “transitional
space.” Lacan called it an “extimate” space (while Merleau-Ponty identified
it as a chiasma) to indicate the paradoxical exchange of opposites that goes
on through the body’s skin membrane. Laura Marks’s Touch: Sensuous
Theory and Multisensory Media (2002) for instance, is a brilliant exposé of
the way haptic visuality brings the eye and touching together in video and
film. And, so it is with music. The oral and aural are intimately linked as well
through the audio-phonic body of the skin-ego. The mouth and the ear are
mediated by voice forming a sonorous virtual body formed by the continual
vibrations of the skin-ego, at different “speeds” as Deleuze would say. This
acoustic body (Silverman, 1988; Chion, 1999) can float on its own, making
the physical body seem to “disappear,” leaving the listener only with a
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disembodied voice, which houses a paradoxical beautiful sublimity in its
striving to achieve such an “impossible” dismemberment. The Canadian
singer Rita McNeil, grotesquely overweight, almost hideous in appearance,
her body seemed to disappear when she began to sing. It was her voice, and
nothing but her voice that mattered. There is a scene from Jean-Jacques
Annaud’s Name of the Rose (1986) where the monk Salvatore, sporting a
truly Medieval face, unclean, unwashed, toothless, and grotesque, turns
virtually angelic as he begins to sing when fire is set to the pyre he is about
to die upon. Such moments show us the sublimity of the disembodied voice,
like in a operatic aria, when it seems to have a magical presence all of its own.
Brian Massumi (2002) from a Deleuzean perspective has explored the
space-time of this virtual body in his commendable book, Parables for the
Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. The virtual body of fantasy is formed
recursively, within a half-second “missed” interval or relay formed when the
mind anticipates a sensation, and when that very sensation is then perceived
and qualitatively organized and registered. Following in the footsteps of
Deleuze’s Bergsonian roots, the brain and skin are conceived as a “resonating
vessel.” It creates a virtual space, which depending on the intensity of the
experience, happens below the level of consciousness, traumatizes or shocks
the narrative continuity of the body as cognitively and consciously registered
in short and long-term memory. Acupuncture, for instance, is an obviously
minor example in the way that the body’s energy flows can be temporarily
reorganized by disturbing the fantasmatic virtual space-time of the skin-ego.
Tattooing, however, is more permanent in disturbing established bodily
signifiers, while high perfomance piercing becomes the most radical way the
skin-ego undergoes intensity to change the imaginary ego. The temporality
of the body’s lived narrative, much like Deleuze’s articulation of “time-
image cinema” where the linear certainty of space-time is confounded
through the rearrangement of narrative sequences, can be usefully thought
through nonlineally to incorporate conditions of “deferred action,” what
Freud identified as Nachträglichkeit experiences. The half-second interval
Massumi identifies, which appears falsely (Lacan would call a méconnaissance)
as a direct conscious registration of sensation by the ego, harbours within it
a bodily memory that can be repressed indefinitely once trauma has taken
place. We can illustrate this enfolding of space-time on the body simply
through a looped reflexive arc of experience (figure 2.2.)
Line A represents the flow of repetitive linear time as unreflected experience.
Our bodies register various sensations continually from the environment
(Other) at the psychic Real “beyond” image and language. Point B is the
past moment of a reflexive arc or loop (minimally one-half second long in
duration) where we consciously process these sensations and give them
meaningful signification by willfully editing them. We hear certain words,
ignore others, perceive and frame our reality. The space-time of the loop
marked as C is therefore in the present “tense” of the body—which essen-
tially exists as a potential vacuum in a state of vibration—a transitional
extimate space-time. Thus, the body’s presence of being is potentially always
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open to change. It represents the imaginary virtual body, which will be
represented by our idealized fantasy formation of it (bodily imago), as well
as the nonsymbolizable Real. This virtual space can be theorized as our skin-
ego (Anzieu, 1989), a “thinking body,” which mediates the Imaginary level
between the deadly effects of the impossible unknown Real and the discur-
sively known Symbolic Order. Deadly jouissance is bodily presence raised to
a vibration beyond what is a pleasurable limit. The loop breaks and is unable
to “reflect,” to close itself.
AЈ marks a point where the reflexive turn takes place. This means that the
segment of sensual libidinal experience (segment B through AЈ) of potential
presence has a paradoxical existence. Part of it will have been consciously
registered by the Imaginary and given a representation through the Symbolic,
and part of it will remain as an excess, which will not be consciously registered
as filtered through memory traces. This excess belongs to the Real. It is that
part which has been unconsciously registered already in the Real of the body
forming our unique symptoms.
This excess of unregistered sense (or non-
sense), therefore, is subject to another dimension of time, to the future ante-
rior. It “may” be picked up, revisited sometime later in the future changing
the established virtual body so that our symptom is eventually confronted.
The loop contains within it a potential that is to come, a potential that can
be revisited in the future to make a difference to the unconscious psyche, not
as a Wiederholung but as a Wiederkher, which requires an encounter with the
Real. This means that the 1/2 second empirical interval has imbedded and
enfolded in it contingent and indeterminate sublime time. This leads us to
figure 2.3.
Figure 2.3 is a reflexive arc that is not closed, exposing the effects of the
Real. It is the representation of a drive that has not been sublimated by
meaning or caught in a repetitive loop of painful satisfaction in its failure to
achieve its goal. An encounter with the Real means that an extreme event has
taken place as registered through the membrane and orifices of the skin-ego.
This opens up a potential space-time for “traversing” the fantasy space of the
virtual body as represented by the broken line BЈ, marking an encounter that
installs a difference. This is an “act” in the proper psychoanalytic sense where
Figure 2.2 Reflexive arc.
Libidinal experience
Minimum 1/2 second delay
Enfolded virtual space
Potential vacuum
Conscious bodily registration
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the unconscious Real Self ( Je) is affected and a new beginning achieved. The
open loop CЈ represents the potential to confront our symptoms where, once
again, such an act raises ethical considerations. The time of BЈ is unpre-
dictable. Once achieved the line segment BЈ—D presents a transformation of
a traversed fantasy and a new beginning. The two loops viewed three dimen-
sionally present a dynamic spiraling vortex of change, a figure whose traces are
evident throughout Nature’s creative growth and decay. This is the turbulence
of chaos theory at work as open-system dynamics.
What triggers such a meeting with the Real, a past trauma for instance, is
always a contingent event, which has much to do with the chaotic vagaries
of “fate,” as Lacan argued in S XI, Four Fundamentals. As discussed earlier,
Lacan’s late seminars in the 1970s, which further developed his speculations
of the unconscious Real, already adumbrates and explores the Deleuzean and
Guattarian paradigm, which came as a direct criticism of his structuralism in
the early 1970s. As Jerry Aline Flieger (1997) has usefully argued, Deleuze
and Guattari’s groundbreaking book, Anti-Oedipus (1983), the first volume
of Capitalism and Schizophrenia is misnamed. It is neither anti-Freudian
nor even “anti-Oedipal.” She proceeds to dismantle the distance that they
claim to be making from the Freud–Lacanian paradigm by turning their own
theoretical apparatus in on themselves. Their attack is better understood as
a mode of disavowal.
What emerges from this stunning work (and their
follow-up volume, A Thousand Plateaus) is an emphasis on the positive and
“productive” force of desire, rather than being caught by metonymic “lack”
as in Lacan. But such a formulation is nothing more (nor less) than first, a
recognition and then, a theorization of the death drive (or “pure” desire)
that becomes “productive” in its “dismantling” of Oedipalization as embed-
ded in designer capitalism through forms of production based on specific
consumerist fantasies of familial desires. Our claim throughout this book
is that the musical noise of youth culture is one such dismantling site/
sight/cite staged through the perversions and hysterizations of the oral and
aural drives.
The death drive (Todestrieb) is concerned with affective bodily extremes
that refer to an impossible excess of pleasure, as well as a morbid repetition
Figure 2.3 Open loop of potential.
Previous reflexive arc
Encounter with the real
Traversal of the fantasy


Contingent occurence
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of the same to arrive at a “ground zero.” This is where such repetition
“stumbles” on to the place of oral/aural silence in the Real—the unheard
piercing note where the protective “glass” of the ego-skin is shattered. The
“cause” of such temporal stoppage, like the Siren’s call, issues a warning
death cry. In contemporary terms we might understand this as the limits of
the symbolic drama masks that have gone awry. On one side we have hys-
terical laughter as an experience of intense pleasure when transgressing and
going beyond the Law; and on the other, the uncontrollable intense cry
within us as the depressive suffering of our symptoms. These limits are not
to be understood classically as boundaries or fixed definable borders. There
is no “point” reached; rather it is best to think of limits as being asymptotic
and virtual. A body’s limit exists as a field, which cannot be occupied.
It intensifies through the body’s vibrations to the point of death, which is its
“true” limit, not a spurious one. These limits are moments of psychotic and
paranoid madness, as the imaginary ego becomes undone. Both ecstatic
happiness and depression coexist simultaneously in the unconscious. As
Lacan (1988, S II, The Ego in Freud) put it, “the death instinct is only the
mask of the Symbolic Order” (326). Without symbolic ways to contain it,
the affect of the Real would overwhelm us. In other words, language repre-
sents (constitutes) us, but who we are, our “true being” exists elsewhere—in
the unconscious Real where our unique simthomes lie.
What is missing from this discussion thus far is Lacan’s conceptual under-
standing of jouissance, the psychical energy that circulates between and
within “musical” bodies of self and Other. For Freud human beings strove
to attain an “impossible” desire. The search for absolute happiness, which
took many forms, including hypothetically absolute sexual pleasure as expe-
rienced in incest; a fantasy of complete symbiosis with a mythical figure
(be that Mother, Father, a mythical character, God, the Devil, or one self ),
which may have nothing do with actual familial ties. But such an Other does
not exist. The incest fantasy meant that one is never complete, but longs for
completion through love. As Lacan was to provocatively put it: “The sexual
relation does not exist.” That is to say, there is no absolute symbolic relation-
ship between the sexes because there is no absolute signifier for jouissance.
Masculine and feminine are but two failed attempts for self-completion.
Endless love songs are composed to bridge the impossible gap that exits
between them through the Imaginary psychic register.
Absolute desire, born in the erogenous zones of the body, therefore
cannot be fully achieved. Total jouissance is impossible. It must be repressed
generating a painful state of psychical tension. One wants something so
badly, but is unable to get it; yet the drive has somehow to be satisfied. The
more repression that is placed on not being able to get the desired object,
the more psychic tension that is built up, the more desirous the object tends
to be. Eventually, a point is reached where this drive energy is discharged,
but never totally and completely. One part is satisfactorily “freed,” overcom-
ing repression and becomes dissipated (as a symptom, a slip of the tongue,
a dream), but another part is unconsciously retained and conserved as
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excess bodily energy. Jouissance, in this regard, is always sexual. We have
passionate attachments to things. But this sexually erotic attachment is not
to be understood simply as being confined to the genitals, rather it refers to
polymorphous, as well as synesthetic libidinal attachment to things; the
body’s affective investment in them. Music and voice are two such cathexed
objects. In the next chapter we work out the significance of jouissance
for music.
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E1nicnI Pnnnnoxrs or 1nr DrnnIv
JouissnNcr or Pos1ronrnNi1v
Jouissance is defined in relationship to Freud’s notion of the “pleasure
principle,” which is a reduction of tension to an agreeable level. As Freud
(SE XVIII, 1920) was to show in his reexamination of his earlier thesis on
the pleasure principle, there was a realm, which exists “beyond” it; the realm
of the death drive where a certain form of enjoyment emerges defined by a
paradoxical mixture of both pleasure and pain. This death drive was associ-
ated with the “polymorphously perverse” body of the drives (Triebe) governed
by libidinal intensities that circulate around various erogenous zones of the
body. Lacan identified such extreme pleasure as jouissance. This aspect of
pleasure is at once unpleasant, harmful, and disturbs the equilibrium of the
pleasure principle. Although it would make full sense to avoid its clutches, it
also offers a form of avoidance, but incorporates the paradoxes of masochistic
pleasurable pain and sadistic painful pleasure. We are hooked by it through
our symptoms; at the same time we “love” and enjoy the suffering unwilling
to change. There is pleasure in the experience of pain, and pain in the expe-
rience of pleasure. Jouissance indicates a realm of human suffering, which
is not desirable because it leads to self-destructive behavior, but this is only
half the story.
The etiology of existence posits a longing for an undesirable something
that would destroy the subject in its attempt to be subjectivized, addressing
an impasse within the species Homo sapiens between human and inhuman.
Jouissance is a realm of “too much,” an inhuman exception that arises simul-
taneously with the “cut” of the Law. This exception is then judged and main-
tained since sovereignty must rely on such an exception to create its rule. It is
the rule of Law, which gives rise to the exception, and not the exception,
which is somehow subtracted from it. The exception, therefore, is the fore-
most juridical element that is imbued with jouissant enjoyment, for it is
either transgressing the Law or going beyond it in its quest for recognition,
even if that means physical or symbolic death. The moment jouissance is
reached as a limit, the subject can withdraw, recoiling from its force and the
pleasure principle comes into operation once again. An oscillation takes place
between the extremes of “too much” and “never enough,” acted out in
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relation to an internalized superego, placing us into the conflict of obeying
or transgressing the Law, repeating our symptoms over and over as this
limit is reached.
This excess of jouissant pleasure should always already be perceived as
“negative.” However, the symptom that transgresses and/or goes beyond
the sovereign Law should not be immediately deemed criminal, for an ethical
question continually emerges. Jouissance is foremost a judicial concept in the
way that it becomes restricted pleasure in relation to the Law of the Symbolic
Order. We are allowed to “enjoy” only in legitimated sublimated ways,
although the dividing line between public and private promiscuity continues
to blur. There is, therefore, another way to grasp the importance of jouis-
sance with relation to the death drive and hence to jurisprudence, the Law
and justice, and that it to equate it with zoë the “naked life” of the animalitas.
In the important critical oeuvre by Giorgio Agamben, beginning with Homo
Sacer (1998), the usually accepted Foucauldian thesis of the rise of bio-power
of the modern state in the seventeenth century is radically rethought to
Greco-Roman times where zoë, as “natural” or animal (biological) life
becomes opposed to politically and culturally qualified life (bios) as consti-
tuted by the polis. Zoë belonged to the private sphere of the household (oikos)
while bios had everything to do with the “good life” of the public sociopo-
litical sphere. Zoë is unbridled animated life, what Lacan termed lamella—
“pure life” instinct. Therefore, what is “animal” in humans—as the jouis-
sance of unbridled and desublimated Triebe (and not Instinkts)—is included
in the Symbolic Order (polis) through exclusion, as an exception. Zoë as
“bare life” (vita nuda) is identified as the part that is “inhuman” in us, not
seemingly subject to rational logos—in our terms, as desublimated drives
that are “beyond” the Law. Desublimated drives seem to be acephalous,
uncontrollable, having a “will” of their own because they are caught by
mere “survival.” They are “uncultivated,” taking any “object” to satisfy their
craving—debased as “animality.” A sublimated drive, in distinction, is not
blind animal thriving but compelled by the demand of an ethical compulsion.
The Law of Symbolic Order demands that drives be civilized. “Pure life” or
“pure desire,” therefore, is just another name for the death drive where
“survival” dominates, animated with zoë and the “bare living” of the oikos
(family household). The “sacredness” of reproductive life in Greco-Roman
society in relation to the Law is excluded. Women and slaves became the
originary “included excluded” inhuman exceptions, a point many feminist his-
torians and political analysts have developed for quite some time (Elshtain,
1981; Pomeroy, 1975). The “sacredness” of life is abandoned, rather than
being protected by the polis/state. Being abandoned means being placed in
an ambiguous position inside or outside the judicial order with women and
children being the most obvious fallout of such a policy, while animals are
not given much consideration.
This sacredness of life as zoë with its associations to the divine and its
separation from the realm of the profane was eventually constituted in
archaic Roman law with the figure of homo sacer (1998, 71)—a “sacred man”
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outside both the juridical and religious spheres who could be licitly
killed because of crimes committed. The sacredness of “bare life” was
always treated as an exception as deemed fit by the sovereignty of the state.
In contemporary times the “inhuman” life of zoë is suspended in the “survival”
spaces not recognized as part of the legitimated bios of the Symbolic Order,
what Agamben generally calls “camps” (l’aperto): refugees (in camps), immi-
grants and rejected asylum seekers (detention facilities), the homeless (on the
streets), Alzheimer suffers who seem to be suspended between bios and zoë
(in nursing homes), as are criminals (in jails), the HIV-positive (in isolation),
the brain dead (on life-support systems), porno stars (neither considered
stars nor actors), and transsexuals (neither fully masculine nor feminine,
neither fully gay nor lesbian).
In Youth Fantasies it was argued that postmodernity is characterized by
the “culture of the drive.” In this sense we follow Agamben in his general
thesis that (post) modernity is a movement of bios to zoë, a withdrawal of the
state, which is yet another way of saying that the superego demands that we
“Enjoy!” From the outset, Agamben argues that the democracy of the polis
attempted (unsuccessfully) to reassert the freedom of natural life (zoë) into
the qualified life (bios) of the polis in the name of freedom, liberation, and
happiness, but the tension between bios (human) and zoë (animal) could
never be fully overcome. A reconciliation of the two poles ends up in a reifi-
cation of human “essence,” a closed exclusionary system where rationality
and reason (ratio, logos) comes to terms with animalitas. Those deemed as
exceptions to the logos are therefore inhuman, whereas a reconciliation the
other way can be identified as a Levinasian turn.
Levinas turned his attention to the pre-ontological “face” of the excep-
tional Other as an ethical call, directing such an ethics to their inhuman
suffering as zoë, which escapes state recognition. Such a move into singularity
highlights once more the impossibility of the reconciling zoë and bios since it
conflates “human essence” with animality. Animal rights are given a “face”
as well through various forms of ecologically informed Green political move-
ments. Such an impasse confirms Lacan’s fundamental ontology that we are
split subjects. The inhumaness of zoë is precisely that part of us that charac-
terizes us as an “unfinished” species making “human” an open democratic
concept without a telos. This diadeictical tension between “animality” and
“humanity” is answered by Freud–Lacanian concept of the drives, which are
neither “animal” nor “human,” since both framing terms cannot be definitively
fixed for they hold the very dialectic of our species being. The circulation of
drive-demand and desire is the “humanizing” ethic that escapes the “anthro-
pological machinery,” which Agamben warns us about.
Zoë as jouissance, the order of the drives, is the contested zone of postin-
dustrial capitalism. On the one hand capitalism’s thirst in the name of
personal freedom and liberalism continually opens up and then colonizes the
private and personal sphere of oikos through new forms of medical technologies
that attempt to capture life as unmediated jouissance in the womb itself
through cloning, stem cell research, and artificial insemination; as well as
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through “reality television” that exploits human survival and human
relationships in the name of entertainment, further encouraging excesses in
consumerism, pornography, and waste so that profit dollars may be made; on
the other hand desublimated jouissance is the very threat that the sovereign Law
must continually manage in forms of transgression against and “beyond” the
sovereign state where the human from the inhuman is always managed
through various forms of abandonment of life as zoë, through neoliberalist
policies, that continually claw back social security, even old age pensions. In
this regard the pure death drive as zoë, as naked life, could be productive
threat to capitalist globalization as speculated and suggested by Hardt and
Negri (2000, 366) in Empire.
Fonrs or JouissnNcr
The above peculiar reading of desublimated jouissance as zoë raises the
question of feminine jouissance as being the exception, always excluded from
the polis as bio-power constantly territorializes her body in an attempt to
include her. What strategies are left in this “exceptional” space? As we
continue to explore Lacan’s various uses of jouissance, it will be suggested
that two strategies of postfeminism in the music scene prevail where the pos-
sibilities of feminine jouissance emerge. One is the attempt to exploit the
body as a “body double,” while the other is to do away with the body. These
two strategies are presented as strategies of the drives. Lacan identified four
partial drives as the primary sources of jouissance—issuing from the body’s
cavities that are open to the Other. The first is the oral drive of the eroge-
nous zone of the mouth where sucking in the exteriority of the environment
(the Other) by the infant originarily happens at the breast. There is also
abject pleasure in refusing food and spitting it out. Next, the anal drive of
the erogenous zone of the anus where expelling the interiority of the body
takes place, feces being the originary object of expulsion. Again, there is abject
pleasure in retention and not letting things go, hoarding and collecting and
accumulating what is “mine.” Someone “anal” can be fastidiously clean and
orderly. The oral and anal drives are intimately related in the dialectic of
bodily incorporation and expulsion as it mediates the Other (environment in
the broadest sense, including the caregiver most often the Mother). The first
two drives are pre-Oedipal and subject to the demands of the Other. The
infant must eat and expel the processed food, but these biological functions
are written over by a bodily erotic in the infant’s relationship with the
mother. These first two drives occur during what Lacan identified as a
period of “alienation” when the infant begins to vocalize holophrastic
speech acts, but has not yet learnt to “talk back.” The body is subject to a
nonsexualized jouissance because these drives are not yet subjected to
castration; that is, to a meaningful signifier of language and socialization,
which then makes the complete jouissance of the mother an impossibility.
Separation from the mother as the second phase of development has to take
place, otherwise there is the danger of psychosis—the complete refusal of
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socialization. This is a crucial point for our thesis, which we explore in
chapter 9 on the link of death metal music to high school shooting tragedies
such as Columbine.
The next two drives: the scopic drive and invocative aural drive involve
the erogenous zones of the eye and ear where the gaze and voice subject the
infant to desire, and hence to Oedipalization of the Symbolic Order. It is
the “diadeictic” between these two sets of drives which are of particular
interest to the thesis we are developing in the following chapters to
develop the perverted and hysterized musical fantasies of postmodern
post-Oedipalization. In a nutshell, the hybridization of the post-Oedipal
positions of boyz and gurlz consists of the various perversions and hysterizations
of the “driven” body of jouissance and the sadomasochistic pacts between
performers and audience that take place in the music scene through trans-
gressions to and beyond the Law.
Lacan referred enjoyment within the Law as phallic jouissance because
language causes entropy, devitalizing the body of its jouissance by exterior-
izing it through the sexual drives. Enjoymeant is found in song sublimating
the drives. This phallic jouissance is located at the intersection between the
Real psychic register (non-sense) and the Symbolic psychic register (sense).
Jokes, for instance, are an obvious example of “legitimately” getting a laugh
at the expense of the Other. However, “full” or “pure” jouissance ultimately
means death since a fictional virtual body either has not yet been formed, or
partially formed as in autism, through meaningful signification; or the exist-
ing virtual body is unable to sublimate the effects of the Real, as in psychosis
or suicide. There is no “protection” from Real effects of the drives. The
social order via the Mother’s prohibition and then the Father’s “No!” has
not yet fully “written” and mapped the body, socializing it both culturally
and uniquely for each and every infant. An infant without language, for
instance, “gets off ” his or her bodily jouissance through the “pleasure” of
hyperactive sensori-motor explorations. This is the way it defends itself
against anxiety and its bodily drives. Any partial drive can be destructive and
self-consuming with no representational object (no symbolization) to put a
halt to it. Jim Carey, the lawyer in Tom Shadyac’s film Liar, Liar is (1997)
is a “runaway mouth,” his oral drive controls his body. This is an unbridled
jouissance not caught by the Law, often referred to as the Other jouissance
in its link to the Real body (Lacan S XX, Encore). Carey is dangerous to
himself as well as to those around him. The slippage of the signifier between
liar and lawyer is that of the drive and desire. Normally the “law” (as desire)
protects you from the “lie” (the drive). Here, the situation has been inverted
to reveal a particular “truth,” that the trust in the Law is waning. Lawyers
are liars when they manipulate the gray zone of what is permissible under
the Law.
Lacan identifies another form of jouissance as lalangue, written as one
word to identify the affective babbling associated with the mother tongue.
Rap as a music form is impregnated with the jouissance as lalangue in the
way it immediately “speaks” the body’s community. Perhaps the Black political
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activist and poet Amiri Baraka (a.k.a. LeRoi Jones, Imamu Amiri Baraka),
once a key figure in the Black Arts Movement (BAM), is an exemplary in this
regard. His poetry continually plays with non-sense sounds that are
grounded in Black culture like the “scatting” of jazz musicians where mean-
ingless syllables are continuously improvised. Language as signification is
intimately intertwined and intervened with unconscious affective lalangue in
the form of lallation of the mother tongue. This is a body jouissance before
castration, sometimes referred to as the “Other jouissance” because it cannot
yet be qualified as genital. Its location is at the intersection of the Real and
the Imaginary psychic realms, at the level of the bodily skin-ego discussed
earlier. This Other jouissance of the body’s drives is both traumatic and
anxiety provoking. Phallic jouissance, which is contained by the Imaginary–
Symbolic desire, serves as a “protection” from its Real effects.
Lastly, there is also a jouissance located between the Imaginary and
Symbolic psychic registers, a jouissance of meaning written as jouis-sense, an
enjoyment-in-meaning. Here the voice uncannily detaches itself from the
body, a phenomenon that we discuss later in reference to musical transgres-
sion. Is there a jouissance “beyond” the phallus, a jouissance that is attribut-
able only to the feminine? Raised as a possibility by Lacan in S XX, Encore,
the issue remains in dispute amongst feminists. Our wager is that aspects
of postfeminist musical performance can be identified as non-phallic and
feminine, as well as when an artwork becomes an event as discussed in our
last chapter of this book.
The ontology of the human being is theorized starting from ground zero,
like the imaginary number of the ; an existence in the polymorphous
sexual Real that non-Lacanian theorists like Daniel Stern (1985), for exam-
ple, call “the kernel of the self.” Both theorizations amount to the same con-
ceptual understanding. Being, for Lacan, is posited as both empty and full at
once; an unconscious state of coexistent Thanatos and Eros. The infant is in
symbiosis of non-differentiation with an Other, referred to as das Ding
(Thing) in S VII, Ethics, which is normally the mother.
Because all infants
undergo socialization of one form or other, they must give-up (sacrifice)
some part of their jouissance, their feeling of completeness and omnipo-
tence, to the Symbolic Order by way of language and naming and come into
desire of the Other. They must face what it is that the Other desires; that is,
what the mother both wants and desires as the first Other of the signifier.
This means infants must eventually separate from their Thing, from their
mothers, unable to make a “return” to her in the future. Complete symbio-
sis is lived only fleetingly in the sexual rapport of love on the imaginary level.
Sexual enjoyment is partial and situated outside the body. We are all castrated
in the sense that we must accept a fundamental lack within ourselves and be
subjected to the desire of the Other. Because the Symbolic Order is unable
to provide a complete answer to satisfy who one is or what is the meaning of
life, the absurdity of existence itself comes to fore. The subject is left
attempting to recover the missing jouissance through fantasy formations
offered to it by the social order.
͙Ϫ 1
Tnr UNcnNNv Fi cunnI Voi cr 51
PrnvrnsioNs nNn Hvs1rnizn1ioNs
or 1nr Music ScrNr
This is where the postmodern social order, more fully elaborated in Youth
Fantasies, becomes interesting. In a consumerist postindustrial society the
demand of the superego is to tell us to “Enjoy!”
The general tendency of
the social order is to tell its populace to consume, to make the economy
function for capitalist profit. There is a pressure and an expectation, as
evidenced through the various media of television, film, leisure industry,
fashion, and commodity consumerism, to actively seek out “lost” jouissance.
Such a demand for “enjoyment” ends up being progressively sought for
more and more in forms that are “beyond” the accepted “pleasure principle”
as defined in a modernist society, unleashing the effects of the death drive.
Life has intensified and a hyper-narcissism has emerged. The painful pleasures
of various forms of body modification and extreme sports by youth cultures
as acts of differentiation and resistance is, of course, an obvious manifestation
of unleashed jouissance. Drug use and its resultant death through overdose
is a common occurrence in transgressive and resistant cultures of music.
Contrary to popular thought, in many cases substance abuse is taken to
“protect” against the death drive, against an anxiety of being overwhelmed
by a Social Order they are unable to cope with (Loose, 1999, 91). This was
the case, for example, with the writer William S. Burroughs whose heroine
addiction prevented his fall into a complete psychosis. We try to illustrate this
point through the tragic life suffered by Kurt Cobain in chapter 7. As we
argued in our previous volume Youth Fantasies, the postmodern is defined
by a drive culture that is characterized by extremes of “pure” desire. With
this in mind we can see why the bodily drives have been perverted and
hysterized, unleashing deadly forms of jouissance so as to avoid or undo the
castrating effects of the social order.
In its everyday use, perversion is a pejorative term, which connotes not being
“normal.” In contrast, as a psychic structure, it refers to a particular relation to
the Law with its accompanying jouissance. In S XI, Four Fundamentals, during
one of the question periods, Lacan defined the structure of perversion as “an
inverted effect of phantasy (sic). It is the subject himself as object, in his
encounter with the division of subjectivity [being a split subject]” (185).
Musical perversion or père version as Lacan wrote it, is a response to the loss of
trust in the centering of symbolic authority by young people—mostly by males
in their response to the authorial Name-of-the-Father as represented by grand
narratives of success, happiness, and progress in modernity.
While musical
hysteria, mostly by women, is a refusal to accept the authority of the Symbolic
Order that offered them certain defined roles.
Both perversion and hysteria rearrange the “normative” structures in the
way jouissance is curbed by the Law of desire and held in check by the
signifiers of language, releasing jouissance by remapping the virtual body at
the level of fantasy. Releasing jouissance means releasing repression, again a
“positive” sense of unconscious desire in Deleuze and Guattari’s terms.
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There is a refusal of castration, a refusal to accept the Other’s desire, an
unwillingness to sacrifice his or her castration to the Other’s jouissance,
which is to be understood as permissible phallic jouissance allowed by the
Law—the legitimate ways to “get off ” as with most pop music. The result has
been to pervert the pre-Oedipal drives and to hysterize the Oedipal ones. The
oral and the anal drives have inversed into insatiable “pure” desires while
the scopic and invocative aural drives have reversed into insatiable “pure”
demands, both processes releasing increased violence and deadly jouissance. Such
a possibility can only happen if there are ways the Symbolic Order itself is
decentred, and that is precisely what post-Oedipalization is about, the decen-
tering of the Oedipal edifice that maintained more coherent nuclear family
structures and more definable age cohorts. Now, generational boundaries
have blurred—youth extended to the iconic heights of a Michael Jackson, an
ironic example of “becoming-child.” Intergenerational media participation
has become the norm. Such a decentering of the big Other is enabled by the
formation of numerous fan audiences that form many smaller Others, which
we call ONE’s, as developed in chapter 15 on the fan(addict).
Perversion of the pre-Oedipal drives is mainly a male preoccupation, but
not exclusively; perversion inverts the struggle of separating from the Mother
and establishing masculine authority by calling on the Law to assert itself.
The first is a backward-looking gesture where an attempt seems to be made
to give the (m)other satisfaction, while the second is forward-looking in that
it attempts to prop up or supplement the Law of the Father (Fink, 1997,
272 ft. 39). The pervert transgresses the Law by reversing the fantasy struc-
ture of desire as happens in normal neurosis by maintaining his own satisfaction
(occupying the position of objet a in Lacan’s terms), and not allowing the
mother’s desire to serve as a cause of his own. There is seemingly a refusal of
the Law in not wanting to give up satisfaction, it is a “will to jouissance” as
exemplified by hyper-narcissism. Rather than being the phallus for the
mother, an object that completes her, he attempts to have the phallus. Even
when it seems the pervert is letting the Other (e.g., a fan) “get off ” on him,
his aim is altruistic. This is the backward-looking gesture involving a perver-
sion of the oral drive in the way the demand to consume becomes perverted
as a “pure desire” to please oneself in consumption—a consumptive tantrum
one might say—to be consumed or overwhelmed by an envelope of musical
noise might be one such expression.
The forward-looking gesture concerns the Law itself and the struggle
with the father. In post-Oedipal families with the extension of postadolescence
and failed responsibility to achieve adult life by youth, the perverted position
of the son remains attached to the mother with a “soft” or weak father who
is less likely to intervene to help in his complete separation from her.
Although severely criticized, the men’s movement with representatives like
Robert Bly (1990) who search for an essential masculinity through the “Iron
John myth,” and institutional organizations like The Promise Keepers, who
vow a return to nuclear family values, is an indicative counter manifestation
of the contemporary father who struggles with his own problems with
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authority. He believes that fathers should not wield power over their children
but be their friend; that children are rational creatures who can understand
adult explanations, and usually prefers that his wife discipline the children so
that he can be loved rather than feared (Fink, 1997, 180).
The anal perversion toward authority given such a father, who in many
cases is absent or has left home, is illustrated in the music scene through
numerous references in song lyrics to being gay and calling others gay exem-
plified in punk rock. The provocation is to make the father fulfill his paternal
function. MTV’s Jackass and the movie by Jeff Tremaine (2002) with the
same title can be understood as a perverse anal fantasy of “reality” TV. The
film’s disclaimer is that professionals do these stunts when it’s amateur hour
all the way. The male body and its genitalia are treated nonsexually, as a
“piece of meat,” subjected to various forms of mutilation (electric shock,
pounding, hitting) and pain. The joke is to laugh at the stupidity of masculinity
itself, at the same time to reassert and draw a line as to its lawful existence
through the stupid bravery required to do these nonsensical stunts in the
first place. To face the inevitable pain of broken bones, burnt and cut skin,
and obvious bodily discomfort. Johnny Knoxville and the boyz “dump” all
over the social order so that they can be reprimanded, humiliated, and some-
times arrested by the Law.
Memorable “gross-outs” include shitting in an unplumbed toilet in a
plumber’s shop. Shoving a model car wrapped in a condom up the anus and
asking a doctor what to do about it. The anus has historically been colonized
as a “sight” of male creativity, as Laporte (2000) has argued. Capitalism
turns shit into gold through its marketing strategies, “retaining” its capital.
Males, at the same time, “crap” out nuggets of wisdom through their clever
schemes. Honoré Daumier even drew a cartoon of Louis Philippe, the
Citizen King as Gargantua, sitting on the “royal head,” swallowing bags of
money and then crapping out legislation meant to further enrichen his mon-
eyed investors. Laporte’s own book is not free of scatological humour in the
way he reduces the body to an oral (mouth) and anal drive, an input–output
circuit of Deleuze and Guattari’s BwO (body without organs), which knows
no alienation. The boyz seek no models of identification to which the
Symbolic Order strives to mould them into. They act like the abjected shits
that they are. The Jackass boyz’s disgusting vulgarity and carnivalesque
grossness present yet another example of the postmodern repetition of the
Bakhtinian medieval carnival as argued by a number of sociologists (Stallybrass
and White, 1986; Shilling, 1993). As a form of perverted scatological laugh-
ter they provide a direct opposite to forms of high art and literature in terms
of identity formation. Their psychic investment is in forms of identity trans-
gression that characterize de-Oedipalization. While these transgressions are
masochistic responses by letting the Other “get off ” on their antics by sac-
rificing their own bodies to bring the audience to witness an enunciation of
the Law, there are also perverted sadistic and sadomasochistic (fetishistic)
responses. I discuss these in relation to music in the following chapters as
well. The failed response of separation from the mother can result in the
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foreclosure of the Name-of-the-Father leading to a psychosis, which is a
transgression not against the Law but beyond it.
When it comes to the hysterization of the Oedipal drives by mostly
females, we argue that the various ways of “becoming-woman” in contem-
porary youth cultures of postfeminism focus on the question of the virgin
and slut opposition. One explanation for this is that hysteria “ ‘opts’ for an
over-phallicisation because of an anxiety about the vagina” (Verhaeghe,
1999a, 158, original emphasis). With the phallus as the basic signifier of the
Symbolic Order, the hysterical anxiety emerges because of a lack of a feminine
equivalent. The hysteric demands an answer from the father, master, or phallus
as to why she lacks. In chapter 14 I discuss how the “new virginity” is a way
for her to avoid castration through the fantasy of a primal father, which
I refer to as the ONE in postmodernity, who can provide The Answer.
In chapter 15, such hysteria is identified as belonging to being a fan(addict)
of this ONE—a decentered ONE, to be sure, but nevertheless this is gravi-
tation toward an authority that provides a sense of belonging. Such a fantasy
enables the hysteric to reduce the deficiency of her father and maintain the
illusion of the possibility that an Answer to her lack exists (to bridge the gap
between her paternal and symbolic father). At the same time such a hysterical
fantasy enables her to refuse being the object of desire for the “old” patriar-
chal regime, to be reduced to filling the lack of the Other. Her desire for
knowledge as “truth” is urgent, appealing to the Other in order for him to
produce knowledge, which by definition, will remain unsatisfactory. Such
post-Oedipalized hysteria has increased because the mother has desires
outside her children, but the father is usually inadequate to fulfil even the
slightest part of such desires. Psychosis would, again, occur if the mother had
no desire beyond her children; the child filling up her desire entirely.
But what if there is a way around this hysterical anxiety? I argue that the
“new virginity” presents an ambiguity that does not completely follow
the above hysterical scenario of the symbolic Father as Guru—the search for the
right “imaginary” father to answer sexual identity as reviewed by Verhaeghe
(1999a) in the thought of Freud to Lacan. Although ambivalent, the position
of Eros in the “new virginity” holds the kernel of a feminine jouissance
beyond the phallus. In chapters 11–14, I argue the jouissance attributed to
both characterizations of being a virgin and slut is “stolen” back from patri-
archy. Whether this theft can be identified as “feminine” (non-phallic) jouis-
sance remains a contested issue amongst feminists intergenerationally.
In Seminar XX, Encore, Lacan posited a feminine jouissance outside the order
of the phallic signifier, which hysterical feminists like Luce Irigary have
explored. The controversial thesis is presented that a particular kind of
hysterical jouissance is one such possibility.
Developments in postfeminism
consist in the possible nascent recovery of feminine jouissance by a third
generation of women en soi (in themselves) but not yet pour soi (for them-
selves). In one sense the maternal breast has been perverted into its silicone
exaggerated implant in women’s refusal to give suckle to the infant, becoming
an object of narcissistic possession, which sexually empowers the feminine body
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as a femme fatale who transgresses the Law. As femme fatal in the classical
noir, the hysteric opts for a masculine line of development since she can only
inscribe herself phallically in a negative way, but that brings forth an ethics of
the Real concerning her complaint. What is the insistence of her drive that
compels her to repeatedly encircle the site of a lost cause that longs for some-
thing that she believed has been overlooked, missed, shattered, and forgot-
ten? The postfeminist neo-noir femme fatale of the new millennium (Lena
Olin as the hitwoman in Romeo Is Bleeding; Linda Fiorentino in The Last
Seduction) “doubles” her body in hyper-narcissism by so obviously displaying
her own insatiable desire for sex and seduction when sadistically destroying
the male ego.
While bordering on a pornographic discourse, the obvious
enjoyment of her own femininity escapes any possible male gaze in this con-
text. All is not necessarily reduced just to her hysterical demand for an object
that would fill her lack, which is never enough. The “dirty virgin” of popular
rock plays a similar game as the femme fatale of neo-noir. But there is a dan-
ger of falling into the trap of the pornographic Sadean woman, which I discuss
in chapter 11. Second generation feminists paradoxically took their clothes off
to become desexualized, a strategy well-known in performance art, which had
marginal success given the overdetermined image of the nude in visual art.
Postfeminist performers seem to be staging a “doubled body,” by intention-
ally staging femininity for their own ironic purposes.
Regardless of sex/gender, we are all “hysterics” in a general sense, given
that we are all split subjects who forever lack, caught by our own dissatisfac-
tions. But, feminine jouissance, if it can be successfully argued that it indeed
does exist, emerges from the hysterical drive that does away with this castrated
lack. Since the concern is now with the scopic and aural drives of the already
Oedipalized feminine body, the strategies of resistance to the Symbolic
Order concern themselves with power—feminine power. The hysterization
of the scopic drive has been inverted into a transgressive look that stares
back, a look that defies any easy appropriation by males. Her Eros is self-
willed and controlled to reclaim sexuality, and to use it in her own seductive
ways. The scopic gaze becomes redoubled, so to speak. Not blocked or resis-
ted, which happens performatively as well through mimicking the male body
in female bodybuilding (as will be discussed in part), but used in a typically
mimetic way to accentuate the fantasy Woman of male desire for a jouissance
of their own choosing, which admittedly many feminists would still claim to
be phallic. But the question is raised whether such a mimicked double mas-
querade is a transgressive pleasure that is creatively “feminine”? Does scopic
desire turn into a woman’s demand through her double mimicry—an exag-
gerated play with what is expected of women? Like Cindy Jackson who spent
10 years and $100,000 US dollars on 20 cosmetic surgery procedures to
become a perfect Barbie doll—an obvious addiction to the jouissance of the
death drive; or, Angela Vollrath, “Miss Barbie Deutschland” who has followed
Jackson’s lead. Are their cosmetic surgeries any different than the surgical
operations of the performance artist Orlan who claims to be developing an
anti-Babrie stance toward surgical cosmetology? Certainly there is a profound
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ideological difference, but these postmodern hysterics dip into the same well
of sublime jouissance.
If this is an “all body” jouissance to avoid castration, then there is the
hysterization of “all voice” where the body disappears; the paradox where
the “fat” large body or the “small” frail one produces a voice that stands
alone. Singers such as Rita McNeil, Ruben Studdard (a.k.a. the “Velvet
Teddy Bear” and the “The Mound of Sound,” winner of American Idol 2),
opera singers in general like Pavarotti, full-figured African American
“Fly girls” and so on, seem to produce a sound that makes their grotesque
bodies irrelevant both to us and them. Mark Herman’s Little Voice (1998)
presents the other side of this paradox where a shy quite girl is able to sing
like Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, and Shirley Bassey. The ghost of her
dead father seems to animate her singing. Or, the uncanny beautiful voice
that emerges from the grotesque body of Salvatore (Ron Perlman) as he is
burning at the stake in the film version of Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose.
It’s as if, in these instances, the entire body jouissance is invested in the voice
itself, making it an object of sublime beauty. Their oral drive inverses into the
“pure desire” of the aural as the consumptive drive-demand of the hysterized
body becomes invested and disappears into the voice. Only the jouis-sense of
the voice remains. Chion (1999) identifies and isolates this voice in cinema
calling it the force of acousmetre (invisible sounds). It becomes sublimely
beautiful both in its force and in its impossible reach; operatic arias being
the tragic death notes of love, tragedy, and suffering. Admittedly, the self-
consuming voice of jouissance that sends shutters up the spine is best felt
“live,” close up in a concert situation. Its penetrating power is often lost
through televised performances.
However, there is also the disembodying of sound from music made
possible through synthetic techno music at its most deconstructive heights.
Echo effects made possible through both analogue and digital synthesiz-
ers allow hallucinations to occur. Forms of perception emerge that fur-
ther delocalize sound, experiencing it as a paranoid schizophrenic might.
In chapter 16 I discuss such techno music that sends an audience into
another aspect of the sublimity of the death drive purely on physiological
grounds. The claim is made that the search for an “Ur” sound goes para-
doxically right to the heart of silence in its loudness. The question is how
technology, working on strictly the physiological Real body without organs
(BwO), can send one into the recesses of sublime frightening beauty? The
performance group called GRANULAR-SYNTHESIS (Kurt Hentschlager
and Ulf Langheinrich) work with 30 kw of Ϫ40 DHz sub-bass using specific
tones and pitches to trigger physiological effects on the body, evoking deep
psychological resonances. This sound is coupled with sustained single frame,
long sequence video effects that, together with light, video, and audio pro-
jections, bombard its audiences to states of overload by the sheer materiality
of sound that penetrates their bodily egos leading to states of affrontation,
seduction, and fascination. Their performances are described as disturbing,
frightening, seductive, and erotic. Like the jouis-sense of the object voice, these
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performances have to be “lived” live to suffer the throws of their death that
is felt in the pit of the stomach.
ON Cns1nn1i nNn Divns
To briefly recap then, the “diadeictic” of the death drive circulates and
continually regenerates the Imaginary and the Symbolic psychic orders.
“The death drive does not possess its own energy. Its energy is libidinal.
Or, better put, the death drive is the very soul, the constitutive principle, of
libidinal circulation” (Laplanche, 1976, 124). This has major implications
for youth fantasies and cultural studies in general. It provides us with a sort
of general theory in the way transgression both against and beyond the Law
(as a politics), as well as an ethics of jouissance that surrounds the psychic
Real register, are played out. It should not be surprising why music as an art
form, above all other youth activities is where such transgression is best
exemplified. Music is known for its power to seize the body in the Real. It’s
disruptive potential, as Attali (1985) has shown in his analysis of the political
economy of “noise,” has been felt throughout history. Both Dolar (1996)
and Zizek (1996b) provide brief historical accounts of the fear that music in
its transgressive role of the self-enjoying, self-consuming voice (as jouis-sense)
has for the ruling moral elite, especially the Church, which periodically
claims its effects are the work of the Devil.
Both Dolar and Zizek point out
that Derrida’s famous deconstruction of voice/writing, while commendable,
fails to recognize this more originary split in the voice itself. Dolar and
Zizek’s favorite examples are the diva and the Castrati. Both achieve the status
as “full” subjects by paradoxically annihilating their own subjectivity, to
become “pure voice.” For the diva to achieve this “object voice” is always a
risky business. There is the danger of failure; as a prima donna, she has to
subject herself to physical suffering much like a ballerina who aspires to
become “pure” body in her dancing. The Castrato’s mutilation (removal of
testis), curiously enough, enables the “object voice” to emerge precisely
because of the way the virtuosity of his voice haunts its audience (Zizek,
1996a, 149). His voice as fetishistic object becomes a reminder of our usual
disavow of symbolic castration each one of us has to suffer so that sexual
difference is possible. A sort of reverse phenomenon takes place with the
Castrati. The physical castration the Castrato has suffered, the physical loss
of part of his sexualization, makes it possible for him to “steal” back this
original lost jouissance of symbolic castration through the grandiose display
of his voice. The argument could be made that this is precisely the jouissance
that is “beyond the phallus” in Lacan’s sense. Also a feminine jouissance that
is experienced as asexual, reaching the pure life force of the “lamella,”
Lacan’s mythic state of zoë (life) that has no experience of death as yet. It is
asexual for sexual difference is disavowed.
This talk of divas and Castrati seems dated in this day and age of post-
modernity. The cultural practice of the Castrati has been stopped and one
hears little talk of “divas” nowadays. So why bring it up? In a number of
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chapters that follow I explore the “Virgin” pop divas and the “New
Castrati,” arguing that a perverted version of this phenomenon is still present
in pop music today. Music is always split into these two voices: the voice of
imaginary fantasy, which covers over its other Real voice of paradoxical noise,
and silence that lies at its heart. About this deadly silence we know nothing.
The music of the imaginary, what we enjoy listening to unproblematically,
acts as a shield against this other voice. In Deleuzean terms, this “other”
voice is the BwO screaming silently. While the first voice is the sublimation
music performs, as does art in general. A music culture holds itself together
through a particular fantasy formation. But why, it must be asked, is there
always a recurring anxiety by the defenders of the moral Law around its
production? The answer is obvious: the impossibility of ever controlling the
voice’s excesses. It should be pointed out that we are not simply referring
to affect as emotion when referring to this more dangerous side of music in
the manner of well-known cultural critics of music like Grossberg (1997), for
instance. For him affect “refers to the quality and quantity of energy invested
in particular places, things, people, meanings, and so on. It is the plane on
which we anchor and orient ourselves into the world . . . producing configu-
rations of pleasure and desire . . . (111). Massumi (2002, 260 ft. 15) also
takes issue with Grossberg’s understanding of affect as emotion. In contrast,
for us jouissance is an affect with an effect, a force in Deleuze’s sense.
Unstructured and unformed, it lies before the qualitative properties of music
as emotion, and is in direct opposition to the quantitative registration of
effects by recording skin galvanometers for it is tied to the symptomatic
virtual body—a fantasmatic body unique to each individual. There is a point
were affect goes beyond anchoring desire, beyond pleasure and desire.
It becomes a dangerous voice imbued with the death drive. In the next
two chapters I begin to explore the jouissance of Gangsta rap where the
Todestrieb is barely sublimated.
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What can be possibly written about gangsta rap that hasn’t yet been said
before? Written in 1994, Patricia Rose in Black Noise captures the African
derived rap music and hip-hop culture succinctly, providing many insights as
to why its repetitive rhythms and recontextualizations constitute a cultural
difference, providing an expressive outlet for disenfranchised black urban
youth in the core cities of capitalist America.
Such difference is to be found
both within its own forms of musical expression that rely heavily on samplers
as “looped” tracks to highlight repetition, the manipulation of rhythm, bass
frequencies and music breaks; and difference from Western classical music
based on triadic forms of harmony. With its prioritization of high-volume
and low frequency sound, often with shouted lyrics, her term “noise” was an
apt description—a tactile sound. At the outset many rock musicians didn’t
consider rap “music.” The conservative press refused to legitimate rappers
as composers; they didn’t play “real” instruments. But it soon became obvious
rap’s oral/aural drive was intimately tied to the latest technological innova-
tions, which were exploited parasitically for its own ends, breaking the rules
of established sound. Rose’s fine work stops just short of the escalating
controversies that continued to intensify around gangsta rap in the mid-1990s,
ending her epilogue with a reflection on the South Central riots in Los
Angeles after the accused policemen were exonerated for the beating of
Rodney King.
LA gangsta rap, as a popular cultural form is perhaps one of the most
explicit exemplars to illustrate the aggressive predisposition of the death
drive, raising questions of ethical demands for injustices that are perpetrated
daily. As a countercultural practice gangsta rap proved to be both controver-
sial and contradictory even among its staunchest supporters. The trial of
Snoop Doggy Dogg for driving a getaway car during the murder of Philip
Woldemariam by his bodyguard, McKinley Lee, was the first of many such
incidents that placed gangsta rap at the center of media frenzy, raising questions
concerning its alleged critical voice. Snoop claimed that it was in self-defense
as Woldemariam was always stalking him. Following his performance at the
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MTV Music Awards in September 1993, he turned himself up to the author-
ities. As a major star of Death Row Records, then under the co-ownership of
Michael Harris and “Suge” Knight under Time-Warner label, Snoop was
acquitted of murder, but not of voluntary manslaughter by the efforts of
Death Row’s criminal lawyer, David Kennen. Eventually, the judge declared
a mistrial after the jury failed to reach a verdict.
The controversies surrounding Death Row Records took off when
“Suge” Knight eventually took over ownership with Dr. Dre in 1992 as
Michael Harris was jailed on counts of manslaughter. This partnership is
usually considered to be the time when gangsta rap came into its own. The
debut multiplatinum album, “The Chronic,” featuring Snoop Doggy Dogg
and Dr. Dre’s patented G-Funk sound (produced late that same year), became
a pivotal moment that infected the future of the hip-hop scene. But under
Knight’s influence this led to a series of incidents, which was to make gangsta
rap a particularly ambivalent form within the broader hip-hop community.
Within Death Row Records yet another struggle for ownership began.
Dr. Dre eventually sold half his share to Knight and then started his own
label, Aftermath Records. Dr. Dre had had enough of the gangsta contro-
versy; he went on to be “The Producer of the Year” of 2001 for Rap Music.
Gangsta violence was further fueled by the antics of 2Pac (Tupac Shakur,
the San Francisco Bay rapper and former member of the Digital
Underground) who joined Death Row for “protection.” Having been arrested
and shot five times in Times Square in 1994, he turned to Death Row’s hired
criminal lawyer David Kenner to help him get off—unsuccessfully. 2Pac spent
eleven and a half months in jail, returning to Death Row Records in 1995 to
produce a platinum record, “Me Against the World.” 2Pac then began a feud
between East (New York) and West (Los Angeles) rappers, which led to his
eventual killing on September 7, 1996 in Las Vegas. According to Pulitzer
Prize-winning Los Angeles Times journalist Chuck Philips this was a Crips/
Bloods gang incident that had also involved B.I.G. (Biggie Smalls,
a.k.a. Christopher Wallace) from the East Coast. Smalls was also gunned
down in downtown LA on March 9, 1997 while visiting Soul Train Music
Awards. The clash between the two rappers was over rival labels: Death Row
and Bad Boy. Both crimes remain officially unsolved. In the meantime,
“Suge” Knight was eventually convicted for breaking probation by kicking
and beating Orlando Anderson in the lobby of the MGM Grand Hotel the
night 2Pac was killed. The incident, caught on surveillance tape, led to his
conviction. In the LA Times, Philips claimed that Anderson was 2Pac’s killer,
which was why Knight had broken parole. This time Death Row’s lawyer,
David Kenner was unable to do much. Knight was sentenced to nine years
and then released in 2001. If we were to add to this sketched series of
incidents other gang related drive-by shootings, and the controversies of
censorship surrounding rap musicians, we find ourselves, as Rose (1994,
2–4) admits, on a conflicted and contradictory territory that ranges from
gangsta rap to its very opposite: liberal “alternative” rap that preaches social
responsibility and how to get along, pitched to middle-class whites and
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blacks in the 16–25 years age group (Rodrick, 1995). By about the end of
the millennium, however, a point had been reached where gangsta rap began
to parody itself, an issue that I explore throughout this chapter and the next.
It was not unusual for Death Row Records to eventually become a branch
company of Interscope Records, which had 400 million dollars in seed
money from Time-Warner, a corporate giant that was being criticized by a
whole contingent of conservative politicians for its involvement in selling
gangsta rap (especially Snoop Dog). This maneuver by Time-Warner seemed
to settle the criticism temporarily; they were perceived as being good corpo-
rate citizens. As Tricia Rose (1994, 6) points out, by 1990 virtually all the
major chain store distribution was controlled by six major record companies:
CBS, Polygram, Warner, BMG, Capitol-EMI, and MCA. However, it was
the independent labels (indie labels) that were able to generate sales for
hip-hop and rap music, whereas the major record companies could not get
together to dominate the market. Rather than competing with street-savvy
labels, their strategy changed to buying indie labels, allowing them to
function relatively autonomously. They provided them with seed money,
production resources, and access to major retail distribution. Death Row
Records, in this sense, could be interpreted as the obscene supplement of
capitalism, its illegal seedy side. Gangsta rap, in effect, did the dirty work for
Interscope who never interfered but reaped the profits from the ensuing
controversies. To what extent was Death Row Records becoming too
powerful in the music industry so that their activities needed to be curbed?
Conspiracy theories abound. In the end, all the owners but Dr. Dre ended
up in jail. A number of star rappers had been killed, while Ted Field and
Jimmy Iovine, the creators of Interscope Records banked the money from
selling a half interest they bought back from Time-Warner to Universal/
Seagrams for 200 million dollars. Later, they merged with Green Records to
form Interscope Geffen A&M Records.
From the start then, hip-hop and rap music could not lead an independent
existence apart from the corporation-controlled communication and culture
market machine that distributed the records, set up the independent record
companies, involved MTV media access, provided video recording, and
performance venues. Rap and the hip-hop style eventually went mainstream.
McDonald’s, Burger King, Coke, Pepsi, Nike, Adidas, Reebok (once
endorsed by Queen Latifah), clothing chain stores, MTV, movies such as
Colors, New Jack City, Boyz in the Hood, Menace II Society (see Dyson, 1994),
and various campaigns against drugs and violence have used and abused
gangsta rap and hip-hop’s social trajectories. Compromise and anti-rap
censorship are as much part of the media hype as is gangsta violence. No one,
of course, can deny that it is precisely because of such global market machin-
ery that a Black American voice of the ghetto has been heard. But can
rap any longer be considered “noise”? Can it “fight the power?” Can the
fantasy of “authenticity” of the streetwise gangsta be maintained when a new
class of Black nouveaux riche has emerged as a result of the rap and hip-hop
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RnÞ ns Rnv1nric RrÞr1i1ioN or Rrsis1nNcr
One way to understand gangsta raps’ psyche is from the psychoanalytic
viewpoint developed by Homi Bhabha (1994) in his discussion of colonial
mimicry. The possibility to resist and subvert the dominant system of repre-
sentation is to occupy a space that outwardly seems to be the same but
inwardly remains different. The “hybrid” maintains a different set of values
but acts for the gaze of the Other under proper spy-like conditions. This
seems, at first glance, to explain the complicity rap and hip-hop found with
large musical corporations. Why there was a necessary pretence of adopting
structures, which could later be exploited for their own ends. There was no
other choice when facing the monolithic power of the big six corporations
but to buy in and resist in various ways. Death Row Records was one obvi-
ous site of resistance; some say the main focal point of differentiation. I shall
argue a little later that it was primarily through rap’s rhythmic repetition that
such mimic resistance was maintained. However, the more difficult question
remains: just when does such mimicry lose its resistant form and transform
itself into a sham, a mockery of the very resistant stance it once set out to
maintain within the “heart” of the enemy? In this sense gangsta rap music
and the rap music industry should not be collapsed into one another. Rap
music’s roots came from the spirit of hip-hop culture in the 1970s, which
maintained an edge when raising African American social urban issues. Rose
(1994, 2) maintains that it began in the mid-1970s in the South Bronx in
New York City as both an African American as well as an Afro-Caribbean
youth cultural movement that was defined by graffiti, breakdancing, and rap
music. It was a life-style choice that included its own style of dress, graffiti,
dancing, DJ-ing, MC-ing, and a critical reflective philosophy of nonviolence.
Rap was just one aspect of this broader hip-hop movement (Walker, 2001).
But it reached a point were its affective stance lost its effective voice, falling
into violence, sexism, and seeking profit dollars.
Performative mimicry does not answer the internal violence amongst
rappers themselves. The subjugated black man in the form of the figure of a
gangsta with a gun is no parodic hyperbolization, although it can of course
be read this way. The pretence of Snoop, along with other major rappers,
including the more militant Ice Cube and more articulate Ice, is that they
considered themselves to be in the same league as Malcolm X and Martin
Luther King. Public Enemy paid direct tribute to Malcolm X a year and a half
prior to the twenty-fifth anniversary of his assassination in 1965 by shooting
the video and song “Baseheads,” in the (then) dilapidated and abandoned
marquee and entrance of Audubon Hall where he was killed. These rappers
claim their struggles are against white racist America by addressing poor,
black unemployed and working-class inner city youth. Verifiably, this is the
sociopolitical power of rap’s “noise.” This ethical stance is puzzling, how-
ever, and difficult to reconcile given that gang warfare, machismo, blatant
misogyny against black women, drugs, and pimp-inspired subjectivity
form as much of their identity as their claim to be evoking an “attitude”
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(Niggas with Attitude, NWA), a commodified black rage against middle-class
whites and yuppies. Do the true “colors” show themselves if such rage turns
out to be more a case of class envy rather than social concern? The gangsta
rapper simply wants the Good life the Other is said to have. Such a proposi-
tion emerges uneasily given the obvious racism, poverty, unemployment, and
criminal incarceration of black youth. But, there is some truth to such a pos-
sibility when the ostentatious and gratuitous display of wealth becomes
nothing more than a spectacular display for show: “I’ve made it.”
It is often fashionably argued that the subjectivity of gangsta rappers are
“decentered.” Grant (1994) for instance writes: “The radical decentering of
the subject, either through the use of drugs or through the use of semiauto-
matic weapons (and what could be more decentering than ‘a hole in your
fuckin’ head?’), which finds its expression in rap, a decentering celebrated
by poststructuralists and postmodernists everywhere, results from an intensely
decentering material configuration of the real” (47). But it seems more likely
the case that it is the very consolidation of subjectivity that is sought
for through the Imaginary psychic register—from the power of the lyrics
down through the rapper’s various changing styles like the “hoodies,”
“snooties,” “tims,” warrior apparel, and “triple fat” goose down jackets. The
meaning of a “decentered” subjectivity is often misunderstood and misinter-
preted. Rap music is perhaps the best possible example as to the way that
postmodern subjectivity directly manifests itself in lyrics and music itself.
Its form is exemplary in this regard. It is characterized by the complete
abandonment of the classical understanding of grammar (e.g., the use of com-
mas, capitalization, semicolons, change of tenses in the lyrics); rap sentences are
short and easy to grasp; the scenes move from one to the next in nonlinear
fashion; the “mix” of “samples” confuse past, present, and future tenses
given that songs from all decades come together; music samplers are taken
from the whole available archive of music (like postmodern architecture); the
latest sound-mix technology is always used; there is constant use of repeti-
tion and symbolic reiteration; its recycling of nursery rhymes, sometimes
numbing repetition of phrases and acronyms bearing restricted codes (e.g.,
“Cube’s got the 4-1-1,” “get outta here man, 5-0,” “suck a D.I.C.”). Are
not all these characteristics hyperbolic exemplars of pastiche, camp, and irony
that have slowly become part of the dominant Symbolic Order as such? That
is to say, that side of postmodernity characterized by the fragmentations of
television and computer game landscapes, temporal instabilities, historical
confusions, moral ambiguities, an emphasis on vision and orality rather than
the written text, as well as a general loss of authority that encourages trans-
gression. Rap, in one sense, conforms perfectly to the dictates of an electronic
and entertainment culture—a mimicry of designer capitalism that it tries to
manipulate for its own ends.
This is not “decentered” subjectivity as much as a complexly collaged
identity around an unstated, taken for granted fantasy of “authenticity.” The
claim to be “real,” which cannot be articulated, only “felt.” It is the use of
decentered forms to create a new centering—with the proviso that such
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a recentering or resignified subjectivity will always be conflicted. It is never
stable and complete, but another misrecognized imaginary structure of the
ego. Rap’s hyperbolization and sensationalism of urban life is metaphorically
developed by drawing on a repertoire of African American oral traditions and
musical practices, which are characterized by contests and one-upmanship
that enable artistic forms to emerge, and which sublimate the marginalized
community’s collective pain, joy, anger, and humor. Such signifying practices
as “boasting,” “signifying,” and “playing the dozens” display a sense of
verbal wit, word innovation and invention, and sarcastic put-down in order
to strengthen the psyche against the harsh realities of the dominant racist
culture—a form of psychic protection to harden (numb) their skin-ego. In
this way the community’s collective jouissance can be vetted—its suffering
alleviated through forms of exaggeration, humour, enormity, and outright
falsity. During colonial times the disparaging term “nigger,” for instance, was
re-signified as an endearing term. Only a “nigger” could call another black
person a “nigger,” its inflections resounding across a broad range of semantic
landscapes indicating compliance or resistance to the racist order. “Toasting,”
a practice by incarcerated inmates who jeer at one another, offers the same
psychic “hardness” homologous to physically working out with weights, in
the sense that the skin-ego becomes hardened and protected, like the tattoos
and the practice of skin cutting that is typically practices by hard core criminals
and lifers.
Through such historically cultural signifying practices the fantasm of the
“nigga” emerged in rap music as a new master signifier, displacing the former
signifier “nigger,” which became identified with Black Americans who sup-
ported White interests, like the “Negro” during colonial times. The gun
emerged as the objet a of this centering, the fantasmic object with its power
to decide between life and death, making subjectivity complete. (“Mama
didn’t love me, All I got is my nine,” in “Turn Off the Radio,” Ice Cube’s
AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted.) It became the temporary embodiment of the
very “soul” of the “nigga,” the kernel of his Real Being. As the rapper Nas
put it: “My Body is cold steel for real”—“driven” as if it were a gun. Yet,
through the displacement of the gun in the form of a microphone, and
bullets transformed into the ludic “realism” and “crudeness” of words in
rapping couplets, a poetic distance began to emerge from the violence in the
hood and the drive-by shootings in the streets. The boasting raps—where an
Ak-47 or Tech-9 was transformed into a microphone—drew on a long
tradition of classical black jazz where melodies and instruments were used as
metaphorical weapons. The saxophone was an “axe” used “to cut” the com-
petition in musical jousts or duels known as “cutting contests,” a form of sub-
limated violence and a way to deal with the inner painful jouissance brought
on by social oppression and racism. “Shout-outs” began to replace gang
shootings. Paradoxically, near death experiences during gang warfare often
made a transformation of the self-possible. The rapper Nas writes in his song,
“It was Written” (I Gave You Power) about the failure of a gun going off,
and he is about to be killed. In that frozen moment he feels nothing, “but
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what I feel never mattered,” “I didn’t budge.” Then there is a transforma-
tive realization as a point of his “subjective destitution” is reached, as if the
constituting fantasy of being a gangsta is breached. He continues his rap of
being “sick of blood’ ”. . . and “sick of the next man’s grudge,” what the killer
did was to “pull out”. . . “a newer me in better shape before he left.”
The street or hood as a liminal space is a place of both death as well as
redemption. For the “gangster” of the street to become a “gangsta” of rap
a certain “traversal of fantasy” has to take place. A minimal distance has to
be achieved through the sublimation of the destructive impulse into the form
of a rap between him and his repetitive jouissance that comes with the thrill
of the kill, the “kick” that comes with the drive-by shooting or the chase.
Rhythmic repetition and the “cut” seem to be analogous musical structures to
the violence of the hood and its sublimation into the rap form. Rhythmic
repetition is not simply sameness; rather the bass line or the drum kick is
copied into a sampler, along with other desired sounds. It is then looped so
that the circularity of its rhythm can be “cut”; that is, a “break beat” can be
introduced to rupture the equilibrium. But, this “break beat” is worked back
into the rap by being looped yet again, and repositioned as a repetition. This
has the effect of highlighting ruptures while at the same time introducing
(paradoxically) equilibrium. The “break beat,” which is unpredictable,
accidental, and contingent as to when the “cut” is made is analogous to the
cultural life (as zoë) led in the hood where life is similarly unpredictable. This
rhythmic repetition is unlike the repetition of a “steady” job that leads to
capitalist accumulation and growth, rather it is allowed to circulate freely. As
Snead (1981) develops it, Western or European appropriation of repetition
is the belief “that there is no repetition in culture, but only a difference
defined as progress and growth” (147). Black culture, in contrast, appropri-
ates an antithetical grasp of rhythmic repetition, one where accident and
unpredictability must be dealt with since it informs their lives. It is a “non-
progressive” culture when viewed against the backdrop of progressive
Western Enlightenment. In Western music, a song was defined by a “particular
combination of harmony, melody and lyric,” which gave it legal protection.
What was not copyrighted was timbre and rhythm, qualities that became
central to pop pleasure with the rise of recording. This was precisely why
black rappers were able to get around copyright laws with their samplers.
Their new way of mixing sounds lay outside the legal definition of music by
European standards (Frith, 1988, 121–122). It was simply noise, beyond the
Law, until that is, rap began to be “recognized” by the big Other and
publishers began to ask for user fees.
Given this way of grasping rap, there is a remarkable analogy between the
“cut” (break beat) and Freud’s Wiederholungszwang (repetition compulsion),
which Lacan identified as tuché in S XI, Four Fundamentals—a repetition
“that occurs as if by chance” (see Snead, 1981, 150). There is, therefore,
something “fated” in rap music; a recognition that life (zoë) is extremely
unpredictable and vulnerable. The “cut,” like Freud’s repetition compulsion
is both idiosyncratic and immediate; it does not relay on memory, but erupts
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as a restaging of the past in a ritual reenactment. It is an obsessive acting-out
of repressed past conflicts that brings the patient (rap performer) back to the
scene of drama (some aspect of life (zoë) in the hood). Gangsta rap can be
said to be a traumatic acting-out of black culture’s repressed desire in a hege-
monic white society. It is its own repetition compulsion, symptomatic of
black culture’s cycle of repression and desire, expressed through the organ-
izing principle of rhythmic repetition, with improvisations continually made
by picking up an ongoing beat.
Traversing the fantasy through rap that
defines the gangsta in this way is not to eliminate jouissance; the masochistic
painful pleasure does not go away, rather, it is transferred and channeled into
a form where its destructive force can be reckoned with. Ice-T’s didactic raps
that address black youth do just that. The gangster either transcends the
hood by suffering a “subjective destitution” of the death drive becoming
transformed on the “other side” or he dies, sooner or later.
Tnr Aruicui1irs or RnÞ’s S1vIr
Besides the importance of rhythmic repetition and the “cut,” rap is also the
constant slippage between metaphor and literalness, the flipping of metaphor
with reality, producing an ironical look at sociopolitical life (bios). It is a slip-
page between the Symbolic and Imaginary psychic registers—of the word
and its image—as the in-between space of the signifier and the signified
known as the “bar of signification,”
where a transformation of identity can
take place through the re-signification of meaning of a word. Unhinging sig-
nification is a common strategy. A gap of uncertainty opens up, and the abyss
of the Real is exposed. It is this antinomy between image and Symbolic
Order, what is “made up” and what is “real life” (RL), which produces
a mimed hyper-social realism that results in the ambiguities of gangsta rap’s
reception. The apotheosis of this ambiguity and uncertainty surrounding
gangsta rap is reached with the full exposure of the Real when “death (and
not life) imitates art.” This is where the veil over the horror of death is lifted
only to show the horror of the veil itself—the hood. Da Lench Mob’s single,
“Who You Gonna Shoots Wit Dat,” rapped in 1992 was cited by the prose-
cuting attorney as adumbrating the motives for J-Dee’s (Dasean Cooper)
1993 murder of his girlfriend’s male roommate at a party, as well as T-Bone’s
(Terry Gray) murder of an individual at a Los Angeles bowling alley. Both
were members of Da Lench Mob. 2Pac’s (Tupac Shakur) song, “Crooked
Ass Nigga” was claimed by Ronald Ray Howard as being the motivational
force behind his killing of a Texas police officer (in MacLaren, 1995, 11).
What emerges is a paradoxical “heroic criminality” where the fantasy of
being “more gangsta than gangsta” produces a rap style of a voice gone astray
as fiction and real life (RL) seem to cancel one another out. The uncanny
effect is reached where the rapper becomes psychotic. The rap is no longer
able to sublimate excessive jouissance.
With rap, words can be produced spontaneously on the spot, a form of
unconscious free association, adumbrating the next couplet—the words
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inflected by the syncopated rhythms and the ironic cutting of the “samples.”
The rapidity of words brings the audience to a point of rupture—the words
reach the frontiers of the Symbolic and Imaginary registers, and implode in
their targets. The insistent line of the voice—as an oral drive—loops back,
again and again, as it strives to attain its object. This constant insistent
address to the Other is exemplified by the multi-repeated empty shifting
signifier/Yo/throughout many rap songs, which reverberates unconsciously
between “You”—as a direct interpellated imperative to the audience, and
“Yes”—to confirm an agreement with it, as well as conveying caution, short-
circuiting any need for didactic references. The bricolage of mixed
“samples,” associations to nursery rhymes, television and film characters, and
black sports stars form an associative background that again reaches out to
the styles and sensibilities of black ghetto youth.
Gangsta rap illustrates perfectly the way outbreaks of violence emerge
when the very core of symbolic fiction that guarantees a community’s cohe-
sion and hegemony is threatened. Ruling class violence emerges as an “essen-
tial by-product” (Zizek, 1996b, 120 n.14) when its CNS (central nervous
system) is disturbed. The sleeping giant “awakens,” so to speak, and strikes
back. As a cultural form of resistance, rap music first emerged in New York’s
inner city in the early 1980s to give voice to black ghetto youth, waking up
the sleeping giant. Ghetto youth differentiated themselves from white and
black bourgeois values alike by celebrating their own antithetical vices and
reterritorializing the ghetto as a place of fecund creativity (Rose, 1994). The
hood (South Central, Watts, Compton in Los Angeles; Roxbury in Boston,
Overtown in Miami) became a specific site/sight/cite of resistance, which at
times, exceeded skin color by a class consciousness of inner-city working-
class males shaped by police brutality and repression, intra and interracial
violence, poverty and joblessness. With the structure of Oedipal family in
ruins, it should come as no surprise as to why the contradictory figure of the
criminal hero should become the new authority figure; nor why the new
genealogical affiliations rest on “brotha” and “sistah” regimes.
RncinI PnoriIr: Tnr PuuIic ENrrv
Public Enemy, formed in 1982 in Long Island New York, has been one of the
strongest and most persistent of voices to differentiate this “attitude” from
other Blacks whom they perceived as “sellin out,” pejoratively becoming
“Oriole cookies” (black on the outside, white inside) as middle-class black
professionals or black nationalists.
Chuck D, the lead rapper set the standard
for the political terrain for rap music, diverting anger at corporate capitalism
and the government and away from other rappers and gangsta rap’s ambigu-
ous politics. The last album Public Enemy released was in 1994, but they left
a legacy of social criticism that has had few rivals. In “What You Need is
Jesus” and “Politics of the Sneaker Pimps” (album, He Got Game) they
ridicule black basketball stars who have “made it,” and the corporations
(Adidas, Nike) that they work for. “If You Don’t Own the Master, the
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Master Own You” is their main message (“Swindler’s List”). In Fear of
a Black Planet, perhaps one of the best known albums, they ridicule
Hollywood for the roles black actors find themselves in (“Burn Hollywood
Burn”). In their feature song (the album’s title), they bring up various sce-
narios where white fears of daughters and sons marrying into black families
are played on, jeered at, and then finally rejected. “Man, calm your ass down,
don’t get mad. I don’t want your sister.” “But supposin’ she said she loved
me” repeats itself over and over as if the father’s worst fears had come true.
“Did you know white comes from Black,” which can be interpreted as
the birth of a child into a mixed marriage whose skin happens to be a “white
shade” of black. Even more controversial than Public Enemy’s attack on
middle-class blacks, however, was the rap single, “Fuck Rodney King” by
Geto Boy Wille D. King’s infamous plaintive plea, “Can we all get along” is
seen as an act of treason, as if King was at war and didn’t even know it.
The Black Man with a Gun came to be feared; “a public enemy” who
remained cool as “ice” became NYPD’s racial profile. Public Enemy’s logo of
a silhouette of young black male caught in the hairlines of a rifle site remains
one of the most powerful images of the 1980s. “I’m the epitome—a
public enemy, used, abused without clues. I refused to blow a fuse” (“Don’t
Believe the Hype” by Public Enemy in It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold
Us Back). Each rapper tells his own story as to how he came to chose his
rapper name. The signifiers point to fantasies of hyped boasting and toasting
(e.g., Brother Marquis, Dr. Dre) and being “cool” (Ice-T, Ice Cube, Fresh
Kid Ice, Easy-E, DJ Kool Herc). As alter egos, their a.k.a.’s present a black
youth that struggles with the Law by perverting it. The sense of being
“cool” embodies the kind of knowledge of the obscene side of the Law; as
if a rapper knows its seamy side thoroughly; then you’re “good” ’cause you
feel you know how to manipulate the Law, or be “above it,” like the a.k.a.’s
suggest. The accepted value system is inverted as the ghetto youth takes
himself as the object of desire, the self-narcissism of the body as a fortified
ego that seemingly is devoid of anxiety. “No sweat,” being calm under all
possible interrogation. The sweat comes off on the basketball court. In
short, it is an attempt to repress the superegoic Law as much as possible so
that the ego doesn’t “break down” and “fess up.” It also means that the
body’s borders abject the feminine as well, a hypermasculine ego defensive
structuring is desired. This has been especially troubling for black women “in
struggle” who did not wish to be associated with white feminism. At the
same time, many black women rappers remain(ed) silent about the misogynist
lyrics, caught as it were by the question of race as the deciding signifier of
identity over gender (Rose, 1994, 176–178).
The image differentiations in New York were repeated on the west coast,
in South Central, Los Angels by Ice-T in his Iceberg/Freedom of Speech album
(1989). In the feature song, “Freedom of Speech,” Ice-T tears into the cen-
sorship issue as spearheaded by Tipper Gore (“Think I give a fuck about
some silly bitch named Gore?”), trying to recode the censorship label on the
record for his own ends. (“The sticker on the record is what makes ’em sell
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gold. Can’t you see, you alcoholic idiots, The more you try to suppress us,
the larger we get.”) It is in the rap “This One’s For Me,” that Ice Cube vets
his anger on a black LA radio station that refuses to play his records: “I’m
tryin to save my community, but these bourgeois blacks keep on doggin me.
They don’t care about violence, drugs, and gangs. KJLH, you ain’t about
nuttin. You just a bunch of punk bourgeois black suckers, and this one’s for
me.” In his AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted album, especially in “Tales From the
Darkside,” Ice Cube paints an all too familiar picture of LAPD’s image of the
“nigga.” (I’m a nigga, gotta live by the trigger . . . Every cop killin’ goes
ignored, They just send another nigga to the morgue, A point scored—they
could give a fuck about us.) The brutality of the LAPD was long in effect
before the L.A. rebellion in 1992 (Kelly 1996).
Given this insistent battering on both white and black bourgeois
communities—through gangsta rap’s irony, its ridicule, humour, and jeering—
eventually the words get through. One never knows just when the giant
awakens, but the giant we have in mind is not made of flesh and bones,
rather, just the opposite: it is the “giant” of the psychoanalytic Real that is
stirred—a sublime event. Something that gets through that is “beyond”
words, that no longer keeps the symbolic fiction together, and the fantasy
image collapses. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can
never hurt me,” so goes the well-known childhood rhyme recited often in
the playground by girls, against mostly boy bullies. Unfortunately, it doesn’t
always apply. Words do hurt. The performance of “hate speech” aims at the
very heart of the enemy’s symbolic universe, its grounding fantasy that keeps
things peacefully hegemonic. LA Gangsta rapper’s such as Ice-T, Ice Cube,
Easy-E, Tone Loc eventually were able to disturb the blindness to the desti-
tution of poor working-class black youths by economic and cultural
upheavals of global capitalism to the point where both sides: black and white
bourgeois interests came together. The archconservatist William Bennett,
George Bush’s first drug czar and former secretary of education for Ronald
Reagan, teamed up with African American political activist, C. Delores
Tucker and Barbara Wyatt, the head of the Parents’ Music Resource Center
(Tipper Gore’s replacement). Together they were able to collectively shake
up Time-Warner to the point of selling off Interscope Records in 1996
(Katz, 1997). It should not be forgotten that the foundations that led up to
this incident were already set in motion some four years earlier. Both George
Bush, Sr. and Bill Clinton made gangsta rap an issue in their 1992 presidential
election. Clinton, in particular, attacked the New York radical community
and social activist, Sistah Souljah, for her lyrics in “The Final Solution:
Slavery’s Back in Effect,” which presents an image of a world where African
Americans fight a fictional police state that wants to reinstitute slavery. Sistah
Souljah was demonized as a hate propagandist particularly for her comments
before and after the LA riots. “If black people kill black people every day, why
not have a week and kill white people?” Such statements ruined her career. Her
latest LP was immediately taken off shelves (Keyes, 2000, 259). Perhaps it was
her limited following that made her a scapegoat to lure more conservative
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Whites over to the democratic slate given that there were many more male
rappers who referred to racism in America in equally demonic terms.
Tnr GnNcs1n RnÞÞrn ns SÞrc1nr
For a white fantasy the black man stands as raw power, uncontrollable and
uncontrolled drive, dangerous—not to be “fucked with.” He is an object
“out of place” in the Real of their perception—much too close to be able to
gain perceptual control over him. His rage and disparity disturb a perceived
tranquility. Gangsta rap, in this very precise way, strikes at the very disavowal
of the social antagonism that exits beneath the seemingly safe middle-class
homes and neighbourhoods where “nothing happens” but the repetitiveness
of work, the endless flow of television and the peaceful raising of children;
and where prosperity and equality are taken for granted. Like the digital
codes of meaningless combination of 0s and 1s that structure our received
images, the binary oppositions of this social antagonism structure America’s
unconscious fears, anxieties, and desires. In the early to mid-1990s the fear
of the black man as gangsta reached an all time high. It lay in the very heart
of America’s national Thing: the belief in the power of an invisible apparition
who perverted the working of the law by remaining uncastrated. The more
he was hunted, the more threatening he became, growing in stature and
profile. Films like John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood (1991), which stared
Ice Cube as Doughboy, and Albert and Allen Hughe’s Menace II Society
(1993) hit the panic button. It was the fantasm of the gangsta rapper as objet
a that griped the fears of white racists, an anxious object who was out of
place, running amok in the social Order, killing and threatening, making
America as a nation feel uneasy.
The intervention by Bennett and Tucker and the censorship question by
Tipper Gore are “proof ” enough of the “truth” of the rapper’s ethical
complaint. Their reaction to the anxiety of such a figure had been manifest
to the point of “painful” mental anguish. Tipper Gore’s fantasy of gangsta
rap’s threat was so strong that it could only be addressed through a form of
censorship that remained within the Law—as parental warning labels. She
could easily dismiss Ice-T’s characterization of her as a “false” image that did
not belong to the symbolic universe he tried to locate her in. In “Freedom
of Speech,” Ice-T positions her as someone who rejects the constitutional
First Amendment. The rapper’s use of outrageous ludic words (e.g., “tell-lie-
vision” (television), “lie-bury” (library), “head-decay-tion” (education))
that are addressed at bourgeois Blacks and Whites reach a point where his
couplets cannot be meaningfully integrated into a field of meaning of the
Other. To do so, it would be necessary to take his intent seriously and
address the social problems that exist politically. They remain noise. But
when such noise breaks through, the rapper’s machine gun lyrics are
effectively able to collapse—if only momentarily—the fantasy, along with its
universe of associated meanings, that situates the black man “in his proper
place.” The gangsta rapper’s jouissance emerges the moment when this
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break with meaning is reached—when the Other experiences pain—
especially the mental pain of humiliation. Then there is a release of pent-up
jouissance; black pain reverses itself into pleasure. The attempt at censorship
only further feeds this jouissance, for it shows clearly that no counterargu-
mentation is possible, no reasoning can be reached. The “symbolically”
injured Other is stunned into silence, but not inaction, for it most often leads
to violence and outrage by self-acclaimed moralists like Bennett. It is this
very failure in meaning that the rapper knows that the Other is “listening.”
He has got their “attention” and hit a nerve, confirming that he has become
objet a of the Other through his transgression by exemplifying the structure
of perversion.
The significance of the black gangsta as a social “spectre” should not be
underestimated when it comes to class struggle. “Reality” (RL) as a symbol-
ically structured myth is never a closed system; it is never an objective corre-
spondent structure but an incomplete open system that always represses its
inherent antagonism to make it appear complete (see Zizek, 1996b, 113,
115). This is its stabilizing fantasy, a fiction that rests on the impossibility of
acknowledging its abjected Other, its underside or underbelly. The “nigger”
could not exist without the “nigga.” Given that the primary social antagonism
is repressed in the Real, the place where ideological struggle “truly” lies, the
spectral fantasy of the gangsta rapper emerges as a figure to be eliminated,
censored, and disavowed so that the symbolic fiction of an organic society
can be preserved. This suppresses the social need to address their legitimate
complaint, as an ethics of the Real would insist. This spectral apparition of
the gangsta rapper is the destabilizing, destructive fantasy, while the organic
Symbolic Order is its stabilizing fantasy.
Theorizing this Other psychoanalytically provides some insight as to why
hypermasculinity, misogynist braggadocio, and homophobia define black
youth rappers with “attitude.” Attitude, as their structuring jouissance, is
directed to the imaginary Other of the formal structure of law and order of
hegemonic white society, and those of color who support it. Under “normal”
circumstances, this big Other cannot be “heard” directly given that symbolic
castration makes it inaudible. There is no omniscient authority that “knows”
all the answers. A certain pretense must be maintained. Paradoxically, in
order to assert “phallic” authority means relinquishing any pretense of
omnipotence, and thereby enabling the social Order to speak and act
through its representative. The judge’s authority comes only in this way. The
Law works through a judge, even when s/he may be a weak personality.
With proper sartorial attire and the context of the courtroom the Law is
enacted. In this sense the Symbolic Order seems to be a motor run by an
“absent cause.” When something unexplainable happens, such as an acci-
dental death for instance, the search for an explanation from this big Other
begins, even though a definitive answer will not be found. Our loss demands
a mournful reconciliation. Or, we treat an accident as a “sign” that comes
from the Other to rationalize and confirm an event about which we have no
explanation for—a magical sign. (The appearance of a bright star in the night
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sky (a comet perhaps) is taken as a sign that a savior, Jesus Christ, has been
born. A totally irrational explanation.) But when the rapper “hits the mark,”
so to speak, there is a suspension of symbolic castration. He feels like a “full”
subject by having made the big Other pay attention to his plight. In a sense
he becomes that spectre, which exists paradoxically both inside and outside
the Symbolic Order through willful self-abjection. A direct intervention then
shows itself in the social order. It may be directly violent state intervention,
or it may be structurally violent such as an attempt by authority figures to
assert symbolic castration through various forms of censorship or profiling.
Gangsta rap is ultimately a rebellion against the failure of the symbolic
Law to measure up to its promises, and its inability to contain racial violence.
Gang structure, as “brotha against brotha,” whether it is drive-by killings,
hood violence, or sublimated rap jousts, marks an absence of Law (Name-of-
the-Father). Who “rules” the gang depends upon who is the strongest and
most violent. This ONE becomes the Ideal Ego to be emulated. To be
initiated into a gang, the fledgling member must kill someone or go through
a hazing ritual of being beaten by other members. (This is spoofed in Spike
Lee’s early classic, School Daze, 1988.) A blood sacrifice is the price of admis-
sion. To continue in the gang means to gain respect by reasserting masculinity
through more violent acts. Sanyika Shakur, as a member of the LA Crips, was
given a “mission” to empty eight gunshots into a crowd of Bloods as an act
of initiation and a rite of passage to manhood (Shakur, 1993). The imaginary
a.k.a. names (Ice-T, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Scoop Doggy-Dogg, Eazy-E, 2Pac)
signify the rejection and perversion of an identification with an authoritative
paternal father.
Lacan made a distinction between an imaginary Ideal Ego and a symbolic
Ego Ideal as the difference between how we like to see ourselves and an
externalized point in the symbolic social order where we are being observed,
which dominates and determines the image that we appear likeable to
ourselves. The symbolic external identification is not only confirming, but
also an ideal, which is impossible to achieve since it is a point that eludes both
resemblance as well as imitation. We can only desire and strive to reach and
find the subject position where we are rewarded for our actions by the
institutional representatives in charge (e.g., to be the perfect practicing
Catholic, student, police officer, lawyer, doctor, etc.). To receive accolades
for trying to live up to the Ego Ideal by being “knighted” into a nation or a
society’s various reward systems—where merits of honor, special titles and
privileges is the quest. In gangsta rap, that symbolic ideal, the external point
of observation by the hegemonic white gaze of society is rejected, replaced,
and dispensed with their own imaginary identifications. What symbolic
identifications could possible rebind (in the sense of religare, to tie up in
a spiritual sense) these various imaginary identifications? Figures of Black
leadership such as Marlin Luther King, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X,
Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, and Jesse Jackson have emerged
with contradictory agendas with no ONE centering possibility, but a decen-
tered variety of ONE’s. Various competing discourses reach out for the
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“soul” of Black youth indicative, once more, of the loss of trust in authority
figures. Baptist Christianity clashes with the conservatism of the Nation of
Islam (NOI) and the Five Percenters, as do class distinctions between well-
off Blacks and the ghetto poor. The question of peaceful resistance or violent
protest falls into the enigmatic questions concerning justice, which are
always “beyond” the Law as complexly explored in Spike Lee’s early film
debuts, School Daze (1988) and Do the Right Thing (1989). But what exactly
is the right thing?
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GnNcs1n Snnornsocni sr: Tni Is
Yo’ Goon, Hrnns Yo’ Bnn
Tnr Snnornsocnisr or  Live Crew
Bravado black hypermasculinity—the raw libidinal insistence of the drive—is
a way that symbolic castration is continually disavowed. Belonging to a gang
establishes a counter authority that is based on loyalty and defending local
territory, being a Home Boy and Fly Girl.
On the whole, women as bitches,
bizzos, and hos are an abjected irrational element which is feared. They
are only to be “fucked.” 2 Live Crews’ notorious 1990 album, As Nasty as
They Wanna Be, is one long, repetitive misogynist rant, complete with nurs-
ery rhymes (Dirty Nursery Rhymes). Jack and Jill, Goldie Locks, Little Jack
Horner, Humpty Dumpty, Little Red Riding Hood are rewritten to becomes
raw, sexually explicit acts of oral, anal, and straight sex. If fairy tales from the
Middle Ages were rewritten by middle-class literati to introduce a new set of
moral values for children, as Zipes (1983) first argued, here the cautionary
tales of sexual exploitation of middle-class sensibilities have been twisted to
ironical proportions.
Such a countercultural tactic was defended by Gates, Jr. in 1990 (1995)
during the trail to censor the album. Gates argued that the Crew was paro-
dying and exploiting the virile black man that had been a historical white
stereotype. Contrary to offending and being violent, the album was ironic
and even laughable. The Crews performance belonged to the traditional way
black men have intervened in dominant white culture. Can Gates’s defense
be accepted? Or, is this a reconciliation of middle-class black intellectualism
with a “wanna-be” ghetto romanticization? Martin Kilson, political science
professor of Black Studies at Harvard University, now emeritus, who was in
the same department as Gates, Jr. would have thought so. Kilson (1999)
accused Gates for his verbal trickery which, at times, is caught by its own
cleverness. Gates, he says, acts as an “intellectual entrepreneur,” at times tak-
ing on what could be characterized as a “deconstruction for deconstruction’s
sake” attitude rather than attending to the ethical import of what is being
critiqued. A case for an oral culture can clearly be maintained, but can Gates’
entire defense hold up? The African American oral tale of the Signifying
Monkey (see Gates, 1989) had many versions with no one author, much like
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the Homeridae, but it is the aggressiveness of the toast tradition from which
rap draws its inspiration that remains problematic. How is communal author-
ship being retained in the tradition of oral societies when rap and record
labels are associated with specific rappers because of their biographical
Black women rappers, on the whole, were silent with regards to 2 Live
Crew’s misogyny. Rose (1994, 177) attributes this to their solidarity to the
cause of racism. But, perhaps there is more to it than this? In their rap, “If
You Believe in Having Sex” the “ladies” in the crowd are asked to repeat,
line after line, words that subjectivize them as sexually insatiable and “bad,”
whose job is to only service “niggas.” Perhaps one way to understand this
self-blatant humiliation is that it provides a psychic hardening of the female
black imaginary in the context of gangsta culture; as a way to push back the
white gaze, which already cynically positions black women as exoticized hos
ready to be had for a bit of “black pussy.” Women are pushed to the floor
during performances and water poured over them to confirm their low status
in the white order. Hard core women rappers, like Man Hole (Tairrie B with
the nü-metal band My Ruin, Century Media Records), seem to have excepted
this label. While such a reading seems “far-fetched,” it becomes more prob-
able if the Crew is read as executing such jouissance onto black women in
the context of a sadomasochistic performance where the hystericized female
as “bottom” has found a sadistic “top” who “says it like it is.” He has the
power. By exposing the rawness of phallic power, rappers like the Crew treat
women as “equal” sexual predators (as hos), thereby executing a Sadean
pact—the promise of equal sexual satisfaction of the body. It is possible to
read “2 Live Crew” as signifying “two live sexes” defined by their eroticism
(zoë) alone. “Booty rap” with its obsession for sex and perverted eroticism is
Sadean through and through. Besides Manhole, Bytches with Problems (BWP)
in New York, Hoez with Attitude (HWA) in Los Angeles also sprang up. The
former produced singles like “Fuck a Man” and “Is Pussy Still Good?” The
latter released “True Hoez” and “Hoe I am,” then a later album Azz Much
Ass as You Want. In BWP’s “Two Minute Brother” the attempt is to ridicule
the sexual performance of her partner. Two minutes is the extent of his love-
making (Perkins, 1996, 26–27). Both groups exemplify the Sadean woman.
Crew’s album vivifies the difference between demand and desire. Demand
belongs to the drive, which in this case remains insistent: there is no staging
of fantasy of desire for the object. Women are put in a perverse position by
direct address. The Crew as sadistic perverts are Sade’s agent-executors of
women’s will. Women are asked only to be the objet a for the Crew; to sat-
isfy the Crew’s sexual drive—as an object. In turn, they are the objet a for the
ho who can have her sexual desires satisfied. The Crew emerge as “pure”
drive with an unconditional demand. By “telling it like it is” in their raps,
they are merely the objective “instruments” of “truth”; as if black women are
merely exoticized “pussy” for white tastes, but they can be the sexual equals
with black men such as the Crew. Their performance is not a “social realism.”
“Telling it like it is” holds no sympathy, only “raw” reality. There is no fantasy
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being staged for the gaze of, say, the rich to gain sympathy in the manner of
World Hunger Vision, for instance, that features poor and starving African
children on television. The Crew lacks nothing; they ask for nothing. There
is no lack named because they stage their own enclave of fandom. They
appear to lack no lack, as if they were not castrated. We would theorize this
as being the ONE, an authority unto themselves, offering a redemptive
answer to ghetto youth by creating their own substitute social order governed
by their own sexual code and rituals of authenticity.
Such a perverse nihilistic position explains what might be called a “self-
loathing,” or self-hate that manifests itself when one “nigga” calls another
“nigga” for there is an identification with each as being victims of an unjust
and unforgiving social order. Being called a “dog” affectionately, or taking
on Dog as part of one’s rap name plays on many registers of meaning in this
regard. It can refer to the “dog-eat-dog” existence in the hood, or the idea
of being a “stray-dog” with an unruly independent voice. When such dogs
bark and growl, the dogcatchers are dispatched. Then there is even a Ghost
Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Jim Jarmusch’s (1999) quirky film about a
hired killer who lives by a warrior code, who always goes it alone. Perhaps an
ironic unintended meaning of dog is the classical reference to the Cynics.
The Greek name for dog, attributed to Cynics like Diogenes of Sinop who
believed in virtue yet led a “dog’s life.” Here zoë is clearly excluded from the
social bios. Then there is the hip-hop magazine Murder Dog that features the
b-boy image of the gangsta, the 2002 year end special featured 50 Cent on
its cover. For the Crew, of course, it’s a dog in heat (Me So Horny).
One of the Crew’s rappers is named Brother Marquis. Of course, Marquis
refers to a foreign nobleman ranking somewhere between a duke and a count,
which fits well with the boastful overtones as rap’s strategy; at the same time
it can be read as a reference to Marquis de Sade. Within the context of our
thesis such a reading cannot be avoided. In his often cited essay “Kant avec
Sade,” Lacan (1989/1963) points to the irony that the Sadean ruse of claim-
ing sexual equality by sharing “body parts” in an “objective” way amongst
equals through sadomasochistic practices and pacts is a categorical universal
comparable to Kant’s “categorical imperative” for a universal moral obligation,
which was also objective, rational, and freely chosen. The formal logical
structures between the two philosophical systems were identical; their differ-
ence being the perversion of the Law by substituting Kant’s “spirit” with a
willing “body.” Sade forms the underbelly of the Enlightenment. The Crew’s
unending demand for sex and its accompanying jouissance is not unlike the
Sadean scenarios where the male organ seems unlimited in its capacity to
fornicate. But, again the irony here is that such fantasies mask the very desire
for the Law itself, so that a limit can be placed on this unlimited jouissance.
The Crew, by provoking censorship and having their act shut down accomplish
just that—they force the Law to set the limit. In 1990, thanks to a Broward
County, Florida Judge, “As Nasty as They Wanna Be” became the first
record in America to be legally obscene, which was appealed in May 1992 on
the First Amendment, their right to free speech.
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“I niN’1 Nouonv’s
ui1cn”: Pos1-OrniÞnI FnIIou1
Ice Cube’s album, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, quotes the Crew with the
same references to nursery rhymes and to women (“Women they’re good for
nothing, no maybe one thing; To serve needs to my ding-a-ling”/ in “It’s
A Man’s World”). At the same time he cautions them against nigga pimps
in the rap, “Who’s the Mack?” This once more opens up the misogyny of
black youth culture. Booty-rap style is a revival of “mackin,” etymologically
derived from the French word maquereau, meaning pimp. The profile of the
mack style as strong-willed and aggressive male who disdains women, wears
heavy gold jewelry, and drives a custom Cadillac, while a stereotype, is also
another version of ghetto “authenticity,” which plays well on videos and in
the fantasy scenarios of young black men. “Pimp” is used interchangeably
with gangsta, as is “Mack Daddy,” “Daddy Mack” and “hustler.” Popularized
by Michael Campu’s blaxploitation film, The Mack (1973), it featured Goldie
(Max Julien) as a hustling ex-con who ends up being the kingpin. The pimp
is represented as an ambivalent figure; neither all bad nor all good, but some-
one who “gets along,” just doing what he has to do to make a living. Kelly
(1996, 142) speculates that young black men identify with the pimp because
he is the representative of the ultimate dominator, “turning matriarchy on its
head.” Masculinity is strongly defined against anything feminine, classically
patriarchal. Not even the Sadean option is available to these women. Rather,
it exposes Sade’s myth. “Findum, Fuckum, and Flee” was Dr. Dre’s pimping
attitude (album, Efil4Zaggin, NWA). After all, in MTV’s television series,
Pimp My Ride, it is the black man who remodels old wrecked cars so that
white boys have a sex-machine to score their lady.
The statement by Ice Cube, “I ain’t nobody’s bitch” (The Nigga Ya Love
to Hate) is perhaps the definitive and most telling of the fear of the feminine
that haunts the black youth’s unconscious. This is not unlike those heroic
Western narratives where to fall in love with a woman would mean instant
domestication and symbolic castration, the freedom to “ride” taken away.
Ice Cube’s innovation, unique among L.A. gangsta rappers, was to incor-
porate a female rapper’s voice (Yo-Yo) in his AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted
album who then contests his own lyrical putdowns. Such a move raises some
ambivalences around the gangsta-pimp persona, but on the whole the
response to femininity all too perfectly points to the loss of authority that has
emerged in postmodernity where fathers of many young black men have left
them abandoned. The post-Oedipal fall out has meant young black men
struggling with the authority of their mothers and the absence or violence of
their fathers. While there are some raps that directly deal with domestic vio-
lence (Ice-T’s “The House” and “Fuck My Daddy” on Ain’t a Damn Thing
Changed by W.C. and the MAAD Circle), rape and incest (“Brenda has a
Baby” and “Part-Time Martha,” by 2Pac on 2Pacalypse Now) (Allen, 1996,
158, n. 75), on the whole, the gangsta-pimp genre remains fearful of
women’s power.
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The homophobic tendencies and often the total disrespect of women are
a primary indicator of boyz attempting to separate from their mothers. One
wonders to what extent the predominance of “mutherfucka” in gangsta rap
is a confirmation of the presence of a “weak” father? The father is repressed
in their lyrics. There is no direct address to him. There is an obvious dis-
avowal of the father’s desire, his name (as obvious in the change of names as
a.k.a.) and the Law. Perhaps the standard joke that the Mafioso loves his
mother should not go unnoticed against the context of the gangsta. Recall
that Tony Soprano’s mother, Livia (The Sopranos), wanted to get rid of him
because he was becoming “too soft,” visiting a psychiatrist where a possible
breach of trust could occur. In a politically defensive move, the gangsta
metaphor is applied recursively to people and institutions that control their
lives, especially politicians, state and police departments, and not to them-
selves. The “real life” (RL) gangstas are the police. For example, Ice-T’s
“Street Killer” is not a gangsta but a cop (Kelly, 1996; Rose, 1996).
Hi11iNc 1nr Tnncr1 wi1n
The sadistically perverse rap seems to be the most prevalent response to
invoke the Law. A masochistic response, like that of Nas mentioned earlier is
more rare. In Nas’s case the rapper beats on his own body to get a “grip” on
himself—practicing self-masochism as a defiant victim. The sadistic response,
as we have already seen, attempts to make the Other “speak”; to hit the ker-
nel of the Other’s Real Being, to strike the right psychic “nerve” so that he
thinks that through him some higher ideal is being executed. Cruelty is given
an excuse in the name of a higher will. In the 1987 album Straight Outta
Compton, Easy-E, a former drug pusher who was eventually shot and killed,
and Ice-T came together as N.W.A. (Niggas with Attitude) and produced
the song “Fuck tha Police,” under their Ruthless Records label. With no sup-
port from the radio, the press, or MTV, the rap became an underground hit
resulting in the FBI warning Ruthless Records and its parent company,
Priority, of possible consequences. Such indignity toward the Law can only
escalate until the point is reached where the “normally” invisible border
between “real life” (RL) and fiction becomes exposed opening up the gap of
the Real. Killing a cop so the pain of the widow and colleagues becomes a
direct proof that the Other indeed does exist while the killer remains uncas-
trated, in full enjoyment of his transgression, is the worst of all possible
crimes. Ice-T’s infamous rap, “Cop Killer,” the mere mention of such a deed
seemed to have had the same effect on the law community as an actual
killing—an implosion of fiction and reality. The provocation was just too
much to bear. The rap’s power resided in the very viscerality of the words as
pulsive embodiments of the material Real. Those committed to “law and
order” become subjectivized in such a way that they hear the lyrics as a form
of hate speech. The collapse between actual violence and virtual violence in
this case becomes an inverted form of the usual “copy cat” accusations that
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are aimed at the media. The first policeman shot in gang violence
already opened up the space for Ice-T’s spiteful rap at some point in the
future. Yet, for the gangsta rapper this vicious word attack is an act of “rad-
ical evil.” It has the paradoxical status of being a “good” for the community.
Its virtual violence provides a minimal distance from an even more radical
evil, the taking of a life (zoë). It is the rapper’s “duty” to “tell it like it is,”
and in so doing there is a sadistic enjoyment that emerges from executing
this higher duty.
The sadistic rap is only achieved when it strikes at the loss of objet a in
the Other, as in the typical melodrama where the villain’s aim is to destroy
the one object that gives him life (zoë)—the woman he loves. Or, the reverse
scenario—to make the one object appear that can destroy the Other, that
defines the very inner core of his or her Being, like the Kryptonite that can
destroy Superman. It is the one substance that is too close to “home”
because it is home for Superman, an uncanny substance. Kryptonite is like
the objet a that the sadist aims to produce in the Other. Here, the shooting
of a “cop”—its abbreviation objectifying the policeman or law officer—that
is the sadist’s target. We see why many “cops” can fall in sadistic behavior as
well, for they can begin to enjoy the pleasure in letting their victims (black
men) know of the lose of freedom that comes with incarceration; or, they
take pleasure in beatings, interrogations, and killings. Here is where social
reality locked by binary definitions can just as easily reverse roles. When it
comes to the drug wars, police corruption is not uncommon. Cops become
recidivist felons forming small gangs to commit police crimes while on duty,
a problem experienced in many major cities of the United States.
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There is a particular poignant pathos attached to the service sector where
a master–servant binary operates that reaches beyond the criminal-cop
dependency. Guards are as much prisoners as the prisoners themselves, as
brilliantly exposed in Mac Foster’s Monster’s Ball (2001). In Frank Oz’s
comedy, What About Bob? (1991), Dr. Leo Marvin, a psychiatrist, is equally
defined and caught by his patient Bob “Bobby” Wiley (Bill Murray) who
never wants to leave therapy, becoming Marvin’s shadow self. We can per-
haps understand the complexities of rap’s masculinity and its relationship
with the Law by making a slight detour through some filmic examples that
explore this very dependency. The gangsta is, after all, an ambivalent figure.
On the one hand, he is admired for his “crimes” because he challenges the
Law, which is seen as corrupt; on the other hand, he is a ruthless killer.
The pimp is placed in a similar ambiguous border. He is both a womanizer—
smooth, suave, cool—and a woman hater when crossed. The ambiguity
between Crime and Law emerges fully in the postmodern period where
Authority, as I maintain, is on the wane. Police officers see themselves as
vigilantes “above the law”; the line between Law and Criminality becomes
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rather fuzzy as it raises its own ethical questions, not unlike the question of
peace and violence we referred earlier in Spike Lee’s films.
An excellent example of these contradictory mirrorings is Michael Mann’s
film, Heat (1995) where a duel is staged between Al Pucino as Vincent
Hanna, the “good” detective cop, and Robert de Niro as Neil McCauley, the
“good” bad thief. In the narrative McCauley (de Niro) lives by the motto:
“Never have anything in your life that you can’t walk out on in thirty seconds
flat, if you spot the heat coming around the corner.” This “nonattachment”
to objects presents him as a rather odd and cold figure in relation to the Law,
for his sole purpose of existence as a thief seems to be his duty to cleverly steal
the jouissance back that the Master stole from him in the first place, so that
he would not be symbolically placed within the Law and be castrated. He
wishes to remain an outLaw. (How different is this from the gangsta rapper
who also remains unattached to the state and women, also to avoid castra-
tion?) The jewelry and luxury goods he steals are precisely in compensation
for what he believes the social order “owes” him so that one day he may
(mythically) retire and be a Master himself. (To what extent is the ostenta-
tious display of clothes and goods by gangsta and pimp rappers a repeat of
this very attitude? A number who made it now live up on the Hollywood
hills looking down at the ghettos they left behind.) De Niro’s character, in
this sense, lacks nothing. He is no “fool” when it comes to the Law. His
jouissance is found in tricking or getting “back” at it, making it suffer by
cleverly outwitting its main representative—Vince Hanna. His 30 second rule
assures that he doesn’t fall into the trap of being caught by his own jouis-
sance; namely the satisfaction derived from stealing the objects, rather than
the jouissance that involves scoring money. His is a calculating logic that
says, “just one more job and I can retire.” But, of course, that ideal state of
idylness is never reached. Retirement would mean undergoing a “subjective
destitution” of his fundamental fantasy, namely giving up the satisfaction
(the jouissance) of the “theft” itself. It is the theft of the Other’s jouissance
that enables him to “get off.”
De Niro’s character is an exemplary example of a hypernarcissistic individual.
His “duty” to enjoy also presents him as a paranoid ego who is afraid to let
anyone into his life in the fear that his own jouissance would be stolen, and
hence become symbolically castrated. In Frank Oz’s The Score (2001), for
example, de Niro, is once again cast as a master thief, Nick Wells, who outwits
a younger more aggressive thief, Jack Teller (Edward Norton), in his attempt
to “steal” the jouissance from Master Wells. Teller wants to prove that he is
the “best” by “setting up” Wells for a “fall” with the Law. In the end, outwit-
ted, it is Teller who remains the Fool; a Fool being someone who only deceives
himself into thinking that he can steal from the Master without the Master
knowing it. Teller’s plan “backfires” on itself, burning his ego. This exchange
between Wells and Teller is not unlike a shout-out between two rappers
engaged in a toast, as continuous one-upmanship to show whose Master.
The double entendre on the word “score,” as both a prize and the jouis-
sance attached in outwitting an opponent, sums up perfectly the game that
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is afoot between a Master and servant. Getting the best of the Master—be it
the Law, as in the case of Heat, or the Master Thief himself, as in The Score—
involves a theft of what is most precious and self-defining in the Master’s
unconscious. In Heat, de Niro’s character wants to position the Law, as rep-
resented by the figure Vince Hanna (Pucino), as a Fool. Hanna comes dan-
gerously close to illegal clandestine activities “to get his man.” (As did LAPD’s
Chief Darryl Gates who would draw out gang leaders by leaving suspects on
enemy turf, intentionally spreading incendiary rumors, and provoking gang
violence by writing over Crip graffiti with Blood colors, and vice versa,
Davis, 1990, 274.) With the Master Thief, it is his paranoiac fear of being
outsmarted by allowing someone into his life whom he begins to trust and
love that jeopardizes his relation to the Law as an outsider. “Trust No one”
would be the motto that he lives by. In The Score Norton’s character, Jack, is
able to seemingly win over Wells’s trust. He appears to act as an eager
apprentice, and it looks like a father–son bond could develop. In Heat, de
Niro’s character falls in love with Justine Hanna (Diane Venora) who, in
effect is a femme fatale that “castrates” him. She seals his fate. (Her last name
adumbrates his fate, although she is not related to Vince Hanna.) Once cas-
trated he must die for he has broken his “30 second rule” to rescue her, the
very sinthome that forms the core of his Real self that centered and gave
meaning to his life.
He would have done anything “but not that!” But, with
Justine he does do “that,” spelling his death.
We see once more how the masculine hypernarcissistic ego fortifies itself
by abjecting all that is feminine and nurturing. The relation to the Maternal
Thing in Lacan and Freud’s terms is one of fear and terror. As Kristeva
(1982) develops it, one can say that the feminine sublime must be thor-
oughly abjected if the boundary state of primary egoic narcissism is to be
maintained. The various forms of viscous fluids—breast milk, ear wax, semen,
vaginal secretions, menstrual blood, saliva, mucus, excrement, urine, pus,
sweat, and so forth—as secretions, which exist in an in-between state of flu-
ids and solids blur the inside/outside borders of the body. For the hetero-
sexual masculine subject they hark back to the “maternal horror,” and must
be abjected so as to differentiate a separation between self and mother. These
secretions are considered dirty and soiled because they are produced when
the body is “out of control.” The body’s unconscious “memory” (or in
Anzieu’s, 1989, terms, its skin-ego) has a “life” (as zoë) of its own inde-
pendent of our consciousness, which is subject to libidinal drives, and bio-
logical stresses that must be symbolically contained. These substances bridge
the dirty/clean binary and hence are the abjected reminders of a certain
helplessness and nurturing that is required if we are to grow up mentally and
physically healthy. Even the ejaculation of semen can be read as the fear of
the feminine, as a “petit mort” (a little death) as Bataille referred to it, for it
requires a certain surrender, a letting go, to be more open, more homolo-
gous with feminine ejaculatory spasms where the inner pelvis both expands
and contracts. The male cannot stay erect, hard, and tumescent forever.
Yet, for the Master, ejaculation—going limp just once—can spell death.
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(Loosing your “cool.” Unable to pull the trigger.) The Jouissant Father
avoids any signs of frailty.
To repress this anxiety of a body out of control, both films illustrate the
“clinical,” operative and cautious approach to the inaccessible “treasure”—
the careful planning (blueprints, models), the “dry” runs and rehearsals of
difficult bodily maneuvers, the instrumentation (newest technological gad-
getry to pull off the heist), precise timing, and step by step procedure—as if
the thief was approaching the unknown void of the Other itself that is sealed
and seems impossible to reach, spelling either his complete satisfaction in its
achievement or his complete devastation. There is no in-between. The tele-
vision series Mission Impossible and its big-screen adaptations are exemplary
in this regard. A bungled job results in the horror of Quentin Torantino’s
Reservoir Dogs (1992), where the four remaining jewel thieves, in order to
save “face” and avoid suffering a complete self-devastation of their egos,
must find the informer amongst them who “ratted” them out. De Niro’s
character in both Heat and The Score remains “cool,” no mater how much
“heat” is on. The body boundary is fortified so that no anxiety emerges. The
operative heist is “no sweat.” No nurse is about to wipe his brow. The sim-
ilarities with gangsta rappers are apparent when dueling with mics or on the
streets as gangsters.
Vince Hanna (Pucino), on the other had, in the name of duty to the Law,
hides his own narcissistic obsessive jouissance that demands that he tena-
ciously pursue the object (de Niro) that gives him the full satisfaction of
living. He has abandoned all attachments to objects except this one. His
marriage is in ruins, his relationship with his daughter leads to her attempted
suicide, he smokes and drinks too much. McCauley (de Niro) is his objet a—
in order that he feel “alive” rather than dead, he must destroy him. He
refuses to accept that this objet a lies at the very kernel of his Being and com-
pletely defines him. The only way he is able to separate from it, is to destroy
it. In effect, by destroying the objet a that the character de Niro represents,
he destroys himself; and undergoes his own “subjective destitution.” We see
this in the end of the film where, once the pursuit is over and McCauley is
dead, he is once more reunited with his daughter. The question is, of course,
whether another McCauley will emerge to take his place? Has Hanna “truly”
traversed his fantasy? Has the objet a been truly “destroyed,” or has Hanna’s
drive merely been satiated for the moment? Is the turn to his family simply
an interlude in the action? These questions remain open because Hanna’s
sinthome is defined by an obsession not to be made a Fool. Like McCauley,
there can only be one Master in the house, and there will always be another
challenger on the horizon displacing his family. Hanna as the Oedipal father
who is recuperated for a moment at the end of the film, comparatively speak-
ing, is presented as a rather boring and dull figure. . . . somewhat Dead.
In an analogous way, the conservatist and patriarchal organization Nation
of Islam (NOI) established in 1978 under Louis Farrakhan promises black
youth a millennial vision and creation mythology of World Order so that they
can commit themselves to strict rules and discipline to get out of the hood, to
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break their cycle of violence, and not repeat their symptoms of abuse. While
the new NOI promises African American youth a centering myth that is said
to bring them economic self-sufficiency and psychic health, the Five Percenters,
while still drawing on the same fantasies of redemption do not subject them-
selves to the same strict rules, nor do they recognize a leader. Most rappers
are inclined to join the lesser hierarchical Five Percenters (Allen, 1996). Both
organizations represent attempts at recentering and restoring authority to a
ghettoized youth they see as having turned to the devil (“dead niggaz,” that
is non-Muslim blacks) by offering a theocratic alternative consistent with
neoliberal ideals (I-Self-Lord-Am-Master), conservative family values and a
strict moral code (see Gardell, 1998).
Wonn BuIIr1s iN1o GoInrN Eccs: WnrN
RnÞ TunNs ErÞ1v
I return to rap with the recognition that the relation to the objet a defines
a particular ethics in its relationship to jouissance, to the satisfaction of the
drives. 2 Live Crew’s sadism and booty rap fails as an ethical relationship to
the Real by falsely promising a sexual equality based on mutual exploitation
where the Sadean woman is sure to lose. The porno industry is one such loss.
The ethical complaint by rappers such as Ice-T also raises difficult questions
concerning Good and Evil, but they are not so easily resolved. Aren’t sadis-
tic rap jibes equally damaging? And, at what point does rap as a general phe-
nomenon fall into a stylization where such an ethical complaint becomes
empty, its hip-hop roots of nonviolence long abandoned? This was the ques-
tion raised at the beginning of the previous chapter. What relation must be
maintained to keep the rap “alive” as a social force? It is here that a differ-
entiation presents itself between “authentic” rap (“Program directors and
DJ’s ignored me, Cause I simply said fuck Top Forty,” Ice Cube in “Turn
Off the Radio,” AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted) whose gaze is still meant for
ghetto youth, and its emptiness as a form. Ice-T is able to still “sting” his
enemy, while a more decadent rap’s primary interest is to “steal” a little bit
of the Real back from the Master who took it away by acquiring all the
accoutrements of stylized living that have been denied. Have the two positions
collapsed into one another?
A “real Nigga” has to be a product of the ghetto. This still seems to be
the defining feature of “authenticity” for over a decade. The “ghetto fantasy”
remains the primary way to sell records. Highly autobiographical, the rap has
to be “authentic.” The Queens’ rapper, 50 Cent (a.k.a. Curtis Jackson)
made a name for himself in 2000 for his song “How to Rob,” a crime rhyme
that mocked celebrity rappers like Jay-Z, Big Pun, Master P and Timbalan.
The song envisions him sticking them up in the street and taking their
jewelry—another Master-Fool confrontation. Since then he has been
stabbed, beaten with a metal crutch, and shot nine times, including once in
his face near his grandmother’s house. Thus, 50 Cent drives a bullet and
bomb proof SUV, which he politely provided a tour for MTV. He has been
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arrested countless times for carrying loaded guns in his car. His Get Rich or
Die Tryin (2003), from Interscope Records CD, backed by Eminem’s Shady
Records and Dr. Dre Aftermath Records, sold 872,000 copies in the first
week, the highest sales ever for a debut artist.
The killing of DJ Jam Master Jay, the founder of the Scratch Academy, in
his studio in Queens, New York on October 30, 2002 raises the ideological
clash between those in the hip-hop nation who (like Jam Master Jay and
Run-DMC) advocated nonviolent values and a turn to traditional scratching
and mixing, and gangsta rappers, like 50 Cent, who continue to perpetuate
the “ghetto fantasy.” The irony is that both positions continue to be exploited.
Adidas went on to market a limited edition of 5,000 Jay Master Jay UltraStar
sneakers, issued on what would have been his thirty-eighth birthday. At
100 dollars they sold out within days. Designed by his three sons, all pro-
ceeds were to go to Scratch Academy. Run-DMC had already recorded his
fidelity to the company with the rap, “My Adidas” in 1988 when UltraStars
first came out in an exclusive deal with the rap star. That same year Run-DMC
was already a movie star in Rick Rubin’s Tougher Than Leather, furthering
his profile. Now 50 Cent’s fame as an authentic “positively street” gangsta is
constantly promoted by the media machine, appearing on major covers of
hip-hop magazines like The Source, Murder Dog, and XXL (with Eminem
and Dr. Dre). The “blood hounds” of gangsta rap are as popular as ever. Yet
fans are constantly being reminded in the hip-hop magazines: “it ain’t the
money,” “money still ain’t a thang.”
Many rap/hip-hop videos are infested with the fetishized commodities
of stylized Lincoln and Cadillacs decked with leopard skin interiors, stretch-
limousines, fancy clothes, gold jewelry, fashionably available women, and
lavish homes as signs of Mack status. The telling feature of such an empty rap
is its overexaggeration as a performance of mimetic hyperbolization, for it is
performed for a gaze that no longer perceives it as a threat, as much as a
titillation, a voyeuristic tamed peek by a white audience at an aestheticized
gangsta world that often overflows into a pimp’s paradise of ostentatious
luxury and available women. It has become an aestheticized “porn” of sorts,
completely stripped of its once subversive intent. I am reminded of the same
phenomena that occurs in many tourist infested countries where the
Aboriginals (First Nation peoples) stage their time honored rituals and cus-
toms to earn their pay from the tourist trade. The Mudmen masks in Papau
New Guinea, for instance, took on more and more exaggerated features to
please their audiences. Their dances became emptied of their spiritual and
medicinal tribal benefits, replaced by the theatricality of the show. Has
gangsta rap simply become all show? Debased to the likes of the World
Wresting Federation (WWF)? Flipping through hip-hop magazines one finds
clothing endorsements, all the major running sports manufactures repre-
sented, dispersed with pictures of scantly clad women (in the style of
Maxim), with mean-looking rappers posing to look tough, signifying being
“out-of-control,” on the edge of rage. Queen Latifah is better known for her
movie career (Set it Off, Chicago, Living Out Loud, The Bone Collector, and
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Bringing Down the House) than for her rap lyrics. It seems that the “noise of
rage” has become more and more entertainment, the myth kept alive for
commercialism than the once promised message: “fight the power.” It has
gone morally bankrupt, at least the commercial side of it has.
With perverted rap, paradoxically a certain impotency emerges despite all
the available sex as the apparitional figure loses its subversive complaint against
the social order and becomes simply a parody of itself, defusing dissent.
“Authenticity” turns into artificiality, and the black gangsta rapper becomes
exoticized as performing for the crowd. The ever present danger of being
accused of falling into the nineteenth-century minstrel tradition as exemplified
by the “coon song” remains a permanent and dangerous possibility that has to
be guarded against. How does one judge the fast-talking street-wise character
of comedians from Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy to Cuba Gooding, Jr.
and Chris Tucker, who draw on the oral tradition of “playing the dozens”?
Can it be said that they too are engaged in a game of survival where the black
community—as marginalized by Hollywood—is being transformed and ele-
vated through their brand of humour? Or, do they remain contradictory fig-
ures unable to escape the discourses that write their bodies historically?
When exactly does the figure of the Fool emerge, which is so often cautioned
against by so many rappers? The Fool hysterically steals back the jouissance
that the Master took away; the fetish objects, which are stolen back, act as
substitutes for the pride, integrity and having giving up on desire not to sell
out the spirit that drove them toward impossible ends in the first place.
It is in the space of where these two forms—the authentic and the artificial—
remain undecidable—controllably uncontrollable—that white envy emerges
most strongly. The sprinter, Greg Johnson, world record holder for the
200 meters and Olympic champion in an advertisement for Ray Ban sun-
glasses sports the glasses in a direct address to the viewer, his naked torso
glistening with sweat amplifying and carving out every muscle of his well
trained body. “Take a good look at this!” The advertisement’s slogan cap-
tures the ambiguous uncontrolled power in the sports arena that flashes back
to the boxing ring of bearably self-contained rage as exemplified by the Mike
Tyson’s of boxing history. The black body is seen as a site/cite/sight of
jouissance in the way it “gets off” through its “risky” behavior, style, and
flash. The vibrancy and libidinal drive of life (zoë) in the hip-hop dances
(Tick, Float, Wave, Handglide, Headspin, King Tut, Windmill, and Flow)
are viscerally felt and copied. While the transgressiveness of “authentic”
gangsta rap enables a voyeuristic kind of white “slumming” to take place by
vicariously participating in the transgression against authority. More white
than black youth buy gangsta rap CDs. Then there is MTV’s television series,
Pimp My Ride, hosted by the Pimp Master of Ceremonies, rap singer Xzibit.
White teens, who have run down cars have them transformed into pimp-
mobiles through the wizardry of Black makeover mechanics. This is the envy
of “enjoyment,” of the Other’s jouissance. For white youth the Pimp is the
Other who is able to more fully participate in the “satisfactions” of sexual life
(as bios) than he; it is the Other who “enjoys.”
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Such postmodern racism complicates the situation. In the American
context the black subject as the white’s Other signifying chaos and instabil-
ity is caught by the discourses of both subversion and subjugation. The
binary that emerges is difficult to deconstruct because the hegemony of
White’s refusal to proclaim themselves as a visible color; they remain trans-
parent, while Blacks cannot de-invest themselves as a visible color because of
the vested history of race relations of colonial slavery. Although, conserva-
tive black politics attempts to do just this, claiming that there should be an
equal playing field despite visible color differences; more often than not,
such a ruse fails.
The resultant symbolic deadlock continually replays itself
in outbursts of violence. The black man as a “signifying monkey” (Gates,
1989) is the embodiment of pure drive whose mask is the “grimace of the
Real” (Zizek, 1991, 172, ft. 2); as the “excessive disfiguration of reality” that
is not symbolically hidden but exposed directly on the surface. It does not
take us too far afield to see the homology between the fixed grimace of the
death mask and the black gangsta rapper as a Joker whose horror is to be
found in the dizzy mocking laugher and ironic play of his rap. The status of
his mask is not imaginary nor symbolic in the sense of the role he is supposed
to play. It is Real, if we consider the rapper’s “grimace” as a perpetual “sig-
nifying monkey” of the African American tradition—paradoxically laughing
and crying at once. His death drive is situated Janus faced beyond theses
borders, in the recesses of the “extreme,” sounding his ethical complaint
whether through the bite of his rap, or through his hysterical comical laugh-
ter. It is his libidinal drive (zoë) that refuses to be socialized, to the degree
that is has been compromised (as bios) through the entertainment sell-out,
the force of rap and its ethical thrust has been lost.
W(nnÞ)ÞiNc UÞ RnÞ wi1n EriNrr
It seems the success of white rapper Eminem (a.k.a. Marshall Bruce Mathers III)
at MTV Video Awards (Best Male Video and Video of the Year/“The Real
Slim Shady,” 2000; these two awards repeated yet again in 2002/ “Without
Me”), and his controversies with the Law (a two-year probation sentence for
carrying a concealed weapon and assault with a deadly weapon on a man he
saw kissing his wife outside a Detroit nightclub) have made him a marketable
superstar with gangsta-like credentials. His two-year probation was consid-
ered by most observers of youth courts to be a light sentence, yet another
example of a two-tiered justice system where well-off youth (especially
Caucasian) are given a “break” by the Law compared with their African
American counterparts. There is no lack of “authenticity” here. Or is there?
The gun was not loaded, and so his street credibility has become suspect—
all talk and no action. Maybe the incident was not unlike ’N Sync’s shame-
less throwing of WWJD. bracelets into the crowd to reassure the Moral
Right that they believe (even when they don’t)
—an empty gesture needed
for his gangsta rap image that requires a bad boy attitude if his rap was to
sell. And sell it did, as his profile grew. Divorce, an attempted suicide by his
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wife Kim, his relationship to his preschool daughter Hailie Jade Scott, his
mother suing him because she felt offend by his single hit song “My Name
Is,” a line of which says that she smoked more dope than he did, have
provided Eminem with even more “authenticity” to work with.
“Authenticity,” as painful–pleasurable jouissance, comes through in his
lyrics with abundance. Critics can’t figure out whether to call him a satirical
genius or a sexist homophobe. Gay and lesbian activists have no difficulty,
however. But it is precisely his masochism, a mixture of trash-talk, violence, and
his own self-effacement, which personally (w)raps him up as much as his fans,
that make his lyrics so appealing. This aspect of his brazen attempt to “tell it
like it is” and be willing to suffer the consequences for his insubordination—
which never seems to come—makes him appear heroic. No matter what
“bad” things he does, it is turned around and rewarded as an exposition of
“truth” and authenticity. How?
Suffice to recall the very funny scene from Jim Carrey’s superb perform-
ance in Tom Shadyac’s Liar, Liar (1997) where Flecher Reede, the lawyer/
liar is unable to tell a lie, because his son, Max, had wished so on his birthday.
The narrative is thus an acting out of such an “impossible” desire. His rival
in the law firm, Miranda, overhears Flecher saying to his secretary, Greta,
that he cannot lie. Upon hearing this, Miranda believes she has a way to have
him fired so that she can climb the ranks in the law firm. She brings Flecher
into the board meeting expecting him to be fired for telling the “truth”
about his boss, Mr. Allan & associates. Flecher begins by exposing the boss
and then each of his associates for the assholes they really are. At first
Mr. Allan is stunned. Is Flecher serious? Is he joking?—or what? Being hit
too close to the truth (his objet a) the corporate boss breaks into hysterical
laughter and interprets this as a “roasting,” which, of course, has the rest of
the board laughing as well. Flecher is perceived as an insightful, brilliant
lawyer, who will be promoted. Miranda is devastated.
This is precisely the psychic mechanism that is at work in Eminem’s lyrics.
They are like “Fishisms” on the hit television series, Ally McBeal where the
Law is spoofed and perversely laughed at. Richard Fish (Greg Germann) is
able to say absolutely blatant politically incorrect “truths” about the corrup-
tion of the Law because it is “safe” to do so. No one truly knows if he is just
kidding or telling the truth. Fish is another variation of Fletcher, as is
Eminem. Eminem attacks are on an entire set of structures that “makes” him
who he is, raising a similar kind of bafflement. Is he only kidding us or is he
really so mean-spirited? On his controversial slams on gays, Eminem claims
that he is not homophobic. A “gay” to him signifies being a coward, a sissy,
and an asshole. So he writes, “Hate fags? The answer’s yes. Homophobic?
Nah you’re just heterophobic.” Here are several other examples: “You think
I give a damn about a Grammy. Half of you critics can’t even stomach me,
let alone stand me” (The Real Slim Shady). On the music industry in the way
they manufacture stars, Eminem attacks the record industry, criticizing them
on their marketing practices: “Now follow me and do exactly what you see.
Don’t you want to grow up just like me! I slap women and eat ‘shrooms
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then OD. Now don’t you wanna grow up to be just like me!” (Role Model).
Concerning gay protests: “Have you been hated or discriminated against?
I have been protested and demonstrated against. Picket signs for my wicked
crimes” (Cleaning out My Closet). On his wife’s suicide attempt, which now
becomes a violent death of a woman with the same name that he stuffs in a
trunk: “You can’t run from me Kim. It’s just us, nobody else! You’re only
making this harder on yourself. Ha! Ha Gotcha!” (Kim). On his fans and
their imitations of him: “I’m bout as normal as Norman Bates, with defor-
mative traits” (Role Model). Finally the power of the media: “And all of this
controversy circles me. And it seems like the media immediately points at me.
So I point one back at ’em. But not the index or the pinky or the ring or the
thumb” (The Way I Am).
The MTV awards he has received for dissin’ out this p(l)ain-full “truth”
speaks to the way the music industry is caught in its “search” for virgin
authenticity—their objet a. When this object screams its demand, it has to be
rewarded. In a perverse way, Eminem is MTV’s unwanted baby. But now
that they have him, they have to deal with the very object they unconsciously
wanted to produce—an enfant terrible. His mother, Debbie Mathers-Briggs,
in defense of her son’s bad mouthing her admitted in an interview with
Trevor McDonald on the Tonight program
that as a single mother she had
given him all that she could. He was a “spoiled brat” who was prone to tem-
per tantrums to get what he wanted. Obviously they worked then, and they
continue to work now. Whether his mother was covering up her own inade-
quacy or not, is not the issue here. It is Eminem’s “raw” masochistic self, like
a Francis Bacon portrait, which is always open to self-mutilation—cut up and
sliced verbally, which has been acknowledged. Here Deleuzean parallels
readily appear. Like “Bacon’s scream, an operation through which the entire
body escapes through the mouth” (Deleuze, 2003, 16), Eminem’s rap is just
as raw, hitting a zone of “meat” that is beaten upon.
Perhaps Eminem stirs up the racist history of a “white” contender trying
to beat the “black” man as his own game in the ring/stage? Dr. Dre’s por-
trait appears as a missing person on a milk carton in one of his videos.
“Dr Dre is dead, locked in my basement,” raps Eminem. But, that’s a scam
as well since both Dr. Dre and Eminem collaborated together to produce
50 Cent’s debut CD. Perhaps he is someone who will erase the disaster of
the last white rapper, Vanilla Ice, whose album Hard to Swallow was just that,
hard to swallow. Vanilla Ice couldn’t validate himself as being “authentic,”
lying about it only brought out the wrath of the hip-hop community. Some
critics feel that Marky Mark was the only other white rapper who had suc-
cessfully managed to stay in the game because of his direct homage to Black
culture (White, 1996, 194). Others felt that Marky Mark, like the Beastie
Boys and Vanilla Ice were just the tip of a “blackface parody.” Only the now
defunct white Brooklyn rappers 3rd Bass made the grade (Perkins, 1996, 37).
“The secret is attitude and the attitude must be shared before any manner-
ism can be copied” (White, 1996, 194). This was precisely Eminem’s ploy.
He signed with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath label. No one can deny that he hasn’t
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“made it” into Black Rap culture. And, no one can dispute that his lyrics
aren’t clever. The bitter taste of the M&M candies he gives are left lingering
in the mouth by their sting. He is talented, with a sharp wit that “cut’s like
a knife” as the cliché goes. His lyrics in “White America” are disturbing. The
video has many allusions to neo-nazi symbolism as Slim Shady, his a.k.a.,
makes a rap “speech or address” to suburban kids. The rap touches on free
speech, censorship, the fact that his looks bring him fans, and then on to
Dr. Dre’s support and acknowledgement (e.g., Shady knew Shady’s dimples
would help, make ladies swoon baby, ooh baby! Look at my sales/Lets do
the math, If I was black I would’ve sold half ). Above all he sets himself up
to pose a threat to parents and the authority of the government. (And piss
on the lawns of the White House and replace it with a Parental Advisory
sticker/To spit liquor in the faces of in this democracy of hypocrisy/Fuck
you Ms. Cheney! Fuck you Tipper Gore!). For this he has received music
Tnr ScnizoÞnnrNic SrIr: Tnr “RrnI”
SIir Snnnv
The Eminem Show album is unquestionably another brilliant example of
self-reflexive masochistic angst, facing squarely the objects of his anxiety. The
song, “Cleaning Out My Closet” touches on all the controversy that “dogs”
him: his divorce with Kim, his love for his daughter Hailie, his bitterness
toward a father who abandoned him, his smarts not to have put bullets in
the gun that he carried, and a vehemently stated hate for his mother that is
conflicted with an apology in the refrain—all in one single aptly named song!
“Authenticity” here walks a fine line between his own autobiography (as the
alter ego, the “Real” Slim Shady) and the generalized malaise of white urban
youth, which necessarily must remain an open unspecified and unarticulated
affective feeling. Eminem draws and personifies so-called white trash. He is
a clear example of what we refer to as hypernarcissist—a schizophrenic split-
mirrored self; a doubled ego composed of himself and his alter ego Slim Shady,
incessantly talking to each other.
The reflexivity of rap is especially evident with his work with D12 where
he appears as one of the six rappers—Proof, Bizarre, Kon Artis, Swift, and
Kuniva. D12 are Eminem’s boyz from the Detroit hood—his posse. The num-
ber 12 comes from the a.k.a.’s that each has. Eminem remains Slim Shady.
Their debut album, Devil’s Night, has a (humorous?) warning on its cover
about profanity, contempt, and vulgarity. The lyrics are there, it says on its
cover, “just to fuck with, you.” It succeeds in its juvenile sadism. Anal sex,
rape, slams on rich white kids, and such lines as “all the independent women
in the house!/Show us your tits and shut your motherfuckin mouth!” (Aint
Nuttin’ But Music). In this last song a whole range of pop idols and televi-
sion stars are viciously put down. Slim Shady visually rapes Christina Aguilera
and Britney Spears; Bizarre then “disses” N’Sync, Backsreet Boys, the cast of
the television show, Different Strokes (Gary, Todd, Dana), Michael Jackson.
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Mr. Furly, Laverne and Shirley in what can be read as a drug-orgy feast; Kon
Artis pipes in with the couplet already mentioned, and Proof names Robert
Downey, Robby Brownie, Whitney Huston, Jesse Jackson, George Michael,
Tevin Campbell, PeeWee Herman for all their hidden indiscretions—drug
use and sex scandals. All this is done in the name of “authenticity.” (We all
fart and piss and cuss out our bitch.)
To what extent does Eminem deal with the “ethics of the Real”? To what
extent does he speak the “truth” of today’s white (trash) youth? Perhaps,
Eminem is where Kurt Cobain left off, the voice of white urban youth of the
twenty-first century? Cobain is mentioned in “Devil’s Night,” the title song
of the CD, but disparagingly. For Eminem, Cobain’s music converted the
kids into “ ’caine users” (cocaine users?). To what extent will his sharp dev-
ilish tongue be w(rap)ped up by Hollywood remains to be seen. It is a ques-
tion that centers around Eminem’s rage—his sinthome—which is now being
dispersed and transformed onto the big screen as a charismatic young man
(age 28) who is softer, more gentle, and concerning. The video track “Lose
Yourself” (Album; 8 Mile O.S.T.) captures this ra(n)ge perfectly. The release
of Universal picture’s 8 Mile (2002), directed by Curtis Hanson, is once
more strongly autobiographical, the kernel is his life story growing up in
8 Mile Road, Detroit. Eminem stars as Jimmy Smith Jr. (a.k.a. Bunny Rabbit
to his friends), a white kid from the poor black side of 8 Mile who immerses
himself in rap culture so as to escape from his alcoholic mother and a factory
job that is going nowhere. His “real life” (RL) is as dysfunctional as is his
screen life. His mother was 15 when he was born, his father left when he was
6 months old, and as a child he traveled back and forth from Detroit to
Kansas. The film draws on many clichés. Rabbit’s posse is composed of the
“fat” boy, the misfit, the intellectual brain, and the DJ who believes in his
talent. His one love interest, Alex (Britanny Murphy) is portrayed as street
smart girl who knows exactly what she wants and how to pull the “dick”
around in the manner of Hoez with Attitude.
Eminem has now arrived at a point where the actor and rapper have
collapsed on the big screen—effectively Rabbit is Eminem, yet another alter
ego that he can play with. It provides him with enough distance from the
inner rage within himself. To the extent that he keeps looking in the mirror
and facing what he doesn’t like to see, to poor white urban youth he will
remain a charismatic force, speaking directly to their and his own jouissance.
This is his “gift.” When and if, however, this same biting wit and rage finds
an outlet in an alter ego not of his choosing—in other words, when he is
asked to truly “act,” the step has been taken toward his own demise, for no
longer will he be able to trash-talk to those who try and control him, but
the safety of his alter ego will disappear as well, loosing his anchor of self-
mutilated performances. I am reminded here of the tragedy of Kurt Cobain,
who ended his life because he felt he was “selling out” at a time when this
fans though he was on “top” of his career (see chapter 7).
In summary, gangsta rap is a symptom of urban black ghetto youth; a
manifestation of post-Oedipalization where the loss of authority, especially in
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the state and the police, was so visibly evident in the ensuing violence in
the hood, on the streets, culminating with the Los Angeles rebellion in
1992. The question remains how long can the “authenticity” card be played
within the context of a commercialized hip-hop market? The Mack style has
a way of mitigating the ethical complaint, which, however conflicted, is
surely there in the desire for justice and fairness. I have suggested that rap’s
initial noise has been muted in its contemporary marketed form. Rap and
hip-hop have gone mainstream to the point of spectacularization. Their
noise has turned to music, which is not necessarily a mournful loss since it
has opened a space in the Symbolic Order for black culture, but at a high
cost. The spectral haunt of the gangsta rapper is now staged through the
media, the magazines and concert spectaculars. Many rappers have become
movie celebrities and walking billboards for sports shoe corporations and
clothing companies. This does not mean that there aren’t many forms of
conscious raising rap around, there are. But these rap sessions tend to stay
underground to preserve their own particular “authenticity.” Gangsta rap’s
death drive, its insistent ethical drive has not been lost. It has made its inter-
ventionist mark, leaving behind a legacy. But, it seems that the lure of money
to steal back “a bit of jouissance” has left many fat rather than the lean and
hungry dogs they once were. Many would say that Chuck D’s, the intellec-
tual voice of Public Enemy, radical message of “surviving” has been lost. “If
I could make two requests of every black person that reads this, they would
be, one, pick up as much education and information as you possibly can
about surviving the system. Surviving, as opposed to ‘prospering’ or ‘over-
coming’ or ‘taking part.’ Yes, because surviving is basically what you’re going
to do. If you ‘prosper’ that means you ain’t sharing your shit around”
(quoted in Perkins, 1996, 22). In some cases survival has become anal not
oral, retentive rather than open and sharing.
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PIurrr1i Nc 1nr Go1ni c DrÞ1ns
or 1nr SouI: Nu Mr1nI nNn
i 1s BrvoNn
Dis1unuiNc 1nr SxiN-Eco or Nu Mr1nI:
Ousrssivr Dnivrs
Perhaps no site/sight/cite is more telling of the post-Oedipal fall-out than
the “therapeutic” way young men as Boyz
have approached the libidinal
excesses of their drives through the various forms of Metal music (Black,
Death, Heavy, Speed, Thrash, Grind). Its nihilism and anarchism, as well as
its biting satire and astute social criticism in its various Gothic forms can be
characterized by a pop-psychologism: “bad on the outside, but good on the
inside,” and “good on the outside, but bad on the inside.” David Draiman of
Disturbed, for example, can be characterized as representing the first type.
Bright, articulate, a college degree in the Arts (philosophy, political science),
engaged in aspects of esoteric religions (neo-pagan, hedonism, Judaism), the
band addresses pain, suffering, and death through lyrics that are filled with
angst, rage, and redemption. His philosophy of “sickness” (album, The
Sickness) is based on aspects of hedonism, individualism, and self-development
that are said to be empowering. “The Sickness” refers to the addictions of the
flesh. His songs like “Fear,” speaks to complacency and ignorance; “Down
with Sickness” deals with empowerment by facing one’s own anxieties;
“Stupefy” addresses prejudice, while “Violence Fetish” is a rage against the
state. “Remember” is an indictment on the music industry, while “Awaken”
states his disgust of “wallpaper music.” “Dehumanize,” “Bound,” and
“Intoxication” are about his failed romantic relationships. Such a mixture of
existential angst and social commentary provide the lay of the land for (mostly
white) postadolescent youth struggles. They form a complementary response
to the gangsta rap and hip-hop of black youth cultures.
Draiman’s struggles with schooling (five separate high schools, and an
Orthodox Jewish boarding school) and the parental disapproval of his lifestyle
seem to confirm the de-Oedipal malaise he is working through his music.
The video to their song, “Stupify” is exemplary of a masochism that haunts
his music and Goth fans in general. “[The video] represents my inner child.
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My inner child has been warped in a sense by life experience, marred by life
experience. It looks to the world and sees a world that’s dark and frighten-
ing and mysterious, and full of ghosts and specters that still haunt him
[Draiman] from the past,” so admits Draiman when discussing this video.
The theme of “inner child,” of a state of being “pure again” is part of a
gothic sensibility. Such sentiment makes his music “authentic.” He has no
interest in money, but in the pursuit of his “authentic self ” without any
authority figure telling him what to do. As with rap, this is the slippery slope
Draiman wishes to avoid—the fall into performative irony of the music market
where the “edge” is gone. Dysfunctionality as “freakism” has become pack-
aged as Nü metal. Linkin Park and Papa Roach, whose lyrics seem to evoke
pop-psychology and teen angst, self-consciously parody it. Papa Roach’s
album, Infest (2000) went triple platinum thanks to their single “Last
Resort,” which is a song about the contemplation of suicide. Nü metal
seems to have reached its own hyperbolic forms of emptiness like some
gangsta rappers.
Is it is by accident that Draiman’s name is semantically linked to Daimon,
and Demon? Draiman presents the obscene side of neoliberalist politics and
philosophy—an anarchism that is not often acknowledged by the Law, an
ethical complaint that things are not right with the world. The Goth scene
“brings to dark,” so to speak, the obscene supplement of designer capitalism.
Ozzy Osbourne, a long time practitioner of “shock rock” (Ozzfest
) has said
this rather poetically in his 2002 song release “Dreamer” (album, Dreamer),
a longing for a better world that just does not seem to come. The song was
accompanied with two separate video releases; the difference between them
makes a significant statement concerning Ozzy’s dream of the future. The
first is typically Gothic and dark, addressing one of its central values: all what
modernity represses so that the world appears normal and ordered should be
The video starts with Osbourne at the piano singing, appropriately
dressed in black, but then he mystically finds himself in a forest—in his
dream world—where it is snowing and there is a thick mist on the ground.
Shot with a blue filter, the otherwise black and white scenes are considerably
warmed up despite the prevailing “blackness.” Children magically begin
appearing from out of the mist, and Ozzy begins to play with them like a
little boy (inner child). Eventually, they form an orchestra and begin playing
stringed instruments as Ozzy sings along with them. It is a lyrical, moving
video that lulls you into singing along and dreaming of a more romantic
world. Children hold its promise, but they are also “lost in the woods.” The
second video to “Dreamer” is a complete contrast. These are video outtakes
from “The Osbourne Family” reality TV show. What is so hilarious is that
these short scenes deal with the pettiest of incidents and the everyday chaotic
struggles of life: Ozzy telling his kids (Jack and Kelly) not to get too drunk,
and to protect themselves when having sex, his back and forth repartees with
his wife Sharon (Queen of Darkness), mostly of the four letter kind, and
the hilarity of his kennel of dogs who shit on his rug and bark unexpectedly.
He calls them terrorists. The dream of a better world is always tempered by
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life’s chaos, the latest of which was then Sharon’s cancer and chemotherapy
This fantasy of utopian innocence mixed with the harsh realities of life
present the conflicted kernel of Gothic sensibility. It draws its roots from
Gothic Romanticism, in a belief of the “magical child” who is creative because
s/he has not become jaded as yet by society, made famous by the educational
theory of the eighteenth century Romantic, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Life as
zoë (Nature) is very much part of this self-redemptive utopian transformation
that is sought for in Goth culture. It is a “return” to the child. As Marilyn
Manson, a long time member of Ozzfest put it, “That’s what ‘Smells Like
Children’ [CD, 1995] was about. It was a metaphor for wanting to be a kid
again, and wishing that I hadn’t been exposed to all the things I had been
exposed to, so that I once again could be pure.”
And again, “The more you
go through the more you leave behind. It may sound bizarre, but while root-
ing in the mud pool of life I feel myself getting cleaner bit by bit. I would
like to become as pure and immaculate as a child. The boy I once was, but got
stained by life. Exceeding myself to everything was mostly a way to straighten
out my youth.”
Finally, “It’s like a re-birth. It’s like being an infant, every-
thing’s bright, everything’s very painful.”
And more hilariously, “About
eight years ago, I used to take LSD and go to Disney World, because it kind
of transported you back into time, and you’re like a child again.”
This is a
world where ignorance is bliss, a prelapsarian state where the split-subject
does not exit, freed of deadly jouissance that torments and brings suffering.
If this is the masochism of being “bad on the outside, but ‘good’ on the
inside,” then what of the other part? There is a sadistic side to this masochism,
which comes out with fandom. It is the complementary “good on the outside
but bad on the inside.” Even though there is a sublimation of the rage of the
drives, there is also a sadomasochistic pact that is made with fans,
as a
certain pleasure in the abuse that they receive as “bottoms” to the band’s
“top” position. One has only to think of Ozzy’s past stage antics and the glee
of spraying the crowd with a paint-gun, acting out an urination fantasy by
“pissing” on people. The sort of “beating” I have in mind has much more
to do with the skin-ego. The members of Disturbed remember an incident
in Grand Rapids, Michigan where they encountered a fan who had all four
of their faces tattooed on his right arm and lyrics from their songs winding
through the portraits. He wanted them to sign their autographs on his left
arm so that he could have those tattooed as well (Wiederhorn, 2002). It cap-
tures the sadomasochistic pact that has been unconsciously made between
the band and the fan without them realizing how strong an im(pact) they
had made. Who then is the more “disturbed” here, the band or the fan?
This incident somewhat unnerved Draiman, not surprisingly since his own
symptom—“sickness”—had come back to him in an inverted form in the
figure of the fan. The fan indeed was “more” disturbed than Disturbed itself.
For one moment, Draiman was facing the Real of his ethical complaint.
What should be his responsibility to those fans who don’t “figure” in his
anarchistic politics of self-empowerment? It would mean recognizing
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the symbolic Law. Such a fan has become too close to Disturbed’s own
fundamental fantasy. This sadomasochistic unconscious pact will be of the
utmost importance as I develop these chapters further because of its significance
regarding high school violence that leads to such tragedies as Columbine.
FonciNc nN “UcIv” Ars1nr1ic: Tnr Gnirncr
or 1nr Joxrn
The tattooing incident with Draiman is a microcosm of a general trend in
youth culture. To “protect” itself from the “outside” (the Symbolic Order)
a Metal body has taken on the arts of piercing and tattooing to re-signify the
body’s image, and to form a Nü sense of tribal identification and attachment
(jagodzinski, 2002a, 2003a). Such a virtual body begins its semiological slide
into another imaginary self when the “bar” of signification, which holds the
signifier to the signified, begins to be incised and etched by the tattoo artist’s
stylus, or pierced with a hook or a spike. The painful–pleasurable jouissance
felt by such body alterations is not unlike that of a beauty operation that
reorganizes an ideal ego as well. The performance professor, historian and
artist Orlan, whose anti-beauty operations require months of recovery, is
paradigmatic of a hysteric who is transforming herself into another woman
complete with a new name, who is deliberately “ugly.” This re-signifying
of the skin-ego addresses the way the body mediates inner and outer
life through the porous, membryonic, and “warped” surface of the body
(Anzieu, 1989). By using the flesh as a medium, piercing, cosmetic surgery,
and tattooing psychically re-map and re-member the body differently with
sexually different bodies require different inscriptive tools to etch their
different surfaces. Such extreme skin games are an attempt to “answer” the
hysterical question of identity in a postmodern world: “Am I a man or a
woman?” The tattoo and the pierce has become the “cut” of belonging to a
gang, a Cause, a musical group, a Nation, and so on. These tattoos of
belonging to a small Other (or ONE), not only anchors the group but carries
a magical protection as well.
In each different case the isomorphism of the inside and the outside of
the virtual body image—cathected with libidinal intensity so as to hold the
body’s Imaginary and Symbolic psyche together—is opened up, torn asunder,
and anamorphically skewed to form another screen-image of a new alter ego.
While cosmetic surgery attempts to live up to designer capitalism’s projection
of the idealized Ego Ideal, especially for women who strive to reach its
“impossible” dimensions, the junkie piercer and tattooist are engaged in
trying to ruin this Ego Ideal by becoming an “ugly” body within it; not to
draw its gaze, but to avert it. As Marilyn Manson put it, “My desire is to be
pure again and not dirtied by the world. But it’s my duty to be as ugly and
filthy as I am, so that the audience can experience what I have. . . . Maybe
our fans are starting to fall into the ideal of Marilyn Manson and finding
beauty in things that the rest of America or society decides is ugly.”
grotesque “flaw” is what is beautiful, a sign of creating one’s own standard.
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It is a transgressive stance that so many Metal-Punk bands exhibit, what
might be called “the grimace of the Joker,”
where their alter egos perma-
nently look awry, locked in a painful smile. When CMJ Magazine (Issue 64)
asked Marilyn Manson whether it was possible to distinguish between him
and his persona he replied by saying that his personality had many levels,
each with a specific purpose. “But for me there’s not one that’s Marilyn
Manson and one that’s not. It’s all the same.” Effectively then, Brian Parker
(a.k.a.) is unable to “take-off ” his mask, caught by it like Stanley Ipkiss
(Jim Carrey) in Chuck Russell’s The Mask (1994).
Uncannily, the metal of piercing materializes punk-metal’s musical effects
in the way they register on the body’s erogenous zones to assert their defiant
stance against the Symbolic Order—the pierces of the tongue, eyebrow,
nose, ears, nipples of the breast and chest and genitals increase the body’s
“surface” enjoyment, extending perverse pleasure. Draiman sports his own
pierces and tattoos as well. But, how successful is this ruination of the Ego
Ideal remains an open question since the “freak” is becoming a marketable
commodity as well. The Nü James Bond figure is Xander Gage, the triple X
threat in Rob Cohen’s film xXx (2002). In comparison, Vin Diesel makes
Pierce Brosnan look and act like a choirboy. Gage, like Draiman, is pierced
and tattooed; he is the skater Boi all grown up, one of the fully fledged Boyz.
Xander Cage, however, is not wild and free. He is already held hostage as a
secret agent by government forces, doomed to do their bidding or forfeit his
obsessive “extreme” behavior. Not surprisingly, this is why the figure of
Agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), who blackmails him, is coded
black. It underscores the incarceration of the Black man in America, but now
the roles have been reversed. Gibbons is like a warden of a prison who takes
sadistic pleasure in watching Xander do his bidding because he knows just
what button to push: incarceration would take away Xander’s anarchistic
freedom, the very “thing” (objet a) that defines him.
Figures like Xander and the Boyz that he represents are caught by the
obsessive question: “Am I dead or alive.” Xander is “dead” if he is incarcerated.
He is only “alive” when facing danger—a sublime aesthetic. He doesn’t want
to be caught “dead,” as the saying goes. His law breaking stunts are filmed
as if they were video performances, played over again and again, like a video
game, to relive their thrill. So, here we have the inversion of dead and alive
that Gothic influences and Heavy metal inverts. To be “dead” is to be alive
through the transgressionary sublime aesthetics of the Real; to be “alive” is to be
dead, caught up by the Symbolic Order, which for them is already “dead.”
School is boring, the jobs are unfulfilling, parents are totally oblivious to
their lives, girlfriends are equally difficult to be with, so they become bitches
and hos as well. There are no authority figures around, except figures like
Augustus Gibbons who “has been there, done that.” Gibbons sports his
own ugly scar on his face, a marker that he has lived “authentically,” been in
the face of danger and risk as well. He wears it like a saber scar left on the
cheek, a fraternal sign of bravery and manhood required for recognition as a
member of the club. It can be read as a sign of tough masculinity; that’s how
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one gets respect. But it is also a sign of impotency, a ruined tattoo of his own
emasculation and humiliation, castrated to be a recruitment officer for the
military and, in turn the state. Like Xander Gage, to remain “alive,” Metal-
Punk bands must continue their performances as well. So it is for Disturbed.
As Draiman says, the stage is addictive. Off-stage he tells his interviewers
he is unable to party day after day, and available women are hard to come by.
The Boyz are often left to entertain their own pornographic fantasies; impo-
tency is the other side of the masculine mystique, like the figure of Gibbons,
just waiting around the cor(o)ner.
Ko]N’s RrnI KrnNrI
The connection between Heavy-Punk Metal and Gangsta Rap in relationship
to Authority and the Law is not, unsurprisingly, distant. Ko}n, one of the
best known heavy metal bands have had a close working relationship with
Ice Cube (as well as with Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit, and Tre Hardson of The
Pharcyde). Its sound is a hybrid of rap-metal—Nü metal. It almost seems
that Ko}n picked up (ca. 1994) where rap’s “authenticity” turned a hyper-
bolic parody of itself, and grunge metal had exhausted itself after Kurt
Cobain committed suicide, also 1994. Ice Cube performed the song,
“Children of the Ko}n,” with Jonathan Davis, the lead singer of Ko}n
during their “Family Values” tour (Follow The Leader, album), and Ko}n in
turn provided the instrumentation for, “Fuck Dying,” on Ice Cube’s War
and Peace, Vol. 1 album. The songs in Follow The Leader album illustrate
quite dramatically the homophobic tendencies and the psychic struggles
many Heavy Metal Bands have with the Father of Enjoyment, the Anal
Father of Postmodernity.
Jonathan Davis seemed to catch the ear of frustrated and rejected youth
who were dealing with broken homes, bulling, homophobia and drug abuse,
providing a therapeutic release for their aggressive frustrations. Coming from
a divorced household, Davis at first grew up with his mother with weekend
visitations by his father, moving in with him and his step-mother (whom he
disliked) at the onset of junior high. This left Davis conflicted with emotional
scars not unlike those felt by many teenagers in the early 1990s. Added to
this initial psychic turmoil was an incident of sexual abuse when he was
12 years old by a female family friend, as well as his outside status in high
school, being bullied and called a “faggot.” Davis sports an “HIV” tattoo on
his arm that dates from this time, a revealing resistant sign of being labeled
an abjected kid without a social group, an “untouchable” (also the name of
their 2002 album that refers to the caste system in India).
Davis also has a fascination with death, violence, and serial killers. His plan
was to eventually open a Museum Of Justice and Oddities (MOJO) to show-
case his memorabilia of collected items like guns, toe tags to identify
murdered mobsters, and Ted Bundy’s Volkswagen where he had brutalized
over fifty women. He worked in the Bakersfield mortuary as part of a work
experience program during high school, which he eventually left, requiring
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therapy because he was unable to handle the grieving and suffering of loss by
family members.
It may well be that these “morbid” collected items as
cathexed objects, like the HIV tattoo, are another coping mechanism to deal
with the trauma of his school experience. He has drawn on his jouissant
symptoms to produce a voice, which identifiably brings together a sublime
sound of anguish. It might be characterized as an “anguished scream.” Davis
manages to produce this visceral scream through a combination of scat
singing, whispering into the mike, straight-ahead singing, and a full-throated
guttural shouting; this combination of voices is found in each song.
According to his father, Davis’s hard singing has resulted in a triangle-shaped
gap in the middle of his two front teeth, which (if this image is to be
believed) fits the wire mesh screen of a Shure handheld microphone!
To “corn/Ko}n” someone is an act of brutal anal penetration utilizing
the rough, dried, and hardened corn as the instrument. It also connotes
receiving a vicious beating. An otherwise common cereal grain is turned into
a macabre instrument of destruction. The unconscious association between
the signifiers/corn/and/coroner/should not go unnoticed. It was Davis
who “named” the band. Their first CD cover featured a young girl (Davis’s
persona?) playing on a swing, with the “R” in Ko}n spelled backward
emulating a child’s scribbled handwriting, which could connote Reflections,
Remembrances, and Reminiscences of childhood. A menacing shadow of a
man is seen approaching her, as if something dangerous is about to happen.
In this debut album Davis confronts his traumas and psychic pain of his
childhood. Their first two albums, Ko}n (1995) and Life is Peachy (1996)
resound throughout with sexual abuse especially in songs such as Daddy,
Clown, Fake, Lies, and Divine (Ko}n 1995). In “Faget” on the same album,
Davis’s persona is split as he directly addresses the “faggot” inside himself,
and at the same time introduces the voice of the homophobe who hates him.
In the song, “Children of the Ko}n” (with Ice Cube), this theme of homo-
phobia and sexual abuse is repeated as Davis persona is now split between a
direct address to the Anal Father and himself as a homosexual (a little girl).
In this song, Ice Cube directly addresses the Anal Father: “Your Children of
the Ko}n was born, from your porn and twisted ass ways, now you look
amazed.” “Ko}n Kids,” as his fans began to be called, could relate to Davis’s
anxieties as an outsider with emotional “hang-ups,” a kid lost as to what
direction he should take. Davis admits to being suicidal during his high
school days, after graduation things even got worse for Davis and his
girlfriend. They became poor and lived in squalor.
Tnr Bi1iNc Noisr or Nu Mr1nI
The soundscape of Ko}n might be characterized as a “biting noise,” a
devouring aurality/orality that both gargles up imagery and spits it out.
Davis’s words wrap around the notes making their meanings fade into virtual
inaudibility. It is a foreboding feeling. “Head” (Brian Welsh) and “Munky”
(James Shaffer), the two lead guitarists use seven-string guitars to achieve
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this effect; the extra string (a low B) enables a lower range of tonality to be
reached and a greater versatility of lower power chords to be played. By tuning
their guitars a whole step down to a different pitch (a low B becomes a low A),
together they achieve a discord between hard-biting low tones and shrilling
high tones by emphasizing the minor second, tri-tone, and major seventh
chords which disturb the ear. This discordance is supported by the bass
sounds of “Fieldy” (Reginald Arvizu, Jr.) who also added an extra string to
his bass (A D G C F), and then tuned it down to a lower pitch, which
enabled him to use produce percussion-like sounds by striking the strings
(hammering) and dampening them. In 2001, the music company Ibanez
produced a seven-string guitar (K7) and a five string bass (K5) exclusively
marketed to musicians as a Ko}n model.
Ko}n’s lyrics are often intentionally incomprehensible, unless one is a fan
and “in the know” or has taken the time to “really listen.” This enables the
otherwise narrative and comprehensible meaning of words to be exploded
and exploited for their affective sound quality alone—as noise that bites and
screams. Ko}n never printed their lyrics inside their CD covers as most
bands did. The frequent use of profanity (fuck, shit, pisser, pussy, asshole,
“faget”) with its affective loading of reducing a person to a biologically
uncontrollable function usually provokes moral outrage by authority figures.
Deleuze’s conceptualization of “becoming-animal” seems quite appropriate
here. Against the definition of Man as a rational animal in the Heideggerian
sense, Ko}n’s exploration of the edges of voice and sound explode
hermeneutical representation. The Heideggerian model of “Ek-istence” where
Man is capable of standing outside himself (sic) to connect to the truth of
Being is shattered by a Nietzschean attack on such a temporal consciousness.
Ko}n’s soundscape is parasitic to a “downward” movement rather than a
transcendent one, toward forces that are predatory and self-obsessed,
immersed in a network of nonhuman relations that are never mastered or
completely controlled. Nü metal music, in general, can be said to call on
a perversion that scrambles up the object choices of the drives that are
normally and socially (Oedipally) acceptable.
In the mid-1990s Ko}n set up a website (, which
provided behind-the-scenes stream videos of their upcoming albums. With
MP3 technology, which continues to make pirating albums easy despite the
music industry’s crackdown to stop downloading, Ko}n cleverly provided an
insider’s view into their lives through Internet technology, strengthening the
bond of being one of the “Ko}n Kids.” An online pay-based fan club
emerged where site visitors were asked to pick songs for upcoming shows. By
developing an E-mail database and a list-server to keep fans informed, Ko}n
exemplifies, yet again, the ONE symbolic support group teens could identify
with and feel they belonged.
Album/CD cover design contests were also held, enabling fans to feel like
they even had a say in Ko}n’s visual representation. Alfredo Carlos was paid
10,000 dollars for his illustration of a worn-out rag doll with a missing eye
with stuffing billowing from a gash on its torso. It looked like it had been
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roughly handled, abused, and then tossed aside in an act of neglect and
rejection. This was the “official” Issues cover, but three other finalists were
also honored with limited-edition runs of their own designs. Carlos’s doll
illustrates perfectly the vectors of aggressive intentions as Lacan (1977)
outlined them. “These are the images of castration, mutilation, dismember-
ment, dislocation, evisceration, devouring, bursting open of the body, in
short, the imagos that I have grouped together under the apparently structural
term of imagos of the fragmented body . . . One has only to listen to children
aged between two and five playing. Alone or together, to know that the
pulling off of the head and ripping open of the belly are themes that occur
spontaneously to their imagination, and that this is corroborated by the
experience of the doll torn to pieces” (11, original emphasis).
These infantile psychotic states find their sublimated forms throughout
Ko}n’s music and help explain Davis’s fascination with serial killers. The use
of dolls in artistic representation, such as Hans Bellerm’s poupées, Cindy
Sherman’s doll parts, and Iris Klein’s photo negatives of dolls, have a close
affinity with their literalization in episodes of serial killing, where victims
more or less become human dolls that are “taken apart” (Selzer, 1998, 141).
Marilyn Manson, for instance, has a collection of prosthetic limbs, mostly
arms and legs. He admits his attraction to “deformity and amputeesarebeau-” In these cases it is the Real body that is being addressed. The slip-
page between sublimated fantasy and actual pathology indicates that “the
psyche might be murderous in itself . . . [that] murder is potentially present
in the very regulation of the drives” (Rose, 1993, 53–54); or, as Zizek
(1991) puts it, “in our unconscious, the [R]eal of our desire, we are all
murderers” (16, original emphasis).
Each member of the band in his own way addresses the thematic “void”
of pain in the Real—their wounds, either instrumentally or vocally. Ko}n’s
soundscape, and each heavy metal band has its own affective signature in this
regard, illustrates quite well what Julia Kristeva throughout her oeuvre terms
the “semiotic affect” that can overwhelm the Symbolic Order’s meaning for
its “revolutionary” potential, the dangerous jouissance of music as already
discussed. Heavy metal sound for most parents is simply a lot of loud scream-
ing and noise whereas for fans, who wildly participate in the mosh pits
and repeat the otherwise incomprehensible lyrics, are fully dwelling in the
affective transference that this animalistic “noise” solicits. The words, heard
as phonemes, are the “vanishing mediators”
between the drives and the
Symbolic Order. They mediate between the Imaginary and Symbolic registers
and form for the fan an “acoustic mirror,” to use Silverman’s
(1988) phase
here, in the way these “pure” and “empty” sounds are heard in combination
with their aural and oral qualities within a binary hierarchical system of
harsh/pleasant; sad/upbeat; affectless/passionate; melodious/discordant,
and so on.
To say that Ko}n’s particular heavy metal sound mixes hip-hop, rap, and
1970s funk music is to identify the historical traces of their particular mix
whose affective soundscape “speak” to a segment of youth who identifies with
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their angst and anxiety through an attunement of empathy and
understanding. In Ko}n’s case, this is jouissance at the level of lalangue Their
transference is not unlike a mother and her infant whose affective proto-
language is an attempt to “read” her baby’s needs, demands, and desires
below the level of consciousness. What catches the fans of any music group
are the one or more songs that enable an identification to take place with the
excessive jouissance a particular soundscape produces, enabling a transference
of desire to occur. How often is an entire CD bought only for that “one”
song? Isn’t that precisely why the marketing of “singles” has been discontin-
ued so as to increase sales? And MP3 downloads of specific songs so popular?
To characterize this as a sublime aesthetic (following Lyotard, 1989),
points to the intensification of the semiotic elements in music, its incoherent
excesses produced through the tonal (phonemic) qualities of sound. What
might be referred to its Nietzschean–Dionysian chaotic qualities, their
“force” in Deleuze’s terms that overwhelm its Apollonian structural defini-
tions of form, narration, and meaning. The musicality of the Imaginary
psychic register at the expense of the Symbolic register brings us closer to the
anxieties of the Real, and the unknown void that lies at the heart of subjec-
tivity. Ko}n’s affective noise addresses directly the “wounds” suffered by
youth who find themselves not recognized, confirmed, and supported by
institutional structures.
Such bands as Ko}n present a perverse masochistic subject position in
their response to the “loss of Authority” and the emergence of the Anal
Father, which places them in a feminized position, unable to separate early
from their mothers. There is a need for the symbolic Law of the Father to
intervene given the weak or absent father (which was the case in Davis’ child-
hood). A singer such as Jonathan Davis “offers himself up to the Other’s
jouissance” (Fink, 1997, 186); meaning, he seems to be “sacrificing” himself
for the enjoyment that comes when the Law (as Other) punishes him, and
tells him this is “enough!” “You have transgressed the limits of what is
socially acceptable.” In the album, Follow the Leader, his duel/dual songs
with Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit, and Tre Hardson of The Pharcyde provide
an explicit example of the excessive jouissance that these “leaders” take in
their complementary corruption of authority as a rebellion of separation
from their mothers. Limp Bizkit implies an impotency and emasculation,
while Pharcyde plays on “far side” directly addresses a jeering, outlandish,
and sometimes sadistic humor.
The provocation against authority is made explicit by Ice Cube at the
beginning of the song, “Children of the Ko}n.” His imperative voice tells
parents to report to their local therapist, their local church, and their local
police department for, “It’s goin’ down!” The paternal superego is provoked
to do its job of symbolic castration, psychically displacing the Anal Father
that haunt’s Davis throughout his songs, a Father who did not create a symbolic
space for his son in the social order; a Father who took away his childhood.
Ko}n fans easily relate to this symbolic loss. Davis’ unconscious desire is
for the Law itself. It is only when the anxiety of the Other (police, parents,
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therapists, and teachers) is reached which imposes a limit that the Law
appears. The perverted masochistic solution to painful jouissance calls on
Davis’ unconscious desire to enable a Father substitute to legislate punish-
ment. Davis’ lyrics present him as victim, yet the performance of such trans-
gression remains ironic. It is only when “Parental advisory” stickers appear
on the jacket covers of so many Punk and Heavy metal groups can it be said
that masochistic jouissance has been satisfied to some extent. This is a proof
of the music’s authenticity by being “alternative.” Like the sadism of gangsta
rap, it indicates that the big Other is indeed paying attention. The symbolic
space that enables Jonathan Davis to “separate” from a vicious repetition of
his own tormented jouissance is found in the recognition and acknowledgment
of his music by an institution like MTV, although many “alternative music”
purists feel that this is already mainstream co-optation; that “alternative” is
what is not heard publicly but experienced “live” in intimate contexts.
Fnrnxs! Tnr SrnncniNc BuIIr1
Davis admits that it was easy for him to relate to the perpetrators,
Dylan Klebord and Eric Harris, of the Columbine High School shootings on
April 20, 1999. He has said he had entertained fantasies of going to a school
with a machine gun to kill students and teachers who had laughed and made
jokes about him, calling him gay. It was through his music that his rage was
sublimated. Ko}n’s album, the Untouchables (2002) indicates, once more,
that Davis can not find the necessary distance of separation from his symp-
toms: “I try but I can’t taste, Memories they always fuck with me, So why
do I create just to be swallowed?” in “Hating (Everything That I Could
Find).” Almost the entire album is once more inspired by a depressed
life, one tortured by abuse, drugs, fame, and anxiety. But the album also fea-
tures the video release of “Thoughtless,” Ko}n’s attempt to address the
Columbine tragedy. The boy in the video—Jonathan Davis’s alter ego—is
shown as a tortured soul, picked on by school gangs. In an interview on
MTV, Davis tells of his personal problems of being an outsider, a freak in his
school, not belonging to any group. What makes this video so outstanding
is the way his inner demons that torture him attempt to escape out of his
body, emerging as masks that stretch his skin, but are held in check by his
skin-ego. This same skin-ego motif emerges in the stage set where Ko}n
is playing. Faces attempt to emerge and push their way through, what look
like skin pores. (Imagine a face attempting to push through a flesh colored
nylon fabric, with the fabric perfectly molding each face.) The video ends on
a vengeful note. Jonathan Davis’s alter ego is all dressed up, sporting a sexily
clad girl by his side, crashes the high school crowning of the prom king
and queen, and proceeds to vomit all over them. The bile is white and spurts
out of his mouth like water out of a fire hose, thus ending the fantasy
with students and teachers knocked down from the pressure of its force
and rolling on the floor. Again, it is Davis’s oral/aural drive that has been
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The concept of the skin-ego as developed by Didier Anzieu (1989)
provides us with a way to theorize the struggle of Davis’ alter ego to contain
his anger; the highly complex way in which the fantasmatic bodily image
mediates the exchange of its outside environment with perceptions of its
inside environment through the skin’s membrane as it registers the affective
beat of Ko}n’s sound. Because of its porous nature we can imagine this skin-
ego once more as the “bar” which separates and mediates the impossible gap
between signifier and the signified of the virtual body. The concept also helps
us to better understand the idea of “writing on the body” as the “semiotic
signification” of Ko}n’s music. It is their musical signature as a force of
noise—of becoming-animal—which is felt internally, the musical signifiers
being affectively loaded with feelings that ra(n)ge from song to song—
relentlessly like the drive (Trieb) itself. In the video, the skin literally bubbles
with the rage of his inner demons—the drives that are emerging and gaining
force. They are on the verge of all coming together as One: as a desire for
death, just barely held in check by his skin as he struggles to hold-on. When
that skin-ego bursts, the Real is let out. Davis’s alter ego then becomes a
psychotic killer with a devilish laughter; the bile that he spits at his classmates
and teachers could just as well have been a spray of bullets.
In the video, “Freak on a Leash” on an earlier album, Follow the Leader
(1998), Ko}n makes a statement about the love of guns in America. It is one
of their best works. The video opens up with a Manga cartoon. Boys and
girls of elementary age are on a “dare.” They illegally jump a barbwire fence
and move toward the edge of a dangerous precipice. A hopscotch game is
drawn right up to the edge of this cliff and a marker is thrown to which a girl
is about to hop. This is the dare (not unlike the album itself, which features
Davis’s version of a rap shout-out with Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit). In the
meantime, a guard on duty awakens and sees the kids all gathered to watch.
He pulls out his gun and runs toward them. He thinks that the little girl is
in danger and starts running toward her. But he trips and falls. His gun flies
out of his hand, dropping on the ground and discharges. The bullet heads
toward the little girl who now stands on the precipice, just missing her head.
The video follows the bullet in slow motion as it comes out of a wall into
“real life” (RL), again just missing the same girl who appears as the last frame
of the cartoon pinned to the wall. The bullet breaks the membrane between
“reality” and fantasy, reversing what is “comic” life and what is “real life”
(RL). In other words, the “time” of the bullet explores their interdependency.
The camera continues to follow the bullet, which seems to have a “mind” of
its own, as it penetrates walls and hits what and where it wishes, narrowly
missing people as it bursts through a bedroom light, a cookie jar in a kitchen,
grazing past a mother attending to her kitchen, bursting through three
balloons at a birthday party, a glass of milk in a self-serve restaurant, a can of
artificial cream in a kitchen of a restaurant, a water bottle in a large office
environment, a mobile phone, a six-pack of beer, and then enters a room
where a young man is weightlifting. Generally speaking, it is destroying
what might be considered to be the positive things in life. The bullet after
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entering into the weightlifter’s bedroom penetrates into a poster of Ko}n
hanging on the wall, a still picture of them playing the song “Freak.” This
stray bullet has yet to find its target. We don’t know what it is looking for.
As the bullet pierces the poster it enters the space where the band is play-
ing. It stops and hovers around each member of the band, who are playing
on a stage set with a backdrop of bullet riddled walls. Like search lights,
beams of light penetrate at them through these holes. Obviously, many
other bullets have entered this space. Metaphorically it represents Ko}n’s
Imaginary inside, their fantasy space. “Freak on a Leash” is their “inner”
song embodied in the shape of a bullet—Ko}n’s (or Davis’s) externalized
alter ego. The bullet hesitates in front of the face of each band member, and
each member in turn “stares it down.” Davis then yells out, “go!” The bullet
turns around, and then loops back on almost an identical trajectory from
which it came from. This time it seems to be destroying some of the more
negative social influences: television, coffee, a porno magazine, a parking
meter, it narrowly misses a fat youngster who is about to do a “canon” splash
in a swimming pool, and then it narrowly misses a young girl swinging in a
playground (an allusion to their debut album). The bullet continues its back-
ward journey into the room where the bedroom lamp stood, which is shown
still shattering, and then it goes back through the same hole in the picture
of the cartoon girl standing over the precipice. The video warps space and
time—fantasy and reality—stretching the nanosecond of its journey out and
back during the “actual” time that the song is played. The bullet now stops
in front of the girl, who looks at it, grabs it, and makes it disappear as if by
magic. The video then ends.
This is a positively stunning presentation of the way fantasy, as represented
in the fictional world of the comic strip, supports the “reality” of what the
bullet does in “real life” (RL). It puts to question the false illusionary
separation between reality and fiction. Equally as stunning is the way it
comments on the contingency of an event by warping time and space, the
impossibility of ever controlling the positive and negative influences on life
by the use of a gun. The guard wanted to help the little girl who was
perfectly safe on the edge of the precipice; on the journey out, the bullet
seems to destroy all the good things, even a six-pack of beer is included.
On the journey back, the bullet narrowly misses the girl swinging in the back-
ground, pointing out that the gun can’t be controlled. All this in a span of
three minutes and forty-eight seconds!
The denseness and the intensity of these two videos demonstrate why they
need to be played over and over again to “get it.” And, while Ko}n’s lyrics
are difficult to follow, it is the effort required to download them, or to buy
the CD, to then be able to hear just how clever their signifiers work through
these images, a task best left to the readers if they so chose. The effort
required to grasp their lyrics is yet another way of keeping authority out—
and fans in. Kids know that parents usually won’t bother to make the effort,
and if they do, they won’t “get it” anyway. The warning label is mostly what
they look for to make their decision. As Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit screams
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in the chorus on “My Generation” (Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog
Flavored Water, 2002) “ . . . so go ahead and talk shit about me, go ahead and
talk shit about my generation, cause we don’t, don’t give a fuck and we won’t
ever give a fuck until you, you give a fuck about me and my generation.”
Tnr BuIIr1’s Drn1n Dnivr
The bullet illustrates perfectly the mechanism of the drive (Trieb) that Lacan
illustrates diagrammatically in section fourteen of S XI, Four Fundamentals
(1979, 178), where he explains the workings of the partial drive and its
circuit. The video provides an opportunity of grasping the full impact of the
death drive in its suicidal form. The bullet as death drive must first be aimed,
let out of the body that contains it (the gun). It searches for its goal, which
is satisfaction—the actual satisfaction as the disappearance of a tension (Drang),
which appears at the surface of the regulated openings and closings of bodily
rims, showing the void to be its source (Quelle). The aim is the drive’s
(bullet’s) itinerary, its mission, or process constituting its own goal.
Its aim
is simply the course (detour or impasse) it takes. But, its goal, in this case, is
known—it desires the satisfaction of death, which is the zero degree of
tension. This death drive/bullet seems to have a “mind” of its own. But it is
stupid and acephalic. It runs around not knowing exactly what it wants as it
constantly and blindly searches for death, destroying everything in its path.
What is not known is what particular product—the object (Objekt) that will
embody its goal of death, but as a partial drive that doesn’t matter. Any
object will do to satisfy and gratify its aim as it short-circuits itself; that is, as
it loops back and returns in its failure to achieve its goal. Satisfaction is only
partly achieved by the havoc and menacing destruction the bullet has cre-
ated. That, in-itself (en-soi) is enjoyment (jouissance)—seeing the explosive
force that penetrates and shatters objects. This satisfaction is auto-erotic,
masturbatory, and self satisfying. Lacan refers to Freud’s metaphor of a single
mouth kissing itself; the satisfaction of pulling the trigger, shooting the
bullet, and watching its destructive aim, so lovingly followed by the camera
in the video.
But how can a bullet “return?” Doesn’t it go on and on, eventually
embedding itself in an object? The warped space of the video of its return
can only be understood in one way: as another bullet ready to be fired, as a
repetition of the same action, the same mechanism—again and again, but
this time by each member of Ko}n willing its return. That is the pulse of the
drive. As a partial drive—a single bullet—always “misses” its target, its goal.
It only accumulates “points,” we might say. Another one has to be immedi-
ately fired, until its goal has been reached, and the object killed. By killing
the object, a male killer has effectively killed himself; he has destroyed the
object (in the Real) of his anxiety. The full impact of the Real as the death
drive has overcome and overwhelmed him.
Here lies the difference between a sublimated drive and the death drive
of the bullet. The goal is inhibited in the first and uninhibited in the second.
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PIurrr1i Nc 1nr Go1ni c DrÞ1ns or 1nr SouI 109
In sublimation the aim of the drive is satisfied at the same time its goal is
inhibited. This means that sublimation is a defense mechanism because it
transforms erotic corporeal drives (anal, scopic, oral, aural) into the production
of culturally recognized sublime objects (in this case, music). A sexual aim is
exchanged for a desexualized aim to stop the circuit of gratification. The
drive is inherently perverse since it has no normative purpose or telos. It is
not oriented toward a “real” or “actual” object as a natural or biological
need. Drives are malleable and plastic. They are indifferent to how satisfaction
is obtained. Drives can even be satisfied through deliberate non-satisfaction
by inhibiting its aim, delaying gratification. Its objects are fantasmatic while
its satisfaction is hallucinatory.
The functioning of the drives when we desire is always partial. They have
been sublimated, so that the object of desire that we try to grasp is always
partial as well. It’s structure remains metonymic, a part of an indefinable
whole. Such objects are only lures, they embody metaphorically only a “bit”
of the Real—as objet a. The drive attempts to grasp this object, but always
fails. It always encircles and loops around the object, but only achieves partial
satisfaction in the process. It is a “missed” encounter with the Real, as Lacan
puts it—a Wiederholen (repetition). In the bullet’s case, when an encounter
with the Real does occur, it is with death itself, the bullet has found its goal.
It does NOT loop back. It does its destructive work. At that moment of
anxiety when the objet a is experienced as the full force of the death drive—
the lure or veil drops away—is precisely that moment that we DO encounter
the Real. Lacan calls this a Wiederkehr—a repetition but with a difference. Our
ego-skin is shattered. We can either face our “subjective destitution” squarely,
and try to figure out the “strangers”— the “demons”—that dwell in our
unconscious, or we can aggressively lash out and kill—partially or fully maim.
Jonathan Davis has turned this aggressive impulse in on itself in both
videos. It is a masochistic and not a sadistic gesture as we saw with 2 Live
Crew. He has sublimated it, turned it into a harmless fantasy. In the first, the
venomous killing has turned into an ironic laughable incident, an immature
childhood prank of barfing on someone; in the second, the dangerous bullet
is caught by a little cartoon figure of a girl and made to disappear. In brief,
Davis has performed as Wiederkehr of his killing fantasy. He has managed to
reel in the “freak on a leash,” and made him disappear. Like Freud’s grand-
son playing the fort/da game, Davis has made sense of his non-sense; veiled
the threat by the cloak of fantasy.
DrcnnrNcr: A Tirr 1o RrnÞ
iN 1nr Ko]N?
Ko}n’s entire oeuvre has been to sublimate the aggression of their (Jonathan’s)
death drive. To say that the albums are dark and suicidal is accurate enough.
Some reviewers have suggested that Davis was actually anally assaulted
by his father, as his mother looked on because of the explicit lyrics in the
first album (Ko}n), and that he is gay since this theme emerges again and
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again throughout many albums (see Ian, 1997). However, it seems that
these were spectacular unconscious fantasy formations which emerged from
being an outcast in high school, continually being put down for dressing
weirdly (wearing kilts, playing bagpipes, and coloring his hair), bullied by
both teachers and students, and even sent to a therapist to cure his gayness.
Davis has gone on record a number of times denying any sexual abuse by his
father. Slash fan fiction, on the other hand, can be found on the Internet
with virtually all possible homosexual relationships possible between the
band members and Orgy, a band retained by their Elementree label.
There is a moment, like in gangsta rap, where a point is reached that the
genre begins to parody itself. Linkin Park begin to sound like a parody of
Ko}n and vice versa. With bands like Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach, Creed,
Smashing Pumpkins, Disturbed, and Deftones as rivals in the rap-metal genre,
Nü metal becomes congested, falling out of its “alternative” category. The
“freak image” is becoming packaged as a stylized “authenticity,” losing its
edge. The financial success of Ko}n has left the group even more unhappy.
Despite the new houses, sushi restaurants, recording studios, and their own
label (Elementree Records) most band members are left wanting. It is as
though Davis and the band members need their symptoms to continue to
write music. Davis is now divorced, and has a son, Nathan who is in kinder-
garten school. Davis made headlines for almost immediately dating and then
being engaged to a porno star, Deven Davis (they are not married) who is
the spokesperson for the porn company Jill Kelly Entertainment. She is a
former Penthouse pet and Playboy centerfold, the pictorial shot by Davis him-
self. It seems Davis has come full circle—from being called gay to boasting a
love for pornography. His intense like for sadomasochism and bondage
(as a voyeur) reaffirms the perversion to the loss of authority. As he said,
“It makes him feel better” (Gardner, 2002).
Such Nü metal “authenticity” has come at a high price. Alcohol, cocaine,
and amphetamines continue to be the order of the day. Ko}n members
openly admit to their drug abuse, therapy sessions and d(r)ying-out retreats.
Such excesses fuel their fire. Davis claims that he no longer does drugs, but
admits to being a workaholic and suffering depression he controls through
Prozac consumption. Virtually all the band members are now divorced. This
sort of “decadence” leaves us with the paradox that they are continually
“shooting” themselves to induce a masochism of painful pleasure that con-
tinues to repeat their symptom and provide the necessary material for its sub-
limation, yet another version of the “philosophy of sickness” as practiced by
David Draiman.
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Tnr “GnuNcr” or
PuNx-Rocx: SIncxi Nc Orr
SrÞnnn1ioN Wors: Tnr Aruicuous
Pn1rnNnI FuNc1ioN
The transgressive behavior of youth where perverted masochistic fantasies
are expressed through Nü heavy Metal music point to the inability of many
young men to name what their mothers desire. Something is “not present”
for them, and that “something” has to do with sex, which too has not been
named. It remains ambiguous. The Mother does not seem to want the
Father. Because the mother’s lack has not found an object of desire, the
young man is faced with the perplexity of her “lack of a lack.” In not know-
ing what she wants the child is left facing her demand as a “phallic mother”
who is all-powerful and omnipotent. In perversion this naming or symboliz-
ing for the child as to what the mother lacks does not occur. There is no
relief from the anxiety of a child acting solely as the complement to the
mother’s demand, to always please and provide her with complete satisfac-
tion. Such a familial situation can be detected in metal music, along with an
absent father or an abusive Jouissant Father. If the father is absent there is
always a danger that the mother totally assumes the symbolic lawful burden,
which is then disavowed by her children. If the father is abusive, she is often
blamed for not protecting her children and the paternal Law is once more
disavowed. Either way, the mother is the loser where authority has been
Without the mother lacking, the child is unable to separate from her and
form a desire of his or her own choosing. A symbolic universe is not opened
up for her child. The transitional space between them is closed. The paternal
function in Lacan, which he refers to as the Name-of-the-Father (Nom-du-
Père), is meant to intervene and stop the mother from engulfing her child.
This is a symbolic function; the father is a representative of the Law and author-
ity. An individual father need not necessarily represent such a paternal function,
nor does it mean that the absence of a father in single mother or lesbian fam-
ily structure (or through death and divorce) automatically insures that the
symbolic paternal injunction will not be in effect. The paternal function can
take place along other lines for it is entirely symbolic in its capacity to act as a
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“third” in the necessity of separation. I am referring to the general tendency
of a decentering of authority of the paternal function in postmodernity: the
decentering of ONE into many smaller ONE’s. Lacan, for instance, rereads
Freud’s analysis of five-year-old Little Hans’s phobia of horses (SE X, 1909),
not as the fear of his father, but as a way to supplement or prop up the debased
symbolic function of the Father so that he might resolve his tension with the
devouring desire of his mother.
It is only during Oedipalization, when the
Imaginary mirror stage is ratified through the recognition, approval, and
acknowledgment by parents, that the child forms an Ideal Ego of its self. The
child internalizes its parental ideals and then judges itself according to those
ideals. Oedipalization initiates symbolic castration ushering in language and
the concerns with the Law, authority, guilt, goals, achievement, and desire. It is
around the genital zone that polymorphous sexuality eventually becomes
Oedipally organized through the various hetero/homo familial attachments of
desire, but genital Oedipalization is never entirely and fully an accomplished
phenomenon. It is always subject to derailment.
In the perverted position this polymorphous sexuality is not organized by
the domination of the genital zone, rather it is organized around the earlier,
oral and anal pre-genitive drives. The scopic and aural (invocatory) drives
belong to Oedipalization. The erogenous zones of the lips, anus, eyes, and
ears and their correspondent partial objects—breast, faeces, gaze, and voice,
characterize these four drives respectively. In postmodernism a ratification
of the Imaginary ego by the parents has taken place but the installation of the
symbolic Father remains ambiguous. The perverse behaviors of the pre-genital
drives attempt to restate the failed or weak Symbolic Order through trans-
gressions of the Law. It is a disavowal of castration, a continual projection
toward a “beyond” of castration. For the perverse position the paternal
function does exist, but since it has been delegated to the mother, paternal
authority remains uncertain and ambiguous. The mother has been given the
locus of symbolic authority, as the so-called phallic mother. This maternal
Law is taken to be unjust, not fully warranted. If the maternal omnipotence
was fully recognized this would lead to a psychosis rather than perversion.
Such an authoritative stance commands the pervert to transgress her Law in
order to sustain the Law in his own fashion. The Symbolic Order exists, but
its existence is only recognized through the pervert’s own will to jouissance.
By transgressing he becomes the locus of jouissance himself and is recognized
by the Symbolic Order by becoming an object of its jouissance. This is the
pervert’s own reconfirmation that the Other ultimately lacks authority (the
Phallus) (see Dor, 2001). From this perspective parental warning labels on
CDs are simply treated as a “joke.”
Ko}n’s lyrics dramatically illustrate a perverse position. Davis addresses an
“oral sadistic father” (and not the Symbolic Father) in his search to prop up
the Law. Such an imaginary father consumes Jonathan Davis’s inner being. In
“Daddy” (album, Ko}n) he directly addresses this ambivalency toward his
mother over his father’s abuse. On the one hand he asks her forgiveness by
making the sexual abuse public, and on the other hand he is angry that she
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simply looked on and did nothing to stop the abuse. Davis’s references to his
father as a “mother fucker” is a repetition of gangsta rap’s often repeated
“motha fucka.” These incestuous overtones are a reminder of the failure of
the primary repression, the prohibition against the mother, the child’s primary
source of satisfaction and jouissance, which creates desire. The satisfaction
that comes with the pleasurable contact with her body, her cuddling and
warm embraces and kisses, soft wooing voice must be given up, especially by
heterosexual males, but not by a gay sensibility where the feminine is not
mourned away.
Davis lived with his mother up until junior high when he
moved in with his father and stepmother whom he disliked. He had a very
ambiguous relationship with his father, Rick, a former keyboard musician
who spent a great deal of his time running a music instrument store and
never paid much attention to his son. Upon his divorce, he visited him only
on weekends. Davis’s relationship with his mother is seldom mentioned.
Davis’s anxieties of the fear of the feminine in relation with the ambiguous
relation with his mother and father are echoed throughout many heavy
metal-punk bands. Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses is perhaps one of the best
examples in this regard. From his 1987 debut album, Appetite for Destruction,
Rose was on a collision course with death. “Nighttrain” and “Out ta Get
me” present a conflicted self, paranoid and desperately seeking sanctuary
from a world he cannot tolerate. In “Paradise City,” (same album), Rose per-
ceives himself as an outcast, a “street urchin” who desires a “paradise city”
full of pretty girls where the “grass is [always] green.” Five years later, with
the release of the double album, Use Your Illusion I and II, the titles continue
to speak of his struggles of separating, unable as yet to free himself of a
depression that griped him. In “Bad Obsession,” he struggles with a drug
problem, cursing his mother, “Back off Bitch.” Women threaten him as a
“nasty ball breaker.” In “Coma,” the very last song on the album based on
Axl’s own near-death experience during a drug overdose, sounds like a death
wish that came to a final couplet that speaks of “survival.”
A parallel can be drawn here between Freud’s (SE XXI, 1928) interpretation
of the biography of Dostoevsky, where Dostoevsky’s epileptic fits (which
were so severe that he appeared dead) were a form of self-punishment for
wishing the death of the father he hated. “For the ego the death symptom
is a satisfaction in fantasy of the masculine wish and at the same time a
masochistic satisfaction; for the super-ego it is a punitive satisfaction—that is,
a sadistic satisfaction. Both of them, the ego and the super-ego, carry on the
role of the father” (164). Axl’s comatose condition signifies a similar self-
punishment; in wishing the death of another person he himself becomes
dead. In an interview in Rolling Stone around the time that the Illusion Albums
were released, Axl Rose confessed of being the victim of child abuse (my dad
fucked me in the ass when I was two). Whether this is true or not always
remains a question, but unlike Freud who saw such sexual abuse by parents
as the sexual fantasies of the child, the increase in child abuse as presented by
the American popular media seems to support our hypothesis concerning
But how is this to be interpreted?
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Emerging in the early 1990s, precisely during the time that a generation
of youth (Gen X) were said to be “lost” (as the thirteenth generation), the
hoax surrounding the False Memory Syndrome (FMS) complicated the
Metal scene. FMS, profiled around media stars such as Woody Allen (accused
of abusing his children) and Roseanne Barr, who claimed she had been
abused by her father, made it more likely for Metal lyrics, which had specific
references to parental abuse, to be taken literally. The “boogey man” youth
were struggling against was the “Father of Excess.” It is more the case that
the sinister jouissance of the parent—the Anal Father in Axl’s case and
the Oral Father in Davis’s case function in the capacity of their superego. The
problem is to cope with excessive jouissance. The superego demanded that
they enjoy their freedom, independent of authority.
It is an incestuous relationship that young men struggle against, to free
themselves from the s(mother) of their mothers. The fear and anxiety of the
feminine comes out as the phallic hardness of rock. In metropolises everywhere
many nightclubs open only after midnight and close early in the morning.
Sleep, a sign of dormancy and boredom, as well as feminine engulfment, is
precisely what is to be avoided. The night signifies revelry, movement, action,
excitement and a space away from the Symbolic Order of day, work, and
responsibility. Turning day into night and avoiding sleep through ampheta-
mine use, or sleeping only when it is absolutely necessary, belongs to a youth
culture that has an ambiguous relationship to the Law. As Cobain (2002)
writes in his journal, “It’s eight o’clock in the morning. I’m on this ridicu-
lous sleeping schedule where I retire in the wee hours of the morning and
successfully avoid any hint of daylight. My skin has got rock pale” (131).
The “thrash” and “death” metal band, Metallica, over the many years,
exemplify this fear of the feminine best. The cover of their 1991 album,
Metallica is black, The Black Album. Black is the void itself, the plunge back to
the Mother, which is to be avoided at all costs. Its opening song and video,
“Sandman” speaks about the dread of falling asleep. In their closing track, “The
Struggle Within,” is all about a struggle with boredom. The anxiety of the fem-
inine distinctly emerges in their misogynous lyrics in “Am I Evil” (Garage Inc.,
1998) where the mother is a witch who is burned alive, and “Die Die My
Darling” (same album) where the woman’s future belongs “in an oblong box.”
Perhaps the “hardest” metal band around in the United States today is the
Des Moines, Iowa nine-member band, Slipknot. Their first album sums up
the thrust of their music: Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat, all actions of the drive
that “repeat” in the aim of their object for complete satisfaction against the
feminine. There is no goal, no desire in Slipknot, only an aggressive rage that
they “stage” through their costuming, masks, and yelling. Corey, who writes
almost all their lyrics, presents a suicidal, nihilistic, anarchistic world where
nationalism is rejected. Their music at times borders on being psychotic,
although many lyrics relate to an inward beat of feeling persecuted and
unloved. They exemplify the “ugly” aesthetic referred to earlier. In sum, the
misogyny found in Nü metal where women end up being insane and “fucked
up” is no different from gangsta rap.
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AÞÞnoncniNc Psvcnosis: Kun1 CouniN’s
Unlike the perverted position where there is a disavowal of the father figure
resulting in an ambiguous and often spiteful misogynous relationship to the
feminine (mother), as young men strive to separate and achieve a place in the
Symbolic Order without an exemplary father figure to open the way, the psy-
chotic position presents a complete foreclosure of this symbolic function of
the Name-of-the-Father. The Law is not instilled. There is nothing to stop
the mother from engulfing her child and the psychotic dream of being a full
subject, lacking nothing. Here the fear of the feminine prevails as the young
man is feminized as a “soft” male. In Lacan’s terms, the child remains in a
state of primal alienation with no separation possible. There is no parental
recognition of the child’s Ego Ideal, no ratification of the child’s place in
the world. Access to the symbolic remains inaccessible. The child is caught
living in an Imaginary psychic register with the effects of the Real (complete
subjective destitution) a hair’s breath away in the figure of the mother as
Thing, Thanatos, death. The discussion of psychosis is important in the con-
text of punk-metal-and-rap music given that many rock stars come to display
what can be identified as psychotic behaviors that are indistinguishable from
the perverted ones that have been developed. Already in 1967, Jim Morrison
of The Doors, provided a psychotic death wish in his song “The End” (The
Doors, 1967). Morrison in the song, comes to a [bedroom] “door,” “looks
inside” and says: “Father, yes son, I want to kill you, Mother . . . I want to . . .
fuck you.”
Unlike the “doubt” that plagues “normal” neurotic behavior, a psychotic
“hears” a clear inner voice and often perceives himself as being “chosen,” the
one who is the bearer of a message that only is revealed to him. In this way
language is said to “possess” him, as if it were coming, not from inside, but
from an outside force. Language becomes “material”; psychotic language is
devoid of metaphors where substitution of one word for another would be
possible, becoming neologistic and “thing-like.” Rather than having rebel-
lious complaints against authority figures such as parents and the Law, or be
concerned with issues of self esteem—which indicate that there is a conflict
between his Ideal Ego (how he perceives himself ) and the Ego Ideal (how
significant other’s judge him)—the psychotic feels persecuted by competitors,
rivals, and lovers on the imaginary level only. Axl Rose seems to suffer from
such paranoia (one of the psychoses) from the threat of back stabbing women,
record biz puppeteers, and various media scum who are out to get him.
One wonders whether one of the best well-known and most infamous
incidents in the annals of rock ’n’ roll, the suicide of Kurt Cobain, the lead
singer of Nirvana who shot himself with a shotgun on April 5, 1994, wasn’t
a psychotic induced incident? “Grunge” music, centered in Seattle
Washington in the early to mid-1990s, was a fusion of punk and heavy rock,
which seemed to touch many of the so-called “slacker” generation; the term
suggesting that they found no place in the Symbolic Order with which they
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could identify. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Nevermind 1991) sold a staggering
six million copies by the spring of 1992. Eventually it was to go seven times
platinum. The song (and video) spoke to a “slacker” generation of 1990s
American teens like no other. Although “slacker” is, questionably, an over-
generalized term, it specifically points to a psychic state of mind where
rebellious resistance to paternal authority characterized the “grunge” scene.
Being a “slacker” speaks of aimlessness and an ill-defined existence of not
wanting to take one’s place in society and become responsible. Cobain’s
youth typifies the experience of “white trash,” a pejorative term for the trailer
park and the poor of American society, yet another example of extended
adolescence with no “adult” world on the horizon. Cobain’s life as teen-idol
with whom young fans identified with was tragic. His lyrics did not speak to
a neurotic desire that questioned the meaning of existence as in some sort of
self-reflective diatribe and one’s place in the social world; rather the songs
were sparse in metaphors, repetitive and short, especially their album, Bleach
(1989). The lyrics spoke of inertia, boredom, and Cobain’s obsession with
his own personal imaginary struggles, which were often exaggerated in the
journals that he kept. He claimed, for instance, that he had slept under a
bridge near his home in Aberdeen to survive; that he had sold his mother’s
(Wendy) boyfriend’s guns that she had thrown in a lake to buy a guitar,
and so on. Neither of these incidents was true but perhaps delusional and
Kurt Cobain’s Journals (2002) have been published “as they were written,”
each page separately photographed. A cursory glance through his journals
stunningly reveals Cobain’s antiauthoritarian stance, his thin differentiation
between his exaggerated journal thoughts and the music he played and
composed, and his death drive. “I’m going to fucking destroy your macho,
sadistic, sick Right wing, religiously abusive opinions on who we as a whole
should operate according to YOUR conditions. Before I die many will die
with me and they will deserve it. See YOU IN HELL, love Kurt Cobain”
(111). Such aggressive acting-out in his journals, which is frequent, is a
marked contrast from what appears like a soft-spoken Cobain. But such
anger continually boiled in him. How much of the writing was drug induced
is difficult to ascertain. Heroin is mentioned regularly throughout. Cobain is
constantly splitting himself as an alter ego throughout his writing, at times
seemingly contradicting himself in his logic, but absolutely insistent in want-
ing artistic freedom through punk rock expression. Self-masochism is evident
as well. Suicidal and depressive he writes, “I can’t speak, I can only feel.
Maybe someday I’ll turn myself into Helen Keller by puncturing my ears
with a knife, then cutting my voice box out” (115). The music is to be felt.
The lyrics are usually incomprehensible to grasp.
Like Jonathan Davis after him, it was Cobain’s “pain” that spoke to
Nirvana fans. This came across in a stunning way in MTV’s Unplugged con-
cert where Nirvana performed as was required, only with acoustic guitars;
Cobain stretched himself, both vocally and musically, to almost soulfully
express the pain of his life-experiences. As Hard Harry says in Allan Moyle’s
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Pump Up the Volume (1990), “You look around, you see nothing real. But
at least pain is real.” For Lacan, pain is Real, for psychic pain does have the
immediacy of an object but the cause remains elusive. Suffering does not go
away, but chronically repeats itself. As has been noted, depressions and
suicide of American adolescent youth (including both sexes) have steadily
risen since 1980 (Strauss and Howe, 1993, 83).
Kurt Cobain was also “fatherless.” The first 100 pages of Cross’s (2001)
book, Heavier Than Heaven, perhaps the definitive biography on Cobain’s
formative years to date, tells a wrenching and tragic story of an artistically
talented young man who was both saved and then destroyed by the music he
created. The divorce between his parents when he was seven-years-old deeply
affected him. Cobain said he never felt liked or secure since their breakup.
A hyperactive child, he was turned into a quiet and silenced student through
Ritalin. Cobain’s suicide note repeats this childhood trauma yet again. His
relationship to his parents was tortured and conflicted. Both parents could
be sarcastic and mocking, which constantly betrayed his fundamental belief
in them. They warned him that he would get a lump of coal for Christmas if
he wasn’t good, then left pieces of coal in his Christmas stocking every year
as a prank. Obviously, Kurt was already causing them difficulties in his early
childhood. In his journals, Kurt was to construe this as yet another example
of parental betrayal. His father, Don, was strict, while his mother, Wendy
was, at times, less than caring. When the Cobain’s divorced, Kurt stayed with
his father, but that brief moment of happiness, as father–son tried to come
to grips with the family breakup, was short lived. He felt continually betrayed
by both his father and mother, and wrote in his journal that he hated
them both (Journals, 214). Cross tells the harrowing story of him moving
from relative to relative, staying at friends and neighbour’s homes, sleeping
in hotel hallways and in cars. Cobain had moved a sum total of ten times
before he ended up in his own (rat-infested) apartment. Since the age of
seven he was unable to come to terms with his symbolic Father, and may well
have established only an imaginary relationship with Don. He was totally
antiauthoritarian—with a brief brush at being a Born Again Christian to help
anchor him. But that was short-lived. The police were no strangers; Kurt was
always in trouble.
From Cross’s biography, it is evident that Kurt’s death drive was already
present throughout his formative years, especially after the family divorce.
Talk of suicide, attempted suicide, and a macabre sense of humor in his art,
jokes, and aesthetic tastes were all there. He never fit in the usual high school
cliques—preppy, stoners, jocks, and nerds, remaining a loner. A drug
dependent kid (pot, alcohol, acid, LSD and, at times, he was reduced to
sniffing aerosol cans, and then eventually heroine) who wore a trench coat
no matter what the weather was like—which now sounds too familiar since
the Columbine shootings. He grew his hair long, which he seldom washed,
and sported homemade T-shirts with names of punk bands on them—one of
which was “Organized Confusion,” the fantasy slogan for the first band he
hoped to form (Cross, 2001, 48).
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Suicinr “No1r”
Cobain’s conflicted self is readily evident in his suicide note, which clearly
indicates a confusion between seeing himself as being hateful to others, and
at the same time, claiming that he was “too” sensitive and empathetic, afraid
of his fans’ empathy. It was fitting into the social order that threatened him
most. What emerges from this suicide note is his reluctance to perform in
front of crowds because he felt that he was now “faking” it. He had reached
a point of inauthenticity, afraid that he would lose being “true” to himself.
The “guilt” that he expresses (“I feel guilty beyond words” . . . reads the suicide
note) is not one of neurotic repression, rather it is due to the collapse of his
imaginary identification. He no longer feels “authentic” when performing in
front of a crowd’s gaze, to confirm his transgression. Guilt, a neurotic func-
tion, is a relation to the social Law. A subject feels guilty because a belief is
maintained that the big Other is an ideal order that assures meaning and con-
sistency to a subject’s actions. The Law is just. It recognizes you as a subject
(capable of guilt and transgression), and you recognize and legitimate it
through guilt and/or transgression. The question is how much of an “out
law” was Cobain? It seems that shame rather than guilt troubled Cobain. He
was ashamed of being an “asshole” (if we take Cross’s book Heavier than
Heaven into account), which is an imaginary function. His paranoia of others,
including his sadism to his friend Jessie, and his fear that Krist Novoselic and
Dave Grohl (the two other Nirvana members) were not doing enough, that
it was all up to him, indicate a self-narcissism of a bloated self-importance.
It may well be that Cobain managed to stave off his psychotic breakdowns
through his heroine addiction, constructing an imaginary world through the
plethora of notebooks that he wrote (they document his planning to be a
star); as well as his art work, song writing, and music that was loud, dis-
torted, and devoid of melody. He described himself as feminine and passive
(“I’m too sensitive,” says his suicide note), which is yet another indicator of
the feminization that occurs in psychosis. The band wore dresses in their
video for “In Bloom,” mocking hard rock’s masculinity, but also “they were
bringing out the original meaning of punk: a feminized sexually passive boy”
(Reynolds and Press, 1995, 97). Throughout his youth, masculinity had
always been an issue. He refused to be the macho male his father, Don,
wanted him to be. He was defiant in this regard. He disidentified with the
redneck “white trash” of Aberdeen, which included his mother’s previous
boyfriends, and his new step-dad. By Aberdeen standards, his first sexual
experience came late. An earlier experience of impotency had prolonged his
virginity. As Cobain (2002) wrote in his diary, “I am a male, age 23 and I’m
lactating. My breasts have never been so sore, not even after receiving titty
twisters from bully-school males. They had hair down there long before
I stopped playing with dolls. I haven’t masturbated in months because I’ve
lost my imagination. . . . I’m seriously afraid to touch myself ” (128). His
pubic hair had arrived later than most boys, a fact that his mother threatened
him with if he didn’t stop yelling at her during one of their many rows.
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How much of this hate and conflict with his parents was repressed is
physically evident by the stomach ulcers that he developed.
It was his inability to entirely separate from his mother, which is the more
telling story. In this regard Cobain’s alienation in language and impossible
separation from a pre-Oedipal Imaginary world is well illustrated by the
cover of Nevermind (1991), which features a baby swimming underwater
reaching out for a dollar bill on a fish-hook. The dollar-bill as the lure of the
symbolic—of the social order where desire awaits is precisely what he didn’t
wish to “sell-out” to. He wished to remain in the space of the Imaginary—
floating in the water—suspended between the terror of the Real, the Thing
as represented by his phallic mother and his own imaginary “authentic”
world. More revealingly their 1992 album was entitled Incesticide.
The band’s name “Nirvana” seems to confirm this imaginary fusion with
the Other (just like Axl Rose’s song “Coma”), which signifies an impossible
plenitude, to be had only in an Edenic imaginary, as in the idealization of a
psychosis and/or in religious ecstasy. (Interestingly, Axl and Cobain had a
small tiff at a trailer park during one of the concert tours where they happened
to be performing together. They never liked each other. Telling, perhaps, of
being too much alike, and wanting to differentiate from each other?) Cobain
was obsessed with heaven (according to his biography Cross). He believed
in Jainism, a Hindu religion that believes in seven heavens and seven hells.
Their 1993 album, entitled In Utero, seems to confirm his infantized and
emasculated subject position, caught in the struggle of trying to maintain his
imaginary world or falling into a complete psychosis. (Perhaps, not surpris-
ingly, in the first sentence of his suicide note Cobain identifies himself as
“emasculated, infantile complainee.”) In “Heart-Shaped Box,” Cobain is
caught in his mother’s “magnet tar pit trap” and asks for an “umbilical
noose” so that he can “climb out.” In “Scentless Apprentice” Cobain is a
“scentless” rejected baby who asks to be thrown “in the fire” so that he
might survive. Scents, smells, and odors are pre-Oedipal. They return us to
the intimacy of the Mother, to the Real self where there is no distinction
between the infant and her proximity. As these songs indicate, in Cobain’s
imagination his mother has rejected him. This again comes across in his
biography. He hated the boyfriends his mother dated and/or married. The
only woman he was close to was Iris, his grandmother on his father’s side.
Only she supported him.
This overwhelming invasion of jouissance can be noted again in his suicide
note where he writes of “sad little sensitive unappreciative pieces.” Cobain’s
suicide was already adumbrated in his journals. “I kind of feel like a dork
writing about the band and myself like this as if i were an American pop-rock
idol, demi god or a self confessed product of pre packaged, corporate rebellion.
But Ive read so many insanely exhaggerated (sic) wise tales and reports from
my friends, and ive read so many pathetic second rate, freudian (sic) evalua-
tions from interviews, regarding out personalities and especially im a notori-
ously fucked up heroine addict, alcoholic, self destructive, yet overly sensitive
frail, meek, fragile, compassionate, soft spoken, narcoleptic, NEUROTIC,
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little, piss ant who at any time is going to O.D, jump off a roof and wig out,
blow my head off or all three at once because I CANT HANDLE THE
SUCCESS! ” (185). Cobain continually acknowledges and disavows what is
being said of him in a classic structure of fetishism. This would be the stan-
dard reading. He claims that he is no heroine addict and that his stomach
ulcers are not caused from stress but that he has a rare stomach disease,
which he calls “COBAINS DISEASE” because medical doctors couldn’t
provide a suitable explanation (185).
This entry in his journal (185) holds a special significance. It is one of only
three typed pages that appear throughout his many handwritten journals
(some of which were stolen), the other two being short and not as reflexive.
In this entry Cobain seems to both deny and confirm his symptom, and it is
here where the term sinthome can be applied. It seems that Cobain identi-
fied with his symptom. He did not believe there was an interpretation for it,
a cure. In this special page he recognizes his “subjective destitution,” and
seems to traverse his own fantasy only to accept it for what it is. His “art
work,” which included his diaries, drawings, music, and music videos formed
a sinthome; that is, an invented signifier as a way to creatively function with-
out the signifier of the Name-of-the-Father. This imaginary world was a
hair’s breath away from a psychotic structure that would foreclose the Name-of-
the-Father. He became an authority in-and-of-itself through his own creation.
Can this “invented signifier” outside the phallic order be an instance of
feminine jouissance, as zoë ?
Cobain, however, could no longer hold onto a coherent imaginary ego,
the Symbolic Order invaded causing a psychotic break as his imaginary support
system collapsed. Lacan claims that every psychotic break is caused by an
encounter with the symbolic Father, the pure symbolic function of the Law.
In February 1992 Cobain married Courtney Love, and it seemed that Cobain
was increasingly forced into playing a role as a social/political/juridical father.
Trouble within the band erupted shortly after his marriage, Cobain suddenly
wanting the majority (91 percent) of the songwriting royalties. There was
pressure to be more of a “moral” spokesman as controversy developed
around his song “Rape Me” (In Utero, 1993), which was repeated during an
actual rape. Then there was the birth of his daughter, Frances (Fanny) on
August 18, 1992 forcing Cobain to once again face his own childhood and the
question of what it means to be a “father,” which he never had. A letter to his
father, Donald (Journals, 213–214) confirmed his love for his daughter and
his “contempt” for both parents for failing in their duty and responsibility to
him. (His suicide note directly addresses his daughter who reminds him of what
he used to be like. Cobain doesn’t want her to become “hateful” as he has; she
will be “happier” with him gone.) Revealingly, as he put it in his song, “Serve
the Servants” (In Utero, 1993): “I tried hard to have a father, but instead
I had a dad”—dad being his sustained imaginary relationship. These series of
incidents surely had their impact in sustaining the battle zone of Cobain’s
imaginary world. It finally collapsed. In a way his fans were half-right:
“fame” as the encroachment of the Symbolic Order did kill Kurt Cobain.
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Au1nrN1ici1v ns SINTHOME: MusicnI Noisr
ns S1nnNcr A11nnc1on
One of the most startling aspects of the last four chapters has been the
importance of something called “authenticity.” But this “authenticity” has
nothing to do with an “authentic self ” or an “authentic subject.” Authenticity
is to be found in the Real of the body and the drive. Such “authenticity” is
staged as an unconscious disinvestment with the established social order, an
identity that struggles not to be swallowed up by the Symbolic Order, to
remain uncastrated and beyond the phallic order, often unsuccessfully. This
is the “unary” point that defines gangsta rap, Jonathan Davis’s Nü rap-metal
and Kurt Cobain’s punk rock grunge. Cobain’s journals are replete with the
fear of falling into a situation where his music would become passé, out-
dated, and no longer meaningful. “I’ve always felt it was kind of necessary to
help out the ‘now Generation’ internally destroy the enemy by posing as or
using the enemy” (Journals, 255). He refuses to give Rolling Stone an inter-
view because “ex-hippie-turned hippiecrite (sic)” now read it. “Hope I die
before I turn into Pete Townshend [The Who]” appears twice in his journals
(185, 255), a play on Townshend’s “I hope I die before I get old” from “My
Generation.” To grow up then, means to have bought into the establishment.
Likewise, Davis, again and again, comes back to issues of abjection (“the
Untouchables” of society), while gangsta rap continually aims at the issues
of “the street.” Rage against the Symbolic Order is their defining sinthome
since it is a “suppletion” for the lack in the Symbolic Order. Their “authen-
ticity” is a turbulence fueled by the creation of a “dissipative musical object”
as their sinthome; structuring a unique and singular jouissance (as zoë) of
each subject.
Such a musical “dissipative object” is enigmatic for it provides
jouis-sens as the ultimate support of who they are as subjects, the particular
way they “enjoy” meaning, the way their painful-pleasure is felt and expressed
through their music. In doing so, their music acts as a “strange attractor” to
their fans and to them alike, since it maintains the order of its aim “chaoti-
cally,” as an ethical complaint that never repeats the same movement.
Thinking of the sinthome as an artistic event, where jouissance as zoë is
creatively used outside the Symbolic Order leads, paradoxically, to an art
form that escapes the dialectics of power. Nevertheless such artistic “noise”
has power precisely because it refuses to participate in the established
Symbolic system. It is power-free (Macht-los), related to the possibility of
releasing or letting free a position otherwise than power.
When this happens
it creates an event beyond the Law in the sense that, as “turbulent noise,” it
is not a counterpower as is usually thought in dialectical terms, which would
make it still operate within power (and powerlessness). Rather, it has a cer-
tain ethical resonance of its own.
It opens up a space for new power-free
relationality. Art as an event in this sense is “less and more than praxis”: it is
less than praxis because it doesn’t “do” anything, and more than praxis
because it denounces and underwrites praxis. It is political by being
apolitical. It doesn’t take part as “work” (Macht), which was what the
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“Slacker generation” celebrated; that is to say, it doesn’t participate in the
manipulative power of technology, although it uses technology for its own
ends. Musical noise is poiêtic in the way it calls into question the power
modalities of being (like gangsta rap, Slacker grunge, and the anxieties of Nü
metal) thus being politically transformative by being paradoxically power-less.
For these musicians to become hyperbolic parodies of themselves means that
their attraction has become predictable and repetitive—no longer “strange.”
Transposed in chaos theory, this means that their music as a particular genre
or system falls into a predictable point of attraction where it stops being
innovative—it becomes “pop.” Such “pop” attractors exhibit a “limit” cycle;
they come to a resting point (like the Nirvana principle), or go round and
round where repetition introduces no difference. A strange attractor, in
distinction, is able to generate a new signifier of difference. Hence, the fear
is that what “drives” these “noise” artists is that their sinthome, as their Real
core selves will disappear, and they fall into a mindless repetition, a “sell
out” (Cobain’s fear), or be “cured” and become “happy” (Davis), or become
complacent and well-off (gangsta rap).
The symptom is a Symbolic construction built around a Real kernel of
jouissance. For Freud, the symptom was “like the grain of sand around
which an oyster forms its pearl” (SE VII, 83). There is no subject without a
symptom. Both Freud and Lacan discovered that the root of the symptom in
the Real is impenetrable to interpretation. The dream of some sort of final
“cure” was not possible. Psychoanalysis was “interminable” in this respect.
A psychoanalytic cure removes repressions (the symbolic component of
a symptom) and lays bare drive-fixations, but does not lead automatically to
a removal of these drive fixations (fixations of a jouissance), which are already
fixed as a child. Jonathan Davis was already “banging” on everything in sight
at the age of three according to his father; Cobain was a hyperactive child
who suffered a terrible trauma at the age of seven, which left him alone and
abandoned. And, one can image the traumas suffered in the ghetto setting
of the ’hood that hothouse the desperation of gangsta rappers. What can be
changed is the position of the subject toward the drive processes. As argued,
gangsta rap can be sadistic and sadomasochistic; Nü metal and grunge
masochistic, all perverted subject positions that challenge the Symbolic Order.
Zizek (1992) put this sardonically as, “Enjoy your symptom.” Ultimately,
then, what is an ethics of “enjoying” your sinthome, a question raised in the
last chapter?
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MM Snow
SrninI CoNNrc1ioNs
One of the most disturbing conclusions of Mark Seltzer’s remarkable and
important study, Serial Killers: Death and Life in America’s Wound Culture
(1998), is “that the only difference between the normal subject (the psychic
killer) and the pathological one (the psycho killer) is the passage from fan-
tasy to act” (146). The psycho killer is the one who does what others merely
think, or in this study, make “noise” about. He (usually male) collapses the
distance between private desires and public acts. An identifiable profile for
the serial killer is not possible. Much more disturbing is Seltzer’s argument
that the serial killer is “the mass in person,” as he puts it. The collapse of the
distance between fantasy and act, between private and public, between the
thing and its representation, between the “inner” and “outer” self, is a col-
lapse of the self and Other, of the individual and the “mass” outside himself.
A fall into psychosis, in Lacanian terminology, is a collapse where the Real
overwhelms the person. The person becomes a “blank,” facing his own void
where there is no ego structure any longer to imaginatively frame the sym-
bolic discourses. Paranoid logic “literalizes a general logic of rivalry.” Quoting
Lacan, “If it’s you. I’m not. If it’s me, it’s you who isn’t” (S II, Ego in Freud,
169). The psychotic becomes Everyman who no longer is able to “personalize”
or “enliven” the language of the Symbolic Order, make it his own, and live
with its lack. Language, instead, becomes lethal, invading him as dead inert
matter—which it is.
Against a pop-Foucaldian account which overgeneralizes the “constructed
body” of discourse, Seltzer maintains that the fascination with the spectacles
of bodily violence as graphically illustrated in Foucault’s opening scene in
To Discipline and Punish have not gone away. Rather, it is impregnated in
American media and its music culture as public sex and public violence.
Marilyn Manson said it more prosaically; “We’re not feeding people to lions
for entertainment anymore. The times aren’t more violent, they’re just more
The psycho killer becomes a pole of fascination and attraction
because he realizes what, in our view, “drive culture” already demands:
namely, the collapse of the “normative” gap between private desires and
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public acts to accumulate commercial and spectacular “mass.” He represents
precisely this threat of private/public collapse where the individual is invaded
by the institutional “outside” (by mass social forces and technology) to the
point that he “snaps.” The logic of designer capitalism demands that we tap
into the aggressive “murderous unconscious” of our drives (Triebe) to achieve
individual gain at all costs. But, to do so brings us ever closer to psychotic
and paranoiac psychic formations. This, again, is the Anal Superego of the
Father of Enjoyment talking. The imperative is to live out our unconscious
fantasies unbridled, to “have our jouissance and eat it too.”
Seltzer’s thesis speaks directly to our own view of “drive culture” of
post-Oedipal postmodernity as maintained in Youth Fantasies (2004). In this
chapter and the next I try to fill out the promise of the importance of the
unconscious sadomasochistic pact between Metal-Punk bands and their fans
as introduced earlier. The unconscious “beating” that takes place in the
exchange can go either way: it can be therapeutic and masochistic as in the
transgressive acts of père-version, or it can turn suicidal and sadistic as a
psychotic act “beyond” the Law.
The link between masochism and sadism as Giles Deleuze (1989) pointed
out, does not form a complementary couple. A sadist believes he is answer-
ing the call of a higher ideal. (The majority of sadists are male but female
sadists are on the rise in the United States as well, according to the National
Mental Health Association, NMHA.) The sadist tortures his victims merely
as an executor of such desire. In contrast, the masochist searches for an
executor who will torture him (or her), whom s/he can instruct as to how,
as a victim, s/he is to be beaten. In a Rolling Stone interview Marilyn Manson
bluntly said, “I have people come up to me and ask me if they can cut me
while I cut them, or if I can put out a cigarette on their face. I can under-
stand that people are trying to make a first impression, but I think a lot of
people don’t understand what Marilyn Manson is about.”
Such masochistic
behavior can go to bodily extremes. Marilyn Manson’s autobiography
mentions two young girls who would follow him from concert to concert,
sit in the front row with the words “Marilyn” and “Manson” carved on each
other’s chests, with blood dripping down their tank tops from their self-
inflicted wounds. Metal-Punk-Goth fan relationship is mostly sadomasochis-
tic, but there are exceptions. In light of this, it may not appear so strange to
raise the figures of the serial killer and mass murder, whose psychosis is com-
plete, where authority has been totally foreclosed. It will help us to grasp the
violence and tragic shootings that have happened in many large cities and
several high schools throughout United States, Canada, and Germany.
To come to such a discussion, hopefully, will not seem so surprising as it
becomes developed in this chapter and the next. It should be recalled that
several members of the politically correct group Pearl Jam, a “grunge” band
that formed in Seattle in 1990, were formerly with a group called Green
River who took its name from the serial killer of over 40 women in the Kent
area of Washington. The band Macabre (“where all the ‘bad’ shirts go”) in
their album Sinister Slaughter (1993) pays homage to 21 of the worst serial
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killers around the world. And, of course, Marilyn Manson (a.k.a. Brian
Warner) who eventually became recognized at first through his persona of
the Antichrist, took his name directly after a serial killer and combined it with
the sexuality of Marilyn Monroe, two American icons. His name suggests the
very feminization and impotency developed in the last chapter on punk rock.
Manson explains it in terms of Eros and Thanatos: “ ‘Marilyn’ [Monroe] as
the white, positive aspect—the light—with the word ‘Manson’ [Charles]
which is the black, negative aspect. Without darkness you wouldn’t know
light and without evil, you wouldn’t know what’s good.”
Sex and violence
that form the logic of his name, and with which he plays with in his musical
performances, illustrate perfectly the impasse that exits between them in a
media culture that lives and breaths their spectacles. Sex and violence pro-
vide the crossroads between desire and power where again the tension
between the private and the public emerges. The merger of sex and violence,
when a collapse of their distance takes place, makes them “indifferent” to
one another in the form of “sexual violence.” Such a collapse presents an
undecidable dilemma as to whether this is strictly a sexual or a social act?
Whether one form substitutes for the other; namely, there is no sex in vio-
lence and no violence in sex? The issue is further problematized when sexual
difference is thrown into the mix, with some feminists arguing that men are
sadists at heart. Men almost always commit sexual violence. Marilyn
Manson’s (designated now as MM) performances exploit these impasses.
MM unmasked (like Jonathan Davis unmasked) would be a sexual killer on
the loose. He, rather his persona, claims to “present the ugly truth about
society, warts and all. . . . In the world that I envision, Marilyn Manson isn’t
necessary. But that’s not the world we live in.”
MM, of course, cannot take-
off his mask. That would surely “kill” him. His death drive is what paradox-
ically gives him life. MM comes across as the “bogeyman” precisely because
he comes too “close” in presenting the collapse of sex and violence. He pres-
ents a socially reflective mirror scratched by the nonreflective “stain” of the
Real, making his performances disturbing and a relentless target of cam-
paigns launched by the religious Right from the latter part of 1996 through
the fall of 1997. His band was picked in 22 separate cities, including Ozzfest
1997 and their Canadian tour (Crowley, 1998).
MM’s fans wear black-clad outfits, their faces are painted white, with black
eyeliner and black lipstick, but some men also wear fluorescent dresses and
frilly lingerie. The protests that appear by a concerned public, wherever MM
is set to appear, are precisely the gaze he and his fans are looking for to give
them the recognition they need to raise, in their minds at least, social issues
and concerns in America. Both ironic and sardonic, as well as being a brilliant
observer of social life, his mask speaks directly to the repressed American psy-
che concerning family values (Portrait of an American Family, 1994), hyp-
ocritical religious fanaticism (Antichrist Superstar, 1996), spiritual vacuity
(Mechanical Animals, 1998), capitalist consumerism of Hollywood which
packages transgression (Holy Wood: In the Shadow of the Valley of Death,
2000), and fascism and decadence (The Golden Age of Grotesque, 2003),
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enabling his fans to find a release for their own feelings of transgressive rage,
despair, and search for identification in what they also see as cynical world of
confusion and lies. MM’s Gothic quotes cannot be denied. Like Ozzy’s
Black Sabbath, there is an obvious and explicit critique of capitalist excesses.
But there are Gothic subcultures who would dissociate themselves from his
particular sadistic lashes to their more apolitical masochistic ones. Gothic
music has its own internal divisions as well—Industrial, Ethereal, Rock, and
so on. Unquestionably, they, like MM, probe the repressed side of modernity
through a sublime, dark, aesthetic vampirism and a celebration of sensuality
(Hodkinson, 2002).
Annic1rn 1o Scnrnr
MM is a hyperbolic exemplification of what Mark Seltzer (1998) calls a
“wound culture,” a culture where, as he argues, trauma has become coter-
minous with “the category of the subject tout court.” Such a model of the
subject has been “worn out.” “But the wearing out of this model of the sub-
ject has become the alamodality of the subject: trauma is nothing if not in
fashion today” (285, ft. 33, original emphasis). MM exemplifies such a
“wearing out” of the traumatic subject. His theatrical performances are
either seen as shocking, outrageous and disgusting or hilarious and amusing,
sardonic and ironic. He is a hybrid half-monster and half-avenging angel.
Like a number of sci-fi movies (Copycat, Virtuosity, Strange Days), MM as
the “mass in person” provides the site/sight/cite of confusion between the
near collapse of the “inside and outside” where a mimetic identification takes
places between self and Other. In the equation of “abused and victimized as
a child,” leads to “abusive and victimizing as an adult” (257), it’s as if MM
is excused for his atrocities because of the trauma of his childhood. This side
of MM displays his worst drug induced sprees of nihilism: dragging naked
girls around on stage on a dog leash, performing acts of self-mutilation (450
scars up to the time of his autobiography written in 1998), his threat of
killing a band member, and tying a naked woman to a cross. The list goes
on, but more as fiction than fact. As Seltzer puts it, “One can [no] longer
tell whether this switchboard of the soul is the literalization, or realization,
of interior states (the delusion of the reference of the influencing machine)
or the impact of the literal technologies of mass mediated public culture
(machinic influence)” (263). This could well be the summation of MM’s
second theatrical performance, Mechanical Animals (1998), yet another
instance of Deleuze’s becoming-animal. “One can no longer tell whether
this is a mater of (self-)representation or (worldly) reference, psychosis or
sociology” (264). This indistinction between inside/outside, that is, the
“endless switching between them,” which is held apart by the thinnest of
margins at times by MM’s acting out, provides an insight as to why he was
falsely accused of being linked to the Columbine shootings.
MM is the postmodern update of Batman’s Joker, complete with a perma-
nent white death mask, lipstick, mascara, stringy hair, milky contact lenses,
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huge platform boots, occasionally sporting “man-boobs” and stilts, and
laughing hysterically at the Law through his performances. Like the Court
Jester, he is no Fool, but often a brilliant social critic who gets away with his
outrageous acts by playing an ambiguous role. On stage the persona of MM
as Antichrist or Omega, his rage is clearly felt; off-stage as MM he is articu-
late, insightful, clever, and never short of displaying a wry sardonic wit. Brian
Warner (a.k.a.) is effectively dead. MM addresses himself in the third person
during interviews making him appear as only a constructed self, confirming
Seltzer’s observation of the psychotic/social subject who has walked through
Alice’s “looking glass” and decided to stay there, in a state of constant
becoming, an exemplary schizo subject in Deleuze and Guattari’s (1987)
meaning of the term. He is a living self-therapeutic work of art.
MM’s autobiography written with Neil Strauss, The Long Hard Road Out
of Hell (1998) appeared 2 years after the success of Antichrist Superstar
(1996). It provides graphic evidence for a series of childhood traumas man-
ifest as nightmares, dreams, and empathetic numbness from which he suffers.
He had an abusive and absent father who was a victim of Agent-Orange in
Vietnam. Warner was a skinny-mental white-trash geek kid who was beaten
up and bullied at school; at the age of eight he was both repulsed and fasci-
nated by his cross-dressing grandfather who masturbated to bestial porn in
(no less) his basement while a model train disguised the noise of his sexual
activities. Warner also suffered from self-mutilation, cutting his body so that
he could “feel.” All this was then topped off by private schooling in a strict
evangelical Christian school (Heritage Christian School) which grounded his
hate for fundamentalist religion. Add to this remarkable picture his bizarre
sexual and drug experiences with a group of small-town-Satanists living in
Canton, Ohio, and it becomes even more remarkable that he came to fashion
himself as he did. In this respect, the book is appropriately titled with its
reference to Dante’s Inferno. He indeed did crawl out of his own hell leav-
ing him with a cynical attitude toward dominant reality, taken simply as the
current constructed belief system. “It takes one bullet to kill the whole world
because it’s all in your head.”
In a revealing interview regarding his latest performance, The Golden Age
of the Grotesque (2003), MM states to Barbara Ellen of The Observer, “I think
one of the reasons I got on stage was because I have a hard time relating
to people. It was a matter of being invisible as a kid [a ‘worm’ with no self-
esteem as stated in his autobiography]. I didn’t have to create an alter ego.
I had to create an ego because I didn’t have anywhere I could be. That was
part of the reason I created Marilyn Manson in the first place—to believe
in something. I couldn’t find Marilyn Manson in the world so I made him
up. . . . Whatever I do, whatever I say, I am Marilyn Manson now. I can’t turn
it off.”
MM lives his mask, unable to take it off. It is his sinthome. Without
the mask, he becomes unraveled, moments of slippage happen all the time
with his constant claim of being insecure in his interviews. He is afraid that
he might be swallowed up by the social Symbolic Order, or worse, that he
can no longer maintain his perverted position; that he would no longer be
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hated, no longer able to define himself against the Other, but obey its
demand. But, he always presents an articulate front.
MM’s attendance at a private Christian school, where he initially fostered
his animosity toward organized religion, had, at the same time, instilled a
peculiar set of Christian values, which he claims to still live by. As a work of
art, MM can be interpreted as enacting a fantasy of redemption that shaped
itself from those early experiences. He perceives himself as a messenger, and
although there are no hints of hearing voices in true psychotic fashion, he
claims to have “known” as early in high school (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)
that he was to deliver an Antichrist soteriology that would give him leader-
ship and power. He also made the statement that he suffers from being a
“delusional self,” believing “that every coincidence in your life is related.”
MM is continually testing himself in his redemption fantasy. “Things need to
go to a point of extremism in order to be born-again. Things need to go past
that point as far as they go, and then we’ll be innocent again. It’s my job to
sort of cleanse the world of all its sins. I’m offering up as a sacrifice to the
world to become innocent again.”
Again, this is the Romantic notion of the
innocent child. Christ, for him, was both the first rock star and a revolu-
tionary, while the Bible became a source for mythology and interpretation.
He credits the Christian Right as having made him a far bigger star through
their boycott antics, exposing their hypocrisy of a double morality of exter-
minating “evil with evil.”
Once again, his perverse position calls up authority,
and it is this Symbolic Order that encroaches on his freedom. “I fear being
a completely acceptable sheep in society.”
MM’s “industrial metal” is his dislike for mentally “weak” people and his
own fear that he would lose control of himself, become his own “bogeyman”
so to speak. It is a fine edge that he walks which borders on psychosis. “If
I hadn’t found a way to express myself through music, then I would have
ended that way [as a serial killer]. They’re [serial killers] just people. There’s
not much that separates us from them. That’s why people are fascinated with
To commit suicide in the name of MM would be a sign of igno-
rance, “one less stupid person in the world.”
To do this is to have missed
the point of his music, which is precisely to “save” fans from suicide. “I think
that people like me are writing music for people like that as an escape, to
make them feel like ‘You’re not alone, I grew up feeling the same thing.’ In
some cases, that’s probably the only thing that gets a lot of kids through
their teenage years. When I was a kid, music was the only thing to hide with,
if you don’t like the world around you. For me, I hid in books and I hid in
music, and that was what made me feel better about myself.”
MM offers
no “answers” but “just tr[ies] to make people think,” and not “to shock
them or scare them,” but to “try and get them to question” so as to enable
MM grew up never “fitting in,” hating his father (a furniture salesman),
while his mother, rarely mentioned in interviews, is said to be a fan of Boy
George and Elvis Presley. Like Jonathan Davis, MM was a “pimply-faced
white teenager who [got] beat up in school everyday.”
“I attract outsiders
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and misfits because I am one. I think I voice a lot of their alienation because
for a long time I felt it. Still do.”
The song and CD, The Nobodies expresses
this well in its refrain. “We are the nobodies/we wanna be somebodies/
when we’re dead/they’ll know just who we are.” This was taken as an
adumbration of Columbine. For MM, this song “encompasses the way I felt
growing up, and the way I think a lot of people feel—that you can just never
be good enough for people’s standards, and it’s a sort of ‘fuck you’ to
He perceives himself as strong-willed and smart because he alone
pulled himself out of depression and high school bullying through his music.
In this sense he comes across as a hypernarcissist, getting what he wants, or
pursuing something until he gets it, being moody and difficult at times. As
the ONE, he forms his own standards, which are either accepted or rejected.
“I ain’t here to condemn or condone. I’m here to go against the grain. I’ve
transformed my world so that I am my own work of fiction, with no bound-
aries to what I can do no limits. I’m saying anyone can do that. Anyone.”
Ironically, as MM admits, he is able to “fulfil the American Dream and be
whatever I wanted to be,”
the very neoliberalist goal of designer capitalism
that he rages against and attacks in his Holy Wood (2000) theatrical production.
Like Draiman of Disturbed and Cobain, MM perceives his inner core as
being “sensitive” with a “hard shell” around him to protect his fragility. This
inner core of innocence is his “inner child” which is equated to creativity as
well as to God. It is his driving force—the simthome of his jouissance. As zoë
(life), it becomes the impossible place that needs to be protected. This is a
subject of gothic revival; the soul lives in the basement of a fortified house,
a direct perverse response to the forms of “highly industrialized mechaniza-
tion” which heavy industrial music refers to. “In some ways, I’ve remained
this Peter Pan, trapped by my desire to live in my imagination than the stan-
dards people impose.”
Like Cobain, his grasp on the Symbolic Order is
tenuous. MM’s imaginary persona (Seltzer’s “the mass in person”) is held
together through his musical performances, which collapse the “outside”
onto himself as a conflicting storm of alternative perspectives on morality,
sexuality, stardom, violence, and authority. The private fantasy as public act
is done in the “safety” of the theatrical space of the stage, if “safety” is the
right word since there are plenty of moments where control has been lost.
CoIuruiNr’s Holy Wood: Tninn S1nixr
nNn You’nr Ou1
MM came onto the music scene effectively in 1996 when Antichrist
Superstar made number three on the charts, a surprising and unexpected
result given the failure of Portrait of an American Family (1994). Its success
can be contributed in part to the talents of Nine Inch Nail’s star, Trent
Renzor who produced the album. But MM and Renzor have had their
differences since that moment of collaboration. Antichrist is an apt repre-
sentation for MM. The traditional bourgeois family of modernism consisted
of a patriarchal head, the virginal receptive mother and one sacrificial son
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who would eventually inherit his father’s fortune. MM refused to make the
“sacrifice” to this family, rather he perverts the position, sacrificing himself
to a new redemptive “world.” He identifies instead with the anti-father who
takes sadistic pleasure in the sacrifice of others, especially his children.
Antichrist Superstar is a revisiting of MM’s childhood trauma of a dysfunc-
tional family. Part of the trauma was inflicted on him by his sixth grade
teacher, a Ms Price who said that the Antichrist was coming; for MM this
meant the end of the world, a literal interpretation of the Bible. According
to Ms Price, Episcopalians like his parents, and Catholics worshiped false
idols. All this led to his recurring nightmares and insecurity. Antichrist
Superstar was a confrontation with that traumatization by twisting the fan-
tasy in his own way by becoming the persona of Antichrist. The Antichrist
can most obviously be interpreted as the Biblical figure of Lucifer, the fallen
angel as MM claimed.
However, it can equally be read as MM’s interpret-
ing the historical heroic figure of Christ in own grotesque way to deliver his
warning and message concerning the sickness of the American way of life in
a(wry) way. “Extreme contradiction” and “paradox . . . has always been the basis
for Marilyn Manson,” he wryly admits.
“I think on Antichrist Superstar
I really split the left and right halves of my brain.”
It is Christ’s flaw as a
human being, subject to temptation and the fall to the “flesh,” like Martin
Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), that MM exaggerates.
“I consider it [Antichrist] to be a record about individuality and personal
strength, putting yourself through a lot of temptations and torments, seeing
your own death and growing from it.”
“The record is about seeing death
and growing from it. In the end, its about being Strong and being Alive.”
Antichrist Superstar examined the herd mentality of glam rock ’n’ roll by
staging a controversial fascist-like rally where the crowd gave straight-arm
salutes, and swastika-style flags flew. It ended with a pyrotechnic display
where banners come down while MM stood at the podium and Mastered the
energy of the boisterous crowd. “In making Antichrist Superstar, the point
was to become that ultimate villain in America. But I think that it was for
everyone to learn something, including myself.”
MM willingly sacrifices
himself, like the figure of Christ, to deliver this message. It is an act of
masochistic self-martyrdom, a giving of his body to make his statement. MM
has consistently claimed that he doesn’t intentionally “shock,” but tries to
make his audience think. It is another example of where “shock” proper that
traumatizes and the “shock of everyday life” in terms of media violence that
is available are obviously separable, but also very much related as to the
possibility of their exchange because of their very visceral intensity. MM opti-
mistically believes that his theatrical productions help transform society
into its teleological endgame, which can paradoxically be the utopia of an
Armageddon. Arriving at such a point where positive and negative cancel one
another out results in “the beginning of a new one [world] that’s better.”
It’s as if MM was attempting to stage or describe an event, as discussed earlier;
a moment where the system dissipates and changes. Antichrist Superstar was
to change the world “like the Manson murders did during the Summer of
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Love” in the sense that, like Manson, “media and politics” were to make him
“the scapegoat for a whole generation.”
MM continued with a persona change from Antichrist to Omega in
Mechanical Animals (1998). Here he explored the obsessive fantasy of being
“dead or alive” in a technological age. He concludes that one is only truly
“alive” by conquering one’s own fears. The question is raised in his perform-
ance whether the machines will take over since, for MM, humanity is already
“dead” so to speak; people are turning into animals by losing their “souls.”
In a wound society, however, the problem is that the “soul”—what MM takes
to be his personal God or creative expression—may already be mechanized,
and simply a digitalized simulacrum of externalized representations. In MM’s
view, “we numb ourselves with drugs, we numb ourselves with television, we
numb ourselves with the Internet, with prescription drugs, with whatever we
can find, because everyone’s afraid to be an individual.”
“A pill will make
you numb/A pill to make you dumb/A pill to make you anybody else/But
all the drugs in this world/won’t save her from herself ” (Coma White).
We have become “mechanical animals,” “shells without souls.”
MM claimed that this was the first time he was able to “feel” anything,
experiencing emotion on a new level. Mechanical Animals expresses well
enough, and yet again, the anxiety around the collapse between machine and
the human being Seltzer’s work refers to. The posthuman “terminator” as
machine is the relentless serial drive (Trieb) of the automaton-killer caught
not by desire, but unleashed to kill its ultimate target—the Mother—natural
reproduction itself. The antimodernist romanticism of MM points again to a
perverse fascination with wanting his girlfriend to give her aborted fetus to
him in a jar, a reminder of the birth–death cycle and his turn away from
“family” values. The mechanized killing of a fetus in abortion clinics seemed
to echo his mechanical animal theme of a postapocalyptic earth. This is a dead
and cold landscape symbolized by “Coma White,” the “white” referring to
the spiritual vacuity and inertia, while the “coma” is the state of suspended
animation, a state induced by television and advertising. The song, “The
Dope Show,” raises the question, “What does it mean when everyone is a
star in a bad B-movie?” The performance introduced MM as Omega.
Turning to glam-rock to make the production work, he appeared on the
front cover with prosthetic female breasts, an additional finger on each hand,
and an androgynous cod piece—a transfigured alien. It was a direct quote on
David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” This turn away
from the heavy industrial sound, ended up alienating many of his Goth fans,
who thought he had lost his way.
Holy Wood, performed in 2000, completes the trilogy that began with
Antichrist and Mechanical Animals. MM’s reasoning as to why Holy Wood
is a backward completion of what he then started is rather confusing. He
stumbles on each attempt to articulate an explanation in numerous inter-
views, as if to justify why he ended up in yet another transformed persona.
“The album’s title refers not just to the Hollywood sign, but also to the tree
of knowledge in the Garden of Eden, the wood that Christ was crucified on,
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the wood that Oswald’s rifle is made from and the wood that so many coffins
are made of.”
Jesus Christ, John Lennon, and John Kennedy were the
three revolutionary inspirations MM drew on for this performance. He cre-
ated another metaphorical space, Death Valley “where the disenfranchised,
the unwanted and the imperfect are, and Holy Wood is where everything
that is held up as being great and perfect exists.”
On the CD cover of Holy
Wood, he ironically appears crucified with a rose in his mouth, his face elec-
tronically pasted onto the Christ figure suspended in space, with his jaw
missing, as if he had been censored.
In general Holy Wood is an attack on the entertainment industry in LA where
MM lives. But it is much more than that: it is his answer to the Columbine
tragedy. It marked a response to media accusation that the Columbine shoot-
ings were directly attributable to his music. After a three month retreat into his
LA home, MM emerged “fighting back” to make his own statement regard-
ing media violence. Holy Wood represents yet another transformation of his
persona. Clearly he had suffered a “subjective destitution” from the accusa-
tions leveled at him. It’s as if the realization overtook him that, despite his
performances, not much changes, that his music had no significant effect,
otherwise why would he be accused of contributing to the Columbine tragedy
when all of his music was written as a warning? He either took up the chal-
lenge or had to leave the scene. As an autobiographical statement, MM
faced what he feared most: that his own ideological musical edifice for
transforming “Coma White” society was a sham. His “revolution” to reach
a perfect world in the persona of Omega had become just “another product,”
a world worse than the one he had came from. It is as if MM had recognized
his own sinthome. “His [Omega’s] only choice is to destroy the thing he has
created, which is himself.”
If the Antichrist was Alpha, then Omega, as the
Greek root maintains, had to be the final development to end it all. This
would be the completed cycle.
The Columbine tragedy raises once more the collapse of private desire and
public fantasy that cross “in a culture in which addictive violence has become
a collective spectacle” (Seltzer 253). Targeted by conservative groups and
the media, MM was singled out early in the investigation when the two
shooters were alleged to be his fans (which was not true). This led to the
cancellation of his 1999 tour (which had already started out badly when
Courtney Love and MM had a spat and Hole left the tour); MTV then pulled
his video, while radio stations no longer played any of his songs. Effectively,
MM was shut down with venues refusing his act. He made a strong and
articulate statement in Rolling Stone in 1999, making it clear that his previ-
ous performances were precisely criticisms of American media. “ . . . America
puts killers on the cover of Time magazine, giving them as much notoriety
as our favorite movie stars. From Jesse James to Charles Manson, the media,
since their inception, have turned criminals into folk heroes. They just cre-
ated two new ones when they plastered those dipshits Dylan Klebold and
Eric Harris’s pictures on the front of every newspaper. Don’t be surprised if
every kid who gets pushed around has two new idols.”
One of MM’s many
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watercolor paintings appeared in the same issue of Rolling Stone which
can only be described as a cartoon cousin of Francis Bacon’s grotesque
portraiture. “Crop Failure” featured two “finger” portraits of Klebold and
Harris drawn from their high school photographs. Their heads were painted
on the two finger of a hand which would represent a “V” for victory.
Columbine, as MM notes, is a flower while “crop” obviously refers to “rais-
ing up your children and harvesting them properly. Something did go wrong
here, and I think the farmers should be blamed, not the entertainers.”
MM made a statement a year after the shooting which confirms the thesis
of this chapter. “These kids ‘Klebold and Harris’ were mad because they felt
like they didn’t fit in and they wanted to show the world. And the world, in
turn gave them exactly what they wanted—they put them on the cover of
Time magazine. Twice. That was disgusting to me. I said this same thing ten
years ago when I created Marilyn Manson, there’s a very fine line between an
artist and serial or a mass murder. They’re both trying to get out the same
feeling, and they are doing it because they know that America is gonna put
’em on the news-they enjoy the fame of it.”
Eventually, MM was rolling
again, feeling he had been vindicated.
In MM’s The Golden Age of Grotesque (2003) Weimar Germany’s decadence
of the 1930s, Hitler and Cabaret are the sources of his inspiration, claiming
it seems, that postmodern America is yet another repetition of such deca-
dence and fascistic tendencies. Like all his previous theatrical efforts, this
performance has been either panned by critics or heralded as a new phase,
yet another new persona. However, on the whole, the reception has been
poor. In effect the first significant song, which follows a brief minute and a
half interlude (Thaeter), is called “This is New Shit.” The opening segment
reads, “There’s nothing left to say anymore/When it’s all the same/You can
ask for it by name.” The rest of the song works mostly on mindless and
numbing alliteration. It is a prophetic statement for both MM and his crit-
ics for it begs the question when does irony fail and turn into comedy? The
pretense of anger and rage become no longer sustainable. The “new shit”
is simply like the “old shit,” but fails to smell. Finally, sadly, the hoax is up.
The Joker cannot “joke” anymore because the “golden age of grotesque”
has become a parody of itself, the one fear that MM harbored all along:
he can no longer sustain a social critique of differentiation. Like Ozzy and
Alice Cooper, the fall is into the depths of sad face with running mascara.
Sex, drugs, and violence have become common stock, part of the “wound
culture” of everyday life where trauma becomes just another fashion to be worn
and displayed at the appropriate occasion. Perhaps MM has indeed been
replaced by Eminem as the new voice of white trash? A simple mic, the power
of words and no slap face against theatrical pyrotechnics, costuming and a
sound drenched in distortion and screams. The comparison couldn’t be
more startling.
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The serial killer and the mass murder present the two “extreme” pathological
responses to the psychic suffering (jouissance) as represented by the slacker
generation of the early 1990s grunge and punk music, which was then
followed by the Nü Heavy metal and industrial Goth groups of the new
Millennia. That is the thesis presented here. Their pathological actions, in
effect, execute the very unconscious desires, which, however tentatively, have
been sublimated by their music. In contrast, their aggression and violence
find a form of desublimated expression. The mass murderer and serial killer, in
effect, “act out” such barely repressed desires, the unconscious wishes of the
Metal-Punk-Industrial Goth music, making them come “true,” so to speak, as
criminal actions. Like the gangsta rapper who sadistically kills, the mass mur-
derer and the serial killer are “anti-slackers” in the very same sense. They “do”
what the slacker generation unconsciously desire, acting out their aggression
outside the Law. They are most “alive” when they kill. Both literally and
metaphorically speaking, the death-drive of the gun is not turned in on the self
masochistically, as was the case with Cobain, Davis, Rose, Morrison, Marilyn
Manson in forms of self-punishment through their music, or actually through
self-mutilation. Rather it is directed outward toward innocent victims, more in
line with the exploits of Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols who stabbed his girlfriend
Nancy Spungen to death and then OD-ed himself. Or, figures like Charles
Manson who, as a failed musician, exemplified the Anal Father with his dia-
bolical control over his “family.” While these are the psychotic exemplars of
musicians, there are also fans who are addicts, caught up in their own death
drive who are the most likely to kill, like Mark Chapman, John Lennon’s killer
as discussed in Youth Fantasies (2004, 59–60).
It should be pointed out that this references a layer of music where the
drives lie on the “surface,” so to speak. The sublimation of aggression is con-
tained by “noise”; that is to say, by the rhythm, intonation, and quality of
the utterance that lies just below intelligibility and meaning of the signifier.
This is the pre-Oedipal space of holophrastic speech where utterances are not
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distinctly made out, but left for the fans to decipher and “plug in” their
desire in their own way. Not every rock n’ roll star, punk, metal, or rap singer
who comes from a difficult family situation necessarily “acts out” sadistically.
The sublimation of musical forms varies as well. Each band has found their
own confinable aural/oral soundscape that cocoons them. John Lennon,
for example, certainly one of the key figures of rock rebellion, came from a
family where his mother never wanted him and his father abandoned the
family, a profile that fits well within the family structures that have been
discussed. Yet, Lennon was able to sublimate his jouissance through his
music. In his first post-Beatles album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970),
his song “Mother” addresses his pain of parental loss and his desire to have
them come back (“Mama don’t go, Daddy come home,” repeated nine
times). The album ends with the nursery rhyme, “My Mummy’s Dead,”
which suggests a lingering melancholia. (“My mummy’s dead. . . I could
never show it.”) Lennon had not been able to fully mourn the loss of his
mother, however, he could address this “loss” through his music. John and
Yoko were both practitioners of Dr. Author Janov’s primal scream therapy.
According to Reynolds and Press (1996, 216), the final coda of “Mother,”
where Lennon “beseeches his departed mother and absent father with some-
thing between a chorus and a sob, a repeated, retching expectoration of rage
and regret . . . remains unrivalled [as a] cathartic extremity of grief ” in the
history of rock music.
As can be seen from the previous discussion, when it comes to Gangsta
Rap, Punk-Heavy Metal, Grunge, Industrial Goth music, perversion in its
sadomasochistic forms and sadistic psychotic bouts are the two responses to
Authority. Aggression has been sublimated through the music by the
Imaginary psychic register—but just barely containing the effects of the Real.
With psychotic breakdowns the Real overwhelms the subject presenting the
uneasy feeling that the music was somehow the cause of the violence—
demonic in its nature as the voice turns to cold death—rather than recog-
nizing that often this music is the last remaining defense to appease the
skin-ego. These represent the masculine transgressive structures against and
beyond the Law in rock n’ roll. As “alternative music” they are distinguished
from the more mainstream neurotic hegemonic music of “pop.”
transgressions, in a minimalist sense, still maintain a distance to the Law and
do not exist entirely outside it. From this perspective, the music industry,
aside from its capitalist failings, is still one of the most important institutions
to provide a space where the sublimation of youth anxieties can take place to
contain the death drive.
This division of perverse and psychotic structures separates transgressive
music along post-Oedipal lines. Both positions are responses to the “loss” of
Oedipal authority. In general, the perverse position answers to the Paternal
Metaphor, while the psychotic answers to the Maternal Thing as the Phallic
Mother who is all controlling. The perverse music structure is characteristic
of a rebellion against the established Law, the “hard” phallic side of which
Gangsta Rap and Death Metal bands like Slipknot are examples. Slipknot, in
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their Killers are Silent album write: “I write my own laws with Death/
I break bread/Killers are quiet when they come from the head.” Such state-
ments border on a psychosis. The music range is both sadistic (2 Live Crew,
Slipknot) and masochistic (Ice-T, Eminem, Disturbed, Ko}n, Marilyn
Manson) in relation to the Law, as inward and outward aggressive responses
respectively. A band like Ko}n clearly presents a masochistic form. In con-
trast, psychotic musical structures are engulfed by a Maternal superego
where there is nearly a complete foreclosure of the Symbolic Order. Here,
aggression as the fear of the feminine can be directed inward, as an uncon-
scious wish fulfillment of matricide (e.g., Grunge and Cobain), but also as a
psychotic bout of outward expression as in the drive-by killing of gangs as a
wish fulfillment of patricide. To summarize: if the sublimation totally fails
then the masochism attached to père-version ends in the psychosis of mass
murder and (usually) suicide. This is a result of an alienation from the
Symbolic Order. If the sublimation fails in the separation from the Mother,
then this is a psychosis of a serial killer. Fans killing and stalking their idols
as in the case of Mark Chapman’s killing of John Lennon is a psychotic act,
but not a serial one. The binary couplet can be reductively summed up once
again in pop-psyche fashion as the pervert being “bad” on the outside and
“good” on the inside, while the sadist seems “good” on the outside but
“bad” on the inside. The first transgresses the Law to instill it, while the
second is completely an out-Law, beyond it.
Another way of comprehending what’s going on with psychotic delusions
is to say that the pervert finally becomes “unmasked”; he is no longer able
to maintain an imaginary skin-ego that minimally provides protection against
the Symbolic Order. In Lacanian psychoanalysis a distinction is made between
psychosis, which is a clinical structure where the Name-of-the-Father has
been foreclosed, and psychotic phenomena such as delusions and hallucina-
tions. It could be said that Kurt Cobain was unable to maintain his “authen-
ticity” any longer, the same fear that jolted David Draiman of Disturbed for
a passing moment when interacting with a tattooed fan, while Marilyn
Manson is delusional. What was unconsciously foreclosed returns in the Real
as a hallucination. Fans claimed Cobain to be “gentle and good,” a “sensitive”
performer, while he himself felt he was “too sensitive.” When the mask
comes off there is only the flood of the Real. No protection is left. A point
of suicide, or a desire to kill is reached because the Other is so threatening
and so close that is all that is left: either outwardly kill or inwardly kill one-
self. This is why “rage” needs to be masked. The “temper tantrums” must,
to some extent, be artificially, performatively, and ironically staged.
It becomes problematic only when such a mask itself becomes Real, which
is the other possibility. The mask cannot be removed (as in the movie
The Mask). Marilyn Manson manages from slipping into psychosis by chang-
ing his already permanent mask into various personas, and then performing
as a sardonic “intellectual” as Marilyn Manson. The Mask begins to take-over
in the mirror, and once more the skin-ego becomes a prisoner to the alter ego.
One actually believes that one is famous in no need of the Symbolic Order, like
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the King who actually believes he is the King, and not because of the
status given to him by the social order. Not allowing yourself to be seen with
your mask off, like Kiss, Slipknot, and Marilyn Manson, raises disturbing
Michael Jackson’s two children, Prince Michael I, six and four-year old
daughter Paris are forced to wear masks whenever they go in public to
conceal their identification, living out Jackson’s own paranoia that they
might be kidnapped if their faces are captured by paparazzi and distributed
in the tabloids. Paradoxically, Jackson’s paranoia has made photographing
their faces by the paparazzi that much more desirable, increasing the photo
barrage whenever they are out in public. His children have never seen their
surrogate mother (Debbie Rowe), and believe that they don’t have a mother,
only a father. The new baby, Prince Michael II is fed with muslin draped over
his head so that his identity remains protected as well. Jackson is clearly delu-
sional. He claims to be persecuted by the big Other as represented by the
media, the press, tabloids, and paparazzi.
In a strikingly similar parallel,
Madonna has banned television in her household for the past three years
because she claims that the media misrepresents her (and her latest director
husband Guy Ritchie). Both Jackson and Madonna fear the symbolic gaze
confirming their hypernarcissism and the dominance of the Imaginary look.
To do so would be to loose their “authenticity.” Bouts of paranoia charac-
terize the delusionary behavior of both Jackson, who refuses to recognize
that his career as the “King of Pop” is waxing at the age of 44, and Madonna,
whose inflated self-importance remains undiminished despite confirmations
that films like The Next Best Thing, Evita, and Swept Away were utter failures.
She is, at best, a mediocre actress and singer, but a superb publicist. Both
Jackson and Madonna, who had abusive fathers as children, attempt to prop
us the missing symbolic function through an entertainment venue that
allows them to materialize their delusions in a perverted form. Jackson can
retreat to Neverland, while Madonna can hide in her mansions in the hills of
Hollywood, or in the anonymity of a metro-lifestyle in London with hus-
band Ritchie and her two children. Her 2003 album American Life must
surely rate high on the hypocrisy charts: Madonna condemning the very
values that assured her fame as a pop diva, appearing on the CD cover as Che
Guevara, a romanticized image of rebellion that she further aids in emptying
of meaning like Che T-Shirts and underwear, taking away the struggle for its
resignification by youth movements against corporate globalization, US
imperialism, and war throughout the world.
Bands wear an obvious alter ego persona, like the Gothic attire of Kiss,
Metallica, Marilyn Manson, Slipknot, while rappers take on an a.k.a. to
enable the exploration of fantasy life and maintain their sanity. It is when the
gap between the self and alter ego begins to collapse that paranoia, psychotic
delusions, hallucinations, and psychosis show themselves. As argued, Marilyn
Manson walks this thin line. To venture a speculation, bands that lean toward
the perverted transgressive side have more “staying power.” They last longer
and stay together longer in their railing against authority, obsessive in their
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attempt not to acknowledge the Symbolic Order, thinking that all along they
are “stealing” some jouissance back in a sublimated effort to restore the
“missing piece” of their lost masculinity. One thinks here of the long list of
albums that are produced by the likes of the Rolling Stones, Kiss, Metallica,
Panterra in contrast to those bands that lean toward a psychotic, meteoric
pattern, especially in punk and grunge (Sex Pistols, Nirvana), “breaking up”
all the time, unable to find the stability amongst themselves. The mask (alter
ego) that is worn—figuratively or literally—is the minimal distance required
to make the phallus function as a “fraud,” and place an ironic twist on its
impossible “full” power as exemplified by a psychotic state. A knowing wink
has to take place to show that the rock star is all-too human. Another way to
put this is to say that a certain “feminization” has to take place to maintain
a distance from the Phallus. The mask is the lure that allows appeal, affection,
and love to take place. Mick Jagger, for example, remains over the years
rock-hard on stage performing a certain persona that the band exemplifies.
Off-stage and in interview situations, he is no longer acting out as some
bands do (Kiss and Slipknot never “unmask” in public). At 58, performing
his second solo album, Goddess in the Doorway (2001), Jagger’s songs speak
to his own self-proclaimed castration. In “God Gave Me Everything,” he
ends by saying, “crazy you said, its all in your head,” a recognition of the
delusion of having it all. In “Joy,” he asks for salvation. He also sings several
ballads (“Call Me Up” and “Brand New Set of Rules”) addressing lost love,
as well as a “pop” song, “Visions of Paradise.” This is an exposure of a much
more frail masculinity than his stage persona would ever reveal. His off stage
persona seems to be summed up by a self-portrait of him photographed by
Karl Lagerfeld. Jagger’s half-naked body is bound to a ladder with heavy
black tape, his face seen only in profile with no direct camera address.
masochistic reference to Saint Sebastian and Jagger’s inability to climb the
ladder of success for whatever personal reasons are quite obvious. Contrast
this to pop star Michael Jackson who wears a permanent mask and retreats
to Neverland. His abusive father and Jehovah Witness religious upbringing
has made him fearful of genital sex. His pre-genital perverse behavior is
entirely feminized, while his impotence has been harnessed to reproductive
technologies of surrogate motherhood. Jackson’s love for the “innocent”
child illustrates perfectly the paradox of the child perceived as “the father of
man” and the “route to knowledge” celebrated by Romanticism, a theme
that repeats itself quite often especially in its Goth forms.
Mnss Munnrn nNn SrninI KiIIrns iN
FnN1nsv nNn RL
Lacan described the way inner tensions between the ego (how the subject
perceives him/herself ) and the superego (how the subject is being observed
by the Law) are resolved through the committal of a criminal act to release
pent up anxiety and aggression. These are acts of a specific mode of “sub-
jectivization” in which the subject tries to resolve his or her inner tensions,
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traumas, and inhibitions. Lacan distinguishes between a paranoia that is
resolved through self-punishment where the aggressive drive of the uncon-
scious is directed inward (which, effectively speaks to the imaginary sublimated
forms of music described above), and a paranoia of demand (Salecl, 1993).
The former is a self-destructive aggressive impulse; the struggle is against
one’s own desire by trying to destroy oneself (e.g., Cobain). In the latter
case, the desire is delusional. The aggression and hatred that is projected
outward is perceived as coming back. It becomes an external aggression that
has to be defended against (e.g., Sid Vicious).
The serial killer and the mass murderer are the two distinct responses to
this paranoia of demand. They constitute two distinct forms of subjectiviza-
tion (passage à l’acte) to the Law. The serial killer is someone who kills
(usually) a large number of innocent people over a long period of time.
In contrast, the mass murderer kills a number of people at once in a psychotic
breakdown. The serial killer is usually characterized as a psychotic who kills
women. He is threatened by women’s jouissance. The absence of the prohi-
bition of incest, which is normally barred and repressed, is all too available
to him. Most serial killers are incapable of sexual intercourse and any sort of
sexual relationship. They are afraid of being devoured by the woman’s jouis-
sance. Killing women becomes a way of “getting off,” masturbating and ejac-
ulating after the killing since they are usually impotent. Generally speaking
these are clandestine, surreptitious crimes that are not meant to attract the
Law. Yet, at the same time these murders are also a demand for the Law as
the prohibition of incest. Matricide is, in effect, a search for the father who
would deny him access to his mother.
There is a direct fascination of the serial killer in the United State’s
collectively repressed psyche that speaks to an American individualism gone
amok in its total disregard and indifference to the Law (Seltzer, 1998). The
outlaw personified the gun as his Law. They are the “Cowboys From Hell”
(Cowboys From Hell, 1990) as Panterra put it, followed by their song “Psycho
Holiday.” This fascination with the serial killer is readily evident in the
plethora of Hollywood films beginning with The Boston Strangler (1968).
Tony Curtis cast in the starring role already set the ground for making
the serial killer sexy and handsome; women sent Curtis fan mail wanting to
be “strangled.” Death and sexuality are intimately related. Many films have
emerged since that specifically profile the serial killer as a “hero”: as the
Oral Father in the figure of Hannibal (Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal ); an
“ordinary-looking” drifter in John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a
Serial Killer (1986), as a diabolical “Sword of God” executing transgressors
of the seven sins of excess in David Fincher’s Se7ven (1995); as a figure of a
“wolf ” in the retelling of Little Red Riding Hood in Freeway (1996), and
even in the figure of two high school students, Richard Haywood and Justin
Pendleton in Murder by the Numbers (2002) who commit the “perfect”
crime out of sheer kicks and boredom. One is reminded here of the murder
of two-year-old James Bulger in England by two ten-year-old boys in 1993.
Not so perfect, his abduction was caught on video surveillance film.
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There are a dozen lesser-known, poorly produced and distributed films
that explore the serial killer theme. In the European context the fascination
is not nearly as profound, but more and more films seem to be emerging in
this genre. The extraordinary film directed by Michael Powell, Peeping Tom
back in 1960, presents the maternal superego that haunts the serial killer of
girlie models in a rather unusual reversal. It was his father who suffocated the
young Mark Lewis by using his son in a scientific experiment. He documented
every waking moment to study and record the effects of fear on the nervous
system leaving no symbolic space for Lewis to distance himself from the
anxiety and constant gaze of his father’s camera. Now, Lewis searches to
photograph the very moment of death that he wishes for. Viewing the slides
of the expression on the faces of the women captured before their throats
were slit by a knife concealed in the camera’s tripod is the only way he is able
to become sexually aroused. There is also the extraordinary Belgium film,
C’est Arrivé Près de Chez Vous (1992) (It Happened in Your Neighbourhood,
released under the English title, Man Bites Dog). The serial killer is “docu-
mented” by a group of young cinema students (Rémy Belvaux, André
Bonzel, and Benoît Poelvoorde) committing his crimes. In the end, the
psychopath, Ben, ends up killing all of them. In the final scene the camera is
left lying on the ground floor, picture tilted, leaving the viewer unnerved and
unequivocal that the film was truly a documentary without any actors in it.
The Blair Witch Project (1999), directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo
Sanchez, essentially quotes this film with the final scene being homologous.
Another exemplary film, rare in the sense that its serial killers are two
women, Manu and Nadine, is the hard-hitting French film Baise-Moi !
(2000), directed by Coralie Trinh Thi and written by Virinie Despentes,
translated best perhaps by the exclamatory expression, “Fuck Me!” in its
passive meaning of astonishment and an active sense of a demand. Both
women loathe men. They have been raped by their own fathers and brothers,
abducted and raped yet again. These are Sadean women who have turned the
table on the men. The only way to maintain their fragile egos is to use men
as they please, and then kill them. One of them manages to commit suicide,
and puts an end to her suffering; the other is not as “lucky.” The police
finally catch up with her just as she is about to follow her girlfriend and end
it all as well. Too late.
The blurring of fiction and reality in many of the above films leads to the
horror that the serial killer is already set loose among the unsuspecting and
naïve public. He is not disguised, wears no mask, and seems to be an “ordi-
nary” guy (Seltzer, 1998). What if at the heart of the American psyche sits
the Ego Ideal of an omnipotent capitalist who is on a “symbolic” killing
spree of his own? Left unrepressed with free reign, isn’t this the “core” Real
subjectivity of a CEO psychopath let loose in the Symbolic Order to eliminate
“fat” so that his company can survive, metaphorically “killing” workers due
to downsizing and reengineering? Workers become disposable “surplus” fodder
(Stein, 1999). The CEO has so much wealth, earning an obscene wage in com-
parison to ordinary workers that he no longer feels anything—anaesthetized.
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Paranoid, he fears intimacy least someone curbs his jouissance and takes his
“fun” away. Such a figure is held to be a hero amongst Wall Street executives
and investors, like CEO Jack Welsh (a.k.a. “Neutron” Jack) who only left the
building standing after restructuring General Electric, much like a neutron
bomb is supposed to do; or CEO Albert J. Dunlap (a.k.a. “Chain Saw” Al)
who trimmed the fat from Scott Paper and latter Sunbeam (Allcom, 1994).
The United States financial market was rocked by a series of corporate
accounting frauds in 2002. CFOs (Chief Financial Officers) like Andrew
Fastow (formerly of Enron) and Scott Sullivan (formerly of WorldCom) have
joined hands with CEOs in abetting this continued symbolic fratricide and
patricide of global capitalism.
Such a theme is explored by Bret Easton Ellis’s controversial novel,
American Psycho (1991), and Mary Harron’s film based on the novel—
American Psycho (2000). The narrator is a Wall Street stockbroker, Patrick
Bateman—a direct quote to the infamous psychopath, Norman Bates in
Hitchcock’s Psycho. Bateman has access to so much “pleasure” in his life that
he experiences none of the anxiety that confronts those caught in trying to
reach the American “dream” as served up by neoliberalist rhetoric; or by the
advertising industry that sell the commodities of the “good life” that are to
be envied; or the pornographic industry that promises sexual fulfillment.
Bateman eats at the best restaurants, wears the best clothes, lives in a pent-
house, is interested only in designer drugs, brings in call-girls that obey his
every whim, and literally kills his competitors at work if they prevent his
career from progressing. He seems to possess a celebrity status. In short
Bateman has reached a point where such access to unlimited jouissance turns
into something else. There is nothing barring his desire, which leaves him
bored. Bateman is the Anal Father, the Father of Enjoyment. In comparison
to the dull, banal life of those without money and access to consume the
finest things money can by, Bateman has it all; by having it all, paradoxically
he has nothing. In the end the point of Ellis’s ironic allegory of American
neoliberalist ideology of consumerism is that it leads to an impotence, the
very opposite of the aggressive masculinity of dominance that is presented as
its Ego Ideal.
Bateman may well have fantasized all these killings in his paranoid state.
His existence lived out only in his imaginary, the material goods numbing his
experience of desire. In the end, no one believes him. It was as if such killings
never actually occurred but were only his unconscious wish fulfillments.
We come to the ugly conclusion that at the core of the capitalist global psy-
che sits the Anal Father of enjoyment, an idealized masculinity, impossible to
reach, but the closer the male approaches to this Ego Ideal the more phallic
and macho he believes he becomes, the more impotent he gets. Such a figure
is the serial killer. The global fratricide of symbolic global capitalism (one
company swallowing up another to become bigger, treating its workers as
abject material to be jettisoned for more efficient running of the company as
machine) is a restatement that the Father of Enjoyment is still laughing at his
sons. They have not ritually killed him. On the contrary, as Milton says in
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Taylor Hackford’s film, The Devil’s Advocate (1997), he has made a come
back. He owns the twenty-first century (jagodzinski, 2001). What has not
been understood is that such unconscious striving to avoid castration leads
only to a masculine paranoiac ego structure characterized by impotence,
suicide, self-loathing, and the hate of the Other, especially women, from
which this flight of differentiation takes place.
Psvcno1ic DrIusioNs: Mnss Munnrn
ns Mrnin GIonv
Serial killers are indifferent to the Law. The spectacularity that has been
attached to them through Hollywood movies and books may be summed-up
by the horror of the crime itself—the mutilation of the body in pieces. Some
victims are skinned alive, others surgically operated on, yet others have their
organs consumed after the kill, or some body part that is collected (feet,
hand, ears, for instance). In Ridely Scott’s Hannibal (2001), the vengeful
ex-patient, Mason Verger is out to even the score because Dr. Lecter made
him cut his own face off with a piece of glass and feed it to his dogs! The
more gruesome the crime, the better the ratings. The police concentrate on
the similarities of the killings, searching for clues that point to the next
possible victim, examining areas in the city where the majority of the kills
take place; the patterns the killer uses, even though their task to uncover the
next killing is “impossible” to predict. Even the technological wizardry of
C.S.I. (Crime Scene Investigation) can’t help here to appease fears and
ensure the public that in the end the practice of rational science can solve
such crimes.
The spectacularity of killing, however, belongs to the mass murder (also
“impossible” to predict), and this has a direct relation to the media
and media violence, fame, and stardom that characterizes our postmodern
Zeitgeist. The mass murder wants attention. He wants the gaze of the Other,
the Symbolic Order to be on him, either before or after the killing spree. The
mass murder demands an agent that would recognize him as a subject.
He demands that the Other, the Symbolic Order, respond to the crime by
finally giving him an identity. Such killing sprees have the characteristics of a
parricide, for the Name-of-the-Father does not function as a representative
of the Law. It is an attempt to kill the Symbolic Father so that he would
finally do his duty, which is to restrict the son’s jouissance and recognize him
as a subject. He kills, in effect, because he can no longer maintain an identifi-
cation with the Father of unlimited jouissance—his alter ego. His alter ego,
projected at the imaginary level as existing “outside” the Law where unlim-
ited jouissance is available for him, finally takes over. The mass murderer is
overwhelmed with such jouissance when a psychotic breakdown finally
occurs and he goes on a killing spree. An event in his life occurs that is just
too much to bear. The Symbolic Order encroaches on him to the point where
his imaginary alter ego can no longer stave off the effects of the superegoic
Real, and he snaps.
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Unlike the serial killer, the attack is always on innocent individuals who
represent for him some symbolic referent, usually associated with the role of
the symbolic father as it plays out in his autobiography. For some it is the
government, as was the Denis Lortie case in Quebec, Canada; for others it
was children. Thomas Hamilton killed 16 children in Dublane, Scotland.
For Marc Lapine the symbolic target was women; he killed 16 engineering
students at L’Ecole Polytechnique, Montreal. Teachers, principals, administra-
tors, and “jocks” as the epitome of the Symbolic Order in the high school
were the various targets of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold in Littleton,
Colorado and Robert Steinhäuser, in Erfurt, Germany who killed 17 people.
In the workplace a decorator in Freising, Germany killed his former
employer and principal of a technical college. In Kip Krinkel’s case, a 17-year
old who killed his parents and two classmates and injuring 25 others in
Thurston High School, Oregon. Disney was taking over the world and
China was going to invade the United States.
The examples in each category can be multiplied. The occurrence of these
incidents are much more common than only the spectacularized and media
hyped examples discussed here, as any preliminary Internet search readily
shows. What is different about these more publicized media-hyped mass
killings is that they have taken place in geographical locations that threaten
to destabilize the hegemonic complacency of middle-class family values.
They are a threat to a life style defined within a capitalist consumer milieu
where individual competition, search for good jobs, and material accumula-
tion is the order of the day. High schools of white suburban America like
Thurston High School, Oregon and Columbine High School, Colorado, a
primary school in a small town, Dublane, Scotland and a prestigious school,
Guntenberg-Gymnasium, Erfurt are “too close to home,” much too “ordi-
nary” for such an atrocity to happen. For the first time such mass murders
are no longer confined to inner city minority–majority conflicts where state
power is not threatened. Such incidents receive less media coverage, remain
local and are not politicized. The scenery has now changed. The racial and
class expectations in the United States, Great Britain, and Germany have
become blatantly exposed as the public, the public media, and the state
become passionately involved in these violent acts that have occurred in
white middle-class neighborhoods.
When it comes to gang violence in the United States, where many poor
African American, Hispanic, and Asian youth have been killed, there was no
public outcry for gun control or a concerted effort to understand youth;
rather the call most often is for a crackdown on crime and the building of
“walled cities” in the suburbs of major cities like Los Angeles. It was only
after the Dublane tragedy when England finally passed gun law legislation
despite the racial and ethnic violence that had occurred in many black
districts in London, Manchester, and Liverpool. Only now, after the shooting
at Erfurt, has there been an outcry by state leaders of Gerhard Schröder
SPD’s government for more stringent laws against guns and violent videos
despite the country’s history of xenophobia and anti-Semitism by skinheads
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and neo-Nazi youth throughout the country, most prominently in northern
Germany—Hamburg, Lübeck, and Rostock.
Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (1994), the road-movie killing spree
of Mickey Knox (Woody Harrelson) and Mallroy Wilson (Juliette Lewis)
must surely rank equal to American Psycho in its exploration of this psychotic
demand. Mallroy’s father is the incestuous Anal Father while Mickey can find
no place in the Symbolic Order. Like John Herzfeld’s ironic 15 Minutes (2001)
about two Russian criminals, Oleg and Emil, who quickly learn that in
America one can find fame on television by capturing and torturing Detective
Eddie Flemming, Stone equally exaggerates the violence and the TV hype to
show the link between killing, stardom, and the media. Natural Born Killers
becomes part of the “reality” tabloid TV news circuit that sensationalizes the
“meanness” of the urban streets (jagodzinski, 2003b). It is the gaze of the
Other—best exemplified by tabloid news as a witnesses to the slaughter—
which is what a mass murder desires so that his “message” is heard. This is
not unlike Marilyn Manson’s secret admittance that he liked to watch the
700 Club in the hopes of hearing his name mentioned as a threat. Fame
and stardom await him because of his particular need to be recognized—
subjectivized by authority.
Postmodernism feeds such a narcissistic personality and makes fame
possible by blurring public and private distinctions through the innovations
of media technology. The audience and the actor exchange positions in
countless television talk shows; reality and fiction flip-flop making every
potential wanna-be actor have 15 minutes of fame in a public forum. Natural
Born Killers presents the blurring between simulated and real life (RL) vio-
lence that is so characteristic of postmodern culture, the same phenomenon
that one encounters in the world of wrestling, video games, and a slough of
recent comic strip movies that begin to take on the characteristics of video
games themselves in the way the figures magically jump, twist, perform
acrobatically in their “environments”: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (d. Simon
West, 2001) Spider-Man (d. Sam Raimi, 2002), The Final Solution
(d. Cristobal Krusen, 2001), Daredevil (d. Mark Steven Johnson, 2003),
X-Men (d. Bryan Singer, 2000), The Hulk (d. Ang Lee, 2003). These indicate
the intergenerational collapse between teenagers and young adults. Boomers
are watching these movies as well.
The TV biography of Bret “The Hitman” Hart (Paul Jay, 1998), the
brother of Owen “The Blue Blazer” Hart who was tragically killed by a 70-
foot fall in a stunt that went bad, is a documentary style production that
takes viewers “behind the scenes.” We see Hart playing with his children,
talking to other wrestlers about stunts, sitting around the kitchen table talk-
ing to his wife about suing Vince McMahon, the owner of the World
Wrestling Federation, for the wrongful death of his brother Owen. The doc-
umentary sets up a fundamental antagonism between Bret and the direction
McMahon was taking by spectacularizing wrestling. The film exposes the
“tricks” of the wrestling ring as if a magician was, at last, revealing to his
audience all of his trade’s secrets. In the end, however, we are not sure if we
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have been “set up” yet again. The sincerity and earnestness of Bret Hart
begins to fall under suspicion. It seems like the “row” between them may
have been scripted as well. Was this yet another way to stage the humiliation
of “the boss,” like Stone Cold Steve Austin had done by pulling out a fake
gun, making McMahon “pee” his pants in front of the television cameras so
that fans could vet their frustrations against him? What followed has been the
continuing saga concerning Bret’s lawsuit (at first settled at 18 million dol-
lars and then unsettled), his career (retiring or being fired from WWF?), and
then finally his health (he suffered two strokes). These confusions between
RL violence and its staged effect would only be possible within the context
of a weakened authority structure. McMahon offering himself as a target
stages a sadomasochistic theatrical production as a way to continuously prop
up this failing Symbolic Order by paradoxically exposing his impotency and
not his muscle. But, McMahon is always in charge. Stone Cold Steve Austin
was merely his hired “top” to dish out the torture.
ScnooI Tnncrnirs or OvrninrN1iricn1ioN:
I¸ MiNu1rs or Twis1rn Fnrr
It should be clear by now that the death drive of gangsta rap and heavy metal
music presents listeners with the same confusions between virtual (staged or
performed) violence and actual violence. In a psychotic breakdown virtual
and RL violence cannot be distinguished. No ironical distance is possible.
Good and evil in the mind of a psychotic is overwhelmed by delusion and
the death drive. WWF as a RL event is difficult to imagine. Youth struggle
to find their own footing in a global world where the modernist “grand
narratives,” the idealized moral and existential frameworks that spiritually
inspire people and helped organize their identities have been decentered.
There is a search for new esoteric religions. The dark world of Gothic vision
represents a way of coping with the repressed obscene part of the social
order. Its forms of expression cover a broad range from the more ironic to
the more sadistic ways to attack capitalism, which seems to be the only game
in town, with neoliberalism as the only philosophy that supports it. Youth are
faced searching for social ties, a sense of identity and recognition. They can
only find it in tribal mentalities, to which they often over identify by surren-
dering their being to a “small” ONE.
Turning the attention once more to school mass murders that have taken
place in Thurston High School, Columbine High School, and Guntenberg-
Gymnasium, all schools where well-off children attend, the spectacularity of
the event confirms the demand for a witness and the blurring between virtual
and real life (RL) violence. The five basement tapes (Gibbs and Roche, 1999),
which Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris made prior to the “Judgment Day”
(April 20, 1999, the anniversary of Hitler’s birthday), declare their desire to
be famous after they were dead. Their story was to be made into a movie
directed by Spielberg or Tarantino, two of the better-known “action” directors.
As peripheral members of the Trenchcoat Mafia (they wore black and “duster”
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jackets as the “alternative” clique to the “jocks” and “preppies”) Harris and
Klebold seem to methodically go about their killing spree as if playing a com-
puter game; moving from one “environment” to the next in the school.
Both were avid fans of the video game Doom Patrol that they modified to
endlessly rehearse their planned attack. Their behavior up and including the
shooting spree demonstrates perfectly their need to be “seen” by a symbolic
authority, to be recognized by the Name-of-the-Father. The media repre-
sentation of the Columbine tragedy virtually left the question concerning
masculine representation untouched and unchanged (Consalvo, 2003). It
took the clever wit of Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine (2002), by
interviewing the likes of Charlton Heston, Marilyn Manson, James Nichols
(brother of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols) and even
implicated Dick Clark (!?) to expose the atrocities of gun worship in
America. Last year’s gun death in Germany: 38; in France: 255; Canada:
165; Britain: 68; Japan: 39, and in the United States: 11,227! Of course,
Moore conveniently leaves out the population of each country and a statistical
comparison of these gun killings once this is taken into account.
James McGee (1999), a forensic psychologist, with his coresearcher Caren
DeBernardo, described the hypothetical profile of “the classroom avenger.”
After studying 16 such incidents from 1993 to 2001, they concluded the
need for Harris and Klebold’s intense demand to be recognized. Harris and
Klebold wore Gothic makeup and costumes, made offensively violent movies
for their classes, posted messages to hate-mongering Web sites under their
own names, intentionally made it clear their love for violent video games to
annoy their parents, and made garage bombs. The disavowal by their parents
of such activities and behavior seems almost incredulous. It is, however, such
“profiling” that has become problematic as students who seem a bit “strange,”
wear Goth cloths, listen to violent music, and play “first person shooter
games” become suspects by well-meaning but paranoid classmates, teachers,
and principals. McGee’s online article is premised by a bolded, italicized,
capitalized, and underlined “NOTICE” that claims that the description of
the “classroom avenger” is to be understood as a hypothetical individual and
only as a generalization. Yet, that did not prevent the ensuing panic of “geek
profiling.” Jon Katz’s online wake-up call, “Voices From the Hellmouth”
(2001) in reference to Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, documented much of this
paranoia that emerged after Littleton with his campaign against the nation-
wide security firm, Pinkerton Services Group, developers of the online WAVE
(Working Against Violence Everywhere) program.
This was essentially a
“snitch” hot line service to report any suspicious students so that the safety
of a school or a community would be assured!
Much has been made of the targets in Harris and Klebold’s killings by
the media. It was said that Harris and Klebold had specifically targeted
“jocks” and “minority” students, and that they belonged to a neo-Nazi cult.
However, the evidence that emerged when the media hype was over
indicates that the killings were much more indiscriminate than was sup-
posed, they were hoping to kill somewhere between 250 and 500 students.
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They seemed to be “equal-opportunity” haters; the majority of students they
killed were white. They even spared a Jewish student, Aron Cohn. Hitler to
them was a figure of power and defiance, rather than someone who they had
pledged allegiance to. Classmates described Klebold as a racist railing against
“niggers” and “spics,” wearing T-shirts with German phrases, while Harris
espoused Nazi principles, yet he got along with the handful of minorities in
the school. Harris and Klebold’s were like a sadomasochistic couple with no
signal to stop their sadism. The game got out of control. Action video
games, stardom, neo-Nazi influence, and perhaps a Goth’s preoccupation
with death were not the cause of their killing spree, but contributing factors
that led up the mass murder. In delusionary behavior—when someone day-
dreams of sexual prowess and conquests, or of killing people, for instance—a
neurotic knows that in reality that s/he would never do it, or that s/he is
really not like that daydream. Faced with such daydreams neurotics retreat in
panic. In contrast, a delusionary psychotic will commit the crime so that it will
not plague him or her any longer. Faked and real life (RL) violence collapse
as their frame of differentiation is gone. The bogus claim that media violence
was to blame for Littleton has been answered succinctly by Jenkins (2000).
Steinhaüser (Steni, Rocky) was a fan of Slipknot and heavy into action
video games, especially Counterstrike. What is interesting about Counterstrike
is that the game is a perfect example of the confusion between goodness and
evil, which is continually made ambiguous (like in the world of wrestling).
Counterstrike has been called the “Rosemary’s Baby” of video games, a
video-offspring of demonic potential. It is a team-based game between
Terrorists and Counterterrorists. The player can decide whom he wishes to
identify with. Once decided, there are several maps and environments (e.g., the
streets of Italy or the back alleys of a middle eastern villa) with three “missions”
that can be played: either to kill or escort a VIP to a helipad, either to prevent
or cause destruction of a bombsite, and either to prevent or rescue hostages.
One can chose to be a terrorist assassinating an American or an agent stopping
a murder. The game begins with the first shooter (or ego shooter, which is
more accurate) and ends when everyone of the team has been killed.
The player in each team can fill any role by changing the weapons used (from
Arctic Wolf sniper rifle to MP5 Navy SMG, each gun has its own potential
to kill that a player has to find out). Steinhaüser was dressed in the same
ninja like-black outfits that are found in the game and had parodied their
This does not mean that a violent video game such as CS was the cause of
his killing spree. Sierra Entertainment, the distributor of CS in Germany set
up a web-page that expressed remorse and sorrow for those that had been
killed, but they claimed that there was no conclusive study that links violent
computer games directly with the increase of “real life” or “actual” violence.
To a degree, they are right, of course.
“Scientific” studies are often quoted
by various groups against violence that claim that such a direct cause can be
proven; but when such studies are closely examined, their methodologies can
be disputed, as can any scientific positivist study that still claims direct causal
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effects. Such studies have now turned to profiling “risk factors” to account
for the potential of causing “real life” violence after watching or playing
violent videos and games. Risk factors such as age, family background, class,
background of violence, provide the source for qualitative data to calculate
the probability of the predisposition toward carrying out such an act.
Contrary to such findings, media violence is the symptom of a global
capitalist order that thrives on violence. None of these mass murders can be
grasped without an interpretative grasp of the broader familial, societal, and
institutional picture.
From the material available, it is, of course, impossible to understand
completely the complexities of a youth’s biography to foresee that such an
act of violence will take place. In 1998, Kip Krinkel at Thurston High School
in Springfield, Oregon killed both parents, two at school, and injured
25 others.
In Kip Krinkel’s case the psychiatric testimony clearly shows a
psychotic personality. He began hearing voices in the sixth grade, but refused
to tell anyone about them. The same superegoic voice told him that he
should first kill his parents, and then his school classmates. Prior to the sixth
grade Kip had a difficult time in school, starting with a nursery school expe-
rience in Spain where his family moved for a sabbatical study his father, a
teacher, had taken. Just beginning to speak English at that time, his sister
tells the story of him being bullied and unable to defend himself. Despite his
concerted efforts at school at spelling and writing, Kip failed the first grade
and had to repeat it. It was found out later that he had severe dyslexia, a
learning disability and was unable to properly read and write. By the time
grade six and seven came around he had developed an interest in bombs. He
had bought a sawed-off shotgun from his friend that he hid in his room; he
was also involved in a shoplifting incident, and was arrested for throwing
stones at cars from a highway overpass. Kip was finally suspended from
school for kicking a boy in the head. His parents tried to help him in the best
way they could, eventually taking him to a child psychologist, a medical doctor
who assigned him Prozac (the drug of choice for youth depression).
From what his sister says, both parents disciplined their children through
the gaze of their expectations, their unconscious desires that their children
were to reach. To what extent these expectations were more demands than
desires is difficult to say. The key narrative, nevertheless, was not to “disap-
point” them according to his sister Kristin. Kip had earned some self-esteem
in only one way, through karate, a rather exceptional activity within the
context of the family’s values. In an extensive interview, Kristin also revealed
that her mother had a total fear and contempt for violence. Kip had been
interested as a little boy in guns, which his mother denied him. She did not
allow him to have “little soldiers, or any kind of toy that had any kind of
violent anything . . . We weren’t allowed to watch ‘Bugs Bunny’ because it
was too violent. Violence in our house was huge.” It almost seems as if Kip,
to separate away from his mother, chose violence as the way out; his
relationship with his father was equally strained. He did not reach his father’s
expectations either. According to Kip’s testimony his father perceived him as
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a “bad kid with bad habits” while his mother perceived him as “a good kid
with bad habits.” His journal is replete with self-loathing and the hate he
feels for those around him. The only hope he had was to be recognized by a
particular girl, a budding love he had developed. When she refused his
advance, this seemed to be one of the triggers that set him off. The other was
his arrest in school for the possession of a stolen gun. Taken to the police
station, charged and finger printed, he was extremely worried what his
parents would say. The struggle within himself was then over. The super-
egoic voice inside his head had won out. He killed his parents first, then the
next day he went to school. After the shootings several students tackled Kip
before he could turn the gun on himself.
The parental backgrounds of these mass murders remain shrouded in
mystery. The parents of both Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold came across in
the media as ordinary loving parents. Eric’s father was a retired Air force
officer. What his relation to his son was can only be speculated. In Kip’s case
he had a strained relationship with his father, but again not much is known.
As for Steni, all we know of his parents is that a neighbour thought that they
should have divorced a long time ago. These three tragic stories remain
“impossible” entirely to explain. Of course the ego shooter games and music
were a factor in their actions. Tragically these games and music were not
enough to sublimate and channel their rage. It was not the music that failed
them, as much as the support networks in the schools, friends, and home life
that proved inadequate for any number of reasons. While a radical act of evil
was committed, their acts seemed to reinforce the denial rather than the
acceptance that there is something wrong with the Symbolic Order and not
the media per se. Their ethical complaint in the Real seems to have been lost,
used more often to harden the rules than question them.
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The story of the castrati is well known. For the purposes of singing in the
church choir young boys between the ages of 7 and 12 were castrated
(their testes removed), some 4,000 to 5,000 annually in seventeenth- and
eighteenth-century Italy (if we are to believe such sources). Once the proce-
dure was done, through proper training their lung capacity and diaphragmatic
support could be augmented. The entire procedure and training was strictly
controlled and enforced to ensure results. The mature castrato was a “boy”
who could sing soprano or alto with all the physical resources of a grown man.
The most famous and legendary castrato of all, Carlo Broschi (1705–1782),
(a.k.a. Farinelli) was said to have a voice that spanned three octaves and
capable of holding a note for a minute without needing a breath. The thesis
entertained here is that a new set of castrati has emerged on the postmodern
scene. They undergo a ritual mutilation and sacrifice that is quite distinctive
in its ordeal when compared with the physical mutilation of castration that
was eventually outlawed. However, the effects, as argued, are quite the same.
I am referring to the phenomenon of Boy Bands that have captured the fantasy
dreams of teenage girls, along with a host of reality TV shows that feature the
search for the next star: American Idol and its various clones around
the Western world (Pop Stars, Star Search, Pop Idol, Star Mania, Popstars:
The One).
Why have Boy Bands emerged in postmodernity with such force? Why are
they such a hit? And why do we consider 18–28 year-olds still boys? (This is
the usual range allowed by the rules of competition.) Backstreet Boys (BSB)
and ’N Sync were the first on the scene and the best known. Backstreet Boys
first album “Millennium” sold 27 million copies worldwide, scanning
1.1 million units in its first week, breaking the sales record held by Western
country star Garth Brooks. That both groups were from Orlando, home of
Disney World, has not escaped critics. In the competition between the two
groups, ’N Sync ended up with a contract performing a concert on the
Disney Channel in 1998, and soon began to surpass BSB in record sales.
Critics point out that Lou Pearlman of Trans Continental Records was the
mastermind behind these two groups, the same Pearlman who produced
O-Town in the Making of the Band. Since then a number of other Boy groups
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have emerged, like Westlife, LFO, 5ive, B3, 98 Degrees, NKOTB, who have
taken their market share by appealing more to the hip-hop crowd. My inter-
est here is not so much about commenting on their music, which has been
criticized for its “candy lyrics” by most “serious” music critics, but what is
the psychic investment in the boys band phenomena? Why are they so dearly
loved or vehemently hated by preteen girls whose demographics they appeal
to most?
In their “afterward” to their insightful book, The Sex Revolts: Gender,
Rebellion, and Rock ’n’ Roll, Simon Reynols and Joy Press (1995) provide a
succinct overview of what they tried to accomplish in the first half of their
The first two sections of this book documented the warring sides of rock’s soul:
the punk v. the hippie, the warrior v. the soft male. These antagonistic impulses
define rock ’n’ roll, as we know it. They can be traced back to a fundamental
conflict in the male psyche—between the impulse to break the umbilical cord
and a desire to return to the womb, between matricide and incest. Rock has
never resolved this punk/hippie, rebellion/grace dialectic; its history has been
a violent oscillation between either extreme (385).
The soft male as the mother’s boy has taken yet another turn with the boys
band phenomena. The “grace” conferred by their sacrifice is a public media
castration that leaves them appearing completely non-phallic Pat Boone
types whose artifice is so obvious that it takes on a transcendent quality all of
its own. Their rhapsodic harmony, dancing ability, and looking out for one
another makes them the choir community we love to be with and hear. It
seems like they possess the voice of pubescent angels, a self-enjoying voice
that is decidedly experienced as feminine. Accusations of gayness are easily
found on the Internet. As postmodern singing castratos they offer absolutely
no violent phallic threat whatsoever. It’s the kind of boy every mother hopes
her daughter brings home.
Justine Timberlake, formerly of ’N Sync was Britney Spears’s boyfriend.
Both had sworn they were virgins. ’N Sync is/was god’s gift to the Religious
Evangelical Right. They played the kind of music that had their blessing,
recommended to parents who were protecting their children from the devil’s
music—heavy metal and punk whose lyrics, when played backward, were
definitive subliminal messages of a Satanic voice.
As a publicity stunt, ’N
Sync threw “What Would Jesus Do” bracelets into the crowd when they sang
in public. The gesture was as brazen and sacrilegious, as it was sacrosanct,
making it empty of meaning—like the crosses of the “early” Madonna. These
religious artifacts have been stripped of their mysticism to become banal
objects. Whatever integrity the WWJD as a youth movement might have had
in the Deep South and Midwest has surely been lost. It was based on Charles
Sheldon’s 1896 novel, In His Steps, whose lead character would ask the
question, “What Would Jesus Do?” with each decision he made. Now, there
are boutiques selling WWJD goods, and a website to buy them (bracelets
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designed by Bib Siemon, necklaces, lanyards, buttons, socks). The best item
found on the website by an astonished critic were girls’ pink and blue panties
with the WWJD logo “emblazoned on the ass!” She wrote sarcastically,
“I can only imagine that this is supposed to serve as a deterrent for anyone
trying to remove the pants of Christian girls. Or perhaps, they are for wear-
ing under transparent-ish white slacks so that any ‘tailgaters’ are reminded
not to think lustful thoughts.” She then immediately said she had bought
two pairs! The logo spell worked.
It was only a question of time for the conservative Christians to condemn
’N Sync tactics. Justine Timberlake’s first video release when he left ’N Sync
was a steamy number called “Like I Love You” ( Justified), which would
definitely not be supported by religious conservatives. It also reveals how
obviously artificial and contrived his image has been. This same scenario was
repeated much earlier by London star Robbie Williams who began his
singing career with the manufactured boy band called Take That, England’s
answer to the U.S. success story of The New Kids on the Block. But “little”
Robbie after five years revolted from the five lads. He was kicked out from
the group for his drinking and drugs, and the group broke up. Drug rehabili-
tation and ensuing court battles over his former contract with BMG eventually
freed him to pursue a successful solo career.
The public exposure to the contrived production techniques in the
manufacture of Boy Bands can only emerge when it is safe to do so. An anal-
ogy can be drawn to teaching the social and political theories of Karl Marx
at universities today. Marx’s ideas no longer seem to be a threat, so there is
no objection. In a postcommunist world no one takes Marx seriously anymore.
His ideas have become historicized as just another important social theorist;
their revolutionary potential deflated and almost ridiculed in some circles.
But try teaching Lenin, or better still Fidel Castro and the climate becomes
more strained. Colleagues and the administration begin to give you suspicious
looks. To expose viewers to the bald and blatant mechanisms of the music
industry, which viewers could only have previously guessed at since there was
no symbolic recognition to confirm or deny whether they were right or not,
has now become perfectly safe and marketable. There is no more doubt left
to leave the question open. It promotes the authenticity of individualism, the
idea that an “ordinary” person can become a star if s/he has talent. An expo-
sure to the “obscene supplement” of the media industry can occur when a
point has been reached where such manipulative practices are already con-
sidered to be “normative.” Sum 41, a punk rock group, released a video in
2002, which makes an ironic statement on the way the music industry man-
ufactures success. In their video and song, “Still Waitin” (This Look Infected?),
their manager tells them what their new performance names are to be, and
what their band should be called. At the end of the song, the boyz smash
their guitars and topple down their new name in defiance that loomed in the
background as a set design in big capital letters as they played. But, this ges-
ture seems empty like ’N Sync’s bracelets, a parody of The Who and Nirvana
who had staged the stunt before them. They know full well that they are an
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artifice manufactured by the industry. The trick is to sustain authenticity or
lose the transgressive impulse. The fall into parody is around the corner.
Making of the Band: INvrn1iNc
1nr Truman Show
The Making of the Band, at first ABC’s and then MTV’s brainchild, illustrates
how the sacrifice of the actual physical castration of the Castrati has been
converted into a psychological public castration through a media spectacle.
The physical castration gave the Castrati a particular status in society to show
off their “lack,” the prerogative to possess an object-voice, which was on
blatant display without any shame (Zizek, 1996a, 149). This castration has
been displaced as a spectacular media process for us to view as a public
“operation,” so to speak. How does such a public castration work? Let us
recall Peter Weir’s brilliant film The Truman Show (TS) (1998). Truman, in
effect is a castrato but doesn’t know it. It appears that he has agency, but the
show’s viewers know that all is being staged. Christof, the producer of this
reality soap is the Man “in” the Moon (his control tower), who manipulates
almost all facets of Truman’s existence. Moments when Truman emotes (when
he re-meets his Dad whom he thought had drowned, or when Truman
comes near water, which Christof has managed to instill in him as a phobia)
are considered to be the highlights the show strives for. These are authentic
moments, or so Truman thinks. Because Truman is ignorant of being the
“star” of this show, he still believes and trusts the Symbolic Order. His view-
ers confer on him a certain “authenticity” while everything else is artifice.
Andrew Niccol’s brilliant script is structurally the exact inverse of The Making
of the Band. Lou Pearlman (as Christof ) initiates a nationwide American
search for young male singers and dancers (1,000 showed up), all supposedly
“ordinary” citizens, who are then whittled down to 25 semifinalists. They
are flown to Orlando, home of Disneyland (SeaHaven, TS) where they are
followed by cameras through a three-day intensive dance and voice training
session before the next audition. With the next cut it’s down to eight finalists.
Eventually, the final 5 form the new band O-Town. Making the Band stages
this entire process where the boys are judged on singing, dancing, charisma,
and Pearlman’s idealization of what personality traits taken together will
offer the best sell. Demographically these traits have to cover the color spec-
trum as well as an appeal spectrum. The first 22 episodes of Making of the
Band consisted in the pick of the final five: Ashley (an angel, handsome),
Erik (exuberates confidence), Trevor (a sensitive type), Jacob (a happy sort),
and Dan (mature). In a surprise move Dan, the comeback kid having been
cut earlier, replaced the cuddly and loveable Ikaika, a Hawaiian who felt he
wasn’t going to commit to the ten-year contract and decided to stay with his
girlfriend on the Island.
The public castration is openly visible from the moment that the 8 finalists
are chosen (in episode 2). Then, the more serious part of the operation begins.
What clearly comes across is how expendable these boys are, how much they
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have to give up their former lives (especially girl friends, family, other dreams),
and commit themselves completely to music practices, set rehearsals, time
schedules not of their making, and controlling their voices so they don’t
sound like “rock.” The boys find that their souls have been sold to the
devil; they are completely controlled by the Pearlman Company (Omni
Corporation in TS). Their music coach, Mark, continually chews them out,
threatening to quit (episode 19). Their humiliation of not coming together
when they need to; their sobbing and complaining; and their struggles with
girl friends, biological fathers, and mothers are all laundered in front of the
cameras, performing a public castration, not any different from Truman. The
difference is that they know it. Only Ikaika “escapes” the set, back home to
his beloved Hawaii. His replacement, Dan, was a reminder that all of them
could just as easily be replaced. Fans were getting tired and impatient with
Ikaika’s indecisions, so the producers were happy to see him go.
In The Truman Show Christof staged everything so that Truman could
look “authentic” to his soap fans. With O-Town everything is already staged
so that the boys can look “authentic” for their preteen audience. These
“boys” know that they are being staged. They have willingly given up their
agency to transgress the Symbolic Order that normally comes with symbolic
castration, an expectation of rebellion that offers a direct challenge to
symbolic authority so that there is a reminder that such authority is indeed
fallible, maintaining the necessary illusion of democracy. The injunction “not
to rock” in their voices and in their behavior is startling. During a New Year’s
party thrown by Pearlman they jerk around in public and are severely repri-
manded. This is but one of many incidents where they are scolded by their
manager, Jay, for their indiscretions and laziness. Like Truman, they are the
permanent plaything of the TransCon network (the equivalent of The Omni
Corporation who owns the Truman Show) with whom they have signed a
contract for ten years. Truman is watched every step of the way by Christof
so that he never truly grows up; he is a permanent captive of Sea Haven by
his phobia of the water that surrounds him, except for a causeway. O-Town
is also panoptically observed by a managerial elite. They are held captive by
the cameras and schedules that they must keep, and by their success based
on record sells. There is no causeway.
The final extent of their “surrender” to the every whim of TransCon
network was their visit to MTV’s Total Request Live (TRL) (episode 5, third
season). This is one of the most difficult celebrity slots to attain. Being on TRL
is a virtual confirmation of success. The rhetorical claim of MTV’s signature
show was that the audience controls all the videos played and what it wants
to see. In this episode, the boys met their mothers who were shown child-
hood pictures of their “babies.” The boys were asked questions that their
mom’s had previously answered to see just how close the bonding was. It
seemed uncanny how accurately each mother knew the exact moments that
had formed her son’s career. The driving force behind each O-Town member
was the mother and not the father. It was as though the authorial voice of the
management team was precisely what was needed to keep them in line.
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The loss of agency by becoming the toys of designer capitalism’s music
industry enables them to possess their voices as an object, a spectral reminder
of what they had to give up to get there. Any transgressive phallic pulse, as
heard in punk, Nü metal or Goth music, has been eliminated. The hitch is
that this object-voice is formed in a harmony of five, which makes their spec-
tral media sacrifice that much more difficult to sustain. If any one from the
group gets out of hand, or leaves, they lose the privilege of openly display-
ing their lack. To use a ba(n)d pun, they “sink” together. As a cohesive force
they can face the cameras and the screaming crowds squarely, for they know
the sacrifice they have made, and why they can stage their postemotional
pantomimed passions with performative conviction.
Like the “making” of the band, fan loyalty is manufactured as well. MTV
viewers follow the hopes and dreams of their favorite boy, episode after
episode, until the brand loyalty has been internalized. For a naïve observer
of ’N Sync, BSB, or O-Town, there doesn’t seem to be much difference in the
music and dance routines; but the market differentiation has been invested
around the lives and personalities of each of the band members. A history has
been arranged that can be followed. For fans in the know, there are seem-
ingly huge differences between these groups. As can be expected, rockers
absolutely hate the baby-butt softness that they see displayed in an almost
transcendental New Age light on stage and in their videos. If they could
sprout wings, the boys would be flying angels. But that would be just too
blatant and reminiscent of the Bee Gees of the 1970s with their unearthly
soprano voices and white tuxedos.
For rockers, these Boy groups are choirs, not band-its against the social
order. Gay bashing Boy Bands is a common occurrence on many “dot versus
dot” websites where opinions are posted between two well-known singers or
bands. What drives much of the more serious criticism is the general feeling
that these boys have not paid the price of their fame: they do not play their
instruments well (enough), they don’t write their own music, their material
is not “genuine,” and so on. The artificiality of it all is too much to bear. For
the New Castrati, they certainly feel that they have paid their dues; their fame
has come through a public mediated ordeal that left them vulnerable, often
stripped of their pride and reprimanded, their Real self exposed, emotionally
raw, and often unnerved. They believe they deserve to be where they are.
But the costs are high. It is difficult to travel the causeway that leads them
out from the corporate stranglehold. O-Town tried to find new managers
(episode 6, season 2). A major crisis emerged between them, the would-be
new managers (Mike and Mike) and Pearlman. The audience did not know
if this was a staged event as in the World Wrestling Federation, or whether
this was indeed a genuine “escape attempt” (like Truman).
The “Boy Choirs” in the numbers that have emerged could not thrive if
it weren’t for a huge segment of preteen and teenage girls who are able to
fantasize a relationship with their stars, made possible because the phallus
has become totally impotent and limp. The threat of masculinity has been
mitigated. Aggressivity has been replaced with tenderness in the many love
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songs that they sing. So, what’s wrong with that? Aren’t girls’ (in the general
sense) desires being met? Isn’t the fantasy of romantic love being fueled to
the heights of ecstasy that is promised? Unfortunately, fan addiction is rampant.
When the German Boy group Take That broke up in 1997, teenage girls
called local radio stations expressing the threat that they could no longer
exist without their favorite boy singer. A number said that they would com-
mit suicide. Immediately a telephone “hot line” was established to take care of
the trauma (Weyrauch, 1997). The disappearance of the objet a, the cause
of desire for a number of these girls, was just too much to bear, so close
had their identities been passionately attached to the group. These seem like
extreme cases, but not unusual when overidentification happens. Because of
the array of masculinities that any one band provides, any number of identi-
fications with different members of the group can change over time. This
ensures a certain lasting durability in the market. It’s not unusual for girls to
mutually “share” a particular member that they are in love with without
becoming jealous of one another.
Boys groups stage the “virginity” card inversely to the “bad” virgin divas
of the music industry (Spears and Company), which I discuss next. It pro-
vides an insight into the Timberlake/Spears “virgin” romance that seems like
ancient history now in the movement of young pop stars leaving their
teenage years. Holed up in a hotel only watching TV and eating pizza, they
denied having had sex together. Unlike the pop girl divas, the boys have for-
feited their sexuality, given it up through their public media castration. All
their sexual desires and pleasures have to be played out off-stage. Publicly,
they must remain impotent. All the girlfriend scenes are carefully edited,
reduced to the “niceties” of sweet kisses—“Bussis” as they say in German.
Their devilish antics (when allowed) have to be done in secrecy and privacy,
away from the paparazzi, if that’s even possible these days. This makes them
all the more corporate prisoners.
Such a confined life is dramatically illus-
trated when teen fans attempt to come in actual physical contact with their
idols, only to be held back by security guards. Only a select few are chosen
to get autographs and hugs in front of the cameras. The same injunction
holds for them as for pop divas: “Look, but don’t touch.” The price of cor-
porate media castration is for the boys to live in a gilded golden cage marked
by a psychically branded logo. It is a warm and friendly enough place that
has all the perks and toys to play with as long as the goose along with the
gander continues to lay golden eggs. Truman managed to escape out the
back door, can they?
The success of Making of the Band has led to its sequel, Making of the
Band II. Marketing research indicated that there were enough Boy Bands
around, what would now sell would be the hip-hop flavor of a R&B. Time
for another search, this time from Disney World of Orlando to New York
where the rapper finalists gathered from the grim and poor streets of urban-
ized America: Detroit, Philadelphia, Miami, Atlanta, LA, Baltimore, and
Washington, adding more authenticity to the myth that anyone can become
a star. MTV’s executive producer Jon Murray became engaged in a new form
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of “urban slumming,” with Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs as the “reaper” of
the new talent mobilized by Bad Boy Entertainment Crew. Recall the scene
from Alex Proyas’s superb film Dark City (1998) where Dr. Daniel Schreber
(a throwaway reference to Freud’s famous Schreber case of paranoid psy-
chosis) methodically extracts the memories of its citizens while they are
sleeping, stores them, and then injects them into other people when they are
sleeping. People wake up not knowing who they “were.” In a strange way
there is this same extraction of memory going on here as well. The finalists
eventually wake up being transformed individuals. “They are from tough,
urban neighborhoods. It’s almost too difficult to comprehend what these
kids have been through and what they have to deal with,” says Murray.
new bunch of kids has done their “time.” They have “genuine” experiences
on which to draw their material from. One of the constant problems of real-
ity television, like MTV’s The Real World (about seven youths living together
in a house), is that fresh recruits who audition for the show already know
what’s expected of them. They play into the camera rather than being unself-
conscious and “natural.” So, the search is always for (as yet) unspoiled
“authenticity.” Virgin territory to be packaged. The voyeurism of the camera
lens tries to search under every rock to see if it can’t find fresh “under-
ground” teenage anxiety to spectacularize. This is exactly the same process
as scouting the basketball courts brilliantly exposed by Steve James’s docu-
mentary Hoop Dreams (1994), which follows the hope and despair of two
inner-city Chicago black youths, William Gates and Authur Agee, over a span
of five years to make the NBA.
Designer capitalism incarnated as reality television succinctly stage neolib-
eralist ideology. On the surface there seems to be teamwork and a community
that develops between the remaining competitors. What is abjected and
placed off-camera is the fierce competitive spirit of outdoing one’s rival. This
is the “true” reality of what it means to be a “survivor” in a capitalist society.
Even the rejected hopefuls in Detroit, which was the first of the ten stops
for Making the Band II, have publicly stated how important the feedback
has been to stay focused in launching their careers and keep their hopes
alive, reconfirming once again the necessity of Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of
recognition. While with Boy Bands any sort of resistance or rebellion was
curtailed, this was not the case with the next phenomenon that emerged: the
manufacture of pop stars.
Monr HrnvrN 1nnN HrnvrN
While MTV’s Making of the Band offers one such way public castration
works, the Reality-Life TV Soaps American Idol, Popstars, and Pop Idol are
perhaps the better known version of this marketing process since it became
a global designer strategy for capitalist marketing. Pop Idol was the first to let
the public help “choose” the candidates for stardom. Wildly successful,
Popstars has swept through Britain, Spain (as Operacion Triunto), France (as
Star Academy), Austria (as Starmania), Germany, New Zealand, and Australia
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in its harvesting of marketable talent. American Idol has sprung AI2 and its
Canadian Idol complement. By the time this book goes to print, I am sure
that other national Idol contests have been staged or repeated. As a global
capitalist phenomenon, cloning rather than difference is the key to success.
This cloned dispensability is tragically exemplified and parodied in the group
Hear’Say, winners of the 2001 edition of Pop Stars sponsored by the ITV1
network in the United Kingdom. Hear’Say became one of the few pop
groups who did not have success, despite charting at number one with their
hit single “Pure and Simple,” which a number of critics thought summed up
their lyrical and musical talents. The name itself—here today and gone
tomorrow—speaks of the harsh reality of the business that goes on behind
the scenes and on the dance floor as “managers” whip the singing and bod-
ies into shape to make their debut. Hear’Say—three guys and two girls
(reduced from three when Kym Marshhave left in 2002 over a personal con-
flict with Mylenne Klass)—eventually fell apart after being jeered by crowds
when they performed. How did they manage to come to this point, especially
when success is almost guaranteed? While it is said that the market machin-
ery selects the candidates for stardom, but it is the fans who ultimately decide
their status, is this truly the case? To what extent does the marketing text of
Pop Idol already structure their “interactive” responses?
With the departure of Kym Marshhave, the market machine went to work
to find a replacement. Three thousand hopefuls showed up for auditions.
The results were packaged and broadcast as a six-part reality show on
London’s Weekend Television. The choice of Johnny Shentall, however, did
not sit well with fans. Not only was a man chosen as the replacement for a
woman, but also it seemed like a betrayal of contest rules because of his
previous professional engagements. The fantasy space could no longer be
sustained. Such an incident raised the ethical responsibility of the producers
of Pop Stars. With fan(addicts) actually believing that the contest was fair,
based on “raw” genuine talent alone, the selection of Shentall seemed to
ignore the rules. Fan(addicts) logged their complaint by jeering the band
when they attempted to play. Concerts were not sold out. Eventually,
Hear’Say was overtaken in record sales by a rival group, Liberty X, suitably
named for a band whose members were formed from Pop Stars rejects. These
harsh realities of cloning—which ultimately means avoiding financial death—
have also been experienced in Australia. Some manufactured groups have
lasted only several years there as well. Two-years seems to be the current
sustainable cycle.
ArrnicnN InoI z: PoÞ Knnnoxr
There is no need to repeat the cloning process that goes on in Popstars and
American Idol in any fine detail. They follow a similar strategy as Making of
the Band with one major difference: more audience participation and more
resistance was allowed. The judging starts by shifting through the dredge
of wanna-be’s who have sent in their video recording, or they do a spot
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performance without any back up. Out-takes of especially outrageously bad
performances are shown so as to highlight “real” talent, and provide audi-
ences moments of comic relief to see what young people will do to sell their
souls for their few minutes of fame and recognition. After the initial selection
they are given a chance to perform in front of judges who vary in the sadism
of their commentary. Some judges have made a reputation for their vicious
public castration and humiliation of the contestant. The best known judge
is Simon Cowell who adjudicated the British Pop Idol and both editions of
American Idol. Known as “Mr. Nasty,” Cowell exemplifies the sadistic side
of music industry. He is a RCA/BMG music executive who tells it “like it
is,” and is rewarded for ruining the fantasies of many a contestant by simply
skewering ego-voices. The embodiment of power, Cowell reminds contest-
ants that the master–slave dialectic is firmly entrenched in the contest rules.
Some of the contestant-slaves attempt to refuse his interpellation, but few
succeed. The lure of becoming a pop idol overshadows any ego defenses.
They are wide-open targets to be exploited. However, it is precisely their
rebellion against the judges (especially Simon Cowell), which adds authen-
ticity to the claim that an interactive audience can make a difference, as if
fans do indeed have a choice (see Holmes, 2004). The contestant can always
appeal to the audience for justice and overrule the market machinery repre-
sented by the judges. But the audience role in shaping the star image is limited.
They have no say in the discursive constructions of these future stars. At best
they can choose between the last few remaining contestants as to whose look
and sound will be launched into the pop cultural mix.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of this took place at the World Idol
contest in 2004 where Kurt Nilsen, a 25-year-old Norwegian plumber was
selected from eleven previous Pop Idol winners. Nilsen was the antithesis of
what an “idol” was supposed to look like. He was somewhat disheveled, his
blond hair lacked any sort of styling—it just lay there as if uncombed. Boyish
looking and sporting a wide space between his two front teeth, when he
grinned he looked like Bugs Bunny—cute and huggable. Yet, the voting sys-
tem was such that each country had ten points to play with, ten points imme-
diately awarded to the singer by his host country. Nilsen won with 106 points,
prompting Simon Cowell to say, “We’ve allowed a lot of ugly people to
become recording artists, and that’s not a bad thing,” to which Nilsen
replied, “It’s not a modeling contest.” The exchange both acknowledges and
denies that it is indeed a modeling contest, which requires the ugly excep-
tion to maintain the pretense that it isn’t.
Cowell’s credibility was established by securing a deal for the Boy Band,
Westlife. In contrast, Paula Abdul, another judge of AI2, is almost not capa-
ble of a negative comment. Some have called her a sickly-sweet Pollyanna
judge who lives by the motto, “life is an audition,” blind to the fact that on
Fox Network’s American Idol 2, “life is a commercial.” Nevertheless, her
cliché-ridden enthusiasm and “niceness” exemplifies the naiveté and belief in
the contest by the contestants and their supporters alike. Abdul, herself a
product of such staging, stops the slide of complete cynicism toward the
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designed blatancy of AI. Lastly, Randy Jackson, a record producer, the third
and final judge, represents African American interests. His fondness of calling
each contestant a “dawg” (dog), as in “What’s up dawg?” presents a balance
between Cowell and Abdul. He knows better than most that AI is simply a
“dog pound” decorated to look like Caesar’s Palace. Each contestant is
working hard to become the “top dawg” as in the gangsta rap genre. Cowell
simply wants to see the best breed win during the cloning process, while
Jackson is content to recognize the variety. Abdul simply wants to pet them.
Fox’s AI2 was one of the most successful cloning processes to date. The
American Idol Season Two: All Time Classic American Love Songs CD sold an
incredible 91,000 copies in the first week of sales, which placed it as number
one. Kelly Clarkson, the first AI winner followed in the third place, while
“God Bless America” sung by the AI2 finalists help the top spot for three
weeks in a row, selling 28,000 copies. Only 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’
succeeded eventually in becoming number one, showing that pop and
gangsta rap seem to sum up fan interests. AI provides a forum to quote pop
music in appropriate postmodern fashion. The entire archive is opened up
into new mannerist forms of interpretation. The crucial aspect here is that
the “difference” that makes the difference has to be recognized as belonging
to the same set (rendition of song or genre) but slightly special so that mar-
ket differentiation can be maintained. With anywhere from 22 to 25 million
viewers and “vote” callers on average per show (52.2 million for the final
show), it was only a question of time before the next age level could be tapped
for its profitability, “American Juniors” began production in the fall of 2003.
The search was for the best five dancers and singers in America aged 6–13.
It should be pointed out that AI2 exemplifies once again the selection of
pop castrati. Any contestant who has been in trouble with the Law is imme-
diately rejected. Frenchie Davis one of nine remaining contestants was found
to have posed in the nude for a kiddie-porn website in her past. Her Just
My Size clothing manufacturer and sponsor that targets “larger” women
(like Kimberly Locke another AI2 contestant) withdrew their support. Davis
was gone. Jaered Andrews (another of the nine remaining contestants) was
involved in a manslaughter charge. Gone. Lastly, Trenyce, one of the remain-
ing half-dozen had been arrested on felony charges in 1991. She had no
chance to reach the finals despite her strong fan support. Such incidents
confirm authenticity once more, bringing out hidden class differences
amongst contestants and clues as to the range of fan identification. The final
two contestants, Ruben Studdard (24) and Clay Aiken (24) both ended up
landing recording contracts.
Ruben, a 360 pound African American was one of the mildest men in the
competition—almost too nice, with a sheepish look of expectation on his
face each time he finished his songs, almost always being reconfirmed for his
talent. The “stud” in Studdart seems an ironic blow. He was a loveable teddy
bear nicknamed “Velvet Teddy bear” and “the mound of sound.” All phallic
signifiers were absent. His brother, equally as big, provided the mark
contrast as the dangerous “black man” of media hype. While certainly not a
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complementary statement, Ruben leaned closer to Fat Albert of Cosby’s
comedy skits, eating too many hamburgers than the gangsta type like BIG,
P. Diddy, or Shuge Knight. Clay Aiken, Caucasian, spiky haired boy next-
door from Raleigh, NC, looked more like a college pixie elf than an AI,
capable of crooning out love songs with “cute” identifiable expressions.
Lance Corporal Joshua Gracin (22), a marine who works as an administra-
tive supply clerk at Camp Pendleton, California, also came across as a clean-
cut kid—as one of America’s finest, sporting a crew-cut, and parading his
daughter on stage, singing “To Love Somebody” as he was voted-off, while
his wife shed tears in the audience. This was a perfect moment of family
harmony and bliss. Gracin’s country Western style penetrated everything
that he sang, which opened the door to a possible country Western invasion
within pop in the manner of Garth Brooks, but the horns of the bull were
definitely turned inward, the songs were too effeminate. Gracin’s surprise
showing brought out the usual conspiracy theories that the Bush government
was making sure that his popularity helped the war effort in Iran by working
the phone lines.
Since voting was so crucial to keeping a fan’s favorite star afloat, a con-
troversy emerged as to its procedure, since a sizable portion of the fan base
never could get their vote through. Roughly, it is possible to make twenty
calls through an automatic redialing mechanism in the time it takes to
manually make one call. One could phone in as often as one liked including
sending in text messages. The more dedicated the groups of fans were, the
more likely the star survived each week. The fans of Joshua Gracin set up a
website to encourage the vote for him. One of his relatives even sent E-mails
to writers who said negative things about him. Studdart would always wear
the number 205 on his distinctive jerseys, the area code of his native state of
Birmingham, Alabama. These were provided for him free of charge by 205
Flava clothing company. He stopped wearing then because they provided no
endorsement money despite the “free” support he had received before he
became “big” as a semifinalist.
Fan voting exemplifies the emptiness of media “democracy.” The belief
that one’s vote truly “counts” in a chaotic system, whose results can never
be predictable, and can even make producers of AI, like Simon Cowell,
quiver. When Studdart ended up almost being voted out (explanations range
from his fans had become too complacent to overzealous, voting for Gracin
because of his bad performance), Cowell went public in his disbelief and
indignation that such a possibility could happen. Fans, as mentioned earlier,
can at best, determine who will be launched into popularity. But the music
industry has already provided the choices that they vote on. To cover all their
bets, recording contracts are awarded to the top two, sometimes three
winners, regardless who “won.” In the end, it doesn’t matter. The top two
or three are sure to sell, and if they don’t they are dropped. The contract
with the 19 Group, the production company headed by pop entrepreneur
Simon Fuller is one sided. The 14 page confidential contract asks the winner
to sign their life away with a five million dollar threat for the breach of
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confidentiality. So much for a fair deal, the winners have no say as to the
direction of their careers. In another context, Starmania, Austria’s equivalent
to American Idol, provides a “friendship ticket” to those who are voted out
by the remaining candidates in the semifinal round. Again, the process looks
democratic enough, however those brought back in are the ones who pose
no threat to the final contestants and who are able to show a feeling of
solidarity and support (Delanoy, 2003).
S1nnnor IoI: HiniNc iN FnoN1 or
1nr OuscrNr UNnrnurIIv
AI provides a remarkable example of the fantasy of neoliberalist capitalism at
work in all its spectacular glory. It has pseudo-democracy built into the
process, it promises the American dream of success and wealth based on hard
work and talent, it reconfirms “healthy” competition and it verifies that even
the poor have a chance to be winners. An idol has to represent this Ideal Ego
of the American Symbolic Order of market capitalism. Its master signifiers
are waiting to embrace the body to occupy its space. To begin with, the AI
has to have the necessary “goods” before it can occupy this place and sell
him or herself as a worthy occupant of it. Without talent (singing ability)
a contestant shouldn’t even bother to compete. But delusional behavior is
expected in the early rounds of selection. The first round already sets up
a choice without a choice as to who goes on. Talent gives a contestant the
price of admission since it already confirms that the pre-chosen few already
love to perform and entertain, and are good at it. Next, a name change is
crucial since it helps with market differentiation. (A semifinalist in AI2,
Trenyce’s former name was Lashundra Cobbins, an impossible “pop” signifier.)
The name has to have an American appeal to it without being caught by
definable ethnicity or a far-fetched alias. The right friends are necessary in
terms of mobilizing fandom. Somewhere along the path a hard working core
of true believers who will promote the needed enthusiasm is crucial as in any
election. It helps too if the contestant is attractive, but not crucial. The
“make-over” can be equally as important. Nothing sells better than a “trans-
formation” that shows television audience that all is possible despite the clear
challenges that are present. Large people can be made to look “good,” and
that also makes it more “democratic.” Unattractive people can be made
to look attractive with the right make-up and clothes. This “look” has to be
sustained and allowed to become endearing to the audience. The least bit of
a disheveled appearance can be a disaster for that hints of an unkept body and
loss of control. If large, the largeness has to be contained. Control is
extremely important.
The contestant has to exhibit wholesome behavior. This means being
always nice and friendly, take criticism, avoid confrontation, and above all
cheer the competition so that it confirms that the best person will win in the
end. To love competition and the competitors is a primary rule; although the
contestant may secretly want to be number “one,” the body will betray him
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or her. It is best not to desire too much to win. Arrogance is intolerable. As
compensation, the contestant should always remind himself or herself that
they are already winners by being in the spotlight and will, most likely, go on
with their singing career in the entertainment industry. The contestant
should always be gracious when losing, if possible to joke when defeated.
This shows a confirmation and legitimization of the contest. Performing to
the audience is crucial, and not to oneself. In brief, paradoxically all the
demands of the ego need to be covered up and repressed so that the AI can
appear as the one who exemplifies the modesty of talent and ensures that
s/he will do what the producers (RCA, 19 Entertainment in this case) ask.
An enduring trait will eventually emerge, which will ensure that they are
indeed someone special.
In most countries where these reality song contests are broadcast, but
most noticeably in Britain, bookmakers make a profit from the human misery
that is on public display. The selection of hopefuls continues under camera
lenses so that the narrative can be packaged as reality television for the spon-
soring networks—Fox, CTV, CBS, Global, and shown at a future date once
all the editing has taken place with the more embarrassing out-takes
removed. Once all the crying and disappointment is exposed and sifted out
through a public sadistic castration, the several remaining nuggets are
extracted for their jouissance (talent, soul, objet a) and cashed in through CD
sales, concert appearances, and talk shows like TRL. If sales are not kept up
then—here today, gone tomorrow—a replacement clone is required. If this
process sounds “vampirish,” it is intentionally meant so (see also Latham,
2002). These young men and women have sold their “souls” to the record
companies, willingly, in exchange for fame. It is the ideal of neoliberal capi-
talism at its purist: anyone who has talent—the “genuine” item—can make it.
The cost is a Faustian pact. You become an expendable commodity to be
replaced if you under-perform. This is the “commercialization” of life as bios
rather than zoë.
It is the selling of virginal chastity, which is so insidious, foregrounding
a mixed-message of sexuality. To use pop psychology here: if Britney is
“good” on the inside, but seems (at times) bad on the outside, Pop Stars and
American Idol are chaste in a naughty sort of way on the outside and (at
times) bad on the inside. All the bad has to remain off-camera. On camera the
songs attempt to touch the sweetness of Heaven. There are a number of ways
Heaven can be touched by the executive producers of designer capitalism.
The first is by marketing all-women groups who provide the contradictory
message of being chaste femme-fatales. The winners of Pop Stars New Zealand
in 1999 were tRueBliss. They were virginity mixed with a bit of naughtiness
as personified in their first hit CD, Dream. However, Carly Binding, like
Mylenne Klass of Hear’Say, left the group in anger to start her own career,
taking her fans with her. Australia’s Popstars produced five equally naughty
but chaste women called Bardot, while in Germany the success of No Angels,
also five women ranging from 20–24, present the epitome of marketing that
reaches the Heavenly clouds. With such hits as “When the Angels Sing,”
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“River of Joy” (from Elle Ments), No Angels were selected through the usual
Pop Stars Reality TV Show, which has become the music industry’s equiva-
lent of a beauty pageant. During Germany’s Pop Stars production of the final
round of contestants, mothers were shown hugging their daughters, girls
were crying with joy and disappointment while losers were quickly whisked
away off-camera. The friendship between the girls was played up, and of course,
their naughty chastity as a “look but don’t touch” came across masterfully.
No Angels ’ videos are equally sensual and heavenly, both in their dress and
harmony of their voices. They are “no” angels, but the naughty wink is
always implied: they are “no” angels, but then again, they really are! The
tease of a flirtatious “come on” is a masterful stroke of marketability.
CIoNiNc PoÞ S1nns ron
GIounI Succrss: CiviIizrn Rncisr
Designer capitalism treats racial difference from a position of political cor-
rectness as having “one” representative for each possible culture. Pop Stars
operates in the same way. The “colors” of Bennetton were the first to utilize
this marketing strategy. This is the new postmodern racism that Balibar
(1991) addresses as being “differentiated racism,” or “racism without race.”
Others have identified this development as a “symbolic racism,” or the “new
racism,” and even the ironical term “civilized racism.” In contrast to the old
racial biologism, which was presented in a direct, raw, and brutally physical
fashion, neo-racism requires the “reflective” theorizations of an anthropo-
logical culturalism for justification of “difference” and “otherness.” In a
postmodern era, writes Balibar, “There is in fact no racism without theory
(or theories)” (18). This “meta-racism,” as developed by academics, constructs
a scientific theory, which immediately explains and justifies the racism of the
masses, linking up their “visible” collective violence to a set of “hidden
causes,” thereby fulfilling an intense desire for an interpretative explanation
as to what individuals are experiencing in this postmodern decentralization,
and to who they are in the social world. Racial tensions exist only as the
incompatible differences between cultures, lifestyles, sexual preferences, tra-
ditions, and so forth. The necessity of maintaining these differences now
parades as a “democratic” solution of greater self-inclusively.
Such a theoretical position “naturalizes” cultural differences in order to
contain individuals or groups in an a priori cultural genealogy. This genealogy
is mapped out demographically in each niche market to identify the iconic
racial representatives so they can be directly targeted. The replication of this
racial mix in any given location follows what Dawkin’s (1976) controversially
mapped out as a “selfish meme.” Like a gene, which copies and through
copying errors leads to evolution, the meme is similar in the way it acts a
“unit of cultural transmission” (192) in its repetitive copying function. In
the context of an information society the survival of a meme like Pop Stars
depends on its ability to “infect” (reproduce in) other hosts (countries) to
ensure survival. Such selfish memes “have no foresight” (200); they reproduce
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themselves often at the expense of their host’s life. This is social Darwinism
in its postmodern form. What makes a selfish meme fitter than the rest
depends on its psychological appeal. “It provides a superficially plausible
answer to deep and troubling questions about existence” (193). We are back
to Balibar’s postmodern racism that answers to the proliferation of global
The term “cultural translation” fits best here to explain how it is possible
for the very same form of Pop Idol to appear differently in each country. In
other words, how is difference maintained so that cloning is never identical?
“Cultural translation” seeks to find cultural signifiers that help to categorize
a stereotypic national identity for the audience to identify with. Mao Tse-Tung
used the term comprador, a Portuguese term for a hired company or corpo-
rate agent who knows how to market a product for multinational corporations
within the context of his or her own national culture by forwarding the most
obvious and significant signifiers in circulation. S/he is able to sell the product
by being aware of the cultural nuances and discourses that are in place. An
example from Canadian Idol (CI) will help to illustrate this. Ryan Malcolm was
the successful winner of the debut event, but it was Audrey de Montigny
who became the “real life” winner of CI. De Montigny was a French–Canadian
who played into the national consciousness far better than Malcolm.
Compared with Céline Dion, singing in both languages, her career took off
both in Québec and the English speaking provinces, while Malcolm’s career
sputtered. To get ahead, other successful contestants tried to mimic the dis-
tinctive style of well-known Canadian stars such as K.d. lang, Joni Mitchell,
Leonard Cohen, Bruce Cockburn, Ron Sexsmith, Neil Young, and Jane
Politically correct marketing strategy is essential to Pop Stars. No Angels
do this beautifully with a range of skin colors from white (Blond Sandy),
darker Slav White (red headed Lucy), and three shades of nonwhite: light
mulatto skinned (Vanessa), middle-shade (Jessica), and dark shade (Nadja).
Australia’s Bardot are almost all white to suit its demographics. Only Tiffany
has a darker skin tone. As their name suggests their chaste-femme fatale mix
is played with in songs like “Poison” and “I’d Should’ve Never Let you Go”
(Made By Me). They are naughty chaste. New Zealand’s tRueBliss fares out
better. With the loss of Carly Binding there is more Maori representation and
more differentiated skin tones. Erika and Meagan have darker skin than Joe
and Keri who have pale skin. An iconic blond white female singer is
absolutely essential, as is a curly haired black female singer in these all-female
groups. White remains the hegemonic (non)color in Europe, Australia,
New Zealand, United States, and Canada but claims to be just one more
color in the marketing of difference.
Another marketing strategy that strives to package transcendental heavenly
music is to mix the castrati-like voices of boys with chaste-naughty girls.
Hear’Say’s album was called Pure and Simple, with the hit single “The Way
to Your Love” reaching number one. They seemed to have found the magical
combination before things fell apart. But Germany’s Bro’Sis have the edge
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(for a while at least) over all the mix-n-match groups when it comes to
packaged hits. A full complement of four boys and two girls, Bro’Sis was a
product of Pop Stars Germany, with songs such as “Heaven Must Be Missing
an Angel” (Never Forget (Where You Came From)). They seem to cover
the entire ground of what is possible in terms of political correctness. Bros’Sis
is Europe’s answer to the proliferation of hip-hop, largely in the hands of
Black American youth. They allude to that culture in their videos, in their
name and their style of dress. In an interview on Germany’s MTV, many
members indicate a strong desire to become actors and actresses in
Hollywood. As soon as any one of them breaks ranks, the possibility of the
group “reproducing” itself becomes fated.
It needn’t be overstated that Pop Idol and Pop Stars, and Boy Bands in
general, exemplify a slick refined aesthetic as opposed to the raw, DIY of many
punk groups whose raw and rough aesthetic offers such a stark contrast.
A visit to the United Kingdom “The Wonderwall,”
for example, indicates
that there are hundreds of such starter bands formed (in every country),
many of whom do not last very long, some have only local following like high
school bands, producing their own CD’s for their niche audiences. Others
have garnered a wider reputation through touring. This underground scene
speaks more to a youth voice that defies appropriation, where its therapeutic
transgression sublimates the demons of joblessness and boredom, yet the
seduction to “sell out” for fifteen minutes of fame is always present. How can
it not be?
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On October 10, 2002, the “Women in Rock” special by music’s front running
magazine, Rolling Stone,
proved controversial. There were complaints and
accusations as to the choices made. Joan Jett, with Maya Price’s encourage-
ment, posted a complaint on her website for the short shrift she had received.
The intergenerational argument highlighted some of the concerns with the
postfeminist milieu. The intention in this chapter is not to sort out these
complaints, nor to deconstruct the article; rather, to think through the fan-
tasies that have emerged with this new generation of young women within
the context of post-Oedipalization. Britney Spears, who topped RS’s list, and
a whole host of similar but differentiable teenage and twenty plus something
superstar singers have come into their own. These include the (former) Spice
Girls (Sporty, Ginger, Posh, Scary, and Baby), Shakira, Christina Aguilera,
Kylie Minogue, Atomic Kitten, Wonderwall, Jessica Simpson, Mandy Moore,
Willa Ford, and Jennifer Lopez.
The signifiers /girlie/ and /gurl/ are a use-
ful way to differentiate the younger teens from their older 30-plus divas.
Some of these stars were raised listening to the Mother of all girlie-gurlz—
Madonna (who paradoxically stopped being their Mother when she herself
became a mother); others claim no such influence or allegiance. All appear,
at first glance, to fail in meeting the challenge of feminism’s lowest common
denominator of a political agenda—to achieve equality among the sexes—by
packaging femininity through media hype. Like their television counterparts
(Ally McBeal, Melrose Place, and Sarah Jessica Parker and the cast of Sex in
the City), their postfeminist antics support perfectly the de-Oedipalization
processes and the values of neoliberalism and designer capitalism. Girl “power”
advocates that gurlz can and should expect to achieve wealth, beauty, desir-
ability, a career, and popularity, if not fame. Big Daddy Capitalism has replaced
Big Daddy Warbucks. There’s no Roosevelt’s New Deal to support you here.
You’re on your own—“baby.”
Girlie/gurl ideology perpetuates and even strengthens what the “second
wave” of feminists tried and failed to undo—the Beauty Myth. The psycho-
logical pressure on young women to achieve power through beauty has
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intensified culminating in the windfall profits harvested by the diet industry,
the cosmetic and cosmetic surgery industry, and the pornography industry.
The appearance of an adolescent girl on the fashion runaway is no longer a
parodic figure. The thin and physically fit figure has become the norm, with
older supermodels having to maintain such a standard as their careers begin
to fade. Adolescents as women and women as adolescents implode on each
other. Britney Spears is a girlie-gurl who performs like a woman, and there
are many women who want to be gurlz. Ten to thirteen-year-old girls demand
glittery halter tops and bustiers. Catherine Hardwicke’s film Thirteen (2003)
is an eye-opener in this regard. While 25-year-old women search for outfits
that keep them competing with their daughters, a sort of Banger Sisters (Bob
Dolman, 2002) effect where Suzette (played by Goldie Hawn who is
57 years old), refuses to grow up. She wants to relive her groupie days all
over again and entices her former (now straight and respectable) sister-friend,
Lavinia, to find her “gurl” side once again.
Adolescence has been extended at both extremes, starting too soon and
ending late. The physically fit body denotes independence, self-assertion,
aggressiveness, autonomy, and mind over matter, the very ideals of the neolib-
eralist “possessed” individual of hyper-narcissism. The absence of depend-
ency and need are the qualities believed to lead to success, fame, and wealth.
More frequently, a girl who devotes herself to losing weight either does
not succeed (and loses self-esteem), or develops a serious eating disorder
such as bulimia or anorexia nervosa. When seeking to portray women as
absolutely capable of controlling their own destinies, gurl power, it seems,
denies the structural inequalities women endure, which are a basic feature of
contemporary society. Third wave feminism in its girlie-gurlz forms is criti-
cized for its commodification and what could be called “romantic transgres-
sion” where the political agenda is more of a surface show than structurally
All of this makes an all too easy accusation for what is an extremely
complex circulation of desire and its counterpart—the drive in gurlz post-
modern cultures. “Complicity and vulnerability are crucial to feminism as a
discourse on empowerment; they are the grounds for feminist politics,”
claims Catherine Driscoll in her study girls (2002, 281). Such a “reactionary
politics” is unavoidable. Drawing on Butler’s The Psychic Life of Power (1997)
and Deleuze’s topological notion of a cultural “assemblage,” which identi-
fies an imaginary group held together by practices and knowledge rather
than demographics, Driscoll defends such girlie phenomena as The Spice
They provide one of the sites for an “assembling” space of girlhood
where sex, gender, and culture is explored in a specific way, which is not
simply a repetition of feminism that already prejudges and predetermines
what the woman-feminist subject should be like. Driscoll dismisses the usual
feminist critiques of postfeminism for failing to grasp such sites as “singular
assemblages in relation to historically and socially specific dominant cultural
fields” (304). Such Deleuzean topological assemblages are held together by
specific psychic structures within the context of post-Oedipalization what
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has been designated as the little or small ONE. The master signifiers that are
identified in this third section of the book—girlie-gurl-girl-grrrl—are equally
fluid, continuously morphing and changing, but at the same time they stage
a particular “ethical complaint” lodged in the Real against the phallic domi-
nation of the Symbolic Order and the circulation of feminine jouissance
within it. While Driscoll overstates her case concerning The Spice Girls—
they were a startling conservative force—there can be no doubt as to the
imaginary force of identification that they provided.
The counterpart to these “bad” angel-like girlies and gurlz are the “good”
tart-tongued grrrls: Pink, Kelly Osbourne, Donna Mathews (formerly of
Elastica), Republica, Shirley Manson of Garbage and Gwen Stefani of
No Doubt, Sleater-Kinney, Joan Jett . . . ). They are spawned and spewed out by
The Riot Grrrls and Courtney Love’s band, Hole.
Their television counter-
parts are the witches, since bitches are seldom given the light of an appear-
ance. The nasty and satirical mouth of Roseanne Barr, for example, remained
off-stage, confined to the comedy stage of nightclub life. The teen gothic
scene, films like Heathers, Edward Scissor-Hands, The Craft, Beetlejuice, and
television programs such as the three sister witches in Charmed, Sabrina: The
Teenage Witch, and vampire slayers like Buffy: The Vampire Slayer are more
directly related to the “good witch” paradox.
The flaunting of girlie/gurl/
girl/grrrl sexuality and tough vixen appearance—sometimes effortlessly
switching from bad gurl to good gurl when the occasion is right for an image
change—can only be understood within the repressed desires and outdated
lingering visages of patriarchy that remain embedded in the Law and parental
In this chapter and the following three, it is argued that the proliferation
of hysterical symptoms by girlie/gurl/girl/grrrl cultures provide the neces-
sary fantasy structures of identification for teenage girls to “break out” and
“trouble” the gaze and masculine desire, which uncompromisingly positions
them as either abjected sluts (experienced, an easy lay) or prudes (frigid,
virgin, an impossible lay). Girls’ heterosexual desires are conflicted by these
subject positions, which place boys in the dominant position, when it comes
to sexual relationships. Deconstructing this binary by working sexuality
against these two polls—as grrrls who deconstruct the “slut” signifier, while
girlies/gurlz deconstruct the “prude” signifier, to claim a particular feminine
hysterical jouissance outside of patriarchy—has come, as shall be shown, at a
high price. The rise of their respective superegos can also be demonstrated.
For the slut, the transcendental figure of the phallic Mother emerges
paradoxically as a good Witch, while for the girlie-gurlz presents the paradox
of the transcendental bad Virgin. These are the perversions of the once pos-
itive and negative archetypes in patriarchy. We now have their postmodern
inversions: the paradoxical “good” witch and the “bad or naughty” virgin.
Good/bad are generally read as strict moral positions, but these postmodern
inversions deconstruct their binary to raise an “ethics of the Real” where
being Bad is not merely an absence of Good but present transgression as an
ethical act.
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Tnr Din1v O1nrn FrriNiNr JouissnNcr
Why identify the girlie/gurl/girl/grrrl phenomena as hysterical? Hysteria
has been over-theorized in feminist circles in the second half of the twentieth
century (Bronfen, 1998), an indication of its importance in postmodernity
because feminism, by default, sets up a refusal of desire offered by the
Symbolic Order; it is a refusal of the Master. The general claim that the inde-
cisiveness of the structuring question, “Am I a man or a woman,” asked by
all neurotics is, according to Lacan, the more poignant and defining ques-
tion for the hysteric. It constitutes her fundamental fantasy that applies to
both heterosexual and homosexual subjectivities alike. In post-Oedipal post-
modernism this question of sexual difference has become more acute. It
concerns the hysteric’s ambivalency toward separating from her Mother as
she enters the post-patriarchal order. This ambivalency plays itself out in her
attempt to constitute herself as objet a for her all-powerful m(Other). That
is, to fill her mother’s lack so that mother–daughter dyad feels complete, as
well as desiring her Father as if she were him (Fink, 1997, 124). In the first
case, the hysteric never needs to break with her mother and refuses to accept
castration, while in the second case she desires as if she were a man. Such an
ambivalency is heightened in today’s mixed-families and divorces where the
mother is the one raising her daughter and the father is gone, or there is a
live-in boyfriend or a step-father on the scene, all potential rivals to the
daughter’s relationship with her mother.
“Rock” is a primary site/sight/cite for hysteria of the second order as the
Rolling Stone article makes visible. As a male preserve, its invasion by women
who are paradoxically unavailable in their availability stirs up the hegemonic
dominance of men in an unprecedented way. This desire to usurp the man’s
position is dramatically illustrated, for instance, on the cover of tv media
where Britney Spears appears as Elvis Presley, the King of Rock, dressed in
his famous Las Vegas white costume, studded with rhinestones and high
collar. She has (or somebody thinks she has) displaced the King’s place in the
Symbolic Order, thereby challenging it. The hysteric is capable of being the
object of desire for the man as well as displacing him. Above all, the hysteric
avoids being the cause of desire for the man. She tries to master his desire by
keeping his desire unsatisfied—“chain” him around, so to speak, and tease him.
This does not mean that she refuses to have sex with him, rather she imag-
ines him to be another man, or that she is someone else. “You can have my
body but not my mind,” is her stance. In no way does she want to become
an object that satisfies his jouissance; that is, to be “had” by him as his object.
A small insignificant complaint by Britney Spears in People Magazine
of being leered at by an “older” man standing on the balcony next to her in
a Four Seasons hotel in Los Angeles is a minor instance of such anxiety.
Spears cannot imagine men perceiving her as a Lolita figure and finds being
looked at by “drooling cretins” when she goes to clubs to dance as repulsive.
Forty-year-old fans for her are “creepy.” While guys her age are “a little
intimidated of [her].” The so-called creeps Spears fears are the fathers who
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may be living “next door.” The vast majority of so-called pedophiles desire
(not children) but adolescents. Psychologists and law enforcers refer to them
as hebophiles. The clients are usually white, suburban, married businessmen
who want a blow job from a teenage boy but don’t consider themselves gay,
and heterosexual men who seek sex with young girls. To recall the scene in
Sam Mendes American Beauty (1999), Kevin Spacey plays Lester Burnham
who is infatuated with Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari) an 18-year-old high school
cheerleader, who, once she yields to Lester’s desire to bed her, becomes
scared as hell. Lester’s desire is emptied as his fantasy woman collapses into
a frightened little girl. He knows she mustn’t be touched, as if he was about
to commit incest with his daughter. The lust for a young body by an aging
man in his late forties to early fifties, made more and more available through
pornography and music video representations of young, lithe, energetic
young women, was just too much to resist. Such a fantasy formed the
poster for the film with Hayes lying naked in a bed of pink petals. As
Lacan put it, “The good that mustn’t be touched [referring to the mother]
becomes a beauty that mustn’t be touched” (Seminar VII Ethics, 237). The
title “American Beauty” takes on an added inflection of meaning as an
injunction against incest.
The Lolita come-on is, in the end, only a tease of an impossible hysterical
desire. But, it is a tease that sells very, very well, even in its lesbian versions.
The Russian pop singers, 17-year-old Julia Volkova and 18-year-old Lena
Katina, known as Tatu, perform wearing only tiny panties and even tinier
tank tops. Their first single, “Ya Shoshla S Uma” (All The Things She Said)
is a love affair between two young girls. It made No. 1 in the United
Kingdom, Austria, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland and was rising in the charts
in both Canada and the United States. The accompanying music video to the
song has them clad in micro-sized school uniforms, kissing passionately, and
standing in the rain to make it all the more revealing. Their debut album,
200KM/H in the Wrong Lane (released December 10, 2002) has gone
platinum. All the songs are a blend of Russian and English. The advertising
executive Ivan Shapovalov is said to have made two more videos for the
album. The first for “Nas Ne Dogonjat,” which sees the pair stealing a truck
and running people over. These images are intercut with childhood photos
of the girls naked. The second is for “30 Minutes,” which features Lena
becoming angry when she catches Julia with a man. Their music has been
dubbed with justification, “pedophilic pop.”
The claim presented thus far, is not to maintain that postfeminism “girlie”
cultures that range from the most conservative (The Spice Girls) to the most
radically political (Riot Grrrls) are clinically hysterical. That is not the point.
Rather, the hysterical structure in relation to phallic jouissance in the way
the dirty diva’s body is positioned within the dominant Symbolic Order of
patriarchy provides insight into the Other jouissance of the body, the jouis-
sance not caught up by the phallic order through sexual relations. This is an
enjoyment of the body as feminine jouissance, which remains a controversial
concept amongst orthodox Lacanian scholars. In contrast to such orthodoxy,
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the hysterical analyst and philosopher Luce Irigaray, who was dismissed from
the famous École Lacanienne de Psychanalyse (ELP) for her radical views,
has no difficulties forwarding “two lips and mucous” as the transcendental
feminine signifiers for this Other jouissance, which posits a different libidinal
economy for those women who are not labor under the Phallus. The differ-
ence is that Lacan posits this Other jouissance as being supplementary rather
than complementary. It is in addition to phallic jouissance, not formed in
complementary difference. While the debates surrounding whether Lacan’s
phallocentrism is historically descriptive rather than prescriptive and univer-
sal continue, the tact Lacan takes in S XX, Encore (1998) specifically mentions
that the Other jouissance as attributed to women is of the body and beyond
the phallus. This is sufficient enough to support the case that a “woman takes
pleasure in herself as Other to herself” (André, 1999, 248). A man “can
never be sure of having possessed her, that is to say, of having participated in
the jouissance that is hers” (248, original emphasis).
Lacan had praised the literary work of Marguerite Duras
for illustrating
this Other bodily jouissance of women. It seems to me that this same femi-
nine jouissance is “virginly felt” by the dirty virgin divas through their aban-
donment while dancing and singing. Such a position helps to understand
why Britney Spears’s alleged “virginity” was (at one time) so important to
her. Why “strong morals,” as professed by stars like Spears, Pink, and Aguilera,
and their claim to “innocence” (or, at least the pretense to it) are a defense
against pedophilic associations with child-woman stars like JonBenét (to be
discussed in a following chapter) and a total fall into phallic jouissance. To
follow Serge André here who “argues that a woman has an eternal virginity
[because of her feminine jouissance], a virginity correlated with that which is
unsatisfied by phallic sex. This is a virginity that follows rather than precedes
sexual intercourse insofar as for a woman, there is something that is not pen-
etrated, something that is not articulable in her experience of the sexual act”
(Serge André in Schwartz, 2001, 89). To understand why this is so requires
a (de)tour through the perversions of Marquis de Sade’s “Garden of Earthly
Delights.” To further comprehend the fantasy structure of the dirty virgin
divas in the music industry, the Sadean fantasy of sexual difference becomes
fundamental to grasp why virginity and innocence have become master signi-
fiers for their imaginary identification while still doing their “dirty dancing.”
Tnr SnnrnN FnN1nsv or SrxunI EpunIi1v
Sex sells. The line that separates “legitimate” entertainment industry as
paradigmatically represented by MTV, fashion, and film from its shadow
abject side—the “illegitimate” porno industry—is more and more difficult to
maintain. A young female star in the entertainment industry finds herself
being pushed by her backers and handlers toward more and more risqué
behaviors that skirt pornography—more nudity, more steamy sex, more
leather, more “more.” It is a slippery slope. Madonna was a master of pack-
aging herself on the edge of soft porn and hardcore, but Christina Aguilera
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must surely be her rising successor. Her debut appearance at “The Pussyclub
Dolls” burlesque show in 2002 (following in the footsteps of Gwen Stefani’s
guest performance), her suggestive cover on Stripped, and her hip pumping
action in her dance videos, have condemned Aguilera as yet another Lolita-
figure by moral pundits and music executives searching for the next “look.”
Understandably, the question becomes how can a young woman enjoy her
own body, her own sexuality and not be continually cast as just a dirty slut
by critics? Earning lots of money doesn’t necessarily equate with self-esteem.
The Sadean solution to the hysterical question, “Am I a woman or a man”
is solved by eliminating sexual difference entirely.
Both men and women
are said to be on equal footing when it comes to the pleasures of the body.
Under Sadean Law there is the mutual agreement made to enjoy the body
of the Other. This is meant to be an egalitarian relationship, a pact where
the violent antagonism between master and slave relationship is supposedly
eliminated under a set of definable and logical rules. This will-to-jouissance
is taken as Nature’s way, back to a time before the violent “cut” of prohibi-
tion divided the sexes into male/female. It is a time before the Fall, a pervert’s
Paradise, where no patriarchal “original” sin is at yet present.
Such a Sadean pact is meant to be a logical and rational arrangement. It is
an induction and not a seduction to sex (like a porn star learning the techniques
of anal sex and penetration for the first time). The desire of the Mother (indeed
of both parents) is eliminated by the hysteric totally transferring her desire to
the pervert who represents for her a “total man.” In actuality, he then becomes
an administrator of the maternal will-to-enjoyment. How? By denying the
Father’s Law, the Sadean pervert believes that the Mother bears absolute
jouissance, and he knows precisely how to be the object-instrument to provide
this jouissance for her daughter. This is the danger of girlie cultures today. To
break with the over-protective mother and Oedipal father there can be a turn
to the perverted Father as answering her demand for satisfaction, an Enjoying
Father who knows what she wants—he can be a porn producer, a pimp, or her
drug supplier. Desire is eliminated and her demand for satisfaction reigns
because (supposedly) the superego’s will-to-jouissance poses no limit. He gives
his partner the thrills and pleasures that she urges and wants. The pervert–sadist
acts as a representative-instrument of pure jouissance, declaring that he has the
phallus as well as being the phallus. This is the type of man the Sadean woman
falls for to anchor herself. She forfeits love for satisfaction.
The consequences of the Sadean perversion leads to an ironic conclusion:
the feminist agenda based on equality for the sexes has finally been fulfilled,
made possible by eliminating sexual difference. In the Sadean pact both injunc-
tions by the parents have been silenced. The Mother’s “No!” appears as an
irrational and arbitrary prohibition while the Oedipal Father’s “No!” appears
to have some substance about it, but both prohibitions can be eliminated. In
the Sadean theatre of perversion, the Father of Enjoyment is supported by
the Mother of Enjoyment (She-Devil), erasing parental authority—the
superego becomes unisexed. But at what price? The fantasy of sadism is only
sustainable if the subject is eliminated and becomes a perpetual object.
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Only in this way can the Other be denied as a site/sight/cite of death, pain,
castration, and violence. The Sadean woman never dies, she never bleeds.
She becomes an instrument, a mechanized orphic body. She is ultimately
Sade’s phantasm who is endlessly “tortured” and “pleasured” for his satis-
faction instead of hers. Her mythic equality and freedom between the sexes
is only reached in the bedroom, at the expense of the public sphere where
she might gain a voice.
It is, of course, the porno industry where the Sadean perversion is alive
and well. More young women with dreams of being stars and actresses end
up in the sex industry, re-signified as sex “therapy” or sex “work” to raise its
status and to politically confront public hypocrisy that is different from the
legitimate entertainment industry. The line between them is always in flux.
Where in the “bedrooms” of Penthouse or the Playboy Mansion does the line
cross over to the porn industry? Like the nonexistent boundary between
smoker and nonsmoker, the smoke of sex knows no boundaries other than
imaginary ones. The entertainment industry, defined in many respects as the
counterculture to mainstream “straight” society, has become its own private
bedroom as well. Love and sex, in particular, become easily confused, which
explicitly reveals that will-to-jouissance is not “limitless” as Sade claimed.
Sadomasochistic practices have become common fare. The John stages
and contracts out his own servitude and dictates to the dominatrix the exter-
nalization of his every desire in a theatre of feigned violence. But these are
not acts of “love.” Such theatre operates as its direct opposite. In porn
and prostitution the body “parts” are on sale, but not the “person.” Like the
quantifiable logic of the Sadean paradigm, you are paid for your time, or
for the agreed upon act.
Sexual satisfaction can be plumbed and measured
in dollars, but love cannot be bought. For prostitutes the love relation has
been transferred to the “pimp” who exchanges it for physical protection.
The sexual agreement is supposed to be a fair business exchange. Johns are
not to become violent, but this is never guaranteed.
There is no myth of an unreachable “courtly lady” operating anymore.
Chivalry (and its subsequent form, that of a gentleman) once offered protec-
tion for the Lady, yielding to her every impossible demand. Now it is the
pimp and/or the Madame of a brothel who has become the “materialized”
enforcer extracting surplus value from sex-workers in exchange for the pro-
tective services offered. Johns are not to be dated on the “outside,” and pas-
sionate kissing on the mouth is usually prohibited. Trouble only results on
the porn set when “business” gets confused with “love,” as exemplified by
Christine Fugate’s documentary, The Girl Next Door (1999), an apt title given
that this is the fantasy that many of the dirty pop divas like Kylie Minogue
stage in their music videos. In the documentary, porn star Stacy Valentine
struggles with the borders that police love and sex within the porno business
and the privacy of her home (the “outside”). She is unable to maintain the
space of their separation as her relationship with her lover-actor porn star
(Julian) continually collapses. She feels jealous when, in a group sex scene
he seems to “enjoy” sex with Other actresses more than with her.
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Eventually they break up, but she continues to pine for him throughout the
documentary. Defined in binary opposition to one another, Valentine is
unable to displace the two worlds of romantic love and pornography into
some sort of livable space of “in-between.” Valentine is never satisfied with
her body. Breast implants, nose correction, and lip enhancements become
standard fare. Valentine classically exhibits all the symptoms of hysterical anx-
iety through her “lack of a lack.” She seems to have everything: clothes, a
racy car, a beautiful house, but no happiness.
The Sadean woman, once touched by the promise of endless jouissance,
resigns herself into believing that the Oedipal “sensitive” man will always
remain somewhat of a joke. As Milton, the Devil, put it in Taylor Hackford’s
(1997) film, Devil’s Advocate, “Once the butterfly’s wings have been touched
it never flies away.” The recuperation of the fantasy space of the porno star
turned “legit” is a standard Hollywood trope to elide that pornography is
the obscene supplement that makes romantic love possible. These films try to
“rescue” and rehabilitate those women who have fallen into such perversion.
From the success of Billy Wilder’s Irma La Douce (1963)—where the Law is
suspended by doubling Jack Lemon’s character as a French ex-police officer
Nestor Patou and Lord X so that love can flourish and Irma can leave
the business—to the wild success of Garry Marshall’s Pretty Woman (1990),
prostitutes are constantly being recuperated and legitimized back into
society. Vivian (Viv) Ward (Julia Roberts), a postsecondary student who was
“forced” into prostitution because of financial strain, is given a new lease in
life by marrying the millionaire business man, Edward Levis (Richard Gere).
David Katch’s The Girl Next Door (2001), perhaps quoting Fugate’s docu-
mentary, is about a teenage boy whose dream comes true when a porn star
literally moves in next door, and they fall in love. Does it take us too far afield
to suggest that the character of Cinderella is but a “cleaned-up” version of the
“prostitute” turned orphan rescued by her Prince in a romantic scenario? Zipes
(1983) analysis of fairytales has certainly made such a reading plausible.
A film like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997) provides an
exception to this fantasy of recuperation. The boundary between perversion
and its escape is always presented at the borderline of their crossing. Porn
stars want “out” and be recognized as “human beings” who are “stars” in their
own right, but are continually unaccepted by the legitimized Symbolic Order.
Wannabe porn stars are always trying to get “into” the business so that they
might be recognized as being “somebody.” Desire is feigned and parodied,
and self-esteem maintained by staging the annual “Adult Entertainment
Academy Awards,” the “other” Oscars of pornographic stardom in Las Vegas
where performance is judged on how the excesses of phallic jouissance
invested in the penis and clitoris have prevailed.
Minnirr VinciNs: SÞrnns nNn CorÞnNv
Having taken the (de)tour, it is time to get back to Britney and Company
(alleged) virginity, and (alleged) breast enhancement, and (alleged) . . . Why
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the pretense of virginity and high morals among so many teen-queen divas?
Motherhood as the sign of subjugation under patriarchy plays an ambivalent
role in hysterical behavior. Girlie-gurl’s love and support their mothers, but
becoming pregnant can be an identification that is just too close for them.
They want to remain in a position where they don’t take up a subject posi-
tion that legitimates them into patriarchy, which motherhood clearly is. Even
Madonna is unable to completely shirk off responsibility as to her daughter’s
well being. She is now engaged in writing five children’s books for Penguin.
Clearly, she must have a great deal of insight about parenting in the post-
Oedipal age! In contrast, Gurlz “just want to have fun.” It is the exposure
of the midriff—taunt, hard, and fit, often with abdominal muscles showing,
the navel suitably pierced as a reminder of the umbilical chord that once con-
nected mother with daughter—that marks their hysterical “No!” to mother-
hood. The commercial for Levi Superlow jeans for women to bear their
midriffs even has their navels singing, displacing the vaginal lips of mother-
ing to the oral lips of the belly button. Spears has flaunted her virginal objet a
by flashing her midriff. Her famous bellybutton by far outstripped her
black-winged fairy tattoo on her back. It is her navel—the place of the umbil-
ical chord that is very much still attached to her mother, Lynne, who has been
so instrumental in her career—which “sings” as the site of her feminine
jouissance. Her superegoic mother figure acts like a “bad virgin”—on the
one hand she offers moral guidance to her daughter while on the other hand
she condones all of her daughter’s flirtatious acting out as entertainment value.
The midriff, or navel, has become the new postmodern signifier of eman-
cipation from motherhood. This is the sight/cite/site where video cameras
linger, where silver and jade bellybutton rings become the lure that capti-
vates the gaze as the new sight of fascination. A little higher and taunt breasts
appear—a little lower and the first few pubic hairs peek out of the panties.
By claiming virginity (alleged or actual, it doesn’t matter), the hysteric stages a
way to keep the desire of the Other (her male fans, her boyfriend, and her male
admires) at bay. She demands a limit to be placed on her by a mastering sub-
ject that prevents her from being an object of his drive. In this way she can
remain as a sexy living doll that paradoxically appears “innocent,” this inno-
cence taking us back to purity of desire of the baby who supposedly is still igno-
rant of his/her sexuality—a non-phallic but hypersexuality, the vitality of life
itself (zoë), which comes across in Spears’s high-energy choreographed dancing.
The “virginity card” enables her to ward off the obvious lascivious mas-
culine gaze that surrounds her wherever she goes , and her possible fall as a
Sadean woman. “Look but do not touch or mar me,” is the message. I am
wholesome and chaste, although I may not “look” it. This is a perverse
paradox. By claiming virginity, Spears and Company ask that her admirers
retain the fullness of their own jouissance, to remain in control of them-
selves—an impossible request, which makes her the tease and the impossible
object that cannot be “had.” Desire to possess her simply becomes more
inflamed. The pretense of virginity is also a strong enough signifier, per-
haps the only signifier left, which differentiates her from slipping in an
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overidentification with the porno scene, a balance Madonna fans know all
too well. This is difficult to do since her image is shaped by it indirectly.
Appearing in bra and panties in the middle of her doll collection in Rolling
Stone is difficult to reconcile. Firing her video director Greg Dark, who was
a former porno director, also doesn’t help. By simply taking pleasure in
wanting sex and then depriving herself of it, a certain desire of hers remains
unsatisfied. She is conscious that she has this wish which remains unfulfilled.
If it wasn’t for this conscious removal of jouissance, which circulates around
the ambiguity of virginity as her objet a now displaced to the midriff, the
barrier between her and the Sadean woman would be removed.
Instead, this
new erogenous zone of the body avoids both the potentially sagging breasts
of motherhood as well as vaginal penetration, exemplifying the new sexual
ambiguity, which is hysterically caught between the mother’s demand (as
superego) and father’s desire (as an Oedipal protector).
Midriff virginity (and surrounding signifiers like Britney’s moral convictions
of having “strong values”) becomes an unattainable trait, which turns every-
thing into erotic foreplay, enabling her to enjoy her own sexuality, her
“come-on,” with full abandonment. It is what bestows on her a transcendental
vitality (zoë), the captured energy in her videos. The question is whether this zoë
is a quantifiably different libidinal energy than the bioenergy of manufactured
groups (boy and girls bands)? Is it Britney’s “wildness” and self-abandonment
in her music videos (to a lesser extent as Lucy in Tamra Davis’s film Crossroads,
2002) that is so appealing for girlie culture? These are “uncultivated” moments
not confined to the “Mickey Mouse” prison of her past, if it can be put that
way, which gives her the hysterical quality of feminine jouissance.
The severity of the superego, however, which is often reduced to an inter-
nalized voice of conscience, can turn and become the voice of transgression
to obtain satisfaction. A threshold of this virgin fantasy is reached when
it turns to horror. The seeming naiveté of Spears’s remark, “Who me sexy?”
exposes the shock of her realization of what exactly defines her public
personality. The gaze of the Other materializes and sex is no longer her
plaything. Her navel is unable to hold its place of ambiguity and a frighten-
ing realization is grasped. All eyes are on her every move. Spears went
through a period where ex-fans “booed” her appearances at performances
and commercial endorsements for clothes and at the opening of her restau-
rant, Nyla, and later Posh in New York. It is not all that surprising to see Spears
suffering depressions and withdraws, battling stalkers (fanaddicts) in law
courts, wishing that she was back “home,” talking endlessly with her mom
on the phone. Both Spears and Aguilera, two of the dirtiest virgin divas, have
close relationships to their superego mothers. A telling feature of their need
to maintain perspective and not fall into the heights of Sadean abandonment.
Tnr Mnspurnnnr or VinciNi1v
Virginity and motherhood, the two defining signifiers of woman under
patriarchy have been perverted by two megastars, Madonna and Spears.
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It should be perhaps no surprise that Spears’s own quotation of virginity is
in direct contrast to Madonna for market differentiation. The assault on vir-
ginity and motherhood by Madonna in the 1990s was direct. Her “boy-toy”
attitude demonstrable. Madonna knew how to play with the camera appara-
tuses of male fantasy. As Warren Beatty on the set of Dick Tracy remarked,
she would not do anything without a camera eyewitness (Truth or Dare). But
that Dick didn’t have a chance! Madonna knew the discourse and exploited
it for her own gain. Whereas Marilyn Monroe might have feared becoming
crazy like her mother, Madonna exposed the craziness of her parents and
diffused it by taking her own “singing cure.” Both Spears and Madonna have
a love/hate affection for one another and both have “quoted” one another by
wearing each other’s logo. But Madonna has also sued Spears for “stealing”
her image. Such rivalry eventually ended up in a rehearsed conciliatory kiss
of acknowledgment during the 2003 MTV’s Video Music Awards.
Britney Spears’s stance on virginity and her media managers who maintain
it, again offers an insight as how identification from a Lacanian psychoanalytic
position works. How is Spears (and a host of other young women singer/
performers who have followed her virginity card, like Christina Aguilera and
Jessica Simpson) able to maintain the paradoxical position of a disidentifica-
tion with virginity by being so obviously sexy and seductive in her dance
performances, see-through tops, peek-a-boo underpants, sexy dresses, song
lyrics and video performances where she “fakes” sexual intercourse (“Don’t
Let Me Be the Last to Know” and “Slave”) and, at the same time claim to
be a virgin? The two by conservative standards form an impossible pair. Perhaps
the best take was her debut album at 17, Baby One More Time, when she sang
its feature song: “Hit me, Baby, one more Time” wearing a plaid skirt and
knee socks—like the Russian Tula gurlz.
The way discourse of virginity is exploited is through a too-literal inter-
pretation of it; that is, by not distancing herself from the historical ideologi-
cal formations that surrounds virginity—being pure, chaste, and patriarchal
property—that the subversion of virginity is accomplished. Rather than ruin-
ing virginity, its fantasy accoutrements are ironically played with as well. This
is the well-known notion of mimesis in anthropology (Taussig, 1993). It is a
transformational process whereby a copy of something draws its power from
the original in order to assume its power. In her mirroring, Spears’s virginity
has become a hyper-virginity—a doubled copy to draw attention to it. By
imitating and parodying being a virgin, Spears is able to sustain her hysteria
through managed and staged events. For instance, her refusal to accept a busi-
nessman’s private “morally unethical” offer of $7.5 million dollars to
deflower her. $2 million to Spears (or Aguilera) to appear nude for the
LethalSports website. Before her appearance at “Rock in Rio” festival con-
cert, she had a three-day lockup in the honeymoon suite of a Rio de Janeiro
Intercontinental hotel with her (now ex) boyfriend Justin Timberlake of
’NSync (who also expressed his virginity publicly). Once again, this all remains
too obviously suspicious. The press was told that they spent a “chaste”
getaway together with KFC order-ins and hugging only!
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Midriff-virginity has become objet a, the extra-ideological defining unary
feature of identification, and Britney’s got “it.” The new area of eroticized
signification of the skin-ego denotes the hysterization of young women as
wavering between the slut (Sadean woman) or the virgin (Daddy’s girl). The
struggle for Britney is to negotiate a fall into promiscuity where her body is
enjoyed “by” the Other, while the enjoyment of her own body is caught by
this social contradiction—“midriffted,” so to speak. Singers who are not in
the processes of “virgin-ing” themselves become othered, degraded whores.
Even if Spears was caught buff-naked on videotape “doing it,” her fans
would deny such a possibility. It would ruin their identification with her,
even though she is constantly “winking” at them in her video hit, “I’m not
that Innocent.” The intentional missing qualifier in her song “ . . . Baby One
More Time,” which later turned out to be “Hit me One More Time” was
another giveaway of her alleged innocence. This missing signifier illustrates
very well the ambiguities of the slut/virgin binary that Britney and Company
must deal with; this point of identification by girlies is easily made. The miss-
ing signifier points to a lack as to what can’t be explicitly expressed—sexual
intercourse. Fans also believe Spears when she says she has no breast implants.
She has effectively usurped the power of virginity. When word got out that
there were nude photos of Christina Aguilera on a website, this was imme-
diately denied claiming it was a model imposture. Whether it was or wasn’t
the case isn’t the issue here. The belief in her dirty virgin image is in place.
The point is that such incidents are simply disavowed enabling the ele-
ment of doubt to generate a possibility of truth to sustain fan identification.
Australia’s pop diva, Kylie Minogue’s squeaky-clean image was “exposed” on
a Britain’s Channel 4 documentary (Kyle Entirely), which made her desir-
ability grow even stronger when the “dirt” came out. Marilyn Monroe pros-
tituted herself on the casting couch to be in the spotlight, never being able
to reconcile the male fantasy of Marilyn Monroe as a masquerade with
Norma Gene who had her own desire. She read voraciously, wrote poetry,
wanted children, and was deathly anxious that she might end up mentally ill
like her mother. But she did not have a “virginity card” to play like Madonna
or Spears. There was no way she could protect herself. Her ideal ego was
plagued by anxiety. In contrast, Mae West sarcastically told it like it is,
“I climbed the ladder of success ‘wrong by wrong.’ ” West had a sarcastic wit
that enabled her to throw sexuality back in men’s faces. She used her sexual-
ity as a vamp. Unlike Monroe, who was a spoken subject by the entertainment
industry, what has changed is that these dirty pop divas are media savvy; they
are not so easily manipulated. Motherly superegos are in abundance. Monroe
ended her life tragically. In contrast, Kylie Minogue reworked the profes-
sional victimization and tragedy of Judy Garland, the gay man’s icon, in her
hit single, “Spinning Around.” While Madonna became the perfect market
manager, packaging the female masquerade, the quintessential example of a
post-structuralist subject packaged for the designer capitalist market.
By making virginity an unary “extra-ideological” trait, Spears is able to
ward off accusations of promiscuity by seeming to live up to the letter of the
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religious Law of abstinence. This paradoxically allows her “dirty” identity
(her attire, dance moves, song lyrics) to assert itself as an ironic parody. “I’m
a [Baptist] Christian, I go to Church. Mom taught us, ‘Don’t be ashamed of
your body, it’s a beautiful thing,’ ” she tells her readers in People Magazine.
The Church of England, who took her virginity seriously as a model to be
followed, has magnified the irony. The Christian magazine Celebrate fea-
tured her as an “ambassador for virginity.” The Church was blind to the way
Spears’s choice of virginity is able to become ambiguous through her mas-
querade and mimesis of its fantasy. Unlike a male, who is always caught by
the authority of the Phallus, his impotence can always be exposed like wear-
ing a toupee, Britney’s masquerade of virginity is more like wearing a hat.
A hat can be a fashion statement that covers over baldness. If it blows off and
exposes the covered up baldness, not much is lost since the pretense of not
being bald—unlike a toupee—was never entirely certain. And, so it is with
Embedded in the fantasy that Spears is a virgin, is the very possibility that
she is not, which must be disavowed by the Church of England if she is to
be appropriated as a model for celebrate youth. One might say that Spears
here mimes an identity of religious authority by being a virgin with self-
professed high morals, what Bhabha (1994) in the context of postcolonial
conditions referred to the subversion of identity through a “doubling” or
“the uncanny sameness-in-difference, of the alterity of Identity” (54). Such
mimicry provides “a subject of difference that is almost the same but not
quite” (86). The mime operates in a “third space.” The doubling of identity
creates a disturbance in and by the dominant gaze. “That disturbance of your
voyeuristic look enacts the complexity and contradictions of your desire to
see, to fix cultural difference in a containable, visible object” (50). As Bhabha
terms it, such an identity is “less than one and double” (less than one
because of the “invisibility” of identity, and doubled because of the mimicry
involved). Such a hybrid position “splits the difference between Self and
Other” (50). We might characterize Spears’s mimetic disturbance of hypocrisy
levied especially by some moral leaders as more than one and split. She is
more than one given her iconic and cult status and “split” between virginity
and promiscuity.
All this theorizing sounds as if Spears knows exactly what she is doing.
But, just the opposite is the case. It is her very ambiguous innocence that
sends existent structures spinning and in play. The discourses that divide
women into virgins or whores are already in place. The psychic intervention
into these structures is what proves interesting and is never entirely control-
lable. Spears is much like the figure of Harpo of the Marx Brothers. Recall his
wide-eyed dumb grin that made him also an ambiguous figure, a mixture of
innocence and perversity. When it came to the scenes with women through-
out the Marx Brothers movies, the viewer was uncertain of his intentions: was
it a ravenous thirst for sex covered over by a thinly disguised simplicity?
Could he really be that stupid, or was this a clever ploy to capture the hearts
of women—offstage? Spears occupies (for now at least) a similar ambiguous
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position. She dances on the dividing line between virginity and promiscuity,
a “third space” in Bhabha’s terms that splits her and her audience in two.
The Net is full of fans who absolutely hate Spears. They see her “innocence”
as a fraud, her virginity as a joke, her music silly and bubble-gum-ish, she
overacts, and so on. And, then there are her true believers who see Spears as
a role model, someone who could do no wrong.
At 22 years of age in 2004, now turned a gurl, her antics of marrying
Jason Allen Alexander, a childhood friend from Louisiana, in Las Vegas and
then promptly annulling the marriage is simply a confirmation of the ambi-
guity Spears finds herself in. She hysterically plays with the Symbolic Order,
hoping to steal back jouissance that it stole from her, searching for her own
way to keep on dancing for herself—the dirtier the better.
In sum, the “bad
virgin” stages the fantasy of The Lady of Courtly Love with a postmodern
twist. Unlike Boy Bands and Pop Idol, she owns the contract by claiming
her feminine property as herself, as a singing and dancing femme fatale. By
perverting virginity, she “enjoys” the feminine jouissance of her body as
sublimated through her art, which retains its integrity and dignity as her
own product and not the company’s. It is a non-procreative sexuality (zoë),
neither attached to that of becoming a Mother, nor to some spiritual God.
Nevertheless, it is still attached to a feminine Thing. The Mother is no longer
the Virgin of patriarchy, like in the Catholic Marianology where the Thing
(das Ding) represents a Sovereign untouchable Good. Freud exposed this
myth by showing that the Mother, as an object of incest, makes the dream
of a Sovereign Good impossible. He put in doubt yet another modernist
grand narrative: the possibility of defining some teleological and transcendental
Good—as represented by the full symbiotic jouissance with the Mother—
which dictates to humankind just what the ethical duties are to be. For a het-
erosexual man, loving the body of a woman becomes confined to the “lost
objects” during separation from the mother like the breast, voice (lips), and
gaze (face, image). But a woman’s entire body remains unattainable. He
cannot possess her. “There is no such thing as a sexual relationship,” quipped
Lacan. The impossible gap between the sexes is never fully resolved. We have
only speech that can express the love for the impossible missing object,
the Thing (das Ding), which if it were possible to attain, would make us
complete as we once thought we were.
The Mother for the bad virgin diva has not been entirely foreclosed; she
has become her superego and stage manager, protecting her from being
reduced to an exchange of “goods” in the double meaning that this word
now has: as commerce and as the virginal package of transcendental good-
ness. Perhaps it’s the best that can be done in designer capitalism? An impos-
sible Thing of unending foreplay and teasing is created through a bevy of
hysterical songs that detour, approximate, call-for, and provide the missing
signifiers of her desire, but always miss articulating it. She creates herself as a
sexy, inaccessible, dirty virgin. As an anxious object of desire she is just “too”
far away. The closer we come to her, the more monstrous she becomes, as
Lester Burnham of American Beauty found out. What’s possible is only
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a sublime love; to be able only to touch a “part” of her body is enough to
keep her chaste and desirable.
Perhaps the only way to approach such a hysterical bad Virgin is in a
seemingly non-phallic and nonthreatening way: as a mommy’s boy (Justin
Timberlake?) or as a gay man. Both are safe “friends.” The usual disparaging
“fag hag” narrative, which sets up a straight woman with a gay man, is being
rewritten by hysterical young women who don’t want to be the object of
jouissance for masculine desire. The television show, Will and Grace, explores
this confusion of desires. It revolves around the friendship between a gay
man (played by Eric McCormack) and his straight female friend (played by
Debra Messing), with Will’s gay friend Jack (played by Sean Hayes) and
Grace’s secretary/friend Karen Walker (played by Megan Mullaly) rounding
out the cast. Walker is ambiguously bisexual.
As poor as they are, Hollywood has also presented such a possibility.
My Best Friend’s Wedding (Julia Roberts/ Rupert Everett) and The Object of
My Affection (Jennifer Anniston/ Paul Rudd) present this unusual coupling.
As Judith Feher-Gurewich (2001), a practicing Lacanian psychoanalyst in
New York says of The Object of My Affection, “A new hysterical triangle is
born. [T]he heroine’s erotic vicissitudes reenact Dora’s question to Freud:
‘How can I discover the meaning of sexual difference without having to
confront that part of my sexuality that puts desire or lack on the line?’ ” (34).
This narrative confirms yet again the hysterical structure, but the solution to
avoid symbolic castration in this case is a bizarre one. Anniston “wants to
become an object of sexual enjoyment for a man who cannot desire her” (34).
The other solution for the hysteric is just to simply give up on men alto-
gether, and enjoy a lesbian relationship where she finds sexual satisfaction
with another woman in mutual masturbation and common life style. She is
tired of involving a man to keep her desire alive and, at the same time,
excluding sexual satisfaction (jouissance) from this circuit. Desire and jouis-
sance, of course, are not the same thing. The success of Kissing Jessica Stein
(2000), directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld and written by Heather
Juergensen and Jennifer Westfeld, although not Hollywood, has obviously
struck a chord with gurlz in its presentation of a straight girl in a lesbian
relationship. Both of these narrative structures point obliquely to the ethical
demand in the Real that has been raised in this chapter: The ambiguous state
of girlie/gurl desire that she is trying to claim as her own sexuality within
today’s post-patriarchy, and the painfully pleasurable feminine jouissance that
supplements, but does not as yet complement it.
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The possibility of a gurlz’ desire of their own not being overshadowed by
boyz’ desire, is the ethical challenge presented by the paradoxical figure of the
“dirty virgin” in post-patriarchy. How to be a sexual subject and remain so
without being positioned as a sexual object can take on a hysterical psychic
structure to ensure feminine jouissance. Repressed illicit pleasure by the
“moral society” is unabashedly let loose by the obscene underside of this
respectability by the porn industry, which is haunted by Sade’s moral ruse of
sexual equality. The Sadean “categorical imperative” of the body to enjoy
pleasure, as Lacan famously argued,
was simply the obverse side of the
Kantian “categorical imperative” of the moral mind. De-Oedipalization brings
these two structuring fantasies together as the Law that separates them begins
to slide and wane. The “bad virgin” is but one of a number of other equally
compelling fantasmatic strategies, which addresses this moral and ethical con-
flict. In this chapter gurlz’ desires are discussed to better grasp why music is
such a primary site/sight/cite for postfeminist identification.
The demands of gurlz’ desire have obvious challenges and struggles.
When it comes to sexual desire in the law courts of the United States and
Europe, it is quite clear that a sharp distinction separates childhood from
adulthood when it comes to the age-of-consent. In statutory rape cases, in
particular, the younger partner is categorized as incapable and confused
when it comes to saying yes or no to sex. By definition the rape “victim” is
personally and legally powerless to resist or to relinquish her virtue; the state
answers for her. In such laws it is assumed that minors have the right of
protection, but the primal object of protection is her virginity, which was the
property of the father and not the daughter. The law still supports this. Sex
with a minor, until recently, was always considered to be with a female. This
has now changed to include boys to litigate consensual homosexual liaisons.
Most statutory rape charges involve a male adult and a female minor. It has
become more and more common for a young woman to have sex with men
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who are older by some three years (Levine, 2002, 71). The statutory rape
law sets up the male as both the seducer and the desiring partner. The girl’s
sexual desire is not considered. The wider the age differences between her
and her (usually older) male sex partner, the more likely the courts take her
to be coerced into sexual intercourse for the first time.
The other hierarchy operating in the age-of-consent law is parental rights.
Given the minor (daughter) has no right to consent to the sex act, and if it
can be shown she has had illicit sex, then the law courts grant the parents the
right to prosecute her boyfriend-perpetrator. This becomes especially con-
tentious when a young girl and an older man (or vice versa) wish to get
married, or run away together. The situation becomes especially difficult to
litigate. In the United States the age-of-consent is currently all over the
As the moral panic increases over the dropping age of sexual initiation
slowly drops, the reaction has been to raise the age of consent as a harsh
measure of deterrence. Statutory rape is supposed to be a protective feature,
but with young women exploring more and more their own desires, it has
proven to be a confusing and contentious law. Many young men are given
inordinate years of jail time for what the couple thought to be freely
consented sex.
Judith Levine’s critical journalism in Harmful to Minors (2002) uncovers
many of the ambiguities that surround “protecting” children from sex. In
many aspects her work opens up the same space between promiscuity and
innocence which young people struggle with, as presented by pop divas like
Spears. On the whole, sex-education continues to be defined by an emphasis
on abstinence-plus and chastity. In the 1990s when teenage pregnancy and
birth rates dropped by 17 and 19 percent respectively in the United States,
they did not do so because of the embrace of virginity (as was touted by
abstinence advocates), but due to improved contraceptive use (111–113).
More dramatically in Holland, where contraceptives are freely available and
celibacy is not actively promoted, less than one percent of 15 and 17-year-olds
become pregnant. In contrast, in the United States “good girls get caught”;
meaning a good girl by definition “is not a girl with condoms and lube in
her backpack” (113). Such an accusation repeats the paradox of the “dirty
virgin”—damn if you do and damn if you don’t. The bottom line claims
Levine, is that sex-educators have lost their battle with the Moral Right.
Abstinence remains the main strategy in sex-education, while antiabortionists
are slowly gaining an upper hand through court battles and terrorist tactics
on abortion clinics. Naomi Wolf in 1995 even scolded middle-class women
for treating abortions too lightly, and extolled feminists to consider abortion
within the paradigm of “sin and redemption” (quoted in Levine, 2002, 120).
Antiabortionist propaganda has effectively brought shame and denial on
young teens who “get caught” as sexual beings and dumb-luck mothers. In
the meantime the age of sexual intercourse continues to drop, with anal and
oral sex in some cases not considered to be “sex” at all, a belief also held by
President Clinton. Technically speaking, he indeed did not have “sex” with
Monica Lewinsky. This was not a lie in his mind.
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Judith Levine and Deborah Tolman (whom Levine quotes) both claim that
teen desire and sexual experience are seldom talked about. Both mention
Michelle Fines’s dated study in 1988 that appeared in The Harvard
Educational Review. Fine showed that female desire was overshadowed by
talk of female victimization, sexual violence, and personal morality. Levine is
quite aware that talk of sexual desire has not somehow been silenced just
because the official discourse of sex education in schools and the pressure of
the Right moralists in the United States to contain sexual pleasure have man-
aged to assert their hegemony. Such repression comes back with greater force,
classically illustrating Freud’s maxim, “the return of the repressed.” In post-
modernity, the Internet is the new underground where these forbidden issues
continue to get discussed. Levine devotes several pages (144–148) to a num-
ber of the more “reliable” websites that discuss teenage sexual desires.
In the
end, however, Levine separates “facts” from “truthful fictions,” which are the
stories and fantasies that carry the meaning of love, romance, and desire
(150), a position which has been obviously inverted in this book: fantasies
support facts. They are more likely to capture the “truth” that the facts conceal.
This leads Levine to undervalue the fantasy spaces of media for young people,
and falls into a stereotypical dismissal of them (“Hollywood hokum of puppy
love and rape, soulless seductions of the sitcom, and the one-size-fits-none
spandex beauty of MTV,” Levine, 2002, 153). This strange absence of media
and the Internet also pervades Tolman’s study, which purports to examine
high school girls’ desire. I now turn to her research.
CoNrIic1rn Drsinr iN GunIz’ Nnnnn1ivrs
Deborah Tolman’s 1994 study, “Daring to Desire,” was published eight
years later in its expanded form as Dilemmas Of Desire: Teenage Girls Talk
About Sexuality (2002). Both Carol Gilligan and Michelle Fine endorsed it
as providing new insights into female desire. Tolman tried to grapple with
girl’s desire from a psychological and developmental point of view. In her
interviews with mostly heterosexual teenage girls from urban and suburban
schools, it became quite clear that girls struggle with their superego drive
that urges then to “enjoy.” This is a conflicted voice, as argued, a fusion
between one’s own conscience and the will-to-enjoyment. The superego has
everything to do with accepting or rejecting the Law; the conflict is always
whether it should be obeyed if the social order is no longer to be trusted,
perceived to be unfair and unjust.
Tolman called this conflict a “voice of the body.” Its presence throughout
the narratives is an unmistakable tension of its intensity, the urge of an
incredible attraction toward the opposite sex (only two girls were of a different
sexual orientation). The girls describe their body feelings in physiological
terms when the object of their desire came close—the quivering of the
vagina, becoming “hot,” blood pressure going up, and so on. The girls will-
fully struggled against the “wishes” of their bodies, staving off sexual desire
by rationalizing the conflicts and fears of AIDS, pregnancy, and parental
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injunctions. They experienced the fear of loosing their “reputation” and
feared not being respected. At the same time, they did not want to feel
unwanted and asexual.
However, this very same erotic bodily voice also made them feel empowered
and alive. Oral sex, for example, gave some girls a controlling feeling. But the
struggle between what they thought and felt was always there. Their sexual
repression was clearly evident. Many did not want to voice their desires, and
remained silent about them. Others had doubts about not acting on their
desires through acts of self-censoring, yet others became tongue-tied, unable
to articulate their desires. Signifiers couldn’t be found to do so, or they
weren’t sure whether they had any sexual desire at all (especially worrying).
These narratives exposed an obvious conflict for young women as to what
they wanted to do, and what they could do because of internalized social
expectations—the moral imperative not to act on their desire. Such an oscillation
between power and powerlessness indicates a similar identificatory subject
position that oscillates between sadism and masochism found in Freud’s
“beating fantasy.” However, unlike male masochism that has a subversive
potential within patriarchy, female masochism as Luce Irigaray has often
argued throughout her many writings, is the “norm” in patriarchy. Her
“sadistic” moments of power are attributed to the figure of a femme fatal, an
object of anxiety. Tolman concluded that the relationship between sexual
desire and physical violence by boyfriends, date rape, and sexual harassment
was more evident in the urban than suburban population.
Tolman’s full account of her study, published in 2002, unfortunately did
little to expand on this initial picture. For a full-length book with “desire” in
its title, there is surprisingly no sustained discussion of what she means by the
term. She does, however, provide what she believes to be the common
understanding of desire, which is a gross misunderstanding of the difference
between desire and drive. Further, the drive’s aggressivity is attributed only
to masculinity.
We believe that desire is a demanding physical urge, instinct, or drive, embedded
so deeply in the body that it gains a life of its own once ignited. It is impossible
to control, absolutely necessary to satisfy (through sexual intercourse), and
aggressive to the point of violence. It is an unstoppable artifact of testosterone
overload. In our worst scenarios, we think of desire as a kind of selfish,
exploitative monster, as a force that demands its bearer find satisfaction at the
expense of or without concern for someone else. Desire is uncivilized. It is all
about individual needs and has nothing to do with relationships. It is male and
it is masculine (13, emphasis added).
This is clearly the death drive, and it certainly is not only masculine. Tolman
understands these statements as social constructions, “conceptions rather
than definitions of desire, and of male and female adolescent sexuality”
(13, emphasis in original). The above statement articulates perfectly well the
superego’s will-to-jouissance that continually derails any claims to balance
and harmony. The girls’ conflicted narratives make this quite evident.
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Tolman’s central thesis argued that patriarchal society has “effectively
desexualized girl’s sexuality, substituting the desire for relationship and
emotional connection for sexual feelings in their bodies” (5). However, it is
not a question that girl’s don’t desire, or don’t express it—many girls inter-
viewed by Tolman were quite aware of “how” to use their body, and had
sexual relations on a regular basis. Rather, the more difficult question
remains if girls can claim an eroticism of their own that escapes the post-
patriarchal system? Is such feminine jouissance even possible? A non-phallic
jouissance that is not coveted by boy’s desire is a much more difficult question
to come to terms with. Feminists such as Luce Irigaray and Michèle
Montrelay have argued that patriarchy offers no space for a feminine jouis-
sance. Irigaray’s theorizing asserts the daughter’s difference from her mother
and also from the fantasy of her father as being his daughter. But the only
way to bond with the mother by the daughter is by perverting the Law of
the Father. It is more the case that the feminine postadolescent assemblages
of girlies/gurlz/girls/grrrls stage a perversion by reworking the virgin–slut
binary in its various manifestations within the post-patriarchal context.
Tolman’s data for her 2002 book was initially collected in 1991, but she
claims in a footnote (1, 219) that there is a remarkable consistency in the way
girls talk about desire that continues today. Such an assertion should be
doubted. There is absolutely no doubt that young women remain conflicted
when it comes to feminine jouissance, but it is puzzling why Tolman is
unwilling, or unable to see that the Internet and youth culture—especially
music—is a site/sight/cite, which is absolutely throbbing with adolescent
desire, providing a complex tapestry of girlie/gurlz/girl/grrrl singers and
performers to identify with. Only Christina Aguilera receives a token mention
in her book (7–8), who is then iconically dismissed as representing a group
of adolescent girls who are giving mixed messages. When Tolman was
gathering her data, the Riot Grrrl Revolution (discussed in the following
chapter) was already well off the ground, but the population of girls she
interviewed knew nothing of it. There is a gingerly mention of Grrrl zines
(187), which were a veritable source for the politics of Grrrl desire that
Tolman praises so much as exemplifying a feminist stance. Lesbian and bisexual
subject positions, which Tolman admittedly claims to know very little about,
were also available in Grrrl culture. Reynolds and Press’s excellent study on
The Sex Revolts (1995) make this abundantly clear.
The dichotomy of urban/suburban split is not quite so rigid as Tolman
maintains concerning sex and violence either. There is no easy geographical
escape from this concern. The private/public, center/periphery dichotomies
have broken down. Violence in the family is just as likely to occur in
the suburbs as in inner cities. Media and the Internet also do not have
geographical boundaries. The postmodern Lolitas and Witches are staging a
return of girls’ repressed desire on a grand media scale. In a review article
in Der Spiegel (1994) on “girlism” in both Germany and America in
the mid-1990s, postfeminism was identified with “Emmas Töchters,” the
daughters of emancipated women. “Lolitas who kick like Bruce Lee,”
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defining themselves by life-style mottos like: “Be a beast,” “Good girls go to
heaven, bad girls go everywhere,” and “Get fit, get rich, get laid.” No wonder
why so many teenage girls were “wild” over these new stars. Understandably,
for many middle-class parents and the Christian Right, Pandora’s Box has
indeed been opened. The “newly born woman” to echo Cixous and
Clément (1986) was again “reborn.”
Tnr Prnvrn1rn Mn1rnNnI SuÞrnrco
For an increasing portion of middle-class parents whose anxieties are driven
by the fear that their children will not succeed in this world, the child has
become a site/sight/cite to be exploited for its uniqueness—for its objet a.
The allusive aim of desire, the objet a, which is framed only by fantasy,
becomes exposed and no longer veiled. The child becomes monstrously
driven. But, how can objet a be exposed given its nonspectacularity? What
exactly does being “exposed” mean in this context. Objet a as the unary trait
that defines a person as that which is more than the subject him or herself,
always remains at the center void of identity. It must be consciously
disavowed if we are to ethically respect the other person’s desire. In this way
the Other is not appropriated and made transparent but appreciated for his
or her uniqueness. It is precisely this unknowable Real of the child that lies
at the heart of an ethical relationship with its parents that Emmanuel Levinas
convincingly demonstrated (jagodzinski, 2002a). This pre-ontological realm
enables the child to remain open to the world, searching to define who it is
and where it belongs in the Symbolic Order. When this Symbolic Order offers
no assurances for identity or social mobility given the breakdown of social
rank and status that had begun in modernity, parents construct what they
believe is a secure and unwavering one for their child(ren). At one time
grooming the son or daughter for the priesthood or nunnery to escape
poverty was such a strategy. Today’s perverse parents bring the objet a of their
child out in the open, exposing it to the light of performativity by staging
kiddie-star contests, the warm-up round to reach the ranks of American Juniors
and American Idol. In the United States, many such parents come from trail-
ers and backwater towns hoping that their sons and daughters will find fame
through the entertainment industry. Valerie Walkerdine’s (1997, 165–189)
personal take on the child-woman stars is to see this as a way out for the work-
ing class to gain cultural capital for their children into the middle bourgeois
world. While kiddie star contests are often drawn from working-class white
families, increasingly more middle-class families are becoming involved as the
life chances for their children seem to be progressively lessened.
Such parents take the objet a that a child offers them and pervert it. Rather
than allowing the child his or her own fantasy, they take and make the child’s
fantasy their own. They engulf their child in a world of their own making,
playing with them as if they were manipulable dolls or toys much like
Michael Jackson’s treatment of his children. Every effort is made to stage
objet a in its spectral centrality by making it the defining feature of the child.
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This is what is meant by “exposure.” In so doing, parental anxieties are
alleviated by believing that their child will be recognized solely for such a
talent. But, objet a by definition is non-spectral. The fantasy structure for the
child becomes fixated—rigid and transparent. The parent (most often the
mother) in effect names the objet a of the child, which then begins to define her
son or daughter totally, and bonds them inseparably together. It is an inces-
tuous relationship, externalized by the talent itself (ballet, music, and
sports—especially gymnastics, tennis). The daughter becomes “driven” by
the mother (and at times by the father when it comes to sport, especially
tennis). The child has no fantasy of her own, or rather she believes that
her fantasy is entirely of her own creation by continually performing as objet a
(the unary trait) for her mother (and parents, grand parents, neighbors, and
audience). For boys this is generally confined to music and sport as the defining
Six-year old JonBenét Ramsey remains an iconic figure in America
for such a perverse practice. Sexually abused and murdered the day after
Christmas in 1996, her pedophilic killer(s) is still on the loose. The Ramsey’s
trial remains perhaps as significant as O. J. Simpson’s does in its unanswered
questions. Despite the Ramsey’s attempt to exonerate their involvement by
hiring a top public relation’s lawyer, Lin Wood, the lingering doubt as to
their innocence doesn’t seem to go away, and probably won’t until DNA
evidence is matched to the killer. JonBenét’s picture, which appeared in
numerous tabloids, was iconic of the perversity of this practice—stylized,
bleached and highlighted hair, rouge, make-up, false eyelashes and “flippers”
(false teeth used to cap missing front teeth), dressed in clothes (depending
on the performance) that were meant to be worn by a mature woman,
exhibiting a precocious sexiness that went well beyond the pretend world of
dressing like mom. In brief a monstrous child. Life as zoë has been mutated
by its confinement into an aestheticized bios.
This is not a Shirley Temple (America’s Sweetheart) who was the first
child-star to manage herself, and hence own her image. As a figure of the dis-
possessed working class, often as dirty but lovable orphan, her films were
used during the Depression to soften the hearts of the wealthy and to
promote the charity of the New Deal (Walkerdine, 1997, 93–94; Eckert,
1991). In difference, JonBenét’s performitivity is mom (for daddy). Patricia
Paugh Ramsey was runner-up in the Miss Teenage West Virginia contest
while a sophomore at Parkersburg High. In 1977, she was crowned Miss West
Virginia. JonBenét is the mirrored alter ego of her mother as a little girl who
represents the rapture of her satisfaction, of mom’s jouissance, its full impact
veiled, or shielded as it were, only by the aestheticized performance of her
daughter. If this weren’t so, her mother would be horrified as to what she
had created. She could not disavow the criticism of hyper-narcissism that is
waged at these child-beauty pageants. She and her daughter would have to
suffer the pain and humiliation of such full exposure. Rather, the trophies
and money that usually comes with winning is a way of justifying and saving
face: the money will be put away for the child’s academic future, the experience
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is positive, these kids “love” performing, and so on. The extreme costs of
participating in pageantry (entry fee, costumes, and travel) are simply the
parergon (ornamental accessories), which help frame the event.
The monstrosity of the woman-child is that in these pageants the parents
have “attained” their child. They have managed to exploit and package its
libidinal energy—its “innocence” (zoë ) as described above—into a commodity
(as bios) that will guarantee its sell to the entertainment industry, to a room
full of neighbors, or to a talent-beauty pageant. Such a phenomenon does
not simply point to an extreme form of the usual music lessons parents
provide for their children to explore their talent, but relentless grooming of
their talent that is regimented and totally disciplined. Making it their einzige
Zug, even when it is not. Unlike the fictional figure of Truman (TS), once
he discovered his own commodification he exits the set. He becomes
“trash,” a piece of shit to the Omni corporation because he no longer was
their objet a. In contrast, the child willingly thinks it has to be on display
24-hours a day to please the parent. Should the child refuse, the parent(s)
feels that they are ungrateful for what they have “sacrificed” for them.
If JonBenét had lived, she may have grown up to be a Mickey Mouser,
Britney Spears’s clone, or (let’s hope) she may have rebelled. Britney’s
mother, Lynne Spears tells us in their mutual biography, Heart to Heart
(2000) that Britney was “[a]n adorable baby girl to dress up like a doll!
A daughter to have tea parties with. I’d braid her hair. Lucky for me, Brie
loved being a girl. She collected dolls (even today, her room is filled with
curio cabinets containing dozens of Madame Alexanders porcelain dolls, and
dainty miniature shoes), delighted in frilly clothes, and always seemed to get
into her mama’s makeup. But, along with all that sugar there was also a bit
of spice. Britney could be a handful” (17).
To many feminists, this description must sound absolutely disgusting.
When the marketing machine of the Spice Girls came along in the
mid-1990s, and effectively co-opted and packaged “Girl Power” toward
the “sugar” end of the dichotomy, they effectively ended the Riot Grrrl
Revolution that was about six years in the making. By turning spice into
syrup because they were so “hot,” feminists felt the full impact of the down
side of postfeminism, especially by the market machine behind the Girls.
A manufactured band who commodified “girl power,” the girls supported
conservative politics (Ginger and Posh both supported Margaret Thatcher
who, according to them, was the first “spice girl”), and tried to ironically
stage a rebellion that came across as spoilt little-girl antics. “Sugar & spice,
and everything nice” was a representation feminists sought hard to change.
But it persisted, coming back stronger than ever. Why?
For mothers like Lynne, her daughter Britney’s desire to perform was
already a god-given talent, which simply needed nurturing. “[T]his desire to
perform didn’t just happen overnight. She’s probably been at it since the day
she could walk . . . even as an itty-bitty thing she was dancing to the music.
She’d put on these shows for our family and friends, and take her bows like
a professional” (17). Told often enough, child stars also believe that they
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were “born,” and not made. However, a predisposition of body movement
was certainly already there. It was shaped quickly enough. Britney was
encouraged to sing the Top 40 hits at an early age to the point where she
could imitate any singer’s style with absolute perfect pitch. Her mother’s
drive to have her daughter perform was there right from the first moment
Britney tried to please her, to try and become what she wanted and
demanded. How could it be otherwise? The mystification only occurs when
the mother claims that it was her daughter’s choice. “Every school child has
an outlet for his or her creativity. As a mother you have to ask yourself ‘with
a little nurturing, could I have an architect, a fashion designer, or a budding
Picasso on my mind?’ ” (20). The answer, of course, is that you really don’t
know as a parent. But it is precisely through nurturing (as parental desire)
and/or exploitation (as parental drive) that the special unary trait for the
direction of a child is found. “[I]t’s hard to tell sometimes who has the
greater fantasy life, the parent or the child. So my advice is this: Ask your
child if she really, truly, madly, love music or art or . . . whatever. But always
let it be her choice, not yours” (20). The sweet and sanguine biography of
Lynne Spears smoothes over all the spice (the strife) that goes on in life. But
it points to the power of the maternal superego that has arisen, the contra-
dictory figure of the bad virgin, who raises a hyper-narcissist daughter where
the objet a has been extracted, exposed, and exhibited as a property. These
three “e’s” required to achieve yet another—excellence in designer capitalism.
If the paternal superego is split into its dichotomous demands to obey or
transgress the Law in postmodernity, the maternal superego seems to have
emerged with an equal vengeance in the demand to enjoy! “Not to be
treated like a piece of shit,” is the best advice she learnt from her mother,
says Girlie-model Kate Moss (Der Spiegel, 1994). If the paternal superego is
breaking down and the maternal superego is taking over it may well be that
the symbolic Law of the Father is simply being replaced by rules of knowing
how to succeed through a checklist of properties. The maternal superego
“does not prohibit enjoyment but, on the contrary, imposes it and punishes
‘social failure’ in a far more cruel and severe way, through an unbearable and
self-destructive anxiety” (Zizek, 1991, 103, emphasis added). The girlie/
gurl lifestyle embraces the Madonna Ego Ideal where it becomes important
to know the rules of the game and how to manipulate people and assume
roles. The rock ’n’ roll world is littered with songs and singers who struggle
with their parent’s divorce suggesting that in post-Oedipal society the pull
between parents results in a confusion of loyalties that is being worked
through the music. The list of such divorces is long: Creed’s Scott Strapp
(father left at age 5), Ko}n’s Jonathan Davis (parental divorce at 3), Linkin
Park’s Chester Bennington (mother left at age 11), Slipknot’s Corey Taylor
and Eminem (father left at 6 months). All belong to the same company
of divided and often dysfunctional homes. The list continues with Tom
DeLonge of Blink 182, Andrew Lewis of Staind, Chad Kroeger of
Nickelback, Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach, Art Alexakis of Everclear, Benji
and Joel Madden of the band Good Charlotte. All have experienced divorces
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(Beard, 2002). In “Family Portrait” (Missundaztood), Pink deals with her
parent’s divorce. In an MTV interview Pink says she adores her father and
was surprised that her mother put up with her for as long as she did.
In Pink’s case it was a rebellion against her mother, but she is no “daddy’s
girl” who is performing for him either. Rather, she is a willful minded teen
who asserts her own independence and moral stance. At the same time, her
mother has not been entirely forgotten, only rejected as “woman.”
The new space of daughter–mother relationships opened up in a post-
Oedipal world suggests various forms of struggle for recognition where the
typified oedipal triad no longer holds. “Becoming-woman” discussed by
feminists, especially as interrogated by lesbian theorists like Elizabeth
Grosz and Rosi Bradotti who have selectively embraced Deleuze and
Guattari’s (1987) “molar” and “molecular” accounts of “woman,” are useful
in acknowledging that there are different “lines of flight” that are being taken
by gurlz and boyz. However, it would be misleading to call these nonlineal
“flights” anti-Oedipal or non-Oedipal, but this is not to deny that “becoming-
woman” requires a deterritorialization and a reterritorialization of the body’s
desire within the signified assemblages that have been identified as the new
signifiers of post-Oedipalization. They still can be usefully theorized as being
organized around Lacan’s notion of “lack” as was “stuttered” in the first
No1 JUST ONr or 1nr Bois: BriNc
WiIn nNn Fnrr
Britney Spears and Company, as to be expected, have been challenged by a
host of anti-Britney types for market differentiation such as Avril Lavigne,
Michelle Branch, and Vanessa Carlton who hearken back to Fiona Apple,
Jewel, Alanis Morissette, and Paula Cole. But it is Avril Lavigne who has
emerged as the new tomboy on the Skater block. Aimed at a much younger
ska crowd, Avril Lavigne has been able to mix‘n‘match Wendy’s repressed
Victorian desire to be a man’s equal, Tiger Lily’s sexual youthful indiscre-
tions, and Tinker Bell’s spunkiness as a playmate—all into a five foot two
inch Peter Pan figure with a cravat. She too can “fly.” Her skating board can
do the same thing as any boi, but better, and be even more self-fulfilling
while at it. The bois are her band. She is their leader. She is not, however, a
girlie in drag or staging a lesbian performance, although there are obvious
inflections of both. There is something more at play in the fantasy structure
she presents.
Peter Pan can best be understood, not as a boychild but more as a
genderless asexual androgyne, a prepubescent youth who refuses to grow up.
He evades adult sexuality and its gender divisions. Pan clings to playfulness
and childish wonder. Michael Jackson and Avril Lavigne are simply two sides
of the Peter Pan fantasy, another response to the hysterical question: “Am I a
man or a woman?” which surprisingly includes Marilyn Manson’s trans-
vestitism and self-admittance to be like Peter Pan. Both Michael Jackson and
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Lavigne labor under the transcendental signifier of the “androgyne.” This is
their Real figure. The attempt is to erase the sex/gender distinction entirely,
to make it disappear, or the very least, attempt to make it an unimportant
factor of their identity. Jackson’s Neverland is where the disavowal of growing
up is lived. As mentioned, his treatment of his biologically surrogate children
is more like they were his playthings than a father–sibling relationship,
obviously post-Oedipal in intent. His celebration of the innocence and
creativity of children, allowing them to sleep in his bed with him, seems
perfectly normal for him since they are asexual creatures in his mind.
Pedophilic accusations may be misplaced in his case. Jackson is as much a
blend of feminine and masculine characteristics to make him appear androg-
ynous, as is Lavigne. In both cases they are not just one of the bois. This
androgynous gender blending is perfectly staged by Avril whose trademark
is a cravat, a signifier of phallic masculinity, but worn loosely around her
neck, understating that it has no stranglehold on her. The ska clothes she
wears are a gender blending of T-shirts, tank tops, bandannas, skater pants
(baggy Dickies), various varieties of running shoes, colorful calf-length
socks, skater shoes, pocket chains, wrists cuffs, black rubber bracelets, and a
tattoo here and there. Mascara is put heavy around the eyes. Although she
may look like one of the bois, she isn’t. She has a distinctiveness all her own,
a punk skater girl as she claims.
The equivalent of Jackson and Peter Pan’s Neverland is the geographical
space that ska culture presents, which is an important consideration here.
The skating board is a symbol of mobility, being able to cover distances and
being involved in risky behavior where scrapes, broken bones, and falling
down to get up again—laughing—are part of the sport. Historically, such
high-risk behavior has always been disallowed for girls. Although not a hard
core skater, Lavigne’s videos give the impression that such transgressive risk
adventure is what it’s all about. Girls traditionally have been territorially
confined. Boys had the entire playground for football and soccer, while
girls used to be confined to such games as skipping rope and hopscotch.
No more! Now the territorial space is being reclaimed on equal grounds.
Forbidden places are being explored by girlie-gurlz as well. For Lavigne to
come across spunky and wild provides permission for the preteen set who
lean on the tomboy side to compete for the same turf as the bois. Lavigne
provides a strong model in this regard, and she is marketed this way—as
being engaged in a wild and goofy adventure. Her two videos, “Sk8er Boi”
and “Complicated” always have her in motion with the action slightly
speeded up and frenetic, but definitely in control of the bois, goofing
around, and playing gags. A synthesizer corrects the pitch of her voice, which
gives her a certain freedom to push the edge in her live performances.
Goofing around in malls and skater parks, and in confined urban spaces
where skater crowd hang out gives younger girls permission to break their
“good” girl image, if only a little. In her interviews, Lavigne is spunky as
well. She strongly differentiates herself from Britney Spears. Never would
she expose herself in booty shorts and push-up bras, or sing silly candied
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songs! She is more “authentic” and wants to be known for the lyrics she
writes. Lavigne wears what she pleases, and becomes very annoyed and upset
during interviews when asked about her clothes, or if she would ever con-
sider sexy poses for her videos. Such behavior is perfectly consonant with an
androgyne fantasy: to live out the fantasy of staying forever young and
retaining one’s innocence by excluding sexuality. The strategy is the very
opposite of Spears. Lavigne, who is 18, looks like about 12. Jackson, who is
now 44, looks like about. . . . Well you guess. Withstanding the charges of
pedophilia, it is no surprise why Jackson loves children. He is one of them
himself. While Lavigne remains a little pixie girlie with an attitude.
Tnr PrnvrnsioNs or TiN(x)v Drsinr
The “ethics of the Real” presented by Jackson and Lavigne, that is to say, the
monstrosity they exhibit by being “out of place,” has the danger of slipping
over into anorexia where “Tinky,” as pure mind or spirit, might overpower
the mature Wendy (mother) and Tiger Lily (sexuality, like that of Spears). The
meaning of the portmanteau word “Tin(k)y” has a doubled sex/gendered
sense here: the impotent and immature “tiny” phallus-penis of Cupid
(Jackson) and the innocent “tinky” pixie-girl (Lavigne). Both are asexual in
their presentation—an erasure of sex marked by a spunky innocence. It is the
impossibility of completely removing the “spunk” from innocence to make it
absolutely “pure,” that points to Freud’s discovery of the perverse polymor-
phous sexuality of children, the same perverse sexuality revealed in the symp-
toms of Freud’s patients expressed indirectly in their dreams. Spunk is slang
for sperm. It connotes jumping, life, wildness—zoë. Coded masculine, both
Lavigne and Jackson introject its “wild” nature differently. Jackson’s wild
dancing, like Fred Astaire, effeminizes him, while in Lavigne’s case, it emas-
culates her. The effect is that both appear androgynous seemingly extending
the possible assemblages of sex/gender in postmodernity.
Freud’s discovery of polymorphous sexuality prevents adults from sepa-
rating children from adult sexuality easily, and in turn, being able to segre-
gate adult issues from children’s issues. Pedophilic tendencies reveal the
collapse of this divide. This bears directly on the discussion concerning the
age-of-consent and the monstrous child-woman like JonBenét in the way
libidinal energy (zoë ) circulates in perverse positions. It can be argued that
Spears and Lavigne are inversions of one another in the music industry in the
way that they “enjoy.” Lavigne seems to be Spears all dressed up in androgy-
nous clothing to contain her sexuality; she wants to be known for the
“authenticity” of her songs—her mind and not her sexual bodily gyrations.
Spears is Lavigne undressed to expose her sexuality, wanting to be known for
the feminine jouissance embodied in her songs. It is her body (not mind)
that matters, or “mutters” desire, as Tim Dean (1994) would have it.
Now, to tie this discussion up with our initial mention of anorexia and
androgyny. With anorexia, the body’s sexuality becomes directed inward; the
drives turn in on themselves. The body begins to starve because there are no
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signifiers it wishes to consume; there are no objects that sufficiently hold
objet a to desire. There is No-Thing to consume. The Ideal Ego that is
striven for can not be attained. The elimination of sexual difference is an
impossible one. Michael Jackson’s addiction to plastic surgery, his regimented
diets, the masks over his nose and mouth, eye makeup, his Neverland retreat,
and his controlled sleeping environments are symptomatic of such an impos-
sible search in the mirror for the disappearance of sex/gender distinction.
Jackson is not unlike the performance artist Orlan who is transforming
herself through a series of staged operations into an “ugly” woman complete
with a new name. Her anti-beauty and anti-plastic surgery statement is
directed to a finished transformed face that she has previously sketched.
Orlan knows her goal and has aimed her drives toward it. What of Jackson?
So long as he is able to sustain his transformative face in the mirror, the
anorexia is staved off. When the mirror can no longer sustain the illusion of
its Ideal Ego; that is, when this Ideal Ego is impossible to reach, then the
subject disappears into the Real, into the vanishing point of the mirror. The
anorexic becomes consumed by the Real. I am not claiming that Lavigne is
anorexic (or Jackson for that matter), although they are both light bodied.
What I am saying is that the structuring fantasy of androgyny that they are
playing with requires a certain “protection” to successfully state its ethical
demand that bois and gurlz are equal, which is a different “line of flight”
than the Sadean solution. Such a position is maintained by perverting the
Law-of-the-Father by refusing to take any master signifiers of an Oedipal
Father (Jackson) or an Oedipal Mother (Lavigne). Lavigne’s transvestist
attire, especially her cravat as a stolen signifier, embodies her alter ego. It acts
as a talisman, a magical protective ring that prevents her slide into the
vanishing point in the mirror. Let us hope that Lavigne keeps her ring, and
that no Golem comes to possess it!
Tnr Foun1n Fr1isn
Before developing two more strategies of an “ethics of the Real”—the banal
Virgin and Grrrl’s desires in the next chapters—it is useful to end with the
way yet another eating order is symptomatic of desire that troubles young
women in this post-Oedipal transition. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle,
Freud developed the two games played by his nephew Ernst as a way of
illustrating the difference between desire (game 1) and drive (game 2) that
structures a perverted gaze. In game one Ernst threw the yo-yo like spool
out from his baby carriage so that he could reel it in again as a way to
compensate for his mother leaving him. It also completed the circuit of what
was absent and found, bringing Ernst into signification. Game 2 was entirely
different. Ernst would bob up and down and catch a glimpse of himself in
the mirror, refusing to complete the circuit, simply pleasuring himself by
catching glimpses of his image as it lingered in the mirror for that split
second. The first game characterizes desire, while the second characterizes
the satisfaction of the repetitive drive.
Girlie/gurl/girl/grrrl assemblage
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cultures illustrate the ambivalent interplay of desire and drive. The ambiva-
lences and contradictions between desire and drive, which oscillate between
the two games, can be identified by what Gamman and Makinen (1994)
have named as “the fourth fetish”: bulimia. This eating disorder can be inter-
preted as a perverse fantasy where there is a constant oscillation between not
being a subject in the Symbolic Order (when excessively bingeing), and then
recovery (purging), which restores the ego back into its structure. The first
is ruled by the structure of the drive, the second ruled by the structure of
desire through a sadomasochistic pact with the self. Whereas anorexia, and
its obverse, obesity, have been interpreted as a “ ‘flight from femininity’
which unconsciously denies female sexuality and may involve a flight from
‘the male gaze’ ” (123), the bulimic is caught between the swing gates of
living out the old “femininity” and trying to escape into the new. Bulimics
still embrace some of the traditional assumptions concerning femininity
which they cannot entirely free themselves from. Bulimia becomes the
compromised disorder of “becoming-woman” in postmodernity. This is a
Neverland, which is characterized by a transitional undecidability: to grow
up or not to grow up, that is the question? If in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan,
Tinky as the androgyne (Jackson, Lavigne) is prone to anorexia, and Wendy
as the good guardian mother is prone to obesity through multiple births and
worry, then Tiger Lily as the girlie/gurl (Spears) is prone to being bulimic.
Can such homologies hold?
Bingeing might be compared with a hyperbolization of game 2; the
binger tries to amass the objet a in herself as a “little piece of the Real” so
that it is never lost, a reversion to the mother’s breast. Her food fetish is the
literalization of her desire to deny or disavow that she is merely a fantasy
object for men. As Gamman and Makinen argue, food can act as an “ortho-
dox” sexual fetish where the food takes the place of a sex partner (135). Such
narcissistic display can be interpreted as a “radical ethical act” for it brings
the bulimic to the brink of an unreserved acceptance of the death drive as
she puts herself in the position of what Lacan called the “second death.” She
is ready for self-annihilation through the binge rather than cede to the desire
of the big Other (Symbolic Order) that demands she be slim and “normal.”
There is no doubt about her masochism as to the self-torture of overeating.
However, when she realizes she is a helpless victim of the forces that she
cannot control, she begins to feel uncertainty. By vomiting she becomes an
object for her self, and thereby becomes a subject (game 1) once more. It is
the purge through vomiting that brings her pleasure in her pain (jouissance).
To be a “subject” in the Lacanian sense is to experience oneself as an object.
She is “helpless victim” (game 1) who confronts the “nothingness” of her
narcissistic pretension (game 2).
The narcissistic young woman is the daughter who has abandoned her
mother’s “old” femininity and stays satisfied with game 2; the postfeminist
girlie/gurl is burdened by bulimia (indecisive desire), anorexia (desire of the
androgyne as asexual mind), and obesity (desire of being a mother).
Gamman and Makinen’s (1994, chapters 2 and 5) survey of the increased
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acceptance of perverse sex and eating disorders in a culture of slenderness
suggests that the girlie/gurl lifestyle is not so free as it is made out to be.
In their last chapter they suggest that postmodernism is a culture of fetishism.
“Unlike displacement or sublimation, fetishism does not involve repression of
the desire experience” (214, emphasis added). The girlie/gurl lifestyle is a
perfect match for commodity and sexual fetishism where the drive for pleasure
supplants desire. The fragmentary, decentered subject makes a willing capi-
talist subject who can expand the range of her jouissance to an ever-increasing
array of new “mirrored games.” The perversity of this postfeminist gaze is
marked by the girlie/gurl’s hysterical attempt to escape her own split by
occupying the post-patriarchal gaze of the big Other through a tease; that is
by being the dirty and bad hysteric. Being “bad” is precisely what unites the
new masculinity and femininity together in a “one-sex model” that seems to
echo and quote the nineteenth century (Laqueur, 1990). The girlie/gurlz is
an inverted boi/boyz, and visa versa. She is good on the inside (virgin) but
bad on the outside. He is bad on the outside, but good (virgin) in the inside.
Can such a hypothesis be sustained?
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Tnr Goon Wi 1cn-Bi 1cn: GnnnI
Powrn ns 1nr DrsuuIi rn1rn
UcIv Ars1nr1i c
Perhaps its best to start with an oblique pun: Courtney Love is to
Romantic Courtly Love as Hole is to the Spice Girls. Courtney Love had an
uneasy relationship with the Riot Grrrls, accusing the movement for its
fixation on the prepubescent tomboy as the ultimate proto-feminist rebel—
like Tank Girl and Avril Lavigne today. Yet, no discussion trying to grasp the
fantasy formations of the Riot Grrrls as an underground force, and their
contribution to the self-sufficiency of “becoming-woman” can dismiss her.
She would, of course, cringe at the idea that could be considered a symbolic
“mother” to such a generation of teens and young women who made their
statement in the early 1990s. “Slut me open and suck my scars.” “The sweet
cream clot and the sick milk udder.” Some of the more graphic lines from
“Loaded” (Pretty on the Inside) that presents pregnancy as a vile experience
fit only for cows. Love’s sensibility toward abortion doesn’t fare any better.
“Mrs. Jones” (on the same album) presents a horrific abortion scene where
viral infection, stench, and knife stabs at the baby shock Mrs. Jones so deeply
that she becomes totally paranoid: “I’ve got a bad eye. . . . I shouldn’t have
looked at it.”
This desublimated ugly aesthetic of the abjected mother is most evident
in Hole’s debut album Pretty on the Inside (1991), a phrase that has been
traditionally offered by mothers as a consolation to their daughters who
worry about their looks (Reynolds and Press, 1995, 263). “Pretty” has gone
underground, to expose the rawness of the flesh and the pain it bears. Unlike
beauty of the diva virgins discussed earlier, a Hole emerges—foremost as vagina,
and then as the oral cavity of a wound, which opens up as the completeness
of jouissance, the mother as das Ding with her full chthonic powers exposed.
The phallic mother that terrifies her children by the sheer threat of her
authority. In the opening song “Teenage Whore,” she kicks the groupies
out of the house. In “Babydoll,” she becomes a passive toy humiliated and
infantalized by vampire-like men. On the back-sleeve of the album is a paint-
ing by bass guitarist Jill Emery of this phallic woman. It is a Medusa-like self-
portrait this staring at herself in a hand-held mirror. Miniature, dismembered
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arms jut out of her head. Her torso is emaciated with her ribcage exposed.
Her arms are muscular and large while her knuckles are grazed and bleeding.
Tears remain like frozen stones on her cheeks. A heart is painted on her
chest, fringed with arrows. On the hand-mirror is an unblinking eye, the
stare of the Medusa; a contradictory figure, both threatening and wounded
at the same time.
What makes Love a good Bitch? What is it that prevents her from falling
into the Sadean trap? Does her ethical demand save her? No one doubts that
Love is a conflicted persona. Called the “queen of noise” by one of her bio-
graphers, Melissa Rossi (1996), she was a reluctant mother, bearing a child
with Kurt Cobain, had undergone an abortion, and had been (rather, still is)
addicted to heroine. She is no stranger to battery and assault charges and
plastic surgery seems to be a further addiction. Given such a conflicted back-
ground, why should the “noise” of her ethical demand be deciphered? Pretty
on the Inside is demand driven. A demand is a drive not caught in the cir-
cuitry of desire. It wants satisfaction as if it had a “mind” of its own. It is a
“short circuit” that disrupts the seemingly “natural” homeostatic balance of
a pleasurable ego. Desire exists in the margins of the demand, on the rim of
the body’s cavities that are the openings for pleasure—but, too much pleas-
ure and the sensation turns to pain. The demand of the drive is sublimated
by a fantasy frame, which acts like a lure or container; it “holds” and
“protects” us from its full effects. The drive’s full effects only emerge as a death
drive that completely overwhelms the ego. This death drive is often turned
on the artist rather than aggressively projected outward. Consumed by rage,
it can lead to masochistic self-mutilation, ranging from writing slogans on
the body (like Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill with “slut” written on her navel
with lipstick) to cutting up the body itself (like Marilyn Manson). Pretty on
the Inside is Love’s out(rage)ous self-mutilation. But, to what extent is such
feminine masochism destructive rather than ethically transgressive?
It is obvious that Kat Bjelland of Babes in Toyland and Courtney Love’s
“kinder-whore look,” as she called it, was bringing the fantasy of the child-
woman “too close” for the audience to bear. It was an anxiety-producing
image, heavy eye-make-up and lipstick that, at times, was smeared on, missing
the contours of the lips, combined with little girl dresses with high leather
boots. It was like a grotesque-parody of prepubescent cuteness of a JonBenét
Ramsey who had been destroyed by sexual maturation; as if the pedophile
had struck, and the little girl grew up marked by a death-rape. Sometimes
the dresses were torn or soiled, or fish net nylons ripped so that it appeared
as if Love had been a victim of sexual assault.
Wnn1 Do GnnnI’s WnN1?
The signifier grrrl plays with a multiple of meanings. Most obviously, it
attempts to escape the patriarchal signifier “girl” or “girly,” which is dispersed
into as many variations as possible—gURLS, gyrls, grrrls, grrlz—so as to
escape being “goooooogle[d]” at. More powerful is its meaning that exists
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like a “growl” in the throat, a sound still stuck by the silence scream of
a trauma that cannot be recalled or remembered, but is trying to be forcefully
yelled out—becoming-animal. This is a hysterical symptomatic displacement
in the voice. It is a sound that is not quite “born” in its development, but
speaks of the anger and pain of birthing a “new” woman to allude to Cicoux
and Clément (1986). Ginger, the daughter of “Vinny,” one of The Banger
Sisters (Bob Dolman, 2002) has an unexplainable “grrr” lodged in her throat.
She is a teenager who is struggling to be independent, still under house rules
unable to get a driver’s license. Gulia Dozza, played by 20-something
Maruschka Demers in Marco Bellocchio’s little known film, The Devil in the
Flesh (1987) has an uncontrollable giggle in her voice as she struggles to be
accepted into the patriarchal Pulcini family of Giacomo, the man she is to
marry. These are displaced hysterical symptoms located “in” the voice, which
reveals an unconscious “muttered” desire.
The Grrrl rebellion took a range of other names as well: “hot chicks,”
“ghetto divas,” “rock queens,” “Gangsta bitches,” and “hardcore dykes” wear-
ing T-shirts like “does your pussy do the dog?” There never was “one” single
definition for this movement. It ranged in participation from young girls in
their early teens to their mothers. Some claim that the movement started in
New York in 1992 with the music festival “Wig Wam Bam” and the ground-
ing of the Women’s coalition of SWIM (Strong Women in Music). Others
credit Kathleen Hanna the lead singer of Bikini Kill, publishing newsletters
and encouraging chapters from her home base in Olympia, Washington. The
slogan “Girl Power” and Hanna’s Riot-Grrrl Manifesto that defined that
power, held them together.
The Manifesto tapped women’s chthonic powers
and was especially anticapitalist and anti-patriarchal.
Grrrl culture’s ethical demand in the Real, explored in their Xeroxed
’zines (Girl Germs, Maleface, Hungry Girl ) and their DIY (Do it Yourself)
punk music expressed their experiences of harassment, sexual abuse, incest,
rape, parental separation and divorce, and product safety (tampons). These
zines and music mocked and parodied the double bind that girl’s desire had
to contend with: if you looked good you “invited” sexual harassment; if you
looked dowdy then your self-esteem suffered. The much cited study by
Gilligan and Brown, which came out in 1992 when the Riot Grrrl revolution
was in full swing, found that the onset of puberty had devastating effect on
girls’ confidence and self-esteem. Their music and zines pushed back and
ridiculed the standards of physical perfection, “the Beauty Myth,” that
Naomi Wolf wrote about that same year—1992. From its inception there
was a strong lesbian element that took solidarity in their exclusion.
The Riot Grrrl phenomenon is perhaps as far removed as possible from
the manufacturing of stardom like Pop Idol and The Making of the Band. The
movement started as a ground swell, its underground networks hooked
together by the production of Zines and bands (L7 and Bikini Kill in the
United States, Huggy Bear in Britain) illustrating Deleuze’s metaphorical
labyrinthine notion of the rhizome. The DIY production process of the
Zines and the music, while loosing aesthetic appeal due to their unrefined
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form, was made up in content (Marion, 1998). When any new cultural
phenomenon arrives it can look crude and not worked out. It seems like an
“ugly” aesthetic. An analogy can be drawn here with the movement by early
Christians whose ethics were based on the notion of civitas. Virtually anyone
could join regardless of race, ethnicity, and citizenship as long as they
believed in the creed (a Cause). Their early artistic efforts to express such an
ideal were crude in comparison to the refined art of Roman civitatus, the
splendor of civilian architecture set aside only for its citizens. The ethics of
the early Christians far exceeded the participatory base of only being a Roman
citizen. And so, it was the Riot Grrrl movement that reached an intergener-
ational base spanning from 14-year-old teens to 50-year-old women. The
Zines enabled anyone who had an opinion to contribute to the Cause.
Their small scale production and attempt to be an acephalous living body
was community minded and anticapitalist in its thrust, a unique historical
LiÞs1icx iN Youn Fncr: PnrÞnniNc
nNn 1nrN LosiNc GnouNn
It is the oral drive that the Grrrl culture unleashed to make its ethical
complaint. Ritalin tablets were trashed and the effect of lipstick, as the lure
of male desire, was ruined to make her demand both heard and seen. The
eroticism of lipstick as the ornament of feminine desire, a sign for the sup-
plementary excess of desirable pleasure, became grotesque and monstrous by
manipulating its containment and lure. Courtney Love would spread it past
her lips, diffusing its power, making its excess appear like a child who had
indulged in eating too much chocolate, desublimating its effects. Grrrl PJ
Harvey, on the front cover on her debut album Dry (1992) smeared it on
her mouth. Her expression looks like as if she has been physically hit, yet
Intensification of excess/access was also played with by using
shocking red lipstick that accentuated only the mouth, and of course, wear-
ing Gothic black and writing “SLUT” with lipstick on their bodies, the
trademark tactic of Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill who had it written on her
navel. Riot Grrrl bands, like Bikini Kill, L7, Huggy Bear, Babes in Toyland
cleared their own territory. The mosh pit in front of them was reserved
strictly for grrrls. Boyz could come, but had to take a back seat.
The ground prepared earlier for the Riot Grrrl intervention presents a host
of “tough” female artists who exemplified a frightening phallic jouissance,
which gave them the stereotypic “man hater” image. In the late 1980s, Polly
Harvey of PJ Harvey in the song “Man-Size” (Rid of Me), projected herself
as a leather-booted macho man who torches her feminine alter ego. She
becomes a 50 foot Queen, an Amazonian who claims herself to be the “King
of the World.” In the same album (“Me-Jane”), Harvey fights the breast-
beating braggart Tarzan (Reynolds and Press, 1995, 243). The band L7
further exemplified this macha attitude, synonymous with male macho,
by replacing the phallus with the “clit” in their 1992 album, Bricks Are Heavy
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(produced by Butch Vig). L7 can be likened to the monstrous women
bodybuilders who mimic their macho males by building an equal amount of
muscle, causing a disturbance in the “natural” sex/gender binary. “That
Ain’t Pleasure” on the same album has this effect. Any trace of the feminine
is gone (raccoon make-up and trashy stage garb), yet their overtly political
awareness and alignment with feminist issues is clear. In “Pretend We’re
Dead” they sing, “Turn the tables with our unity, they’re neither bold nor
majority, wake up and smell the coffee or just say no to individuality.” L7
refused to be identified as a political band and despised being known as
an “all Girl Band.” Pro-Choice (they began Rock for Choice in 1991 with
the Feminist Majority Foundation), war, and slacker issues were all on their
agenda. In their song “Wargasm,” the three m’s are probed: masculinity,
masturbation, and the military, treating the Gulf War as a TV porn-feast. At
the Reading Festival in 1992, their singer and lead guitarist Donna Sparks
immortalized L7 by pulling out her tampon and throwing it at a male who
was harassing her in the audience, gesturing that the blood was a sign of their
own abjection. L7 has had staying power, willing to risk an “indie label” after
a decade of virulent rock. As Sparks put it, “We’re inspired by the things that
happen to us and we use music as a venting venue, we try to take something
bad and make it good by writing a song about it. When I write in a great
mood, the songs are schmaltz” (Freydkin, 1998).
Lydia Lunch’s confessional exorcisms around this same time can be
compared with Linda Blair’s green vomit visually immortalized in the film
The Exorcist (1973). In Uncensored Lydia Lunch, Hysterie, and Oral Fixation,
Lunch’s autobiographical and archaeological songs came across like hysteri-
cal speech where she places herself at the edge of a speech act, not willing to
be castrated by the Symbolic Order. Her use of logorrhea can be identified
as an expression of extreme pain or rapture that bypasses the signifier as to
its meaning, the jouissance remains attached to the sounds themselves (one
can also think of Yoko Ono’s early work here where long tracks of painful
winning is heard throughout her songs). Such speech Lacan would identify
as “lalangue,” the affective patterning of the mother tongue which remains
embodied. In “Daddy Dearest” (Oral Fixation), Lunch graphically accounts
her father’s sexual abuse. PJ Harvey’s music is embodied in a similar way.
Historically, there have been many other female performers whose own
death drive was barely sublimated by their music. Reynolds and Press in Sex
Revolts (1995) offer a fairly comprehensive review. Lunachicks’s 1992 LP,
Binge and Purge, combines “teen-delinquent grrrl power and the gleeful
reveling in the messy murk of female bodylines” (345). “Plugg” is about
menstrual pain. “Binge and Purge” mocks girls who try to confirm to cheer-
leader standards, exposing what’s behind the pom-poms—periods and bulimic
bouts. The song is punctuated by vomiting. In “Mom,” the Lunachicks lam-
baste an obsessional supermom who can’t leave until the place is clean—her
daughter wants to make a break so as not to become like her mother. Kat
Bjelland of Babes in Toyland wrote songs like, “Vomit Heart” and “Fork
Down Throat,” which repeat similar themes of bulimia. Patti Smith is yet
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another hysterical performer. Her gushing gibberish in songs like “Radio
Ethiopia” is what she calls a “babelogue” in opposition to a monologue or
soliloquy. Smith attempts to recover primal speech that exists before the fall
into language, a search for Kristevian semiotic impulses of the voice as an
object, raising the possibility of non-phallic rock organized against endless
crescendos that avoid the tension/explosion dualism of a phallic orgasm.
So what did the Grrrl movement in? By 1993 it seemed to just disappear.
First and foremost, the stress on being an underground networked move-
ment was crucial to keep it “protected” from both capitalist and patriarchal
appropriation. When the national music press got hold of it, it changed form
by being brought out in broad daylight. When a cult following is exposed,
the transgressiveness of the act becomes lost. Desire becomes diffused and
deflated as objet a loses its magical charm. Second, Aberdeen overshadowed
Olympia. The Grunge scene happened about the same time. Kurt Cobain
seemed to displace Kathleen Hanna’s Grrrl riot by the media attention he
received. Lastly, The Spice Girls took away the grrrl in girl and turned it into
“girlie power.” The term “Girl Power” was appropriated through the mas-
terful marketing of cuteness with a sprinkle of shadow boxing thrown in
which effectively dissipated the threat the Grrrl rebellion had posed. The
Spice Girls did “naughty” resistant-like behavior, urinating in a Taiwanese
Temple, picking their noses in interviews, and disclosing details about their
toiletry, antics that grabbed media attention and little else. Throw in a little
flirtation with Prince Charles and Thatcher into the mix and you have
marketable indiscretion.
Barbara Findlen’s collection, Listen Up: Voices from the Next Generation,
and Amy Raphael’s Grrrls: Viva Rock Divas, both written in 1995, provide a
summative statement of the movement (see also Kearney 1998). Revivals of
the original Ladyfest that took place in Olympia—one in Scotland at the turn
of the millennium and the other in San Francisco two years later—received
lukewarm reviews. Yet, more are planned. What follows are some explo-
rations of the Fly Girl movement and two contemporary singers who, in my
opinion, have picked up elements of the Grrrl rebellion that had stopped so
FIv GnnnIs: Tnr Eno1ic
FuII-Ficunrn Bonv
In chapters 4 and 5 the rap scene was developed without exploring the
feminist resistance by young black women who challenge the sadism of such
rappers as 2 Live Crew and the general put down of black women as “hoes,”
and self-styled promiscuous “skeezers” and “hotties.” There are black women
rappers who can be considered as representatives of the grrrl cultural assem-
blage. They have developed their own unique black aesthetic known as the
Fly Girl. Women rappers were on the ground floor of the rap scene, but it
was not until the 1990s that they began to be noticed. In general, women
rappers can be separated into three groups or “crews”—the early and
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mid-1980s, on through to the early 1990s, and then the late 1990s until
present. The best-known early rapper in the mid-1980s was Queen Latifah
whose political stance was quite explicit, but has since become rather subdued
and appropriated by mainstream pop culture. She had been characterized—
along with Queen Kenya, Sister Souljah, Nefertiti, Isis, Queen Mother Rage,
and Yo-Yo—as a maternally strong black woman with an explicit social and
political message, known affectionately as exuberating a “Queen Mother”
type. Within the theoretical claims of this chapter, it is the Fly girl and the
“Sista with Attitude” of the early to late 1990s who exemplify the perverse
transgressiveness of sexuality on public display.
Fly refers to a particular style of chic clothing, fashionable hairstyles,
jewelry, and cosmetics, which grew out of “blaxploitation” films of the late
1960s to mid-1970s (like Shaft, Superfly, The Mack, Foxy Brown). This fly
style eventually found its way into hip-hop culture in the mid-1980s. Salt-
N-Pepa—Salt, Pepa, and Spinderella were the ones who canonized the fly
girl posture of rap in the 1990s. They wore short, tight-fitting outfits, leather
clothing, ripped jeans or punk clothing, glittering gold earrings and neck-
laces, long sculpted nails, prominent makeup, and played with colored hair-
styles that ranged from braids and wraps to waves (Keyes, 2000, 260). The
fly-aesthetic emphasized their full breasts, rounded buttocks and thighs as
the markers judged to be beautiful by black American culture, but considered
undesirable by white American beauty standards. This is a point that is
explored by Rose (1994, 167–168) especially concerning the flash of the ass
by Salt-N-Pepa as a contradictory gesture that both objectives them, at the
same time, clearly demonstrates their sexual freedom and possession of their
“thang.” “The black behind has an especially charged place in the history of
both black sexual expression and white classification of its as a sign of per-
versity and inferiority” (167). A substantial black folk history has to do with
the celebration of big behinds for men and women in dances such as the
Bump, the Dookey Butt, E.U., reconfirmed by Spike Lee’s song “Da Butt.”
Josephine Baker’s exoticized dancing as the “Hottentot Venus” is usually
singled out as part of the white scrutiny of the black female body. Hence the
celebration of big butts and big hips in video work by fly girls plays a similar
erotogenic site/sight/cite as the navel does for the dirty virgin divas. There
is the same celebration of the body’s eroticism without the need to play a
“virginity card.” It locates her “thang” (objet a) in such a way so as to flash
it now and again so that it confirms her self-control, but also hystericizes her
ambivalence toward her black male partner. Rose’s astute insight into female
rappers especially foregrounds this contradictory relationship that exists
within the sexual politics of the rapper and hip-hop scene between black men
and women.
The fly girl was a partygoer, independent, and an erotic subject rather
than an objectified ho, although there were always “hotties” looking to sleep
with rappers during parties, always hanging around music video productions.
The fly girl attitude, in contrast, was an affirmation of self-esteem. The black
woman’s full-figure was flaunted as an erotic body; they had a “realistic”
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attitude toward sex. Fly rappers like Salt-N-Pepa and TLC (T-Boz, Left Eye,
and Chili) delivered “safe sex” messages and rapped about AIDS. TLC’s
video, “Waterfall” (CrazySexyCool, 1994), features an encounter where a
man decides to follow his partner’s wish not to use a condom. A lesion
appears on his face suggesting that he has contracted the virus that causes
AIDS. Fly girls faced the consequences of sex squarely. This was the point
Tricia Rose (1994) emphasized when discussing women rappers as the “Bad
Sistas.” Sexual politics was their central contestation, but it was always a dia-
logical rather than oppositional in relation to the sexism of male rappers and
the broader questions raised by feminism. Rose identifies three themes that
predominate in such a dialogue: “heterosexual courtship, the importance of
the female voice, and mastery in women’s rap and black female public dis-
plays of physical and sexual freedom” (147). She explores these themes by
describing how especially Salt ‘N’ Pepa, MC Lyte, Yo-Yo, and Queen Latifah
manifest them in the various rap and video releases.
There is a conflation between fly girls and “Sistas with Attitude” that has
further analogous affinity to grrrl cultures. The saying “hey, girl!” inflected
with a certain knowing panache, is an attitude that has grrrl reverberations.
In the late 1990s female MC and songwriter Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliot
emerged with her debut album Supa Dupa Fly in 1997 as a full-figured fly
woman. In her single, “She’s a Bitch” (Da Real World, 1999), Missy
reclaimed the word “bitch” from its patriarchal and gangsta rap definition of
an aggressive female who challenges male authority to one who is aggressive,
arrogant, and defiant of patriarchal rule. She ends up with an “attitude” that
is analogous to grrrl culture. Rappers like Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown became
the “bad” rap grrrls of hip-hop who came across as powerful, desirable and
dangerous femme fatales. Both were affiliated with male gangsta rap-style
crews: Lil’ Kim with M.A.F.I.A. and Foxy Brown with The Firm. Women
rappers such as Boss, Bytches with Problems, Da Brat, MC Lyte, and Roxanne
Shanté provide some of the strongest lyrics that position them to be as good
as the men when it comes to partying and sexual exploits. Rose (1994, 174),
for example, mentions that such aggressive women rappers were dubbed as
“gangsta women” or “gangsta bitches” like Boss (a duo from Detroit) who
rap about revenge fantasies against black men. Seducing, repressing, and
sexually emasculating males by “dissin’ ” them (verbally downplaying them).
These are Sadean women with “attitude,” self-defined bitches ready to be a
male’s equal.
Femme Fatale ns 1nr CoIon or
Rrn: SninIrv MnNsoN or Garbage
Grrrl culture raised the trauma of women’s identity as a struggle between
feminine biological difference—often understood in essentialist terms in
her capacity to possess chthonic power—and constructed femininity. The
more critical aspects of the rebellion never lost their anticapitalist and anti-
designer stance: it was l’art brut because of its DIY stance. Unquestionably
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an underground scene still exists, especially in major postindustrialized cities
around the world. Before the MP3 Napster and Aimster crackdown by the
major music labels (their successor KaZaA is also experiencing law suits), the
Internet is and remains the new underground cyberspace of postmodernity.
It is territorially lawless enough to post one’s own defiant stand. On the
more spectacular scene, there are two women who I feel continue the spirit
of grrrl power a decade later in their video and musical statements: Shirley
Manson of the band Garbage and Pink. Both artists are heavily marketed,
which flows contrary to The Riot Grrrl Manifesto, however, in postmodernity
this market cannot be “entirely” escaped from to make a public statement,
and that it can be used against itself to some extent. (Eminem is certainly a
primary example of this.) Shirley Manson and Pink present an “ethics of the
Real,” which continues to insist on women’s demands for justice: Shirley
Manson through her chthonic femme fatale rebellion, and Pink through her
autobiographical schizophrenia. This is the stance I would like to propose.
Garbage, the very name directly addresses l’art brut of an ugly aesthetic—
the obsessive overproduction that emerges in postindustrialized consumer
society. It has no value. It can also be interpreted as noise by an establishment
that refuses or can’t “hear” it. Cofounder of the band, Butch Vig (recall his
connection to the band L7), had successfully produced Nirvana’s Nevermind,
Sonic Youth’s “Dirty” and Smashing Pumpkins Gisha and Siamese Dream.
The band was formed in 1994, an historical moment when the Grrrl Riot
was effectively over. Garbage’s sound is the historical confluence of Grunge
and the Riot Grrrls in the hyper-synthesized mix of their drummer Butch Vig
(at that time some songs had up to 100 mixed tracks). With the help of
guitarist and keyboard player Duke Erickson, bass player Steve Marker, and
coupled with the lyrics of Shirley Manson, they create a complex driving
sound achieved through the use of old analogue synthesizers.
With their second album produced in 1998, aptly called Version 2.0,
Shirley Manson came across in a broad range of mixed emotions; on stage
she was randy, angry, vindictive, and hurt. In club concerts she would smear
her lipstick indiscriminately and wear blood-red mini-mini skirts with snug
sleeveless blouses. Rumor had it that Manson at times performed without
underpants. The band created, in one critic’s words, “a technofied sexual
nightmare.” Sexually charged, Manson played with her chthonic femme
fatale persona in the way Sharon Stone did in Paul Verhoeven’s Basic
Instinct (1992). Was she, or was she not a man killer? Red was her color, and
she used its lure in yet another way. The ethical demand by the femme fatale
places the man in an impossible position of choice. Either he accept her
demand for justice and equality that she poses, and thereby be punished and
swallowed up with her in the same death wish, or he punishes her, which has
been the patriarchal response.
Manson played such a game. Strawberry pink gloss was the lipstick color
the Los Angeles based company StarCrazy manufactured for her. She
promoted the lipstick and its accompanying song “You Look so Fine”
(Version 2.0), “free” of change provided that profits went to cancer charities.
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Its lyrics describe the paradoxical love of a femme fatale. Despite being madly
in love with a man, the woman protagonist bluntly says such phrases as
“I’m through Bleeding for you.” And the paradoxical “I want to break
your heart and give you mine.” Her demand in the song is for the man to
leave the “other” woman. In “I Think I’m Paranoid” the same ethical demand
is repeated. The paranoia is a hysterical one. Manson presents a continual
tease between being possessed by her lover, but ultimately she is in charge,
the position of a hysteric. Her 1995 song “Stupid Girl,” admonishes a female
persona caught entirely by her own self-narcissism. The “hammering” in
“Hammering in My Head,” is Manson’s full recognition of the way she was
affected by her lover, but she “play[s] boomerang with her demons,” and
“sweat[s] it all out.” Manson is a woman in charge. In the last instance,
despite how much she is consumed by the Other, her hysterical stance doesn’t
allow her to become his object cause of desire. Given this reading, “#1
Crush” sounds like a parody as Manson for three-quarters of the song seems
to be in complete abandonment to her lover. She would do everything for
him, even die for him. But all this masochistic suffering is yet another demand:
that he recognizes her suffering is not any different than his. “And I can
never be ignored.”
For the general public, Shirley Manson of Garbage is probably best known
for her video and song “The World is Not Enough” (1999), the signature
song from the James Bond movie of the same name. It provides a stark
contrast to Madonna’s video, “Live Another Day” (another Bond movie), in
terms of its narcissistic decentering. Madonna splits herself into dichotomous
black and white personas with silly pop references to Freud and the
Kabbalah. The song is all about Madonna, while Manson, as will be argued,
places the viewer in an uncomfortable ethical position. Although Manson
did not write the lyrics (credits are given to Don Black), the video seems to
uncannily illustrate the ethical demand of the femme fatale as is being
argued. Given the band members interest in film, the narrative of the video
speaks to her unconscious desire in the way that the song has been interpreted.
It would seem that the idea for its inspiration came from Duncan Gibbins’s
science fiction film Eve of Destruction (1991). The story lines are similar. In
a nutshell, the film is about Dr. Eve Simmons (Renée Sontendijk) who is
a cybernetics expert. She has been working on a cloned replica of herself, a
cyborg known as Eve VIII, the last seven attempts being unsuccessful. What
makes Eve VIII so special is that she has been implanted with Dr. Simmons’s
memories, which not surprisingly, include her murderous unconscious
desires. The military are only interested in this cyborg as a weapon because
she is indestructible. And, wouldn’t you know it, they have placed a nuclear
bomb inside her womb to make her the ultimate femme fatale on the loose!
This displacement is too obvious to dwell on here as it plays with the male’s
unconscious fear of the maternal das Ding. Eve VIII has been programmed
not to harm people, but inevitably she goes awry living out all the repressed
fantasies of Dr. Simmons. She becomes a runaway femme fatale armed with
a bomb about to detonate at a given time.
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Manson and Garbage (it seems) reworked this same plot. Manson is
Eve VIII, her femme fatale alter ego in the song. The video begins with lab
technicians assembling Manson as a working cyborg. A “device” is then
placed inside her “back,” reversing the location of the “weapon.” As men
try to embrace her in the laboratory, they die as she easily crushes them.
Eventually, we see her elegantly dressed—in a red gown, of course—about
to go on stage of what seems like an opera house. She faces the crowd of
elegantly dressed men and women, the bourgeois elite has gathered to hear
her sing—and what a sound she will make. The video ends. We know what
is about to happen. This seems to be Manson’s “last” statement as Bond’s
femme fatale: “The World is not Enough” without the full participation of
women in it. If that is an impossibility—and the song’s lyrics demand other-
wise “Together we can take the world apart my love”—then what is left is
only self-destructive suicide of the death drive, taking “the world” with it as
well. Manson stages an ethical act of radical evil—at least in the fantasy space
of the video.
Fnor Rrn 1o Pink: Miss
UNnnz1oon’s ScnizoÞnnrNin
Nineteen-year-old Pink (a.k.a. Alicia Moore), at this time of writing, is a grrrl
of enormous talent. What preserves the “grrr-l” in her is an autobiographical
spark—that which is “in her” more than herself. This saves Pink from total
market corruption. Although she cannot escape market forces, she does
exploit them in a more critical and profound ethical way than Madonna ever
will. Pink has managed to interrogate her own anxieties in the reflexive
mirror; she has looked at them “right in the Real of her eye.” The split-
screen she has created in her songs and videos speak to her “ugly” self—and
directly address her taunting superego that keeps demanding her to “enjoy!”
This is a different strategy than the alter ego created by Eminem, but equally
as effective to expose the obscenity of the music industry.
On her Missundaztood CD, a clever reflexive pun, Pink speaks to this very
schizophrenic split as being both misunderstood and miss undaztood. Pink
is stupidly smart. On that album she struggles with her parental breakup, her
own rebellious upbringing, the love of her father (“Vietnam”), leaving
school (“Don’t Let Me Get Me”), and drugs (“Just Like a Pill”). In “Don’t
Let Me Get Me,” the second “me” in the title is the order of the drives. The
song is about her own abjection as a teenager who never found a peer group
to belong to. The accompanying video has a brilliant scene where she talks
to her alter ego in the mirror, and then punches and breaks the mirror in
disgust. “Everyday I fight a war against the mirror, I can’t take the person
staring back at me.” This is a struggle to “be someone else.” The pressure to
be marketed is always there, and she says so, differentiating herself from
Britney Spears in a throwaway line. However, she did appear in LaBelle’s
1975 #1 hit, “Lady Marmalade,” for the “Moulin Rouge” soundtrack, along
with Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya and Missy Elliot. The cabaret-style
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video and song went to the top of the charts. This was a “reluctant”
appearance, she said in an interview, but she ended up enjoying it.
The brilliant song “Just Like a Pill,” illustrates forcefully how the “tekne”
of writing—the lyrics acting as a machinic force or pulse—harbor within
them the ambiguities of dichotomous and suppressed meanings.
“Just like a pill, Instead of makin’ me better, you keep makin’ me ill.”
Drugs as both a remedy and poison points in the direction of Derrida’s
(1981) famous deconstruction of Plato’s “pharmakon.” Past translators of
Plato made it appear that he privileged speech over writing, whereas the
double-sided meaning of “pharmakon” as both cure and illness complicates
Plato’s more critical anagrammatic play between the two. “One must there-
fore accept the composition of these two forces or of these two gestures (98).”
So it is in this video. P(ill) is the two-sided coin that flips in the video at odd
moments. Pink and her video director, Dave Meyers, stage their own dis-
semination of this portmanteau word. In this video Pink is decidedly black.
There are only a few pink streaks in her hair, which is otherwise all black as
well, suggesting another persona. She is dressed in a raunchy black leather
outfit. The video opens with her sprawled, lying on the floor of what seems
to be a mansion, waking up from a “bad trip.” Medical help can’t be had
(“I tried to call the nurse again but she’s being a little bitch”).
Meyers spreads the song out as a surface play of memories by juxtaposing
scenes that exist in all four directions: up, down left and right side, as if the
eye is following frames constantly from one moment to the next. This scenic
typology is like one of those rectangular puzzle boxes where you can slide the
square pieces around until a picture is formed, the one missing piece enables
room to move the picture-squares about. The scenes of the video are simi-
larly moved about so that the viewer finally forms a picture of the narrative.
The camera loops back several times to the scene where Pink is singing the
song anchoring the narrative. Only two frames are shown where Pink is in
the same pose wearing an elegant white gown, with a white mask—a sign of
reaching a “high” on Angel’s Dust (PCP), otherwise she remains entirely
black. The spoken word and the living memory, a chasm permanently sepa-
rates them throughout the video. In one scene, Pink sits in a room full of
white rabbits (an allusion, to Jefferson Airplane’s infamous drug related song,
“White Rabbit”). But rabbits also have the sexual connotation of promiscuity—
“making out like rabbits.” Yet in another scene, she is perched in front of an
elephant, the street name for PCP or Angel’s Dust, which is notorious for its
unpredictability. It can either act as a depressant or a hallucinogen. PCP dis-
torts sensory messages to the central nervous system, suppresses inhibitions,
deadens pain, and results in what users described as a separation of mind
from body. Yet, the elephant has the myth that it never forgets.
Death stalks the narrative in the figure of a creeping figure who wears a
death skull. He draws nearer and nearer, but is not quiet able to get his hands
on her. One has the distinct impression that the punk scene she wants to
escape from is involved in sadomasochistic practices. (“Run just as fast as
I can, To the middle of nowhere. To the middle of my frustrated fears.”)
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The pains and pleasures of the drug scene trap Pink. The drug party staged
in the video lures her in; as the boyz mosh violently, she is inadvertently hit
by swinging hands. Her boyfriend, who has her addicted on him and his drugs,
is similarly a figure of attraction and repulsion. As a hysteric she doesn’t
know just where to run if she leaves her supplier (the Father of Enjoyment).
Like this drug scene, designer capitalism works on the addicted body. Her
boyfriend has branded her, and now she is a willing slave, struggling to free
herself. “Just Like a Pill,” however, is not unhopeful. It explicitly stages the
scene of enjoyment (jouissance), yet it makes clear its two complimentary
edges. In the end we see Pink running up the stairs in the hallway and escap-
ing into the light. She has found her angel wings without the need of drugs.
Speaking of light, Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) in Andrew Adamson’s
brilliant animated fairytale Shrek (2001), must surely be the first Grrrl Princess
ever to graZe the movie screen who decided to stay in the light despite being
“ugly,” and not hide underground any more, a suitable complement to Pink
and Grrrl culture as well.
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Tnr Nrw Vi nci Ni 1v: Tnr Nos1nIci c
Rr1unN or 1nr Vri I
Miss Arrnicn Brcorrs VinciNnI!
It finally happened, a “conservative” Miss America emerged as the winner of
the 2003 edition of the pageant. Twenty-two-year-old Erika Harold,
Miss Illinois (Urbana), part Black and part Native American, became the
reigning queen for a year, setting up an unprecedented platform in the annals
of the pageant by spreading the message of sexual abstinence, chastity before
marriage, and antiabortion—all rhetorically embedded within the larger
context of “youth violence prevention.”
Abstinence becomes the master
signifier that binds all of these causes together. Abstaining from drugs,
alcohol, and sex is said to prevent violence such as sexual abuse! Erika Harold
is also politically conservative. She embraced a black conservatism that
supported President Bush’s agenda on schooling (No Child Left Behind—
an accountability program that has failed miserably), religion, and race
relations. Staunchly opposed to abortion even in cases of rape and incest, her
political ambitions for the future include running as a Republican for governor
or Senate, and ultimately for the presidency.
Harold is articulate and bright, registered as a law student at Harvard
University—a future Condolezza Rice. The Bush administration has already
courted her. Thirty-eight members of Congress sent her letters of encour-
agement to continue her “abstinence until marriage” message. Harold, a
long term member of Chicago-based Project Reality, an abstinence-only
group that trains beauty contestants to advocate premarital chastity, traveled
after her win to Washington’s Capitol Hill with 11 other beauty queens to
push for abstinence-only funding—and, they were successful. Over 100 major
youth, health, and civil right groups across the United States signed a
petition asking President Bush to reconsider the abstinence-only funding
since it was fundamentally ineffective.
Harold’s conservatism also claims that race and color do not matter. Such
a stance is not as surprising as it may at first seem. A conservative view main-
tains that transformative change rests squarely on the shoulders of each
individual, a belief in the meritocracy of education, which Erika Harold (and
Condoleezza Rice) are iconic examples. Harold, like many conservative
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Black Americans, is against liberalist policies that provide support and
educational aid to poor Black (or Hispanic) minorities, such as minority
scholarships and the preferential treatment of affirmative action initiatives.
This rhetorical stance maintains that welfare, the quota system, and “dumbed
down” academic requirements for minorities are ways which prevent Black
Americans from being treated as equals, with equal merit as are Whites. All
this leads to the loss of self-esteem, which inevitably leads to an increase in
crime, drugs, and the leech welfare mentality of the inner cities. May the
best-qualified person win regardless of race or color, and a beauty pageant is
an exemplification of such ideological reasoning. The racist remarks on
segregation by Trent Lott,
Republican leader of the Senate at the time, once
more confirms Martin Kilson’s long standing trenchant observation: “at no
point in the twentieth-century have the claims of Black folks for political and
social parity gained active support or sympathy from mainstream American
conservative leaders, organizations, and intellectuals, whether religious or
secular. Indeed, conservative whites are often active opponents of African
American civil rights” (in Toler, 1997). Such warnings are lost on well-off
Blacks who believe its all a question of self-esteem and personal initiative.
Erika Harold’s reign has also been a windfall for such Christian conservative
organizations such as Focus on the Family and Family Research Council who
immediately defended her abstinence stance from any attempts made by
pageant judges to force her to remain committed to her original platform—
an eradication of harassment and violence in schools. It seems obvious that
Harold had been traumatized by sexual harassment in high school. She
recalls being called a whore and a slut, and said she discovered that lunch
money was being pooled to buy a rifle to kill her. Imagined or not, the threat
had left an emotional scar. Her campaign for abstinence and chastity are
much easier to understand given this background. She fears masculine
aggressivity. If a comparison might be drawn, what the Spice Girls were to
the Grrrl movement, Erika Harold is to Judith Levine’s (2002) brave stance
on the sexual experiences of youth that were discussed previously. It confirms
Levine’s general claim that sex-education in the United States has been
reduced to abstinence-plus education, and that shame and guilt surrounding
abortion are gaining ground.
The Christian futurological predictions of Project Reality call on their own
statistical studies to claim that the older Gen Yers
between the ages of 18
and 24, are turning toward a neo-traditionalist orientation. Their values
are turning out to be more like their grandparents than their parents. The
rhetoric maintains that this age cohort is fed up with the superficialities of
life; not having had a lot of stability in their lives, marriage has become once
again increasingly important. Their search is to find the right “one,” and to
have close friends. For the Christian (and Jewish) Right, Gen Yers are said to
be abstaining from sex. Virginity is “in,” and the lies concerning sexual
liberation are finally out in the open: sleeping around does not lead to
happiness and fulfillment, and the risk of AIDS is always possible despite the
precautions of condom use. The turn to a traditionalist orientation with
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strong family values grows particularly strong as authority of the family
begins to decenter itself. It is one of the solutions to the post-Oedipalization
panic. The response here is not mourning over a “loss” as to what is
happening, as much as it is paranoia generated toward what is happening. It
is an alarmist view brought forward that sensationalizes the state of the
mental condition of “youth,” primarily white middle-class youth (Gen Y)
since their Boomer parents have a strong political “voice.”
Tnr “S1onr” or 1nr Eco InrnI: TrrNncr GinIs’
Loss or SrIr-Es1rrr
This chapter explores why the fantasy of virginity is coming back, even
stronger than before, around the Ego Ideal of “self-esteem.” While not
directly dealing with the music scene, this development also helps to grasp
the general landscape of hysterical post-Oedipal decentering that finds its
way into the lyrics, but this “line of flight” appears at first sight, as if it is trying
to do the opposite: to recenter itself. It is, however, yet another form of
“Girl Power,” equated with the Courtly Lady who now becomes veiled once
more, not allowed to present her “twisted” exposure as do the dirty virgin
divas. To distinguish this particular psychic masquerade from girlie/ gurl and
grrrl the signifier /girl/ will appear throughout the chapter because the girl’s
position is marked by a return to the letter of the Law. This “line of flight”
is marked by a different return to patriarchy, therefore, it remains as part of
the array of post-patriarchal “solutions.”
The alarmist view concerning girl’s self-esteem is best exemplified by the
publishing of Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls in 1994
by a clinical psychologist, Mary Pipher. It was one of many such popular
psychology books that appeared in the 1990s decade, usually accompanied
by a barrage of self-help follow-up programs: school curricula, workbooks,
videos, and speaking engagements with radio-talk hosts, interested parent
groups, youth workers, and schools to offer “pragmatic” solutions to the
perceived problem—the “loss of esteem” by teenage girls in their transition
to becoming “young” women. The book coincides with a historical moment
when the Grrrl rebellion failed to fully materialize. In effect, Pipher’s thesis
takes the same themes of the Riot Grrrl Rebellion and desexualizes them.
Pandora’s Box once again is pad-locked.
The paper back version published the following year made No. 1 on the
New York Times best sellers list, an indication that Pipher had tapped into the
fears and anxieties of a middle-class public worrying about their daughters.
Pipher claimed that American adolescent girls were prey to depression,
substance abuse, eating disorders, addictions, self-mutilation, and more
suicide attempts than ever before. Their suffering could be compared with
Shakespeare’s Ophelia, who lost her identity by living her life trying to be
what others wanted her to be. The tragic result was death by drowning.
Adolescent girls were also living in a look-obsessed, media-saturated, “girl-
poisoning” culture, the “media-drenched world flooded with junk values.”
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Pop culture was saturated with sex; violence against women was rampant;
and drugs and alcohol were now far more accessible than in the 1950s when
Pipher was a girl growing up in a small Nebraska town. From her perspective,
the advances in feminism have been unable to stop the escalation of sexism,
violence, and sexual harassment in schools that cause girls to stifle their
creative spirit and “natural” impulses that eventually destroy their self-esteem.
Sexual experience, claimed Pipher, was harmful to girls. Girls who engage in
sex were the “casualties.”
Pipher’s narrative tale is yet another example of the “loss of protection”
that the family once gave, and the resulting paranoia. Her romanticization of
the problem is evoked through Sturm & Drang metaphors of survival.
Metaphorically, it is the environment that is “poisoning” to their health,
while “adolescent girls are saplings in a hurricane” (emphasis added). Their
adolescent “storms” are unavoidable. They face “harsh winds and bitter
cold” at such a vulnerable age. Most often, girls “[aren’t] waving, [they’re]
drowning.” As “the saplings-in-the-storm” that they are, they have little
opportunity to develop a “root system,” which Pipher identifies as the family.
Most often she claims the problems are brought on by divorce. Half of
America’s children live or have lived with a single parent at one time in their
life. Through the many composite sketches and case studies of troubled
teenagers that fill her book, a reader has no difficulty identifying with one of
the stories or knows someone who matches the description. Pipher’s argu-
ment, based on her clinical practice, became rhetorically convincing as it
played into the fears and concerns of well-meaning parents who wanted only
the very best for their daughters. Parents were somewhat exonerated because
the “poisoned environment” was out of their hands. It rested with media
representations that could only be slightly controlled. What was required for
their daughters was to take matters into their own hands, and become self-
confident and gain self-esteem. The end result of Pipher’s argument is to
portray teenage girls to hyperbolic excesses as being much more miserable
than they are.
Carol Gilligan (Brown et al., 1992), certainly a high-profile psychologist
in young women’s moral development, receives scant attention in Pipher’s
work, apart from the general claim of the loss of self-esteem by adolescent
girls. Gilligan’s longitudinal studies of girls aged 6–18 with her colleagues
conducted at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education Project on Women’s
Psychology and Girl’s Development, seem to both affirm and yet further
problematize Pipher’s own claims. Gilligan (1989) and her colleagues
reported that girls during the time before adolescence showed clear evidence
of psychological resilience and relational strength; they were able to voice
their feelings and thoughts, and were able to differentiate between authentic
and false relationships. After this time, however, they seemed to suffer from
a loss of self-esteem, uncertain of themselves, and not saying what they
thought and felt. They experienced a series of disconnections between “voice
and desire, between self and relationship, between the inner world of
thoughts and feelings, and the outer world of public knowledge”
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(Brown and Gilligan, quoted in Taylor, 1994, 40). Their study highlighted the
societal expectation for a girl to become “perfect,” always “good,” “nice,”
and “unselfish.” (To recall, this was Deborah Tolman’s (1994, 2002) thesis
as well. Tolman was one of Gilligan’s colleagues.) Girls who resisted such
ideals of femininity were, for Gilligan and Brown, psychologically healthy
and resilient—we would name them grrrls. While Gilligan and her colleagues
have been charged with the local specificity of their example (upper-class
adolescent girls at Emma Willard School in New York), and privileging
gender rather than other factors such as class, race, ethnicity, and heterosexual
experience, there can be little doubt that the many project studies point out
that adolescent girls have more stress than boys concerning their body
images and managing desire (Taylor, 1994, 42).
The discourse on sexual desire, which troubles these girls, received
very little attention in the mid-1990s as Levine and Tolman pointed out in
their 2002 publications, a lacuna that still continues. Pipher also avoided
confronting the fantasy formations of girls’ sexual desires, rather she offered
another solution. On the one hand she suggested a Peter Pan fantasy for
girl’s self-esteem (the danger of which was examined in the case of Avril
Lavigne and Michael Jackson), and all but suggested virginity as the other
solution. Sex was always getting in the way of a girl’s development. Gilligan
and her colleagues’ study lent itself to a reading of a girl’s “true” and “false”
self that split itself around numerous “disconnections.” Pipher interpreted
this split psychologically; the preadolescent girl was the “authentic” or
“true” self to which adolescent girls should tap into for self-esteem—the
Peter Pan fantasy. What alludes Pipher in her clinical work is the puzzling
question as to why some and not all adolescent girls were so affected. She
sensationalizes her clinical cases as if an epidemic had been let loose. Their
“storm,” what would be identified as their will-to-jouissance, is at issue.
There are differing strategies to this will-to-jouissance; not all are self-
destructive or poisoned by the media. A young reviewer of Pipher’s book on
the Internet raises this puzzle of identity in the following web posting:
The case studies that had the most impact on me were the ones about girls who
seemed healthy, well-adjusted, well-loved, and happy, but who came to therapy
with serious problems in their behavior at home and/or school—like Penelope,
who, at 16, has all the material comforts of life in addition to a healthy family
situation. Pipher describes her as “tall, tanned and regal in her expensive out-
fits and stylish shoes.” And yet she is brought into therapy because she has tried
to kill herself. This teenage depression is a focal point for Pipher throughout the
book; she emphasizes the fact that often girls can be outwardly content and
thriving, and inwardly writhing under the pressures (“the storm,” as Pipher
terms it) put on them by society: lookism, sexism, peer pressure, to do drugs,
to be sexually active . . . to name a few (emphasis added).
What astounds the young reviewer in the passage above is the failure of
identification with the fantasy scenarios offered by the Symbolic Order
(prosaically the “poisoned” media environment Pipher refers to) despite
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seeming to have the conditions for their acquisition: money, a good family
life, schooling, and so on. This is not an adolescent “at risk” as is so often
popularized, but its complementary well-off Other. “Failure” refers to the
sense that these young adolescent girls are unable to occupy the subject
positions offered to them, and to live them out as fantasy scenarios; they are
unable to sublimate the objet a of their desires. The lure of the object (the
idealized representation of desirous womanhood), rather than being seductive,
has turned ugly and frightening, an anxious object. Its containment has
collapsed. Their libidinal demand of “becoming-woman” insists with a
destructive force.
Lacan made the distinction between a constituted and constitutive
identification; the former refers to an Ideal Ego (Idealich), which is an
imaginary understanding the subject has of him or herself. This is the image
we have of ourselves—how we like to be, and what we would like to be. The
latter refers to the image a societal gaze offers us to be confirmed by, to fit
into its Symbolic Order and not feel abjected. When we occupy, or try to
occupy this Ego Ideal (Ich-Ideal), then we are loved and rewarded. Every
institution holds out its “impossible” Ego Ideal (Ich-Ideal) to occupy. One
need only think of the “perfect” student, the perfect “model,” the “perfect”
Christian, the “ideal” soldier, and so on. Each of these designations is not
based on some empirical exemplars, but “rigid designators” as to the
perfectly “impossible” student, model, Christian, and soldier. As a super
iconic figure this ideal paradoxically occupies a space that is both inside and
outside the system at once. It is outside the system because it is an impossible
place to occupy, and inside the system as each particular enactment of it
strives to occupy the social rewards that are attributed to it—such as stardom
and recognition. Symbolic identification is the agency through which we
self-observe and judge ourselves, so that we appear likable to ourselves: how
we are being judged by the gaze of the Other as an external point of identi-
fication. Imaginary and Symbolic psychic registers are never completely in
tune with one another. There is always an excess that guarantees instability.
Being slightly neurotic, living with anxiety is part of the human condition.
But, according to this young reader, it seems that a young woman can be
very well-off and still become depressed despite having all her material
desires fulfilled; or, to put it another way, because the young woman was very
well-off, she appeared more likely to be depressed by the vulgarities that
consumerism offers, and the pressures it puts on what it means to “become
woman.” Somehow contentment is not possible, for the idealized space can
never be reached and fulfilled. Pipher’s concept of “lookism,” as exemplified
by the media that influence the self-policing of a perfect female body, and
affecting all adolescent girls in varying degrees, cannot be easily dismissed.
However, the question of identification is much more complicated than
Pipher suggests. Not all girls are anorexic or suffer from an eating disorder
of one kind or another. On her account, it appears that anorexia has reached
epidemic proportions, a contagious dis-ease. Adolescent girls are torn, claims
Pipher, between their “true” selves and the selves “forced” upon them by the
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media. Advertisers, of course, argue that there is no “force,” only free
democratic individual choice. They simply reverse the argument. Advertisers
offer the “self-esteem” that girls want in the first place through their products.
To them the exchange appears mutual and uncoerced.
What “true” self is precisely Pipher referring to? Is it a self that knows
better not to be “sucked” in by advertising, yet still falls prey to its images?
Cultural studies and fan audience research has drawn upon a number of
theoretical models to argue that audiences are not just simple “consumers,”
but “producers” as well. They selectively reinterpret media messages. What
is poison for one becomes a cure for another. When it comes to fantasy
formations, subjective identification remains fluid as a number of psychoan-
alytically minded media researchers have already argued in the early 1990s
(Penley, 1992; Rodowick, 1991; Thornham, 1997). Here lies the dilemma
of ego psychology. It struggles through self-help books and self-help remedies
and various exercises to “exorcise” the demon within without identifying the
source of pleasure-in-pain (jouissance) that are repeating the behavior;
the way the libidinal bodily pleasure derails life’s expected course without any
rational explanation. The psychology of self-esteem treats the “storm” of
sexual desire by offering two solutions, at least in Pipher’s case, which can be
reduced to one. The first is a desexualization that comes with a preadolescent
androgynous position of Peter Pan, while the second is a desexualization that
comes with virginity as a complete abstention from sex. Teenage girls and
young women who repress their sexual desire can live it out vicariously
through the fantasies presented to them by the assemblage of bad virgin
singers (Britney and Company), Peter Pan figures like Michael Jackson and
Avril Lavigne and Company, and Grrrls like Pink and Company. Once these
stars leave the charts, another crop of stars will take their places given that
sexual desire remains lawfully prohibitive to girls when compared with boys.
Their fantasy transgressions of being “bad” provide an identificatory escape
from the contradictory Ideal Ego a young woman is expected to live up to
in a post-Oedipal transition.
In each “pathological” case Pipher cites, the girl has, in some way or
other, lost the footing of self-esteem promised to her by the hegemonic
constructions of what it means to be eventually confirmed as a “young
woman” by an amorphous societal gaze, most often positioned by hetero-
normative desire. Such an Ego Ideal (Ich-Ideal) or “pure” signifier in Lacan’s
terms, which holds together all the possible variations of acting out femininity,
has broken down. This Ego Ideal is a “pure” or “empty” or “rigid designator”
because no one can possibly completely occupy it. It maintains its status
through all possible variations of its enactment—it is never “stated” as such.
It remains an unconscious striving. The examples of embodied Ego Ideals
are provided through a culture’s repertoire of media images (journals, mag-
azines, television, films, and so on), but these are only approximations. Some
representations come closer to the Ego Ideal, others may exaggerate it. In a
Lacanian reading of the post-Oedipal landscape, girl’s adolescent identity has
become unraveled because the master signifiers that define such an idealized
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representation of “becoming-woman” cannot be lived up to, or has been
refused. The “storm” surrounding self-esteem is the process of de-Oedipalization
itself. In either case, the particular Ego Ideal image held up as to what it
means to be a “loved womanly body” has begun to decenter into numerous
directional “flights” causing anxiety and loss of self-esteem. For identification
with the media image to take place, an inversion by Pipher’s patients would
have been necessary; that is, identification with the ideal-image and descriptive
characteristics of the “loved womanly body” that went with it. But there was,
instead, a failure of identity with the Ego Ideal. Such a failure resulted in a
subjective destitution. They fell “apart.” The nodal point (or point de caption
in Lacan) that held such an ideal image together for social consumption
became unhinged in their cases. Their struggle for reidentification of what it
means to be a “young woman” in the social order resulted in the desperation
of therapeutic help.
WrnniNc n Cnns1i1v “BrI1”: Nos1nIcic VinciNi1v
ns n “KNocxou1” PuNcn
The failure of identification of Pipher’s clients to the hegemonic representation
of what it meant to “become woman” also meant that the objet a, the surplus
value of that idealized image could no longer be sustained. It vanished with
nothing to replace it. Despair, depression, and, suicide are all possible
responses to the vanishing of the mythological ideal of becoming a woman,
which now inverts into a nightmare, a horror, rather than a beautiful phan-
tasm. The tragedy here is that Pipher’s patients had formed no distance to
the Ego Ideal presented to them, no way to play with it, be cynical toward
it, gain a distance from it, which the media also offers. They took it earnestly
and to heart. That’s what makes it even more tragic. Perhaps the most
startling “postfeminist solution” to the loss of “self-esteem” of teenage girls
and young women, of objet a in Lacanian terms, came a few years later with
the publication of Wendy Shalit’s A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost
Virtue (1999/2000). Shalit was a 23-year-old sophomore “conservative” of
Williams College, Massachusetts. Her book was yet another “best seller” that
provided an answer to the perceived “moral panic” toward youth who were
out of control and promiscuous. What makes her book so interesting is that
it provides such an open testament as to the sexual practices and dating
rituals of young people today, which frustrate and disgust her. The fear of
masculine aggression (like Miss America, Erika Harold) can be felt through-
out her book. It is another hysterical defense against male appropriation.
Shalit, drawing on Pipher’s clinical work, claimed that the loss of the
virtue of modesty—the key differentiating, and hence essentialist or “natural”
characteristic between men and women—was directly correlated with the rise
of crimes and abuses against women. Its loss was attributed to the feminist
movement who did away with difference, and thereby took away the
“protection” women once possessed. (Such an accusation would only apply
to women who embrace a Sadean philosophy in the context of this book’s
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thesis.) Modesty acknowledged the “vulnerability” of women and protected
it. The evidence was insurmountable according to Shalit, who drew on
countless examples from popular culture, especially women’s magazines
(Mademoiselle, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, and Vogue), and media to make
her claims regarding its loss. Promoting a conservative Christian worldview,
Shalit wanted to reestablish modesty as “a reflex, arising naturally to help a
woman protect her hopes and guide her fulfillment—especially, this hope
for one man” (94, emphasis added). This is a return to a sterner father who
“protects” his daughter, maintaining vigilance over her virginity, preventing her
from watching R-rated movies so that she is shielded from promiscuity, scru-
tinizes boyfriends, and so on; in effect, Shalit idealized a Victorian culture.
Shalit’s “solution” is a paradigmatic example of a nostalgic return and
response to the excesses of youth. It was simply a question of time before a
position such as hers emerged into the light of discourse. Nostalgia is a symp-
tom of postmodernity, coeval with modernity. Nostalgia and progress are but
two sides of the same coin. Now that the coin is sliding apart, it is producing
wry looks as to what has been historically unrealized. Shalit’s “back to the
future” romanticizes and idealizes a past that never was. Like the myth of
the innocent child, this “return” also fantasizes a youthful innocence by
women: their naiveté, their “holiness,” idealism, and utopianism. Many
critics have remarked precisely on Shalit’s naiveté concerning the place of
modesty in the historical past. Her blindness to Victorian upper-class
women’s modesty achieved at the expense of lower-class women’s prostitution;
her unwillingness to see a contradiction in more modest societies (Moslem
cultures) where women seem less sexual in public, and are not so free to live
intimate private lives under the patriarchal rules of the Koran; or her claim
that child abuse, domestic violence, and rape appeared after the end of
modesty, rather than being uncovered because modesty came to an end.
Perhaps more damaging is her failure to see that male “protection” was also
a way to maintain their privileged position by preventing women to vote, go
to college, and take part in public political life. Modesty was women’s
bargaining chip to occupy and maintain specific cultural spaces, most notably
the private domain of the home. Shalit’s nostalgia of modesty is unquestionably
a romance with her own fantasy.
However, such criticism, as succinct and telling as it is, presents only part
of the story. History read as a return to tradition is misleading (LaCapra,
1985). This is a return with a difference—a postmodern return. Shalit also
summons an “ethics of the Real” by presenting us with a “split screen” of
the past with what is happening today, a look sideways—awry—as to what
might be. The critical side of nostalgia—its Algia, or longing can be juxta-
posed with its Nostos, a return home. The look at history can recall unrealized
dreams. As Boym (2001) puts it, “The fantasies of the past determined by
the needs of the present have a direct impact of realities of the future” (xv).
While there is an uncomfortable nostalgia informed by a melancholia, which
her critics have picked up as Shalit’s own entrapment by a naïve romanticism
culled from her own biography and fear of men, there is also an ethical
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demand in the Real being asserted. A mourning, rather than a melancholia
for the promise of the unrealized possibilities of difference between the
sexes. The difficulty is to sort out the more critical nostalgia that raises
doubt, playing on longing (Algia), and stresses prospective possibilities,
from a restorative and retrospective nostalgia that stresses home (Nostos),
which considers itself not to be nostalgic, but traditional, truthful, and closed
in its outlook. Shalit’s thesis tends, more often than not, to fall on the
restorative than the reflexive side.
It would be unfair to dismiss Shalit outright as simply yet another “moral
majority” advocate with a call to neo-Puritanism. There are elements of
Algia in her call of “longing” for something better. This is what saves Shalit
from a total fall into nostalgic restoration. A psychoanalytic insight can be
culled from her work to draw this out. After all, why did such an “old fash-
ioned” traditional solution elicit such a response in a large sector of the public?
What was her fantasmatic “return” and “loss” pointing to? What was the
desire that she managed to harness in the public to become a “best” seller?
Baudrillard (1990) has it right when he argues that sex has lost its seduction
today; it has become obscene. He argues that the women’s movement, quali-
fiably the second generation, has been ashamed of seduction, as if the bodily
erotic is a misappropriation of women’s true being, thus effacing the
immense privilege of the feminine. Seduction turns to obscenity when every-
thing seems to be exposed, raw, and transparent—falling into the hyperbolic
“more visible than visible.” When everything is on show, on the surface,
eroticized, then there are no more secrets. The veil that covers over the
“secret,” what Lacan identified as objet a, the object cause of desire has been
laid bare—become too “hot,” too exposed, too accessible, no longer attractive
but pornographic—reduced to an exchange of services. Desire is evacuated.
Like the sexual performances of Anne Sprinkle, or Japanese vaginal cyclo-
ramas where Japanese business men gawk and shove their faces into the
vaginas of prostitutes who sit on the stage with their legs spread open,
the “feminine mystique,” which Shalit wishes to restore, vanishes. Rather than
seduction, reification of the woman’s body takes over, staved off only by
the exchange of money that substitutes for the otherwise “free” love, which
can be given as a “gift” in Derrida’s sense, without anything in return. The
sexual relations of lovemaking are inverted into fucking—just a job. There is
no reciprocal fascination by the couple in the virtual mirror of love as when
“I see you from where you see me in the Imaginary register.” In pornography,
for instance, stardom is registered by the “insatiability” of a good believable
performance by women, and sustained erection and ejaculation on demand
by men. Take away the agreement of money; take away consensual “love,”
and one ends with sexual abuse, rape, and harassment.
As the line between eroticism and pornography keeps slipping, the Ego
Ideal for women ends up being a complete exposure of objet a so that it looses
its luster and becomes bland. We have only to think of the beauty pageant’s
own policing of contests, the injunction not to expose any nude photos of
the contestants. In 1983 the first Black Miss America, Vanessa Williams,
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was stripped of her title for having appeared in Penthouse. (She went on
with a successful singing career.) Astronomically high prices are paid to
model stars in exotic locations for a photo-shoot so that a dividing line
can be maintained between the cheap nudity of “skin” magazines and high
fashion. The last beachwear garment is now the topless bikini thong with its
mandatory Brazilian wax job. Either the Law allows full public nudity
or . . . the woman’s body begins to be recodified. Two photos in Shalit’s
book on page 176 illustrate this quite clearly. The top photo has women
sitting on the beach in full dress in 1897, during New Jersey’s Salt Water Day
for Farmers. Shalit captions this “Modest and Mischievous.” On the bottom
picture is a table around which the founding members of the United Free
Beaches of Florida in 1982 sit—nude. Shalit captions this “Nude and
Bored.” Nudists, of course, would claim that’s exactly the point. The body
is nothing to be ashamed of. Ideally, men and women can approach each
other in other ways than just sexual. Perhaps a historical moment has been
reached where it might be possible to cover up the body so that it becomes
sexy again, fueling desire? Robert Altman made an ironic statement in this
regard with his Prêt-a-Porter (1994), the models on the catwalk are nude.
The “truth” of fashion has been “exposed.” Modesty can again be played
with. If everybody’s “doing it,” virginity can become sexy as well! What we
have here is a common inversion of a signifier, where the left glove becomes
the right glove by turning it inside out.
Tnr Rrconirirn VriI or 1nr HrJnu
Shalit’s modesty proposition can ironically inflate masculine desire rather
than protecting her from it, through her very inaccessibility. With the call for
the return to modesty and abstinence, and with the proliferation of “dirty
virgin” sexuality, the paradox of a “banal” virgin who is considered sexy has
emerged—free of makeup. Shalit is perplexed, for instance, by the following
illustration from The Independent:
Wearing the traditional Islamic hejab may not be what it seems. Two years ago,
Shahida, a young Muslim college student in London, took on the hejab to
assert her Muslim identity, much to the consternation of her middle-class
Westernized family. Last month, she decided to give it up. Her reasons?
Receipt of an anonymous letter from a young white student, declaring his lust
for her in no uncertain terms. He wanted to rip her clothes off and possess her,
he said, because she seemed so utterly unattainable. To her astonishment, a
Muslim male student had also started whispering suggestive things to her as
she walked past, all about how her modesty turned him on. This is not an iso-
lated case. The veil draws to it and releases all sorts of contradictory meanings
and heightened emotions, which can shock even those who take the decision
to wear it for rational and understandable reasons. After an article I wrote
about Muslim women in Bosnia—photographed in hejab—I had five letters
from white men telling me how intensely desirable they found women who
covered themselves. Interviews on the subject I recently conducted with men
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in London were equally disturbing. . . Haleh Afshar, an Iranian academic and
writer, told me how a policeman wrote her a six-page letter begging for pictures
of women in veils (223). As a coda, Shalit remarks: “It is not surprising, then,
that even the totally secular have begun to incorporate modest dress in their
daily lives. Modesty is powerful ” (223, emphasis added).
This story is very instructive in the way each culture has its own specific
understanding of modesty. Like the “Rules Girls” who return to the tradi-
tional courting rules of seduction-chastity to make them more inaccessible
and hence more elusive objects of desire, these (mostly) young Moslem
women stage the same ruse.
The veil appears traditional but these young
women are no longer under the thumb of orthodox Islam, rather they
perceive themselves as emancipated women, who in order to enhance their
self-esteem willingly adopt the hejab, to serve as an expression of freedom.
It is difficult, of course, to know just which Moslem women are staging a
reflexive nostalgia from their more traditional Koran-believing sisters. One
must be part of the community to be in the “know.” Perhaps more ironically,
Shalit’s enthusiasm for the veil refers only to a very specific sector of young,
sophisticated, usually university/college going Moslem women who have
consciously taken up the veil—like members of any other youth culture—to
symbolically state their difference from their parents. It becomes a form of
“protection” to prevent the cultural consumerism of difference and “hybridity,”
which is endemic to global capitalism; it emancipates them from yet another
“emancipation” that the West offers them through the sexualization of an
exoticized and eroticized body. They become “banal” virgins, sometimes
with no make-up, paradoxically a way of asserting and eroticizing the face
within their cultural domain.
This resistant practice, which began in Europe, has now spread to most
countries where an Islamic population of students can be found. The veil as
a symbol of resistance in anticolonial and antiracist struggles has a long
tradition. From a Western gaze, these women appear to be “premodern” in
their gendered Otherness, returning to a tradition of modesty as Shalit so
praisingly reads them. However, just the opposite is the case. In interviews
with young veiled students of Turkish decent, it turns out that these women
do not embody a cultural demarcation in the sense of religious tradition and
female subordination (Terkessidis, 2000). The type of veil worn is already
differentiated from their mothers. Rather than covering the hairline and
being tied beneath the chin, these women wear a “Türban,” which covers
the whole hair and shoulders. Such a veil can now be found worldwide, and
it is worn as an act of “emancipation,” a “soft revolution” against their strict
traditional parents.
The intervention of the hejab in Moslem cultures and Shalit’s call for a
return to modest dress, virtue, and virginity recodifies sexual relations. For
Moslem cultures it is tradition itself that young women attempt to gain
distance from its strict rules. In the case of Shalit, the shift is from romantic
love to a sublime love where a returned gesture, the permitted touch of her
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body, the caressing a woman’s hand or shoes is enough to keep the suitor-
knight happy and keep the courting game in motion. It is here that Shalit’s
comments concerning the veil take on rather ironic and disturbing effects
concerning a “lady’s” modesty and chastity. The veil for Lacan played a special
significance in his development of the fantasy structure and the place of objet
a around where truth, deception, and fraud are all present in intricate and
complex ways. In his reading of the painting contest between Parrhasius and
Zeuxis as told by Pliny (Seminar XI, Four Fundamentals), where the prize was
to be given to the artist who could best represent Nature as accurately as pos-
sible, Lacan exposed how the veil functioned in desire. Parrhasius painted a
curtain that Zeuxis mistook to be an actual curtain (linteum, in Latin) and tried
to remove it to see what Parrhasius had painted. He quickly realized that he
had been fooled. There was “nothing” behind this veil, only Zeuxis’ desire.
Zeuxis was caught by his own fantasmatic object—objet a—as to what might
have appeared “behind” it. In Pliny’s story, Zeuxis does not show anger by
being fooled, inflicting violence on Parrhasius. Rather he laughed at being
caught by his own stupidity. Modesty and the hejab play with this paradoxical
curtain of preventing desire to the extent that such veiling could cause an “act-
ing out” of violence by potential suitors because sexual pleasure is being
denied, or by angry parents who think their daughter is parodying and not
respecting their Islamic beliefs. There is no laughter here. For the male to save
face, the woman who was once desirable now becomes cold and heartless, an
object of contempt to be scorned at. For strict Moslem parents the daughter
has become an “object” of disrespect who is mocking tradition.
Rr-VriIiNc⁄ RrvrnIiNc 1nr Coun1Iv Lnnv
Modesty is powerful indeed! One of the Freudian psychoanalytic insights
concerning love is the illusionary prohibition and social codes, which are said
to prevent love’s realization. As any “self-help” manual seems to advise, if a
woman wants to evoke love she has to paradoxically become temporary inac-
cessible, “hard to get” so that desire swells up. The “Rules Girls” trade on
this psychic structure to find Mr. Right. Being “too easy” gets you the label
of “tramp,” or an “easy lay.” In Freud’s words, “the psychical value of the
erotic needs is reduced as soon as their satisfaction becomes easy. An obsta-
cle is required in order to heighten libido; and where natural resistances to
satisfaction have not been sufficient men have at all times erected conven-
tional ones so as to be able to enjoy love” (Freud, 1912, SE IV, 187). For
the heterosexual man, such external hindrances that prevent the direct access
to the heterosexual woman as his object of desire are put there to create a
fantasmatic illusion, without which she would become too directly accessi-
ble. When no mise-en-scène of fantasy is created she becomes an “easy” lay—
that is, boring and no “challenge.”
In heterosexual pornography and prostitution, to reiterate, the exchange
of money for the deed done acts as a substitute or displacement for the
illusion of “true” love, and the need to play the accessibility/hindrance game
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is waved. The fantasy scenario is dispensed with in hard-core and lengthened
in soft-core to pervert; that is, to invert desire. (For Lacan fantasy and
perversion were direct inverted opposites (] a and a ]). Fantasy does not
refer to the usual common-sense understanding as being able to indulge in
all sorts of acts that are prohibited by the Law; it is not a question of
suspending the transgression of the Law to wallow in the imagination.
Rather, fantasy insures that the Law is obeyed; that the subject is symbolically
castrated and does not exist “outside” the Law. Perversion, as its inversion,
attempts to stage the very castration necessary so that the subject may enter
the Symbolic Order. For the pervert, ironically the object of desire is the Law
itself. The subject struggles to bring it into Being (Zizek, 1997a, 14). In
hard-core porno the hindrances to desire are gone so that couples can “fuck”
at will. No more “games,” so to speak. The woman is entirely available and
wants, rather demands “it.” She is driven. Insatiable. In soft-porn where
penetration is usually left to the imagination to heighten and at the same
time disavow the realization that they are finally “doing it” (this is especially
evident in East Indian cinema where sexual scenes are forbidden), the
heterosexual woman can romanticize and dwell on the extension of the game
itself, the labyrinthine route her lover has to travel, the obstacles he faces, the
near misses and detours he must take to reach her “love,” so that when
she finally “gives” herself to him it is a magical moment of orgasmic ecstasy.
Pushed to the limit, the indefinite postponing of doing “it,” leads to a
masochistic perverse scenario where everything is left at the level of foreplay.
The woman becomes a “tease,” and her poor “bastard” suitor is left dan-
gling, suffering in the pleasurable pain of his own jouissance, hoping that, if
he continues to fulfill her every whim and obstacle that his “lady” desires, he
will one day culminate the love affair in bed. This is the fantasy of sublime love
that reality television attempts to stage in such shows as The Bacherlorette
(2003), where Trista Rehn teases and eliminates her 24 suitors until there is
only one man standing. Trista, who at 29, admitted publicly that she had
never experienced an orgasm. Presumably, now she will!
At this point, it seems that Shalit’s call to modesty, respect, and dignity
reaches its zenith as the “lady” is elevated to purified spirituality as embodied
in the Virgin Mary. Within the Christian tradition, unlike earlier comparisons
to mother goddesses, there is a complete dissociation from sexuality. As
mother and virgin her elevation to Holy status matches Shalit’s enthusiasm
for Orthodox Jewish women who practice “shomer negiah”; that is, abstinence
and the refusal of physical contact with men before marriage. Those women
who observe the laws of “tzniut” (modesty), she says, are “happier” and have
“a certain glow”—in short Holy. Her emphasis on virginity (she intends to
remain a virgin until the true “one” comes along) helps to psychoanalytically
explain her chastisement of the feminist movement and her strong devotion
to her own father; that is, to paternalistic fathers in general who are strict and
protect their daughter to that zenith point where she is eventually “given
away” at the altar. Freud’s general theory of heterosexuality expects that
all males in all societies will develop some degree of sexual desire for their
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mothers, and that in almost all cases, this desire will undergo some degree of
repression. Similarly, his general theory expects that daughters everywhere
will also come to desire their fathers to some degree. There is no society,
regardless of its familial makeup where some sort of myth is not found to
explain the fundamental fantasy of sex/gender desire (Moore, 1997). To
take Freud minimally then: when it comes to the “Oedipalized” triangulated
heterosexual nuclear family in the West, which Shalit and others wish to
romantically preserve or mythically reinstate, the injunction against the
incest taboos (mother–son/father–daughter) must be resolved. The concept
of “virginity” is absolutely central to maintaining this psychic possibility.
The cult of virginity/motherhood, which elevates the future marriage
partner to a holy status so that she is not to be touched, enables males to
dissipate their repressed sexual desire for the virgin/mother in an acceptable
manner. The father passing over “his” unblemished daughter to her future
husband is an assurance of the purity of the commodity transfer. Not having
had sexual intercourse with another (the sign of blood on the sheets during
the wedding night when the hymen is broken) is a guarantee that the paternal
lineage will be assured. Identifying herself strongly as a virgin/mother allows
the woman to vicariously experience the fulfillment of desire for sexual
contact with, and a baby, from the father.
There are many variations of this basic Freudian insight. A strong cult
worship of the Virgin Mary developed in southern Italy and Spain during the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, for instance, where the father was, by
and large, an absent “guest.” He was either working elsewhere, or because
of his ineffectual status in the household, he sought the company of adult
males outside of the home. Italian men playing cards and Boccia is the usual
clichéd image. The result was a strong identification of the boy with his
mother who became the authority figure, a “phallic Mother” in Lacan’s
terms. It was in such a context that a machismo complex developed, which
encouraged men to be sexually aggressive and brag about their sexual
prowess and genital attributes, as a way to assert their manhood and differ-
entiate themselves from their strong mothers. A strong cult devoted to the
Virgin Mary developed in such familial contexts to mediate the ambivalence
of love and hate sons had toward their mothers. In the medieval ages the cult
was often accompanied by extreme forms of masochism like self-flagellation
and wearing cloth scapulars devoted to the Mary cult. As several anthropol-
ogists have argued (Carroll, 1986), this enabled an Oedipal resolution for
the heterosexualized sons and daughters in such “father ineffective” families
as a way of dissipating their repressed sexual desires toward their parents. The
cult of the Virgin continues to thrive today, especially in Catholic countries,
and less so in Protestant ones, but certainly no longer serves the same psychic
Family structures have drastically changed. Does this basic model even
apply anymore in postindustrialized countries? The traditional nuclear family
where three, sometimes four generations, lived in the same home, or in close
proximity to one another has all but vanished. The divorce rate in the West
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is now approaching 40 percent (more or less depending whose statistics are
deemed reliable). Domestic violence is on the increase as the abuse of
children in the home escalates. The Children’s Society estimates that 50,000
young people, with a median age of 15, run away from home every year, the
majority wanting to escape child abuse. The brutality toward elderly relatives
living in the household is increasing. Fertility rates are down, hence family
sizes are small, and the portion of working mothers has grown significantly.
Whether it is in the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany,
Australia, Austria . . . single parent homes are common while stay-at-home
mothers are less and less common. The current estimate is between 8 and
10 percent in North America.
Married. . . with Children, introduced the North American television
audience to its first “dysfunctional family”: Al Bundy and Peg, children Kelly
and Bud. In the 1970s, All in the Family still had a semblance of cohesion.
Archie Bunker wore his bigotry and racism on his sleeve. With Al Bundy all
we got was cynicism. Al, a salesman of women’s shoes, is always “horny” for
a woman other than his wife, forever complaining that he is married. Peg,
the totally inept homemaker, is always asking for a handout from Al, unable
to cook, save money, or advise her two teenage youths, Kelly who plays
the dumb blond, and Bud who is forever teasing her about her “brains” and
always wanting to “score.” MTV’s Osbourne Family has just pushed this absurd
picture further into the new century. What was fiction with the Bundy’s
seems to be an everyday “reality” event in Ozzy household. On display are
ineffectual fathers, just like eighteenth-century Italy, but with an entirely differ-
ent family dynamic. Not even Tony Soprano’s machismo can sustain his loss
of authority, or Miguel Cadena of the NBC series, Kingpin, who is a Mexican
drug lord trying to shield his son from his illicit business transactions. In
both cases the Catholic Church has become a charity organization to be sup-
ported, and the Virgin Mary simply an obligatory devotional pretense devoid
of meaning.
PnoÞÞiNc UÞ nNn S1niÞiNc DowN Pn1rnNi1v
Shalit’s postfeminism seems, at first glance, to be decidedly antifeminist. She
appears to be asking that the virgin cult be reinstated. However, her mixed
message can be read in another way. Shalit’s accusation is directed against
second wave feminists; against those feminist mothers who have lost touch
with their daughters. Their daughters are not faced with careers, husbands,
and raising children (as yet), which were the concerns of their liberal minded
mothers. They have an entirely different agenda of concerns that comes with
“becoming-woman,” that is, being a teenager/20-something woman today.
Shalit’s complaint is not any different than the Gurlz/Grrrls, and her solution
is just as radical in the way she reads the letter of the Law—this is to say,
literally. By doing so this girl calls on the Law to do what it promised to do.
The emergence of chastity and virginity as advocated by representatives like
Wendy Shalit and Erika Harold, who have close relationships to their fathers,
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raises interesting questions concerning the rise of the New Virginity as a
form that inverses Freud’s standard model that was reviewed. The threat of
male aggressivity (sexual harassment, pressures for sex, more open promis-
cuity) is warded off by a conscious differentiation of virginity as a “protection,”
to reinstate and prop up the failing symbolic Oedipal Father (like the
“Promise Keepers” who pledge their allegiance to fatherhood) so that her
objet a might become veiled once more. This is a literalization of the Law—
the strict enforcement of Rules, but—it is an important and ambiguous
“but”—in their most radical form, completely stripped of their patriarchal
and religious orthodoxy.
To put it bluntly, what Britney Spears uses only as a ruse, Shalit and
Harold believe and hold accountable “to the letter.” There is no guessing
involved here—is she or isn’t she? Like the hejab that opens a clearing in the
closed space of Moslem traditions, virginity is “stolen back” from patriarchy
and religious authority. The ethical demand is respect for the objet a that has
now become the defining Ur-signifier—privatized and lying in an absolutely
inaccessible place. Only a sublime love is allowed to touch it. If and when it
does, marriage must follow. The suitor has effectively “signed” himself over
to her as an equal partner with a double surname, relinquishing his own “sir-
name.” To imagine Shalit’s ruse at its most radical level is to call it a “radi-
cally ethical act,” which seems rather preposterous. To demand obedience to
the patriarchal norm of virginity might also be considered as “doing the right
thing for the wrong reason.” I follow Zizek (2001a) here in his claim that
such an act can undermine “the law’s dignity from within, not treating the
law as something to be respected, but degrading it into an instrument of our
‘pathological’ interests—no longer an external transgression of the law, but
its self-destruction, its suicide” (172, original emphasis). Once more the
daughter is staging a perversion of the Name-of-the-Father. The
Bacherlorette takes on new meaning with such an understanding. Trista Rehn
can be said to be both “propping up and stripping down” the Law by per-
versely and inversely staging the Cinderella fantasy—a well-off physical ther-
apist from an upper middle-class blended family finds her man.
The “but” problematic emerges swiftly as the machinery of tradition is
difficult to slow down, just as the cameras and editing of reality television are
never turned off. It is difficult to re-signify virginity in this way. According
the U.S. based organization, True Love Awaits, created in 1993 and spon-
sored by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention,
virginity and abstinence have once again become “cool” and “in” as the
Church attempts to reestablish its moral authority. Teens and college students
who visit their website can fill out a “virginity pledge,” to promise to remain
sexually abstinent until marriage. Such pledges postpone first-time sexual inter-
course by eighteen months as compared with non-pledges.
With abstinence-
plus sex education, as Levine (2002, 114) points out, the average length a
student held off intercourse (no age specified) was seven months. These
statistics indicate that the deterrent effects of these pledges and abstinence
are almost always exaggerated.
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The question of virginity in the Catholic tradition and the hejab in the
Moslem tradition present the paradox between a restorative, or a reflexive
nostalgia, between mourning and melancholia. This tension is not solved in
Shalit’s book, but presents the very paradox of the de-Oedipalized process
itself, yet another version of the “storm.” While the Christian Church and
the Moslem orthodoxy want to claim victory for themselves and return to a
restorative tradition, these young women wish to steal back the objet a from
patriarchy and claim it as their own. This is where the young women from
both traditions come together and walk a common ground. It is not always
possible, however, to grasp just when this critical reworking of Algia is being
presented in either tradition. This was dramatically illustrated on a German
talk show, Die Oliver-Geissen-Show (aired on RTL, December 3, 2002) where
three generations of Turkish women were invited to discuss wearing the
hejab. One woman in her late thirties felt she was an emancipated woman
influenced by Western feminism who interpreted the Koran in her own way.
For her, wearing the hejab was an option. Sometimes she would wear it,
other times she didn’t. Another, in her late twenties, was a firm believer in
the Koran, and said it was her duty to wear it. Lastly, a very pretty 18 year old,
stylishly dressed with appropriate make-up adopted the hejab for her own
ends—to push back the boys and to mediate her parental wishes.
In the Christian tradition, Erika Harold’s conservatism seems to lean
more to a restorative nostalgia (Nostos), whereas Shalit has at least some
aspects of a critical position (Algia). This de-Oedipalized confusion only
increases when Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Jessica Simpson stage
a different form of playing the “virginity card.” Then there is the question of
what might be called “technical virginity” among young people. Its most
famous interlocutor and practitioner was not a teenager but a Baby Boomer,
former President of the United States Bill Clinton who infamously said:
“I did not have sex with that woman [Miss Monica Lewinski].” To him, and
to many youth, he did not have sex. Oral (sometimes anal) sex was not
considered sex! From a perverse psychic structure this makes sense. Clinton
and Monica were engaged in perversely immature sex, not genitally structured,
as if they had escaped into a paradisial time before the “Fall”—not to have
“sinned” in Christian terms. If that’s the case, does that mean Monica could
also have claimed to be a virgin? She did, after all, permit everything except
genital penetration.
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Tnr FnN(nnni c1): Tnr SI NTHOME or
BrIi rvi Nc i N 1nr MuI1i ÞIrs or ONE
Tnr Pos1ronrnN GnouÞir Tonnv
In a post-Oedipal world the Freudian identification, which theorized
the psyche as being a split entity, has been replaced by one of division; a
decentered ego subject to hysterical doubt (Verhaeghe, 1999b, 117–118).
During Freud’s time models of identification were rather limited; besides
parents and possibly grandparents, there were a small number of reference
figures, for example, teacher, doctor, and lawyer that a middle-class adolescent
could look up to. Such a “relatively” sable social order led to the theorization
of a divided psyche based on identification and repression; positive traits
were internalized while external traits were expelled. This was not a simple
either-or process, as Lacan was to show; rather this love/hate relationship
was a paradoxically complex structure. What is pleasurable outside is inter-
nalized inside. Hence, the inside is the pleasurable outside. While, what is
unpleasant inside is placed outside. Hence, what is outside is the unpleasant
inside—a “stranger” in us, to use Kristeva’s formulation. During Freud’s
time identity remained rather stable, its duality conflicted between the
unconscious and conscious by opposing desires, as in Winnicott’s “true self ”
as opposed to a “false self,” for instance.
In postmodernity the number of figures that an adolescent growing up can
identify with has expanded. Not only are families decentered across various
class and racial lines, thus playing a lessened identificatory role, but the media
presents an enormous array of other possible identifications, meaning that
identification is much more fluid, liquid, morphing, and changeable. As is now
well-known, the theorization of the poststructuralist subject is an attempt to
capture this ever-changing subject in process. But, from my point of view,
poststructuralism fails to grasp why the empty core of the Real self, a sinthome
around which these multiple ego selves revolve, must itself become socially
anchored in a belief system, otherwise the subject “spins” out of control.
As previously argued, such decenterization hystericizes the subject: “Am
I a man or a woman?” The search is to anchor identity so that it isn’t in a
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constant malaise of contradictory and overwhelming desires. Rather than the
neurotic self-doubt of identification during Freud’s time, the youth genera-
tion is marked by a generalized behavior of hysteria and obsession. The search
to anchor the self is offered to them by the manufacture of the desired
signifiers of loyalty—through advertising and in the video and music industry
especially. One result of this general trend is what can be identified as a
fan(addict); the portmanteau word emphasizes the bodily addiction that
plagues postmodernity. The fan(addict) establishes a belief in the homo-
geneity of the ONE to ground his or her Real identity. The ONE has a neo-
cult status and has to be understood as the splintering of the big Other into
many smaller ONE’s, as various competing authorities to gain loyalty. Love
for the ONE carves a space out of the chaos and grounds a person’s identity
as the singularity of a fan(addict’s) sinthome; that is to say, his or her defin-
ing trait. This is only a temporary situation for the structure of identification
is metonymic, as a movement from ONE to another ONE. This follows
Lacan’s logic of desire of the Other, but grounds it in the love for the ONE.
The ONE, in this sense is a multiple and does not exist. How? To follow
Badiou down this difficult path (Hallaward, 2003, 61–63), both multiplicity
and difference are grounded paradoxically in Be-ing as ONE, the mark of
identity is registered in the Real. There is no ONE, but there is an operation
of identity that counts as ONE—Badiou renders it as “One-ing.” Such a
logic can accommodate the ONE and its multiple, what I have referred to
occasionally as the proliferation of “little” or “small” ONEs. To call the
ONE a “strange attractor” of chaos theory, a “nothing” around which fan
loyalty emerges does not take us far afield. Such a theory opens up another
way to grasp the multiplicity of identities proliferating in postmodernism.
The signifier /fan(addict)/ re-dresses and expands MTV’s term for their
new series FANatic, to identify the hysterical desire to find an Other, a little
ONE, which will be a place of safety, a home, some-ONE to believe in and
identify with. It can be the fan(addict’s) anchoring sinthome. MTV’s FANatic
episodes feature one or two fans being surprised by a camera crew at home
or at work. This has been set up with the help of family or friends who are
sometimes also rewarded by coming along. The fans are then whisked away
(often without any preparation) to some corner of the earth, or nearby
city to meet their favorite stars. Perhaps on a movie-set location, recording
studio, or prearranged meeting place, the “reality show” stages their meeting
with fans typically testifying how these stars have been role models, inspirations
and, at times, even “saved” their lives. It’s a hyped-up exciting event with
cameras recording the entire journey in “reality TV” style.
The postemotionality
of these meetings—through the usual polite
exchanges—is starkly shattered at times when there is the slightest engagement
of truly bringing the two mutual realities of fan and star together in a forth-
right emotional exchange. Instead, often a sadomasochism prevails in the
way fans are shown to humiliate themselves in an exchange for a bit of jouis-
sance. There are moments where the fantasy turns into a nightmare on either
side. A fan suffers a deep rejection and let-down when an idol(s) turns out
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not to be quite what the fan had in mind; or, a celebrity is taken aback by the
forthright and devouring aggressivity of a fan who exposes the “impossibil-
ity” of their relationship continuing. Some fans plead for more time or want
to sing, write poetry, and even “jam” with the band. These instances expose
the fragility of identification, the belief in the ONE. The suffering that
fan(addicts) undergo is often marked by a subjective destitution, their fan-
tasies evaporate as their golden idol turns into a piece of shit.
In light of the broader de-Oedipalization thesis, when it comes to media
fandom in general, the fan(addict) finds a peer group (the ONE) that can
center his or her world, and stabilize an identity rather than be in throes of
the conflict of identity confusion. This pertains to heterosexual, gay and lesbian
positions alike. Such a fan is “branded,” as the popular marketing saying
goes. Reeves et al. (1996) makes a distinction among “casual,” “devoted,”
and “avid” viewers. For marketing purposes, devoted fans are the collectors
of the objects that circle around the ONE that centers or grounds them, but
the fan(addict) even surpasses the avid fan distinction. Fan(addicts) watch
every episode of a television series, buy every available album/CD of the
group, purchase and consume the marketed ancillary texts that are generated
around the televised series, film, music group, star, and so on. Such fan(addicts)
join the interpretative communities that have formed online as discussion
groups, or form their own local chapter. They have an understanding of the
supernarrative of their ONE; that is, the transcendental dream of their pas-
sionate attachment, the sublime object of its ideology that drives it. Niche or
direct marketing strategies of designer capitalism take over to reach them.
Generally speaking, when it comes to music, fan(addicts) are predominately
female because the question of “what kind of woman am I?” is at issue.
The female fan(addict) is a complimentary subject position to the obsessive
video game(addict) of “interpassivity” who are mostly boys.
They are struc-
tured by the question of “Am I alive or dead?” They are most alive only when
playing the video game or acting out in a virtual city to avoid being “dead”
in the Symbolic Order. But these are only tendencies. They should not be
considered hardened divisions. A fan (as defined by fanaticism) and an addict
(as caught by the repetition of the drive) come together in a figure who finds
an anchorage in an identity free from doubt to answer the question “Am I a
man or a woman?” The obsessional fan(addict) finds an escape from the lack
in the Symbolic Order, and avoids castration by devoting his entire self to
some Cause. In both cases a person or group is elevated to an all-knowing
Ego Ideal. In postmodernity, with the decentering of the Symbolic Order,
such an ideal Figure or Cause becomes a “small” Other (designated as
ONE). The psychic investment is complete if the hysteria subsides, or if the
obsession is found that escapes from the lack in the Symbolic Order. The
theory of the small ONE is illustrated through an example of an obsessional
fan(addict) in the fictional figure of Brandon Wheeger and his alien alter ego,
Mathesar in Galaxy Quest, and the hysterical fan(addict) is demonstrated
through an empirical example of Silke, a fan of Die Ärzte, a band from
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I believe such an identity formation is unique to postmodern consumerism,
and is best grasped by the ontology of the ONE and its multiple, or the ONE
and the many (see May, 2004). In East Asia, Cosplay (Japanese term for cos-
tume play) amongst the comic-animé community in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan
is perhaps the most obvious example of such fan(addiction).
A Wnv Loox n1 1nr FnN(nnnic1):
The fan(addict) has emerged in postmodernist media culture of designer
capitalism because of b(r)and following, a way to identify and anchor one’s
identity that gives them a total devotion to the ONE. This has emerged in
the entertainment industry and in sport. Let us recall the hilariously funny
movie, Dean Parisot’s Galaxy Quest (1999), the spoof on Star Trek starring
Tim Allen, Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, and Tony Shalhoub as the
actors in key roles. It presents an anamorphic or wry look at the “truth” of
such fandom, giving us a better grasp of the fan/star relationship by presenting
a ridiculous and absurd narrative that exaggerates obscene aspects that are
generally glossed by media presentations.
The film’s narrative stages the “final” fantasy of the second of a two part
series that was never produced because the Galaxy Quest (GQ) series was
cancelled after having been broadcast from 1979 until 1982. Tired of having
to appear before their fans (this is their eighteenth outing), Dr. Lazarus
(a.k.a. Alexander “Alex” Dane, Rickman’s character) is especially fed up of
the whole gag. Once a great stage actor, he has been reduced to repeating
the one line for which he is beloved by his fans: “By Grabthar’s hammer, we
live to tell the tale.” Lt. Madison (a.k.a. Gwen DeMarco, Sigourney Weaver’s
character) has been reduced to being a stupid sex objet on the series, always
repeating what the computer says, such as, “I’m getting hotter Commander!”
Tech. Sgt. Chen (a.k.a. Fred Kwan, Tony Shalhoub’s character) is calm.
He sits around reading the newspaper. It’s work as usual. Only Commander
Peter Quincey Taggart (a.k.a. Jason Nesmith, Tim Allen’s character), their
fearless leader is enthusiastic about such events. He doesn’t want to let his
fans down, and he believes they love him. The GQ crew is caught by a
viscous cycle of guest appearances. They can’t do without them nor live with
them. To leave the scene would be to destroy their own alter ego characters
to which they have become addicted. Only Dr. Lazarus (Alex) want’s out,
willing to abandon his mask and move on with his life. The knife stabbing
that goes on backstage is only a façade for the harmonious presentation they
present for their fans. Jason even hires an extra spot light to be put on him
as he walks on stage.
In the audience the teen fan(addicts), dressed appropriately in the costumes
of their favorite characters, anxiously await for their stars to make an appear-
ance. These stars are their protectors, the spaceship has been appropriately
named as NSEA PROTECTOR, and they are extremely loyal. These fans
have just finished watching, for the first time ever, the first part of the missing
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two part episode that ended the series with the captain about to launch their
secret weapon, The Omega 13, given that all was lost. A loyal fan had rescued
the footage from the studio’s garbage. What was shit for the company has
become gold for GQ fans.
The opening scenes from GQ convention give us an anamorphic look at
fandom. Two exchange a conversation about their costumes. “I used to be
De Gar’nor of Ang but I got a rash from the chest pads, so now I’m Sacnod
from episode 5, which is fine except the transducer pinches when I sit
down.” Another group of fans, led by Brandon Wheeger, are dressed exactly
like the four GQ crew, come up to a vendor’s booth and Brandon begins to
critique the model of the PROTECTOR that is on sale. “The tail is concave
and not convex. The proton reactor is where the influx thermistors should
be and . . . my god . . . is this Testor’s blue green number six on the hull? . . .
(he drops the model on the floor) . . . This is a complete abortion.” There
are long lines as fans wait to get their autograph from their favorite
crewmembers. Each loyal fan comes up to Dr. Lazarus, salutes him with
crossed fists and says, “By Grabthar’s hammer, by the suns of Warvan, I shall
avenge you!” Another speaks to him in his native Mak’tar language. Yet
another fan asks Tech. Sgt. Chen (a.k.a. Fed Kwan) about episode nineteen.
“When the reactor fused, you used an element from Leopold Six to fix the
quantum rockets. What was that called?” He answers, “Bivrakium.” He is
further quizzed. “The blue sheath it was incased in-?” Answer, “A bi-thermal
krevlite housing.” Fred is asked by a bit-player Guy, on the series, how he
remembers this stuff? Fred tells him he just makes it up, “lot’s of ‘k’s and
‘v’s.” Gwen is asked to autograph a naked picture of herself, and it’s not
even her body! Finally, there is a scene where Jason escapes into the men’s
washroom to get a moment of peace and overhears several cynical fans
(20-something) telling it like it is: that the crew is a laughing stock for many
at the convention.
These scenes expose what lies behind the usual plastic smile of the stars
and their professed claim to “love” their fans—which is a misplaced love of
themselves. It also shows the obsessive behavior (in this case) of the fan(addict)
who constantly asks the existential question: “Am I alive or dead?” “Am
I ‘truly’ alive only when I am one of the GQ crew?” The fan(addict) is rep-
resented by the nerdy Brandon Wheeger, GQ’s #1 fan, who amasses intimate
and detailed knowledge to help him satisfy the feeling of being fully alive.
He has to know every possible detail and get it absolutely right. Even when
Jason tells him it’s all fake, and even “disses” him, it doesn’t matter.
He want’s to get the technical details to the last episode, “The Quasar
Dilemma,” just right. He is a true believer. Nothing can shake his unswerving
faith in the Commander. Disappointment—yes. Doubt—no.
The Commander’s other true believers are about to make their appearance
as well. Four look-alike aliens dressed in uniforms arrive at the convention.
They are Thermians from the Klatu Nebula, led by Mathesar, who worships the
brave Commander and his crew. He is the ONE—their god. Like Brandon,
they actually believe that the GQ crew is the “real Thing,” the Real ONE.
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They are hyper-manifestations of Brandon, and far superior in their
commitment and in their knowledge of GQ and its spaceship. Their cos-
tumes are maintained by a special effects box-like gadget that they wear on
their belts. In “real life” (RL), the Thermians are rather ugly creatures with
seven long tentacles. They look and act more like giant squids—soft and
mushy. They have been watching GQ episodes (historical documents) from
outer space and have (mis)taken them to be authentic exploits, caught by the
fantasy mirror of their own making. Now they are on a mission to save their
world from the tyrant Roth’h’ar Sarris of Fautu-Krey who wants Omega 13.
Commander Quincey is their last hope. We have the makings of an ethical
demand being placed on the GQ crew from the Real (the aliens). The GQ
crew is about to face their own fears behind their plastic smiles and confront
the sham(e) of their alter egos. They must traverse their own fundamental
fantasy: to act “through” what they presently “act out.” It raises the question
of responsibility for what you pretend to be, and held responsible for the
fantasy that you have created for yourself.
Caught by a combination of greed, envy, and curiosity, a skeptical GQ
crew is transported to the Thermian space ship. They are placed in a new
Symbolic Order that inverses the gaze upon them. What was pure artifice has
become RL. PROTECTOR II awaits them, built from fan books and enter-
tainment software that contained blueprints of the craft. The crew are all
forced to take on the actual symbolic roles they have been assigned only
as actors, and to play out the “final-final” episode-part 2 of their careers.
In effect, to face the death of their alter egos. On the Thermian spaceship
they are treated as gods (which is interesting given that the obssessional
behavior of the Thermians parallels the structure of religion according to
both Freud and Lacan). As heroes they can do no wrong—they are all walk-
ing master signifiers. Any non-sense they utter is taken as the “truth,” like
Chance the Gardner in Hal Ashby’s Being There (1979). An admiring tech-
nician asks Sgt. Chen to solve an “impossible” problem concerning unex-
plained proton surges in the delta unit of the Beryllium Sphere. Chen
“solves” the problem by initiating a Socratic dialogue. He asks the technician
what he thinks could be the problem. Of course, the technician “knows” a
possible solution. He just needs to have it “kick-started” by the Master. One
of the Thermians, Quelleck, a fan(addict) of Dr. Lazarus lives completely by
the code of Mak’tar, and has mastered sleeping on a bed that consists of six
large spikes, just like in Lazarus’s home planet. Lt. Madison now controls the
computer and does not stupidly repeat what it says. She is offered what is the
equivalent of having her hands imprinted in cement on Hollywood
Boulevard. The females of the ship have requested that she give her voice
imprint for the proposed Tawny Madison Institute for Computer Research.
But, with all that fan-worship comes a responsibility to the Other as ONE.
Caught up in their own false personas, the GQ crew isn’t able to confront
the Thermians face-to-face. But the moment of truth arrives soon enough as
Sarris captures the Thermian craft and figures out that, as a “scientific” race,
the Thermians blindly believe that there is no deceit in the universe. He forces
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Jason to confront Mathesar with this “truth” as he lies on a torturing rack.
Jason is put in the spot of a parent who is forced to tell his child that Santa
Claus does not “really” exist—he is asked to ruin the very kernel of Mathesar’s
fantasy and cause his psychic death. In turn, he is faced with the choice of
either shaming himself of his imaginary deceit—and then living with it, or
face his own death drive by telling the truth. He chooses death. Sarris has told
his crew to start a core meltdown of the neutron reactor. There are only nine
minutes left. The stage has been set to live out the final-final episode-part 2.
After escaping the guards who were about to expel Jason and Lazarus into
outer space, the crew is reunited again, and it is Gwen and Jason who must
shut down the core. There is only one person in the universe who can help
them do this: Brandon Wheeger. It is possible to contact Brandon back on
earth because, by the fate of the gods, he mistakenly took Jason’s authentically
workable “vox communicator” given to him by Mathesar while he was still
on earth. Brandon gets a “call from the Real,” from the ONE. His reason
for living the GQ fantasy is now fully vindicated—this is the “real” deal!
Now, he has the chance to be the ONE, the leader of his own GQ crew.
Everything rests in his hands. Operating from his bedroom, Brandon assem-
bles his team online (Kyle, Hector, and Katelyn) who know the absolute
intimate details of the working model that the Thermians had built. In the
meanwhile, he talks Jason and Gwen through as to how to get to the core.
Orrcn I¸: Twis1iNc Tirr nNn SÞncr
Jason then asks Brandon what he knows of Omega 13. Brandon tells him
that opinions are divided. Some think it will collapse matter and destroy the
universe, but he thinks it will rearrange matter, converting all the molecules
to the exact state thirteen seconds prior to its activation. When Jason asks
why he comes to that conclusion, Brandon gives him an absolutely ridiculous
nonsensical answer. Brandon doesn’t know either, and that’s the responsibility
of being a Master. The judgment is always a leap of faith. Brandon’s team
quarrels amongst themselves as to what the Omega 13 can really do. But
Katelyn offers a convincing argument: the person who triggers Omega 13 is
not affected by it; that person still has his memory after the time jump when
everything is as it was. There is a chance to redeem a single mistake or misstep;
in other words, a chance to confront the contingency of the Real and not to
repeat the same mistake. This is a warp or twist in time, a Nachträglichkeit
experience. Omega 13 is the two sided dilemma of das Ding: the jouissance
of Eros-life-zoë or Thanatos-death-apocalypse: a “pregnant” moment of cre-
ation out of a “perfect vacuum” as either a new birth of the universe through
its rearrangement or its total destruction—life/death—like the ONE and its
multiple. Omega 13 is the missing piece of information—a transcendental
signifier—which keeps the system from collapsing, thus leaving the future con-
tingent and open. The warped or looped time that Omega 13 makes available
is simply the delay between reality (RL) and fantasy, as if we could actually
experience this impossible abyss or gap between the two. In the final scenes
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of GQ we have all three of Lacan’s three registers on display: Omega 13 (Real),
the actual experience of the event (Symbolic Order) and fantasy (Imaginary).
I will not continue with this exposé, but let the reader view GQ’s interest-
ing unfolding narrative. Suffice to say that Jason will confront an experience—
again—but for the first time. The entire crew has traversed their fundamental
fantasies, and faced their alter egos. The history of that episode now has
become GQ history. It demonstrates effectively the fan(addict) in the figure
of Brandon and Mathesar; they are “more fan than fan”—the hyper-fan of
today who believes in the ONE, and has grasped the supernarrative of GQ.
We see this type of obsessive symptom (as sinthome) repeating itself in the
marketing mechanisms of hyped-up branding in all facets of life as a way to
provide life’s meaning, to elevate the Star to a false Idol where what they do
and say is taken earnestly and in good faith. Their responsibility, designated
here as an “ethics of the Real,” is hardly of concern. And, we see the other
side of this as well: the Idol not wanting to go on with the charade, but the
show must go on. To remain “authentic,” paradoxically means to take on an
entirely different role so as not to get typecast. Morphing into a new char-
acter and repackaging the Ego, becomes a survival mechanism to be rid of
the mass of hyper-clones that cling onto a star’s coattails, dragging him or
her down. Fan(addicts) take every piece of their idol’s shit and turn it into a
precious gold nugget, either as market ware, or to keep it for themselves.
Madonna must surely be considered the best example of a fantasy “serial
killer” when it comes to the production of morphing selves. For well over a
decade she has been moving from alter ego to alter ego, typical of hysterical
behavior. It seems she will be no man’s object of jouissance—so she relies on
serial husbands. Her latest make-over venture since she became a mother, has
been to add various religions into her shopping-cart: a bit of Buddhism,
Hinduism, Taoism, bit of Jewish Kabbalah, a bit of Indian mysticism;
this time to work on her spiritual designer self and become more “mature.”
In her music video for the James Bond film, “Die Another Day,” she fights
the forces of good and evil—in black versus white codes no less. Just in case
we’re too stupid to “get it,” she even evokes Freud. Throughout the video
she sports a mysterious tattoo of several letters from the Jewish alphabet, and
leaves the same “sign” behind on the electric chair as she escapes in the very
last frames of the video. Madonna, has planted her statement that she is not
to be worshiped by fans as an idol. It is the sign for the Golem. Yet, another
brilliant marketing technique. Like the Golem, she has no inclinations, either
good or bad. She just performs, as the Golem did for the Jewish Cause, more
out of compulsion and fear, than desiring fame. This seems excessively nar-
cissistic in its understatement. Madonna and her fan(addicts) problematize
yet again the ethical relationship between the ONE and its multiple. What is
her responsibility and what is theirs?
PuNxunuv: SiIxr’s SxiN-Eco
To now move from the realm of film fiction to the realm of empirical RL.
It has already been mentioned the way fans are manufactured along with the
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stars themselves. The boy group phenomena present such a scenario where
fans of MTV’s (and ABC’s) reality show, The Making of the Band (or Fox’s
American Idol ), enable them to commit to a long term relationship with the
various personalities as they go through the process of “making it,” as would
happen when following characters on any television soap. But a different
type of fan has emerged who does more than just follow a personality and
interactively votes. She is an hysteric who usurps the man’s position in the
sense that she is every bit as knowledgeable—often more so—than the celebrity
(be it band or star) that she attaches herself to. In her fantasy life she is
passionately devoted to them as her ONE as a phantom-like member.
An example to illustrate what I mean by such a possibility was broadcast
in 2002 on the German version of MTV’s FANatic, which featured Markus
Schulz arriving by limousine in Bayreuth, Germany to pick up Silke, a
22-year-old fan(addict) of Die Ärzte, a well-known Berliner punk-rock band
billed as “Der Beste Band der Welt.” Being the “best band in the world” is
reinforced by the playful pun on the homology Die Ärzte has with Die Erste
in the German language: it can mean both, “The Doctors,” as well as
“The First.” One imagines that through such metaphors they are providing
the exploration of the symptomatic ills youth face through their songs.
Right. But, they rage in a rather twisted way. A brassière hangs on the micro-
phone in all their concerts as a reminder of their strategy. It seems that their
ideology is to turn sex in on itself through a perverse antifascist anarchist
ideology. They want punk babies in the double meaning of the word: as
punk mothers who then give birth to punk babies so as to “fick” the system.
The message is to fick, fick, fick, which needs no translation. In the German
context such punk-rock bands are Prolet. They speak to working-class youth
where beer is the drug of choice. Many of their songs are anarchistic in
temperament. Their song titles on 5, 6, 7, 8 -Bullenstaat (Police State), for
instance, are self-explanatory: “punkababies,” “mcdonalds,” “bravopunks,”
“deutschland verdreckte,” “elekrobier,” “hass auf bier,” “bullenschwein,”
“rockabilly war,” “ich bin ein punk,” “rache,” “biergourmet,” “widerstand,” and
so on. But they are also capable of a much more toned down softer sound:
“Vohno Ono,” “2000 Mädchen,” “Ehe,” “Zu Spät,” and “Westerland.”
Such songs have increased their popularity over the years. Silke is a punkbaby
who appropriately carts her punk baby purse around, a rather sweet and love-
able person.
Die Ärzte played for MTV’s Unplugged concert series (August 31, 2002)
in the Aula of the Albert-Schweitzer-Gymnasium in Hamburg, a music high
school, just before Silke was interviewed and given her tour. The school
orchestra provided the backup for the band. The Aula, which normally seats
an audience of 200 was over-booked with 350 guests. MTV stages this
acoustic intimacy in stark contrast to the thousands of fans such bands nor-
mally perform to with amplified sound. Die Ärzte were only the third
German band to have been invited to do so. Hence, there was plenty of rea-
sons why Silke was invited to meet the group—to promote the band, their
new CD, a book celebrating the event, and to give them a higher profile on
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MTV, and so on. Appropriately, before the FANatic episode began, Die Ärzte’s
song “Komm Zurück,” from the Unplugged Concert was featured with the
punks (Gonzalez, Bela B., and Farin Urlaub), all neatly dressed in white
shirts, ties, and suit jackets coming on stage in electric wheel chairs from
which they sang their entire concert. Perhaps this was an ironic statement of
being “crippled” by the space or lack of electric sound? The backup (student)
singers were drab looking and modestly dressed, almost nerdish. “Komm
Zurück,” the feature video release of the concert, is a rather tender love
melody. For anyone watching them for the very first time, it would be difficult
to believe that Die Ärzte was a punk-rock band. Their debut concert seemed
to quote Nirvana who equally surprised the audience during their MTV
Unplugged concert with an array of songs that Kurt Cobain had specially
We meet Silke who is appropriately dressed in a T-shirt with a red cross
on it, her hair is red, and her slacks are as well. Silke has a special crush on
the drummer of the group, Bela B. The camera follows her into her bedroom
where all the paraphernalia from the band has been collected since 1993, the
year when the band first got started. Drumsticks that Bela B. throws out
into the crowd are attached to the wall, as are posters and an autograph. Silke
has been in the front row seat in many of their concerts. More importantly
Bela B.’s face is tattooed on her right shoulder, his tattooed name appears
on her right side, as well as slightly above her pubic hair. We are not given a
full view of this one—only a quick voyeuristic peak. Schulz next interviews
her parents (they seem to be in their mid-fifties) who say they are proud of
their daughter. They would drive Silke to the concerts, wait for her, and then
drive home. One is touched by the loyalty they have to their daughter. The
mother expresses a sigh that she wasn’t young again so that she could
participate in her daughter’s craziness—maybe even get a tattoo! Schulz is
impressed and overjoyed to find such “understanding” and cool parents.
Silke is then flown to Berlin where Hot Action Records is housed, in the
Kreuzberg district. On the first day she is shown the studio where the band
records and other paraphernalia. She is invited to sing one of their songs
“Optimismus” in the recording studio. Schulz and her visit the tattoo parlor
(Endless Pain) where Bela B. is a regular customer. They discuss her tattoos
with the tattooist. She wants another to be put on her backside bottom of
Bela B. as a Count, a frightening cartoon figure featured on one of the band’s
videos. The next day Schulz and Silke are in Berlin, sitting in Mariannenplatz
discussing her reminisces of that first concert she attended. Actual footage of
that concert is shown in between interview segments. They also visit a
Berliner club SO 36, where the band played, and she says she met Bela B.
for the first time in 1996.
The next day Schulz and Silke are off to Hamburg since the band is there
because of the Unplugged concert. It is time to meet the actual group. After
a tour of the Gaga Studio, she enters a room and the three stars come in.
There are two cameras in play: one camera films the discussion up close and
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personal. Another camera pulls back, covering the entire scene, including the
close-up camera. The mix is reedited so that viewers see the interplay
between these two cameras. Close-ups are sequenced in when something
special seems to be happening. Bela B. sits with Silke in the middle flanked
by his two band members. Bela B. has to make the most conversation since
she is his biggest fan. Farin Urlaub (which means “taking a holiday”) sits on
Bela B.’s left (camera) side, remote and removed wearing sunglasses. His
only comment is to say that Silke is fan of Bela B. more than the band. When
Bela B. gets a bit tongue-tied, Farin whispers in his ear that the band is into
“privacy and quiet.” This message is passed onto Silke via Bela B. who
repeats it to her. Farin has unconsciously told us that he is uncomfortable
with this interview. His private space has been invaded, and his cold and
distanced demeanor says so. There is a hint of jealousy that Bela B. is getting
all the attention.
On the right hand side sits Rod Gonzalez who is willing to ask Silke ques-
tions and steer the conversation toward their Unplugged concert. Edited
cuts to the school and children playing music instruments are shown. His
agenda is clear. He is more interested in getting the message out about the
concert, and Silke is simply a vehicle for that. He really doesn’t have much
interest in knowing much about her. Bela B. and Silke small talk, most of which
returns again and again to her tattoos, especially his portrait. Rod Gonzales
doesn’t believe it is “real.” Perhaps it’s a henna imitation? No, Bela B. rubs
his hand on Silke’s shoulder to show that the tattoo doesn’t come off. Talk
is then directed to her other two tattoos of Bela B. She shows him the one
on the (camera’s) right side. The only comment he can make is how techni-
cally well it has been done. The strained intimacy of their talk turns to the
third tattoo of Bela B., the one which is above her pubic hairs. But then
suddenly, Farin gets up and leaves. Rod Gonzales quickly follows. Times up.
He leans over and gives her a traditional European two cheeked kiss and
leaves. The fan has had her day—actually one hour edited down to fifteen
minutes with about ten minutes being actual interaction. Only Bela B.
lingers to stay a few more seconds. There is a reason. He wants to see that
third tattoo. Bela B. gets to see the full tattoo, you know where!
SiIxr’s Tn11oos
Although a fair bit of space has been taken to provide a description of the
interview, it clearly shows how the fan(addict) is an object of anxiety for the
group; she has become “too close.” Silke no longer occupies her “proper”
place as a fan, the best seat being in the front row of each and every concert
(circled photos of her face are shown sitting in the first row, Gonzales admits
to having recognized her). The objet a for the three band members is her
tattoos. For Bela B. they are an attraction he doesn’t quite know what to do
with. He attempts distancing himself, but he is clearly “drawn” to them.
They hold a special fascination, as if he cannot quite believe that somebody
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wants to “swallow” him up and wear him on her skin. These tattoos are both
a fascination and a threat. His comment on their artistry is the bare minimum
distance he is able to keep. For Farin Urlaub the tattoos are detestable. He
is somewhat miffed that he has to sit through this interview and not be
recognized. He is, after all, a lead singer. But Silke has no interest in him.
Gonzales too, is fascinated by her tattoos, but in a much more cynical way,
as if the punk baby has taken the brazzière symbol much too literally. She has
actually made his fantasy come true. But the tattooing is for Bela B. and not
for him. He has been the one to recognize her in the first row of the concerts,
but she did not choose him as the object of her desire. Rod Gonzalez has to
displace his ambivalence about the tattoos (are they “real”) with talk about
the Unplugged concert. Yet, he returns to her tattoos wanting to discredit
them, as if his unconscious is saying “My god, someone has taken us too
seriously. You mean, this is not a game anymore? We can’t be ironic and
cynical?” Silke, on the other hand, remains reserved, cool, nonchalant, and
not about to faint, this isn’t Beatlemania. It’s as if she is one of Die Ärzte,
not in the sense that she can actually be on stage with them, but in the total
acceptance of their ideology. She has total commitment and trust and belief
in them. They form her sinthome of wanting to believe in the ONE, a redeemer
band that echoes in a number of contemporary films like The Shawshank
Redemption and The Matrix where Neo is so obviously The ONE.
What we have here is the total investment of the self along horizontal lines
(to the many small multiples of ONE’s) rather than vertical lines to the
Symbolic Order, in keeping with the postmodern notion of surface. These
ONE’s can be theoretically transposed in both Deleuzean as well as Lacanian
terms as a number of “flights” or vectors around which desire circulates.
Each ONE is a Master signifier, a nonsensical vortex of lack. Something
about Die Ärzte as embodied in Bela B. dramatically grounds Silke’s uncon-
scious self, actually protects Silke like an amulet, as libidinously invested in the
pain-pleasure of her three tattoos—shortly, perhaps a fourth with Bela B. as
a Count. She tells Schulz after the interview, as might be expected, that the
time was just too short. But she is very courteous about it. In no way does
she drool over Bela B., sexually desiring his body, nor was his presence so
overbearingly transcendent that she might faint—her objet a just too close.
She admits to Schulz in the limousine that it would, of course, be nice to be
his girl friend, or to have a boy friend “like” Bela, but . . . she continually
hesitates in providing a definitive answer. Bela B. and Silke’s skin-ego are
intimately connected. He is her protector double. She has transferred her
complete loyalty and love to him, and is intimately attached to him, at the
same time she cannot be “had” like some common groupie. This relation-
ship of transference might best be described as Bela B.’s skin-ego becoming
Silke’s ego-skin. What avoids the threat of seeing her “double,” as it were, is
that, as a hysteric she has usurped his place. She “owns” him, and, in an
uncanny way, he knows it—Bela B. is seldom tongue-tied. He is, after all, the
spokesman of the group. Yet, he was stumbling all the way in the interview.
So why did Silke choose Bela B. over the other two?
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A Dnurrrn is Brn1iNc
In his clever and insightful book, Percussion (2002), subtitled by the
declension—drumming, beating, striking, John Mowitt provides a clue for a
tentative answer to such a question. The drummer in rock ’n’ roll, as is well-
known, usually takes a “back” seat in the band, providing the beat to anchor
it. He is often misperceived as being a stupid figure (like a Ringo Starr),
unable to write songs. Bela B. is an exception in this case. He usually struts
up in front of the stage, throwing his drumsticks into the crowd. He interacts
with his two musicians, and comes across as their leader. That, however, isn’t
what is most interesting about why Silke has chosen him. Rather, it is the
relationship between Silke’s skin-ego and Bela B.’s membranophonic drums,
which act as catachrestic instruments. That is to say, drums “must be abused
to be played,” and they possess “a body, a skin, a head, and a voice.” The drum
historically represents “the expressive interiority that we call the subject, the
human being insofar as it intones ‘I’ ” (6). I want to develop the case that
Bela B.’s senseless phallic punk beat, beats on Silke’s ego-skin, registering as
sexualized sense signifiers directly on her body as bruises in the form of
tattoos. In short, I am (again) into the familiar territory of a willing s/m
ritual but it is an unconscious one, as an unspoken sonic contact. The phallic
punk-rock beat—as “senseless beating”—is “a lack that seems to spur a
recursive escalation that . . . is unmistakably violent” (2). It lays down a seem-
ingly arbitrary and unconscious Law that Silke materializes on her skin without
really knowing why. It is her unstated social contract with Bela B., an uncon-
scious interpellation. She loves his punishment. The drumsticks in her bed-
room are the instruments of that satisfaction. She is a slave to this enjoyment,
possessed by Bela B., her sinthome, going from one concert to another to get
another “hit.” This is what we mean by our portmanteau word (addiction).
It confines her. Silke will continue to tattoo herself for Bela B.
Freud’s classical “beating fantasy” (1919) describes the fantasy of a child
being beaten from the positions of the beater, the beaten, and the onlooker.
Such a fantasy is sexually charged by a perverse dynamics that organizes it.
Freud articulated three distinct phases that led up to this conscious fantasy.
The first he surmised, the second was unconscious, and only the last was con-
scious. It is this middle articulation, which refers to the perversion of uncon-
scious masochism that Silke enacts. In the first phase, “My father is beating
the child,” refers to an incestuous love and hate for the father by both the
girl and boy. In this fantasy the child is a voyeur whose satisfaction is derived
from watching the father sadistically beat the child. The enjoyment comes
from witnessing such a beating, structured by such feelings as the father loves
me alone; the father hates the other child; the father is beating the other
child, and also, I hate the father for beating this child. The second and
unconscious fantasy, “I am being beaten by my father,” is structured the same
for both boys and girls. It emerges as a substitution or displacement of the
first incestuous fantasy of love/hate, which is then repressed, leaving a feeling
of guilt. This unconscious fantasy of being punished by the father relieves
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this incestuous guilt and acts as a substitute for a genital relationship. This
unconscious fantasy undergoes yet a further repression and becomes con-
sciously structured as “A child is being beaten.” In this last articulation boys
generally say that they are being beaten by a father substitute, like their
mother or teacher, to preserve their love for the father. While, girls tend
to say that it is a male figure of authority who is doing the beating. This
conscious fantasy is, therefore, also structured by sadism with the boy or girl
cast as a voyeur.
Silke and Bela B. enact the first and second phases of this beating fantasy.
They stage the perversion of sadomasochism. The concert space as the scene
of sexual excitement enacts a drama that has been agreed on by the band and
its fans. It is a contractual space. To make this relationship sufficiently a sado-
masochistic scenario requires the abolition of the Name-of-the-Father in the
Symbolic Order and to subvert the Law. Die Ärzte fill that role for Silke.
Contrary to what Freud thought, sadomasochism defies castration and
disavows sexual difference (see Adams, 1991). This is a subversion of the Law
since its strictness has been curbed. Silke feels no incestuous guilt. The desire
for punishment brings her jouissance. In Silke’s fan(addiction) we have here
what can be referred to as a postmodern form of “segregation,” where alterity
is not what is excluded from some big Other, rather, alterity as an aesthetics
of the “ugly” is precisely what forms an excessive overidentification. Die Ärzte
is literally embodied by Silke and her bedroom environment. Silke admits
this much to us as viewers. When asked if she had a boy friend, she demurely
says no. When boyz see her shoulder tattoo of Bela B.’s portrait, they don’t
ask her out. Many just stay away. Bela B.’s tattoo becomes an “ugly” icon to
those who approach her. It makes her (almost) sexually unapproachable, and
again confers the “protection” of Count Bela B. on her: his shroud as her
skin-ego. Only the Stamm of Die Ärzte fans are let in.
The new postmodern groupie has sold her soul to be identified as a punk
baby to be protected. The paradoxes that surround these anarchistic ele-
ments should not go unnoticed. Silke has sacrificed herself to the Cause of
Die Ärzte’s desire, their self-proclaimed antisocial and antifascist ideology.
She has (quietly) accepted their rage, and faithfully worships at their altar in
the front row. Silke (an English/German hybrid cross between silky and
Seide) appears delicate, demure, quiet, and soft-spoken—on the inside, so to
speak, which is so at odds with her punk look on the outside. Her skin-ego
seems to be a fragile layer keeping this discordance together. Let us hope in
10 years when Silke looks at her tattoos, which she says will remind her of
her present Lebensgefühl, that her memories will be happy ones, and that Die
Ärzte haven’t proven to be a parodic and cruel fascistic joke that will mate-
rialize into her nightmare. Her skin-ego will surely loose its magic. Beauty
marks will turn to warts not so easily removed. Silke remains a-live as long as
Die Ärzte can, in the words of Rod Gonzales as he left the interview, “keep
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Tnr PoIi1ics or 1nr SxiN-Eco:
Tnr SÞIi1-ScnrrN Minnon
I have juxtaposed a rather wry look at the fan(addict) in Galaxy Quest and its
more dramatic manifestation in punk-rock music. They seem at first, anti-
thetical to one another. The obsessional is juxtaposed with the hysteric. GQ
celebrates designer capitalism in its form of marketing, while Die Ärzte is
supposed to be anticapitalist. Yet, both examples raise an “ethics of the Real”
and its politicization in the form of the relationship of responsibility that
emerges with fandom’s spectacularized following because the question of
“protection,” as belief and a leap of faith, manifests itself on the body. There
is an unquestioned possession at work in the relationship where fan(addict)s
are caught by the short-circuit of immortality by hyper-cloning themselves as
their idols and stars. Their stars gaze back at them, bathing them in magical
light. Brandon lives in the world of his model spaceship. His parents have
absolutely no idea what he is up to, nor do they particularly care. It is his way
to avoid the desire of the Other, as if he were some computer nerd or
videogame freak.
The fan(addict)’s investment in memory is especially important to consider.
In German, the distinction between Gedächtnis (involuntary memory) and
Erinnerung (voluntary memory) serves to identify the mediation between
inside and outside. The unconscious manifestations of Gedächnis manifested
in a fan’s fantasy life are continually informed by the Erinnerungen of his or
her conscious life. The two forms of memory, as Proust showed, are but two
sides of the same coin that are separated by an “impossible” gap, which is
warped (crossed-over) whenever an important event registers “on” the body-
skin. The “historical records” for the Thermians present the Erinnerungen
that are the manifestations of their already distilled Gedächtnis of their
fantasies, which have been projected as their skin-ego; namely, as the illusion
that they are humans maintained by a metal box worn on the belt. This is a
perfect metaphor to imagine the skin-ego as a holographic projection that
enables the image of the body’s gestalt to be maintained. When Brandon
gets the “call” from Jason, the same phenomenon is evident. Brandon’s
“historical document” is a CD ROM of the space ship’s blueprints and the
models he has built. He slips on the ego-skin of the Commander quite easily.
He is the Commander working with his Net-crew. We have the same repeti-
tion with the crew themselves. In effect they jump into the skin-ego of their
alter egos, thereby materializing into them, perfectly illustrating Lacan’s
future anterior of the mirror stage: the alter ego as what “I will have
become.” Silke too, as a hysteric, slips on Bela B.’s ego-skin through the
sacrifice of her own skin-ego.
Convention and concert emerge as the geographical spaces that are remark-
ably similar in their “con” effects. They are cocooned environments. One
emerges reborn and reconfirmed from them. The skin-ego that mediates the
inside/outside distinction is plumbed in different ways by their geographical
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location. The containment of the ego-skin in both Brandon and Mathesar’s
case has been displaced onto the space ship (PROTECTOR). This ship
embodies their skin-ego. Brandon knows all the intimate details about it
(except one). In Japan today, there are thousands of boyz and young men
(aged 12–26), so-called Roboter-Otaku who, like Brandon, are engaged in
the building of a workable robot that they glean from Manga comics. In these
comics such robots save the world, and the young men, many of whom have
purposely taken part time jobs and are half-starved so that they could continue
to build their robots, obsessively escape into them. They are their “protectors,”
their alter egos. The Internet is full of pictures of the robot next to their
creator. Magazines and CDs are full of possible blue-print ideas. These boyz
work day and night on their creations, lost as it were, in the fantasy of their
own making. They meet yearly in Tokyo’s National Museum of Science and
engage in gladiator fights between their robotic creations. The wining prize
is equivalent to 10,000 U.S. dollars donated by Honda and Sony companies
who know that such experimentation will pay off handsomely in the
future. For many boyz, science fiction like Manga Comics and Space Quest,
have become the new “historical documents” of postmodernity. Silke, on the
other hand, wears her protection directly in the form of her tattoos. Is there
any way one could say that Brandon and Mathesar’s relationship is healthier
than Silke’s when it comes to the political and ethical concerns of the fandom
The advantage of dealing with an “ethics of the Real” in the fiction of GQ
is that we see the consequences of the mutual commitment being worked
out. The fan(addict)’s ethical and political consequences are worked through.
Jason learns that without Brandon he would not be alive. He accepts his
responsibility of being the ONE for him. Dr. Lazarus learns what the words
“By Grabthar’s hammer, by the suns of Warvan, I shall avenge you!” really
mean when his #1 fan, Quelleck, who worships him like a father, dies in his
arms. Sure, it’s all Schmaltz, but the words have been resignifed in the
moment of death. GQ ends with a little boy, no older than six, watching
“Galaxy Quest, The Journey Continues” repeating the words “Never give
up. Never surrender!” the saying that Commander Taggart always used.
The forces of Evil (Sarris) have been defeated. The universe is safe. These are
life lessons we can learn by looking awry—as an anamorphic projection of
the vagaries of life.
When it comes to the Japanese Manga comics, the jury is still out. Sony and
Honda are anxiously waiting to cash in on the talent that now labors for free.
Is this ethical? With Silke, the jury is still out as well. No advantages here in see-
ing where it all will lead. Let’s hope, for Silke’s sake, that Die Ärzte are not like
the backstage of the opening scenes of GQ; that the boyz are sincere in their
own Kampf against the establishment; that the anarchistic elements hinted at
have been overexaggerated; that they are not laughing at fans such as Silke
behind their backs, or using them as girl-toys, much as Madonna used boy-toys.
An “ethics of the Real,” ultimately problematizes the schizophrenic
alter ego that has emerged in youth culture today, a split screen mirror of
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hyper-narcissism that talks to itself, an emerging new doubled reflexivity.
How much it glosses and how much it deals with the traumas of identity
depends on the Real of its split, for such a schizophrenic mirror is shaped by
the ONE, the small big Other for which it performs. This ONE cannot
escape its sociohistorical context and its political ideology. This is why I feel
that a figure like Madonna’s particular splitting cannot be compared with,
say, Eminem’s MC rap. The difference is between being lost in a hall of
endlessly self-serving reflective mirrors (e.g., Madonna’s movie career, her
religious shopping, or equally finding oneself in Mariah Carry’s 11,000 ft.
apartment-boudoir in New York), versus retaining the integrity of struggling
with one’s own demons (e.g., The Eminem Show, Pink); that is, facing the
crack that splits the ego and its alter self, like the GQ crew. This difference
can be stated in yet another way. Madonna-types project their alter ego as an
ideal ego of the mirror to which they morph into; Pink-types attempt to talk
to their alter egos in a self-reflexive split mirror, to come to the traumas that
bother them; and Eminem-types actually invent and exteriorize an alter ego
(an a.k.a.) in the mirror which speaks to their autobiographical fantasies and
Fortunately the jury is still out as to which, if not all, such schizophrenic
strategies can “save the planet.” Omega 13 is there to be activated just in case
we find ourselves in a position where all is lost. The future remains open and
changeable, pending a natural disaster over which we have no control—which
is the way Nature enjoys!
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Lr1’ s Rnvr No1 Rncr! Nrw Acr
TrcnNo Hi ÞÞi rs nNn
Di ci 1nI EIrc1noNi cn
What is Techno? This seems like an innocent enough question to ask, but
the answer is mystifying and perplexing. Techno’s spectacularity is out in full
display in the streets of Berlin’s Love Parade and Paris’s Techno Parade.
A million young and old people alike, many half-naked, move and gyrate their
bodies, waving their hands to a steady beat as a procession of floats filled with
similarly gyrating bodies passes by. Raves and love parades seem to be cele-
brating “something,” but aside from sometimes a too obvious nationalist
display of colors and painted flag-faces, it is difficult to figure out just what
that “something” is. In this “interlude” I make the case that these “events”
and the House music of Techno clubs propose “something” more universally
inclusive than just misguided nationalism. It is a fantasy of Love, Peace, and
Unity celebrated by what I refer to as New Age Techno Hippies—an allusion
to the “Flower Power” children of the 1960s. The comparison is made on
the grounds of the “spirit” of intent rather than the music, except for Techno’s
acid and psychedelic inflections. However, the geographical displacement of
Europe with America is not unlike Techno music itself, which has had back and
forth cross fertilizations from the black community dance scenes of New York
and Chicago’s “(Ware)House” style, and Detroit’s DJ culture via Acid House
music in Britain to Germany and beyond (Richard and Kruger, 1998).
In terms of a detail understanding of these historical crosscurrents and
influences throughout the 1990s decade, a finer exposition than Simon
Reynolds’s Generation Ecstasy (1999) is hard to find. Reynolds presents a
complicated picture of the way the rave cultures have an internal tension
“between consciousness raising and consciousness razing, between middle-
class technopagans for whom MDMA [Ecstasy] is just one chemical in the
pharmacopoeia of a spiritual revolution and weekenders for whom E is just
another tool for ‘obliviating’ the boredom of workday life” (241). Such an
internal tension forms its dialectic between its radical possibilities and its
appropriation into pop culture. My interest is to concentrate on the psychic
investment in the Techno and rave culture fantasy formations, which
Reynolds does not neglect, but leaves scattered throughout his excellent
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study. I differ from Reynolds only by attempting to grasp this psychic structure
from a Lacanian perspective to tease out and theorize its radical potentials.
As I begin to un(rave)l this fantasy of the New Age Techno Hippie, the
paradox of “natural technology” will emerge where the ideological projects
of Techno and rave come together.
Techno is either hated or loved for its artifice. It is the first New Age musi-
cal form of the millennium to use and exploit all the computer-generated
forms, including desktop and electronic publishing, computer graphics and
animation. From the perspective of de-Oedipalization, to join the “rave
nation” offers a new form of New Age mysticism—a Dionysian body where
extreme fast “hardcore” music floats together with soft psychedelic sounds
to provide a universal tribal beat. It sprang up in the mid-1990s (1993–1995)
as a “pure” dance style—unadulterated and unstained jouissance. Because
the music is produced electronically it is possible to cut ’n mix a variety of
new elements from a vast array of available music. Techno uses the frequency
spectrum on the monitor of the analyzer. It has nothing to do with “real”
time and live performance, but a step-by-step stratification of rhythms, samples,
digital filters, and relay effects. It takes the machines of music—records, turn
tables, computers—and uses them in ways that they weren’t meant to be
used, introducing techniques of “ab-use” such as scratching and sampling.
The result is that Techno music can contain an electronic affect for nearly
every mood possible, its heterogeneous rhythm unites dancers, regardless
of race, color, gender, or sexuality. It places the listener on the edge of the
ineffable and of sense making. It is, in effect, music for a New Global Creed
that attempts to tear down the borders between identity politics. “I am, you
see, I am the creator and this is my house. And in my house there is only
house music. . . . You may be black, you may be white, you may be Jew or
gentile—it don’t make a difference in our house” (Minister of House,
“Mister Fingers,” 1989, quoted in Richard and Kruger, 1998, 162). This
neutral matrix of electronic sound, which forms the basis of Techno means
that it can be understood in any culture or language. Different national
music scenes are then able to add their own interpretation to this interna-
tionally recognizable basic style through voice samplings of their own
This more inclusive democratic dream manifests itself through its acephalous
form. It is both post-author and post-song-writer; it seems to proliferate
endlessly, like some mystic cloud that drifts from remix to remix, a signifying
chain whose dimensions seem to be one-dimensional, stretched to infinity,
analogous to Jacques Lacan’s description of the lamella of “pure” life-force
(zoë), which he likened to an amoeba. The dance form is equally more inclu-
sively democratic as well. The “event” appears to be hyper-sexualized. Half-
naked men and women, outlandish gay costuming and writhing bodies
abound, but there is an unwritten rule that this is not some monstrous sexual
orgy, but more of a non-phallic mosh. It is a strangely protected space where
women dance without fear of sexual harassment. Eroticism is transformed
into a dance style where sexuality is expressed as a ritual form. The dance
becomes a form of sexual intercourse where the beats and rhythms imitate
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an orgasm with dancers experiencing virtual sex on the dance floor, releasing
sexual tensions through ecstatic shouts and moans. This is an inner uterine
experience, like Freud’s “oceanic feeling.”
Typically, before its advent as a commercialized “love parade,” the rave
experience in clubs would begin with lesser known DJ’s starting up the
sound, progressing to better known DJ’s who would build up the rhythmic
noise to climatic proportions. The intensity and loudness reached 115 d.B.,
(equivalent to a sandblaster) and up to 121 d.B. depending on how close the
raver was to the speakers. This caused tinnitus (ringing in the ears), damaging
the inner lining of the ear in a matter of a few seconds. Its loud aggressive
sound—particularly in its industrial forms where the mix had been stripped
of its rhythms and a steady beat predominated—was not “heard” under the
influence of Ecstasy, only its viscerality felt; while the perception of its loud-
ness was altered by drug taking. Talking on the dance floor was impossible
as each individual was cocooned in his or her own space. The music followed
the orgasmic curve of the effects of Ecstasy. When the industrial beat stopped,
clubbers would “retire” into “chill out” rooms where the grove changed to
transcendental new age music.
Reynolds identifies this so-called democratic rave experience succinctly as
being “intransitive” (243). Rave culture has no goal beyond its own propa-
gation; it is the time of the infinitive in Deleuzean terms—simply “to rave,”
and it is about the celebration of celebration, about intensity without pretext
or context. As for the non-phallic aspect, Reynold’s attributes this to the
effects of MDMA. Ecstasy brings on the sensations of sexual indifference and
the removal of aggression, especially sexual aggression. Its reputation as a
“love drug,” as he puts it, “has more to do with cuddles than copulation,
sentimentality than secretions. E is notorious for making erection difficult
and male organism virtually impossible: women fare rather better” (247).
Its reputation as an aphrodisiac is maintained “partly because it enhances
touch, and partly because affection, intimacy, and physical tenderness are, for
many people, inextricably entangles and conflated with sexual desire” (247).
Rave culture, as Reynolds further notes is “the first youth subculture that’s
not based on the notion that sex is transgressive” (247, original emphasis).
Reynolds, therefore, attributes the feelings at raves almost exclusively to its
drug use. “Ecstasy doesn’t negate the body, it intensifies the pleasure of
physical expression while completely emptying out the sexual content of
dance. For men, the drug/music interface acts to de-phallicize the body and
open it up to enraptured, abandoned, ‘effeminate’ gestures” (247).
While I am in agreement with Reynolds insightful observations that there
is an underlying psychic structure to Techno music and rave, which dovetails
with Ecstasy and makes them virtually inseparable as to which produces
which, there is also a side to Techno that is drug free. Such Techno music is
“schizo” in its deconstruction of rules and forms that pop music imposes on
sound that also needs articulation. In this respect the dialectic between the
two ideological projects (Techno and rave) is always a complicated affair.
Rave is a search, in my view, for an inner uterine experience, what Reynolds
identifies as a “collective autism. The rave is utopia in its original etymological
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sense: a nowhere/nowhen wonderland” (248, original emphasis). What then
is this wonderland?
Love Parades, raves, and House Techno are three forms whose topological
locations attempt to create this inner uterine experience. Their somewhat
odd commonality is that they take place in “no-where” places. Clubs are
grounded in abandoned sections of cities, known only by word of mouth.
Raves take place in the ruins of postindustrial landscapes. Rundown industrial
sites such as warehouses and factories are transformed into timeless, delocal-
ized, and derealized spaces. As non-places, these buildings are haunted by the
abandonment of capitalism. They have become trash, no longer useful. Raves
take over “nowhere” places so that a “nowhere” timeless warped zone can
be created. This is an escape into a virtual world of a fun factory where the
lights are happening, the mist is rising and the beat goes on and on. Such
spaces are not formed by walls and partitions but by a combination of light
(lasers, spotlights, and strobe light) and Techno music making them more of
a sound event than a visual space. The creation of such a time warp enables
the night and day distinction to disappear, one can rave all day and all night.
To do this the body has to perform relentless work—the sweat on the dance
floor is an anti-Slacker statement that says the same thing: by working my
body I am not working at all. The flowing stimulations of light and Techno
are translated and captured into varying degrees of speed that create spaces
of whirling rotation and frenetic movement. At its purest, raves strive to
produce “nothing” in these places; a product that is paradoxically non-
commodifiable and useless. The work that went on in the actual factory
becomes a palimpsest of the anti-work that is now done within it, in the name
of jouissance—pure relentless pleasure, pure enjoyment (zoë). The work of
dancing is stretched to an impossible duration so that one drops from exhaus-
tion having reached the sublimity of “that” which is beyond endurance.
The mystical trance created is an escape in utero, back into an oceanic
feeling in the womb before ONE is born. The amniotic pill Ecstasy (E) is to
be swallowed so that you are not born, or paradoxically born into “nowhere.”
Put more prosaically by Achim Szepanski, “Ecstasy can be your new mommy.”
It is “a metonymic search for mother-substitutes” (in Reynolds, 1996).
Ecstasy as the drug of choice is well named. MDMA is a mood and mind-
altering drug, affecting brain serotonin levels. Its psychological effects are
feelings of emotional closeness, coupled with a breakdown of personal
communication barriers, a sense of peace with oneself and the world, an
enhanced sense of pleasure, greater self-confidence, and an increased sense
of energy. Its ill side includes panic attacks. The user gets to a point of
wonderment and experiences the marvelous (surreal) bending of time.
Reynolds cleverly calls Ecstasy a “utopiate” (248). “It is not a hallucinogen
but a sensation intensifier” which frees you from “all the neurosis instilled by
a sick society” (248). Techno’s fantasy emerges at its purest here: to come
together as ONE, as ONE universal Symbolic Order. To rave and not rage
together under the Techno beat is to experience the short circuit of the drive
which repeats over, and over again—Techno is the drive personified.
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Mindfully, Reynolds points out that its “ut(opiate)” effect also contains
an “opiate” effect. The raver can be permanently lost in “the virtual reality
pleasuredome” without striving for the lofty goal of universal love and well
Techno’s dream, especially in its German Love Parade roots, came to a
sudden halt with the 1992 riots against “foreigners” and “immigrants” in
Rostock in the so-called happily reunited country. Alex Empire released his
anthem the same year, Heztjagt Auf Nazis (Hunt Down Nazis), as a state-
ment connecting these racist incidents by Skinheads with rave’s Techno
trance as the “patriotic new German sound” (Kopf, 1997). Such misplaced
nationalism, as mentioned in the opening paragraph, can apply equally to
countries like France with its Techno Parade. For some critics, 1993–1994
marked a degeneration of the underground critical potential of Techno
and the rave scene. Its spectacularization in the form of a televised event,
consolidated by a German rave establishment (Mayday), and a record
label (Low Spirit) turned it into a Freizeitknast, a pleasure-prison (Achim
Szepanski, in Reynolds, 1996). Its anarchistic roots as illegal parties, pirate
radio and social, racial, and sexual mixing in the late 1980s, had been colo-
nized, institutionalized, domesticated, and commercialized.
Rave had gone
pop. As Szepanski puts it in another context, “just the circulation of clean
sound currents, cleaned of the noises [Rauschen] and sounds that could
disturb prosperity. The masses can also be forced into deep sleep by a
synthesizer” (Diefenbach, 1995).
U(n)n KInNc or 1nr RrnI: Tnr TrcnNo Brn1
or 1nr MncniNic Fr1us
We can understand rave’s Techno rhythmic beat—as an U(h)r Klang
a Lacanian perspective as the search to find the fundamental beat of the drive
mechanism before sex/gender differentiation, a beat in sync with the func-
tioning of the body as a “machine,” as an automaton. Here Deleuze and
Guattari’s notion of a body-without-organs (BwO) is entirely appropriate.
The organism is asexual. It is a beat that directly addresses our primal lack
that lies in the Real.
This U(h)r Klang speaks not to the discursive body of
language, but to the body as an organism in its original division, to what
Lacan referred to as the myth of the lamella (S XI Four Fundamentals, 197),
which refers to the intimate relationship between sex and death. Organisms
that reproduce asexually such as viruses, single-celled organisms, bacteria,
prions, and clones (like Dolly, and CLONAID’s Eve), experience no death.
They merely repeat and reproduce themselves. They never die. Organisms
that reproduce sexually, however, do. They have a time clock built into them,
like the Androids in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). In the meiosis of
cell division there is a loss of half the genetic material (life). When a cell
divides, something is “lost,” something “flies” away, which is “life” (jouis-
sance, zoë) itself—the loss of eternal life. This is what Lacan meant by the
myth of the lamella. The lamella is the human as a pre-sexual being; it refers
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to a substance which is pre-subjective—immortal irrepressible life of zoë that
needs no organ. Metaphysically, it can be named as a “soul.” Being immaterial
it can take on any shape or form it wants. The attempt to regain back that,
which had been originally lost, is confirmed by sexual reproduction. We hope
we can regain what we have lost through our offspring; that we will live on
through our “creations” in general. The Techno rhythmic beat directly
addresses this circular, but non-reciprocal structure of life trying to regain
what it has lost, again and again as an ever missed encounter. This is the
“short-circuit” of life and death, the fundamental automaton mechanism of
the drive that opens and closes, which is passive and active, it pulses and rests.
Fundamentally speaking: presence (as life or Eros) is trying to recapture what
has become absent (by death or Thanatos), but always failing to do so as our
biological clock runs out. Eros and Thanatos, as drives, are the fundamental
interlocked closed and open systems of life and death—Eros as fusion,
Thanatos as fragmentation. Eros is the death of Thanatos as Thanatos is the
death of Eros: two sides of the same coin, a coin whose roundness is the
“rim” of pain–pleasure, an opening into the body’s affective states as mediated
by zoë, the jouissance of pure libidinal life energy or lamella.
This is the U(h)r Klang of rave’s Techno beat that searches for a univer-
sal Ecstasy—which means to “stand outside yourself ” as a being full of the
Other. One becomes “lost” in the Other. This is why I interpret Techno as a
“driving” experience back into the womb where the asexual child experiences
the chora of the Mother’s body, to follow Kristeva.
The “noise” one hears in
the womb is like the “noise” that Techno-rave produces, screams, shrieks,
chirps, creaks, whizzes, and hisses. As Szepanski claims, these are “all noises
related more to madness . . . Techno in this sense is schizoid music: it decon-
structs certain rules and forms that pop-music has inflicted on sounds, on the
other hand it has to invent the rules that subject sounds to operations of
consistency” (in Diefenbach, 1995, 4, slightly modified).
Reynolds identifies
samples found in much rave music, such as “orgasmic whimpers and sighs,
soul diva beseechings” as inducing “a feverish state of intransitive amorousness.
The ecstatic female vocals don’t signify a desirable/desirous woman, but
(as in gay disco) a hyperorgasmic rapture that the male identifies with and
inspires toward” (248, original emphasis).
My title, “rave and not rage,” refers to the force of a pulsive jouissance of
the body’s pleasure that is embryonic and non-phallic. It is opposed to the
ecstatic pleasure of a Punker’s mosh pit, which is also an ecstatic loss in the
Other, but experienced as phallic. To recall, the Riot Grrrls like Atomic
Kitten made it one of their rules that the mosh pit in front of the stage be
reserved for grrrls only, attempting to dampen and lessen the phallic thrust.
In contrast, the rave induces a mystical jouissance. The smoothness of
synaesthesia is more apt to name this embryonic mystic experience versus the
more physical body bruising of the mosh pit as an enclosed space rather than
the open non-place of the rave. In S XI, Four Fundamentals, Lacan made
the distinction between the automaton and objet a as the cause of desire.
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The rhythm of everyday life (automaton) is interrupted by a “cause” (objet a),
which we often cannot readily identify. In Techno there is no “cause,” ideally
speaking, no interruption. It goes on and on. The “cause” is the paradoxical
ONE or Zero. Here the very binary (01) is imploded into itself as a tran-
scendental experience of the Real—ecstasy.
Techno’s drive mechanism can be further understood as a repetition of
Freud’s grandson Ernst’s second game in the mirror as previously introduced.
To recall, Ernst would hide beneath the mirror for a time, jump up, see himself
in the mirror, then disappear with a sound of delight. He repeated this action
over and over again as a performative reiteration of a fantasmatic partial self.
Here, the signifier of completion is not attained; it merely delights in the
process of trying to attain it. The aim is sufficient. The goal is unimportant.
Each successive jump provides a libidinal “spike” of sorts. Only when a law
is arbitrarily introduced into this game, as something that cuts and divides
the virgin territory into difference, does the meaning of a rule become estab-
lished. In its most fundamental sense, only when a line is drawn can we say
that signification emerges; otherwise it remains non-sense (like Ernst’s game).
This is precisely what rave’s Techno is—non-sense. There is no cut, no Law
to speak of. It goes on endlessly; it can be remixed, replayed, looped to infin-
ity in its endless drift—the music of the cosmic universe as Deleuze would
have it. It stops only in exhaustion—the body itself becomes the limit as it
is drained of jouissance, worn out. The Love Parade could theoretically con-
tinue indefinitely until the last raver drops! But, of course it doesn’t and it
can’t. This is its fantasmatic limit. What happens is the creation of a fractal
space and fractal time, whose contours are only closed by the (individual)
body itself—again, an example of the ONE and its multiple. We might call
this the moment of “feedback,” when the body has to begin to “shut down”
to protect itself—when one is all “raved” out (and not “raged” out). When that
happens the signifier “drops,” so to speak, enclosing the rave process—the
experience of a repetitive chain of signifiers as an endless play of non-sense,
lived in terms of fractal space and time, now closes.
At the end of this arbitrary closing, a paradox emerges: with the drop of
the signifier the raver is (re)born as s/he now emerges from the ecstasy of
being enclosed in the Other. S/he may fall asleep in exhaustion, or walk away
with the din of the music still in the ears, but that moment of experiencing
the “cut” between “non-being” and “being” (of birth) has been felt. I am
not referring to the birth of an “I,” a becoming. No. It is a prolonged mys-
tical, trance-like experience, an extended meditation (again another link with
Hippie culture and Eastern Mysticism of Transcendental Meditation). This
affective feeling is not unlike a rock concert, the difference is that it involves
non-phallic jouissance.
The “cut” as the abyss between the signifier and the signified is the place
where the Real “sits”; that is its “site.” In its unfathomable depths (plumbed
by the theories of Sheldrake, 1988) the mystery of how all living-matter
is connected must surely lie. From this abyss emerges Lacan’s contributive
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concept of objet a, the “cause” of our desire—that impossibly named part
Thing, which interrupts the automaton of the body, engages us in desire and
language. In Rave the objet a of desire is staved off for as long as possible—
as nonwork, no product. Or, to put it another way, the body becomes objet a,
attempting to be a total feedback system—as its own monitored “beat.”
A trance-like state is maintained, the rule of Acid House music is no talking
during dancing. Techno beat’s “primitiveness” or mystical non-phallic jouis-
sance (as developed by Lacan in S XX, Encore) ultimately rests on an asexual
innocence, before the cut of gender differentiation, trying to get at the body
of the Machinic Fetus, which we explore next.
Tnr Pnnnnox or Rnvr’s “Nn1unnI TrcnNoIocv”,
On TrcnNoIocv ns AN1i1rcnNoIocv
The technological aspects—VR and computer use—in Techno suggest that
a Utopian world might be created and escaped into through the very inverse
of the usual augmentation of RL with VR.
The fantasy of Techno is just the
opposite of this usual technological dream. It is to turn mind into body by
decoding MIND into its primal digitalization of 0s and 1’s to reach this
mythical place where there will be ONE HORIZONTAL and not ONE
VERTICAL Symbolic Order. Rather than the many horizontal and segre-
gated ONE’s that currently exist as discussed in our fan(addict) chapter, the
search is for an Earthly horizontal unified order. We are not far from similar
fantasies embodied by ecofeminists, Gaia enthusiasts, and Deep Ecology.
The difference here is that technology and Nature confront one another
in a very interesting way. The U(h)r beat provides an endless oscillation
between 0 and 1; between the nonself and self as transfixed by the tra(n)ce
of the beat. It is decidedly an anti-Enlightenment dream, reversing technol-
ogy’s aim of ridding the body as “meat” so that we can “escape” into the
machine. Its ethics of non-sense (of the Real) claims Nature (the U(h)r
Klang) as the fundamental structure of all symbolization in the forms of
non-phallic, asexual and amoral “noise,” which would enable a new bonding
between people to “happen”: peace, love, closeness—the New Age Hippie
appears again. Techno music is Earth bound in just this way. This paradox-
ical “natural” Techno music, as I am theorizing it, is generally perceived
by most people as being just the opposite: unnatural—plastic, synthetic,
artificial—precisely because of the necessary disavowal of non-sense (of
the unconscious) that takes place so that we can “hear” music. The more
“understandable” music is, the more “natural” it is perceived to be by
the public, like MTV’s Unplugged. Techno suggests that the more non-sense
computer music is able to create by deconstructing sound signifiers into
fundamental drive impulses, the more “natural” is it. It reverses our usual
conception of the “nature” of music.
This is indeed the stance of
Szepanski’s theoretical edifice of digital electronica where music as pure
sound is turned in on itself.
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GoiNc Bncx iN1o 1nr Woru 1o Br BonN AcniN:
Pos1nurnN Cvuoncs
Can staging the Techno fantasy before the Mother’s “No!” work? Can the
anxiety of the Mother as Thing—as the dread of death—be avoided in this
way? Can the space-time before the cut of the maternal law be creatively
explored for such a utopian vision? There can only be one way to approach
such difficult questions: to explore the birth of the posthuman cyborg
who/which escapes Oedipalization, a dream that Donna Haraway (1991)
forwarded in her “Cyborg Manifesto” where she dismisses the Goddess in
favor of the cyborg. Rave and Techno are, therefore two sides of the same
coin, but they stage their fantasy scenario differently. The rave experience
through E tries to find the uterine experience, Techno through electronically
modified (pure) sound tries to find the same transcendental space of non-
phallic jouissance. Shaviro’s (2002) discussion of Chris Cunningham’s video
for Björk’s song “All is Full Of Love,” from the 1997 album Homogenic,
points to what this new “natural science fiction” might look like. I borrow
from his essay and rethink the video from the perspective of Techno’s
ideological claims so far discussed, continuing to maintain predominately a
Lacanian paradigm rather than a Deleuzian one, which a number of theorists
like Shaviro, Brian Massumi, and Achim Szepanski believe offer concepts
that are more consonant with digital cyborgian technologies. It’s not that
I entirely disagree as developed in the first chapter, it’s that Lacan’s psycho-
analytic perspective is not entirely silenced by these developments as is often
argued. The video stages a perverse posthuman birth that is consonant with
Techno’s ideology. I mark my disagreements with Shaviro as I find them.
The video’s narrative is the making of Björk as an android lying in a fetal
position on an assembly line table. The procedure takes place in a room filled
with florescent light. A robot is working in extreme slow motion, removing
her skin and replacing it with smooth, white fiberglass shell parts that fit over
her frame. We see that some plates are yet to be attached; underneath we see
the underlying circuitry in Björk’s neck, arms, and the side of her head.
Plastic tubes, wires, knots of metal, and black vinyl are yet to be attached.
It is the color white which is given all the attention. Tints of white are used
against themselves, as if an infinite regression were possible. Visually this is a
“creation,” a birth in an impossible “perfect vacuum” as theorized by particle
physics. There is no black/white distinction, which would normally provide
the “cut” between the Mother’s Law and an emergent human body. I interpret
this scene as an artificial in utero in vacuo experience.
Björk’s face is like a white porcelain mask. It remains blank and emotionless.
Her eyes open and her mouth begins to sing slowly and deliberately, but in
a toneless fashion. We see only the rim openings of the drives—her eyes,
nose, and mouth. The embodiment of these drives wears a mask. It produces
a “grimace of the Real,” not only in the disembodiment and dehumanization
of Björk’s voice (which I shall return to shortly), but also because of the very
emotionless expression of her mask. Its very blankness is what is frightening.
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There are no traces, no signs of life that have been marked on it—no furrows
on the skin. It has not suffered, not felt nor seen the cut of the signifier.
In brief—there is no death. Björk remains virgin white—immortal, pure zoë.
Shaviro evokes the “race card” claiming that white is the dominant hege-
monic color. “The invisible, unmarked taken-for-granted term loses its dom-
inance, when it is made visible and pointed out as such” (26). He argues that
Björk is questioning its hegemony through its presentment. But white can
also be read in reverse terms—as the full presence of all colors. In color theory,
white is also all the colors coming together as the absence of color, a moment
before they can be separated out from one another through a prism. Rather
than getting lost in the signifier of color that brings in the Symbolic Order,
it can be said that the mask is simply “blank.” Björk’s face is “nothingness.”
Her “minimum presence” emerges precisely from these blanks or drives that
are the entrances to her body; that is, from the abyssal openings of her
mouth, the glint of her eyes, and the breathing through her nose when “it”
begins to sing.
The sound she emits has no signifier either. Shaviro captures this brilliantly.
“Shimmering washes of sound accompany the song’s vocals. Densely layered
strings play a thick, dissonant drone. Ghostly harp arpeggios rise out of the
murk. . . . Her voice drifts away from any fixed pulse. She phrases the notes
unevenly, now stretching them out, and now shortening them. She hovers
around the beat, without ever landing precisely on it” (26). Shaviro tells us
that the original album had no percussion, and that the video remix added a
slow, synthesized beat. This strikes me as an attempt to create an U(h)r beat.
Her disembodied voice from the Real has become flattened, stretched thin,
floating and unanchored, dilating and contracting irregularly, forming the
contours of affective shapes—not unlike the amoeba-like lamella. “It tends
toward the anonymity and neutrality of digital, synthesized sound” (27).
Björk simply exists as “organs without a body” (OwB ) to reverse Deleuze
and Guattari’s famous formulation: BwO (body without organs). We are
presented with a machine of the drives (organs—mouth, eyes, and nose)
whose humanness is vapid. It needs skin, a body. We can, of course, disavow
this conclusion and claim, as Shaviro does, that there is a double movement;
although the voice is disembodied, the android (somehow) becomes “more
nearly alive.” But unless one visually projects Björk as a face, consequently
evoking signification, I cannot see how this reading is possible. Rather, what
I see as the “erotic life of machines” is the flows and fluidity of jouissance—
pure libidinal life force as zoë. Shaviro’s description is quite apt in this regard.
“Nothing is inert. Everything has a cool, sensuous presence. Every mechanical
substance flows, or splashes, or sputters, or spurts” (27). This is the working
of the machinic drive trying to grasp a body. But here there is nothing to
grab. All we have is pulse—a short-circuit. It is reduced to an autoerotic and
autotelic feedback loop. I agree with Shaviro that “Björk caresses herself ”
(28), and would add that this is a masturbation fantasy.
What mitigates the possible reading of Björk as a BwO is the staging of
love that happens next in the video. It is a cloned autoerotic love. A second,
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identical Björk-form emerges from a vat as white milky fluid (jouissance)
gently washes over it. They couple together as the machines continue to make
adjustments to their bodies. Android meets android in an embrace. The
dream of a mouth kissing itself has emerged, staging a non-phallic jouissance of
a woman touching herself. Irigaray’s hypothesis of feminine jouissance
defined by the transcendental signifiers of “mucous” (the milky vat) and
the “two-lips” that self-caress (the two cloned androids) seem to find their
expression here as “All is Full of Love.” But this can also be read as a fantasy
of immortality. A clone does not know of death. It does not sexually reproduce.
It knows only self-love. “Sexuality and reproduction are entirely separate
activities, though they both go on simultaneously” (29). Perhaps this video
is more a warning of the posthuman fantasy of technology that is being
shaped today? Björk remains a cloned android with a disembodied voice
engaged in an act of self-narcissistic masturbation. It seems the dread of das
Ding cannot be escaped. The machines that are constructing the Björk
android clones stain the pristine environment after all. They precede the
creation of the android, already being present in the environment. We have
then, the paradox of a “natural technology emerging,” probably the nascent
forms of future “organic” computers with an ability to “feel,” a long-held
dream in science fiction. This is an appropriate way to end this interlude on
electronic music and turn to the remaining reflection on an ethics of the Real
that has appeared through this book.
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CoNcIusi oNs: AN E1ni cs or
1nr RrnI
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AN E1ni cnI “Ac1” i N 1nr RrnI:
A Bni rr Mrni 1n1i oN 1o CIosr
Throughout this selective journey of the 1990s decade leading up to
contemporary times, I have attempted to develop aspects of the post-Oedipal
musical “noise,” which I felt best exemplified stances that challenged the
authority of the Law. I chose more-or-less well-known bands and singers
who, by adopting perverse and hysterical psychic structures, worked through
the turmoil of identity in relation to the social order. In addition I also iden-
tified music marketing strategies that recuperate and centralize authority
through globally manufactured pop forms. One could theorize this tension
as an inherent “social antagonism” in the Real, which sees musical noise
as the limit to the harmonious functioning of the social order, or as the
“pollution” that must be rid of to insure that the social order functions
harmoniously. Religious moral advocates who believe that such devil’s music
needs to be eradicated, restoring harmony and peace, most often take the
second stance. However, by doing so they effectively make society come into
“existence” by closing it off, evoking totalitarian tendencies. The first stance
keeps the social order as an “open system,” always lacking, locating precisely
where an “ethics of the Real” is staged. Paradoxically, in this sense “society
does not exist.” It’s lack (as an inherent failure, as impossibility) and not its
removal is what guarantees the existence of a community.
Such a stance has radical political implications because ultimately this
means that the subject is not “subject” to the rule of the big Other as Master;
that freedom must be in play if any belief of a democracy is to be maintained.
More often the Law maintains the big Other and provides ways we can sustain
our jouissance in it. The radical position of “society does not exist,” or “the
big Other does not exist” means confronting the fantasy that there is nothing
“behind” this Other, no paranoia of the “Other of the Other” controlling and
manipulating things. Ultimately, no one possesses the Throne. To do so
means ethically entering into the “abyss of freedom,” a space where the question
of justice emerges (Zizek, 1997b).
Not all forms of music could or were covered. Conspicuously missing,
for instance, were Country and Western, Blues, Folk, Gospel, Jazz, and neo-
Classical musical forms. And, not all singers could be covered. Sheryl Crow
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and Alanis Morisette, for instance, whose content dwells on the banality and
trivia of everyday life, are paradigms of “reality singing” and best examined
as part of the reality television phenomenon.
The selection of bands,
singers, and groups is simply too enormous for some sort of total compre-
hensive account. Fundamentally, acceptable musical and abjected noise are
hypercomplex in their interactions. Nor can some clear definitive boundary
be placed around each and every singer and band as an identifiable genre, an
impossible task in the pastiche styles that have emerged in postmodern music
where hybridity proliferates. Soundscapes occur in fractal spaces. Where
the next musical noise will occur remains a contingent event. Indie labels
(Independent labels) were sporadically mentioned, but no concentrated
chapter or development on the struggles of marketing was developed.
However, I did continually raise an “ethics of the Real” and asked what were
the ethical consequences of the relationship between performers (musicians,
bands) and their fans—the question being more acute with fan(addicts);
between performers and their complaint with the Symbolic Order, and
performers who willingly accept the machinery of the Symbolic Order as market
driven designer capitalism.
Transgression to and beyond the Law, as I put it, is always a dangerous
and precarious act, immediately raising the question of ethics since the
Other as our neighbour is very much affected. An illicit obscene side, whose
clandestine activities are often ignored, props up the Law. We need only
think of tax evasion, the sheltering of money, military hazing, the abuse of
human rights by declaring a war on terrorism, playing the racist card of being
a victim (or the gay card, or the minority card, or the woman card, and so
on) by lawyers as an excuse to escape responsibility for crimes committed,
and capitalist exploitation in general concerning the pursuit of happiness and
possession of private property. The “gray” zone of the Law is always being
exploited and abused. This “obscene supplement” of the Law, to follow
Slavoj Zizek, whose operations remain hidden and secretive, is typically what
ideology critique attempts to expose.
Postmodernism presents a cynical view in the way the Law operates,
bringing with it a basic mistrust of authority. The Joseph Institute of Ethics,
which claims to be a public-benefit, nonpartisan, nonprofit membership
organization founded by Michael Josephson, who has lobbied to initiate
“character education” in U.S. schools based on conservative principles,
issues a report card every two years on “the ethics of American youth.” Since
its 2000 report, the 2002 report card shows an increase in students cheating
(on exams), stealing (shoplifting and from parents), and lying (to teachers
and parents). The willingness to cheat has become a norm when it comes to
exams, with students who attended private religious schools not faring any
better than those in public education. Bottom line: “A person has to lie or
cheat sometimes in order to succeed.”
I have argued that perversion and
hysteria, which disturb the Law, have been the response in the music scene
to such cynicism. The first stance, by wanting to desperately instill the Law,
tragically in the worst case scenario this ends up in school shootings, while
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the second stance remains skeptical of the Law itself. It is a refusal of
interpelleation. It may well be that this is what characterizes the new emerging
Symbolic Order. We just haven’t woken up and accepted this new ontology
as yet.
What might an ethics look like when transgression to and beyond the Law
is made possible by this decentering of the Social order, the so-called big
Other into many smaller ONEs? The turn to deadly jouissance to avoid the
castrating effects of the Law to stake an ethical claim is always considered
“after the fact,” and hence “true” justice always lies beyond the Law. Such
acts remain risky, indeterminate, and ultimately without precedence. In the
Critique of Judgment Kant concludes his discussion on aesthetic judgment
with the experience of beauty symbolizing morality. Lacan took this to heart.
In his Ethics Seminar (S VII), he reread the ethical positions of Aristotle,
Kant, and Bentham arguing that they failed to address the Eros of trans-
gressive beauty that is sought in the excesses and waste of a utilitarian
culture, which Freud had first begun by asking us to come to terms and take
ownership of our unconscious desires. Unconscious desire becomes the
source of moral law, our interminable task is to “work” through our uncon-
scious acting out. The Law is our desire. Freud stages a reversal of what is
“normally” accepted morality. Desire is not repressed because we have a
conscious, rather it is the other way around: we have a conscious because our
desire is always already repressed. Worst still, our unconscious desires can
only be known after the fact (Nachträglich), as repetitive symptoms and
never in advance. Our actions always speak “louder” than our words.
This is an extremely radical position, for it does not mean that we are held
responsible only for those unconscious desires that we become consciously
aware of and then recognize in ourselves. Rather, intention is shifted from
the conscious to the unconscious of the Real Self where the “true” traces of
my being as a subject (Je) are to be found. Lacan is both leery and skeptical
of the ego, which he characterized by misrecognitions (méconnaissance); the
lies we can tell ourselves on the imaginary level in the name of “good” inten-
tions. We are responsible for the actual formations of our unconscious—for our
parapraxes, slips of the tongue, and dreams. If we are dreaming of killing, or
doing harm to someone, we have indeed “killed” the person and must face the
“why” of this dream for it reveals our symptom.
Given such a stance, I think it is fair to say that there are many noise
making musicians who have done precisely that; attempted to come to terms
with the Real of their desires, regardless how frightening they may sound
or be. Often this kind of acting out is misperceived as violent behavior rather
than the sublimating activity that it is. For their fans it is indeed “beautiful
noise,” sublime in its capacity to be raised to a dignified level. A proper
ethical “act” in psychoanalysis means identification with the Real of one’s
symptom, with what drives you. In short, we are responsible for the way we
“get off ” (jouissance) in relation to the Law through our unconscious
desires. (We need to “love” our symptoms.) This is why Ebenezer Scrooge
in A Christmas Carol, commits an ethical “act” as the ghosts of Present, Past,
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and Future who visit him in his dreams point out what he has continually
repressed in his own behaviors throughout his entire life. They make him
face his own symptoms. He owns up to them upon waking up, for it is never
“too” late to do so. However, Scrooge is no longer “Scrooge” that Christmas
morning. He has been changed through a sublime experience of encountering
the Real. There is still time enough to make amends. Christmas is not yet over.
Of course, Dicken’s social realism can be read cynically as yet another
story to generate capitalist guilt and sympathy for the poor so that they become
more philanthropic and generous, showering all with Christmas gifts. A more
radical reading would suggest that Scrooge gave up his exploitation of workers
to commit an “act proper,” which would mean the “death” of his business
practices as he had practiced them. This would truly transverse his funda-
mental fantasy, his sinthome; that is, the fantasy that is most deeply private,
which provides Scrooge with the illusion of a consistent core to his being.
He would need to give up his accepted “reality” of capitalism. The story
ends with this open possibility.
“Beyond” the Law can, it seems, have a number of resonances: it can refer
to jouissance that is “beyond” the pleasure principle, but as we have argued,
it most often refers to the death drive (Todestrieb). This is the point reached
when all the partial drives come together and an act is committed, which can
potentially change the Symbolic Order.
It is a paradoxical point where
Good and Evil become interchangeable, where such an act can refigure the
metaethical system, and thereby profoundly change the Law. There is a certain
ethics that surrounds this act, which was raised as the book’s narrative
worked its way through the various musical expressions where it was most
closely felt—Gangsta rap and Death Metal. The death drive opens up the
Real psychic register, but it may not necessarily lead to an act proper. Scrooge
can remain a capitalist, but a more benevolent one to be sure. It is, however,
a prerequisite for change to occur, whether we think here of an individual or
an entire social structure.
For the philosopher of an “ethics of the Real”—Slavoj Zizek—only an
“act proper” can achieve this “beyond” the Law.
Such an action engages
with the Real, but in doing so it has consequences for symbolic signification
that the subject is responsible for. Scrooge would indeed have to take that
next step and renounce his capitalist roots. Only then is his identity radically
changed as the very symbolic coordinates of his situation change, like
Truman escape from the clutches of the Omi corporation and his media
father, Christof. For Scrooge this would mean giving up his objet a, that
which fascinates and gives meaning to his life. He would need to suffer a
subjective destitution. In Roland Joffe’s City of Joy (1992), Max Love gives
up his surgical practice after losing a young patient and travels to India to
find again the objet a that had given him meaning as a doctor. It required a new
set of symbolic coordinates to come to terms with the subjective destitution
he suffered in America.
Such acts are able to traverse the fundamental fantasy that holds the subject,
and in extreme cases, change the Symbolic Order as well, but the costs of
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such a death drive are very high. Cobain’s suicide could be considered as an
ethical act, as could Marilyn Manson’s periodic persona changes that question
the social order. MM becomes someone else each time to face another issue,
whereas Madonna becomes someone else to make more profit dollars. The
dropping of the atom bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima is equally an act
that changed modern warfare. The atom bomb is a clear example of what
Lacan termed The Thing (das Ding) in Seminar VII, Ethics. Its test explosion
was a sublime event, a beautiful terror, like 9/11 was for Usama Bin Laden’s
Al Qaeda. In that one moment, its explosion exemplified all the anxieties and
fears the Americans had concerning the war effort. Their fears were both
alleviated and yet, reconfirmed.
The point here is that ethics and morality are not the same thing, a distinction
Lacan (and Zizek) both maintain, but neither are they mutually exclusive.
A moral system is group specific, tied to various religious systems, whereas
ethics, as a public enterprise, raises the general question of behavior on a
meta-level of the Symbolic Order. If we say that the act of terrorism of 9/11,
Columbine shootings, and Palestinian suicide bombers are ethical acts, this,
at first sounds reprehensible and heartless since our immediate judgment is
on moral grounds. People were killed. But as ethical acts proper they raise
difficult questions like U.S. foreign policy, the treatment of abject kids in
schools, and Israeli politics, much like J. Robert Oppenheimer who raised
the ethical use of nuclear weapons, refusing to develop the hydrogen bomb.
Such questioning strips the fantasy that the big Other as Master exists.
However, for his ethical action, Oppenheimer was subsequently accused of
disloyalty, investigated and “bugged” by the CIA, put on trial and dismissed
from the Atomic Energy Commission as a security risk because of his former
links to the Communist party, despite his wealth and loyalty. Ironically,
Oppenheimer had graduated from the Ethical Culture School of New York
at the top of his class.
When it comes to transgressions to the Law as “noise” in music, hopefully
now it can be seen why they harbor an ethical complaint. As we know, the
transgressive music scene is scattered with dead bodies through drug abuse, and
in the case of gangsta rap, actual killings and maimings. Such transgressions
are a call for help, a way to point out and hear what youth are saying. In the
musical forms I have examined, there is an avid attempt by young people to
deal with the post-Oedipal landscape that has produced much suffering as
sexual and familial relationships have undergone drastic changes. Much of
the “musical noise,” which could be read as an “impossible combination” in
light of our opening gambit, has attempted to break up the fantasies that
smooth over the pain of post-Oedipalization. They “tell it like it is” by taking
perverted and hysterical structures toward jouissance and the Symbolic
Order. We have said that these positions attempt to avoid castration and
engage in the death drive, sometimes with tragic ends. The cliché “to face
the music” (to be confronted with the consequences of one’s action) takes
on an ironic inflection in the context of an ethical demand. To voice
the inequalities of social justice (Gangsta rap), to struggle with masculinity
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(Nü metal) and gender inequalities (gurl/grrrl cultures), or to believe in a
utopian fantasy of togetherness (rave and Techno), all have a price to pay as
abjected discourses—becoming-minoritarian in Deleuze and Guattari’s sense
of the term. These forms ruin the “surplus enjoyment” of designer capitalism
while paradoxically participating in it at the same time. Such a paradox is
maintained by either taking the position of objet a (pervert) or rejecting
objet a (hysteric). The danger, as I have argued, is that these transgressive forms
can become “empty,” falling into a self-parody where tragedy turns into
comedy. This double reflection, as a self-conscious irony, produces a second
order form, which seems to close itself off from its originating inspiration,
evacuating its magical transgressive quality (objet a).
It becomes a bland
ridiculous object to be laughed at. This is part of the risk involved. It seems
to be a recurring circuit in terms of the musical noises I have followed. The
noise loses its ethical claim, no longer forwarding the contradiction which
once gave it life (jouissance, objet a, zoë), or more prosaically, its initial
Adequately or not, I have tried to maintain that the drive of noise occurs
by tapping into the occluded substance of fantasy—the surplus jouissance—
the remainder or leftover which has been identified as zoë following Agaben’s
insights. In contrast, life as bios, as Foucault had argued, is already codified
and spectacularly packaged for the market place.
Rightly or wrongly, I have
interpreted zoë as another term for jouissance, or objet a as the cause of uncon-
scious desire. I believe it’s fair to say that the musical noise, which is often
“unheard” by authority figures, especially parents and teachers, is a response
to the post-Oedipal change in the past decade and a half by the so-called
X and Y generations.
Young people have sublimated their struggles through
the emergence of a “schizoid” self that plays with its alter ego. Whether that
be through a mask (Kiss, Slip Knot), or by re-creating new personas (Marilyn
Manson) and a.k.a.’s (Gangsta rap), or by developing a unique musical
soundscape (Ko}n, Nirvana), youth anxieties are addressed through a split
mirror. The normative confirmation of a specular reflection that takes place
in the mirror by the Other to insure a place in society is suspended. Instead,
we have a direct manipulation of the gaze by young people to state their
ethical complaint, which is often heard too late with tragic consequences.
As parents and teachers we are all, in one way or another, implicated in the
guilt of not having listened well enough; for missing the opportunity to say
the “good, right or exact word,” Lacan’s notion of “bien dire” that can bring
about a change in a life for the better.
Conn: To Jrnrrv
Every writing is in some form or other autobiographical. This coda quotes
an earlier book, The Anamorphic I/i (1996), which ended in a similar reflective
note when Jeremy was in grade two. It cannot be denied that this journey
was in search of my son, not to “attain” him, but to recognize that his gen-
eration has its own parameters, its own noise, and its own ethical complaint.
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No generation escapes the historical brackets that it finds itself in, it can only
telescope history, and warp reality to find its way out through a “worm
hole.” While much can be written about Jeremy’s own musical noise and my
relation to it, that would make it too explicitly biographical. I am proud to
say that Jeremy, at 23, played in a Punk Rock band with its own unique
sound, and its own lyrics. He is still searching for what fascinates him, and
suffers when doing so, often resulting in the painful lessons that life (zoë)
brings. As do we all. This book has been dedicated to him.
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I S1u11rniNc IN-Br1wrrN DrIruzr nNn
LncnN—Ac1s or TnnNsÞosi1ioN
1. On the issue of transsexuality, see the strong theoretical position maintained by
Prosser (1998). For a Lacanian perspective, see Millot (1990) and Shepherdson
2. The other two modalities include the Real as das Ding, generally understood as
the Mother, the body of the maternal lost object, and the Real understood in
strictly “matheme-atical” sense, as the quantum reality of Nature that operates on
a level of its own, independently of human consciousness.
z Tnr FicunnIi1v or Noisr nNn 1nr SiIrNcr or
1nr Drn1n Dnivr
1. In Enjoy Your Symptom! (1992) Zizek reads the Italian ending of Rossellini’s film
Stromboli, in opposition to the American version where Karin, who has fled her
husband and the suffocating life of a small village decides to return as confirmed
by a voice-over. In the Italian version she is faced with an indeterminacy as to what
her next step should be having already suffered a symbolic death, and hence hav-
ing already committed an ethical act. Her return back to the village is not yet
decided. This interpretation should be considered with a grain of salt since Zizek
had never seen the films of Roberto Rossellini. It was a hoax. However, as a fic-
tional possibility this seems plausible! The act proper is also discussed at some
length in The Fragile Absolute (2001b).
2. The use of the term subject is always problematic when utilizing Lacanian psy-
choanalysis since the concept in empirical philosophy and literature is usually
understood as a conscious making rational self, the ego or person. For Lacan the
subject is not a decision-making mechanism per se, as it is the ever-failing realiza-
tion of one’s identity.
3. Such a symbolic suicide is developed in the context of the Buffy, the Vampire
Slayer in a follow-up book. The Truman Show also provides an excellent example
of such a subject (see jagodzinski, 2004b).
4. The painter Willem de Kooning when asked, “What painters in the past have
influenced your work?” replied, “The past doesn’t influence my work, my work
influences the past.”
5. Hallward’s (2003) book on Allan Badiou has made his philosophy accessible for
English speaking scholars.
6. Fundamental fantasy (Freud’s basic or primary fantasy) refers to the necessity of
constructing a fantasmatic narrative which will “mythically” answer what the
Symbolic Order is unable to answer because it always already lacks the possibility
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No1rs 278
of a complete answer to questions concerning sexual relations. More specifically,
three perpetually unanswerable questions concerning sexual differentiation (cas-
tration), the origin of desire (seduction), and one’s own birth (parental coitus
that concerns the origin of the child itself ) require fantasmatic resolution. Music
provides the possibility for such resolution.
7. This homonym is a convenient way to indicate the Lacan’s three psychic registers
that are always intertwined in hypercomplex ways. Site identifies the Real register,
the unconscious dimension of the body (what is nonsense, unprocessed sense)
while sight refers to the Imaginary register (what is seeable). This leaves cite for
the symbolic register. All that is sayable.
8. Chiasma is the point of contact between chromosomes during meiosis where two
chromosomes interchange segments and form reproduction cells. Meiosis is the
perfect example of life–death as a “diadeictical” relation. A cell “dies” by giving
up half its chromosomes as it reproduces itself as yet another “life.”
9. I have argued elsewhere (jagodzinski, 2002b) that it is through piercing that the
body’s immortality is extended through the drives.
10. There are two ways to understand the Real. Real
refers to a space-time “before
the letter”; that is, a time of the infant’s body “before” it comes under the rules
of socialization through the Symbolic Order. Whereas Real
is the time “after the
letter,” as that part of experience which “has not yet been symbolized, remains to be
symbolized, or even resists symbolization” (Fink, 1995, 25, original emphasis).
11. Tim Dean (2000, 215–268) presents a convincing argument as to how close
Deleuze and Guattari’s theorizations on desire, which are most often presented
as contra Lacan, are rather consistent with Lacanian writing in the 1970s from
the time of Seminar XX, Encore and on.
¸ Tnr UNcnNNv FicunnI Voicr
1. Levinas (1981) is credited with the stance that ethics is the “first” philosophy, a
pre-ontological realm which, it would appear, addresses “sacred life” as zoë itself
without qualification.
2. Das Ding (The Thing) is purposefully not named “Mother” as yet which has
angered feminists (Cornell, 1998), accusing Lacan of repressing the Mother.
However, this seems to be an apt way of avoiding questions of kinship relations
which immediately emerge once the term “mother” as a signifier forms a symbolic
family structure of one variety or another. Das Ding is a moment of symbiosis
before separation, and hence an impossible place and time to return to without
pathological consequences.
3. Slavoj Zizek in his many writings has made this expression, “Enjoy!” a sort of
battle cry in his continuous berating of capitalist consumption.
4. The Name-of-the-Father is to be understood as a symbolic function and not
necessarily a “real father.” The very same function can be installed through a
totem name giving within a clan structure, for example. It is the imposition of
name giving which is at issue.
5. Joanne Hollows (2003) also sticks out her neck by making a case for the writer
of cook books and television cooking, Nigella Lawson in the United Kingdom,
as enjoying the pleasures of eating and cooking rather than simply pleasing others.
She argues that hers is a postfeminist practice that negotiates the feminine identity
between being a housewife and a feminist. Being a cover girl for the new middle-
class Lawson finds her jouissance in the excessive expenditure on time on cooking
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against a backdrop where harriedness and time scarcity are the order of the day
for the new middle-class women. In contrast, television cook shows that feature
male chefs work on time constraints.
6. For a different reading see Slavoj Zizek (2000a) who reads the neo-noir femme
fatale as a demoniac being who is perfectly aware of what she is doing. As a corrupt
woman she remains a male fantasy. I am not so sure that the recuperation of her
feminine jouissance is so airtight as he claims.
7. In their mutual book, Opera’s Second Death (2002b) Dolar and Zizek risk reviving
a love of opera through Mozart and Wagner by deconstructing the claim of their
operatic obsoletism. Zizek, who desired to be a conductor, even tauntingly jests
that Wagner’s Tristan and Parisfal are the two single greatest works in the history
of mankind (sic) (104); and that Isolde’s final song to unite herself with Tristan in
her death is exemplary of a Liebestod.
( Tnr PrnvrnsioNs or GnNcs1n RnÞ:
Drn1n Dnivr nNn VioIrNcr
1. It should be pointed out that “Black Noise” does have Black nationalist tendencies
if we include the rap of Black Islamic Nationalism. In Sweden, “White Noise” for
example, has a specific meaning, referring to the anti-Semitic and racist rock music
of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Here one finds the typical mythological heroic
worship of the SS, the warrior and the Nordic Asa (see Lööw, 1998).
2. This makes Dr. Dre sound as if he was the “exempt” gangsta—the one good apple
in the barrel who was not spoilt. However, this was not the case. He had a repu-
tation for beating up former girlfriends and other young men around him.
He brutally beat up Dee Barnes, a female rapper with “Body and Soul” and host
of the rap video show Pump It Up for having interviewed Ice Cube on the Fox
network mocking Dre’s NWA (Niggas With Attitude). In “One Less Bitch,”
Dr. Dre assumes the role of a pimp who discovers that his prostitute is trying to
steal from him by retaining money she earned. “Reminiscent of ‘The Lame and
the Whore’ (or a snuff film—take your pick), Dre orchestrates what is best
described as a lynching. Each story of mayhem and murder is followed by a chorus
of the entire NWA crew chanting: ‘One less, one less, one less bitch you gotta
worry about’ ” (Kelley, 1996, 144).
3. African American oral narratives exploit the “badman” or “bad nigguh” types in
the toast, which is a long poetic narrative form that predates rap. Black badmen
boast about their sexual exploits with women, wild drinking binges, and narrow
brushes with the law, which are symbolic of white power (Roberts, 1989). For the
practice of piercing and tattooing in the postmodern context, see jagodzinski
4. Flow, layering, and ruptures in line are said to be the three stylistic continuities
between break dancing, graffiti style, and rapping according to Arthur Jafa (in
Rose, 1994, 38).
5. This means that an impossible gap exists between the signifier and the signified to
allow for the passage of time. Lacan inverts Ferdinand de Saussure’s division of the
sign by prioritizing the signifier over the signified.
6. Rose (1994, 115–122) offers an extended discussion of their important video
“Baseheads,” which is a compendium of stories addressing a variety of oppressive
conditions, most notably drug addiction through stinging media critiques and
political statements. The Baseheads video demonstrates the unhinging of the
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signifier. Chuck D (lead rapper for Public Enemy) replaces Baseheads (addicts who
smoke freebase cocaine) with Bassheads, urging Blacks to displace the crack addic-
tion with the addiction to black music as the rhythm of life rather than death.
¸ GnNcs1n Snnornsocnisr:
TniIs Yo’ Goon, Hrnns Yo’ Bnn
1. The “fly girl” phenomenon as part of postfeminism is discussed in the chapter 13
on grrrl cultures.
2. In Lacan’s late S XXIII Le Sinthome, the concept of symptom is modified and
replaced by sinthome to identify the core symptom which defines the identity of
a person. By breaking the “30 second rule” McCauley literally loses the ground
of his being, the motto that defined his activity and structured his jouissance to
the Law. The existence of his being became unraveled.
3. This is particularly true in education. The controversial figure of Joe Clark, the
principal of Eastside High School, an inn-city school in Patterson, N.J., from 1983
to 1991 who used a bull-horn and a baseball bat to clean up gang violence presents
the case for a conservative black politics in schools (see jagodzinski, 2003c).
4. The acronym stands for “What Would Jesus Do?” These bracelets are thrown
into the crowd during performances. The gesture seems brazen and sacrilegious,
making it empty.
5. BBC News, February 8, 2001 Ͻ
6 PIurrr1iNc 1nr Go1nic DrÞ1ns or 1nr SouI:
Nü Mr1nI nNn i1s BrvoNn
1. The signifier Boyz demarcates the postadolescent musical fantasies while the
signifier Nü (sometimes Nue) has come into prominence in some musical circles
as a play on the German neu (recent or new). We have adopted this adjective
although its use is not widespread.
2. Interview with NYROCK, July 2001 Ͻ
3. The 2003 edition of the Ozzfest included Ko}n, Disturbed and Marilyn Manson,
Chevelle, all of which can be said to belong to the Goth-Nü Metal scene.
4. Hodkinson (2002) provides an insider’s view in his Goth: Identity, Style and
Subculture. While many Goth fans claim that Marilyn Manson is not a Goth,
his particular “shock theatre” is taken up in chapter 8 to show why an uneasy
relationship sometimes with fans emerges.
5. Quote from Guitar School Magazine, see Ͻwww.angelmanson.comϾ.
6. Quote from Aardschok Magazine, November 1998, emphasis added, see Ͻwww.
7. Quote from MTV (Manson TV), September 14, 1998, see Ͻwww.
8. Quote from LA Weekly, January 12–18, 2001, see Ͻwww.angelmanson.comϾ.
9. This is explored in more detail with the notion of the fan(addict) in chapter 15.
10. Marilyn Manson quote found at Ͻwww.angelmanson.comϾ (RIP Magazine,
February 1995).
11. Zizek (1991) in a footnote plays with Lacan’s “grimace of the Real” on the face
of the Joker, Batman’s nemesis.
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12. The rise of the Father of Enjoyment, the Jouissant Father in postmodernity is
fully explored in the accompanying book, Youth Fantasies. This refers to Freud’s
myth of identifying the “impossible” position of complete jouissance reached
only by the mythical Father of the primal horde as developed in Totem and Taboo.
13. The source for Ko}n and Jonathan Davis comes from the Bakersfield-Californian
website whose interest it is to keep up with the latest developments of the group
given in their hometown newspaper (see Page, 2002).
14. The “R” in Ko}n is reversed in their logo, that allows for the “play” of its
15. This theme is taken up thematically in chapter 9 by exploring psychotic behavior.
16. On the concept of “vanishing mediator” (see Zizek, 1994a). The concept refers
to an element that bridges two seemingly disparate elements together, helping to
establish the dominance of the second element by “vanishing” the supportive
mediated presence so that it seems that the ground has not been prepared for the
change. Transformation appears as a fait accompli.
17. As developed by Boothby (2001). See also chapter 2 in Youth Fantasies (2004).
18. One of Lacan’s clarifying points in his SXI, Four Fundamentals is to make the
distinction in English between aim and goal as process as opposed to product.
Paradoxically, the goal of the drive is its aim, a compulsion to repeat so as to
release the tension. Freud used the term Ziel for both terms since no such
differentiation exists in the German.
, Tnr “GnuNcr” or PuNx-Rocx:
SIncxiNc Orr
1. Little Hans’s mother was dissatisfied with her relationship with her husband. She
would exhibit her colorful underwear to her son and take him into her bed. Hans
was uncertain where his sexual excitement was taking him. He interpreted the
kindness of his father as a weakness, an incapacity to set limits to his mother’s
fancies (see also Sauvagnat, 2002).
2. The mourning of the opposite gender in heterosexuality is the theoretical stance
of Judith Butler (1990), but this stance is by no means free of controversy. See
Zizek (1999b, 2000b) and chapter 5 for a critique of Butler’s position.
3. See the opening chapters in the companion book Youth Fantasies where post-
Oedipalization is fully elaborated.
4. This is what Lacan said of James Joyce’s literary productions as a sinthome; they
were built on the lack of the Other, having a psychotic structure (see Thurston,
5. This is Lacan’s conclusion concerning an artwork as one’s sinthome that escapes
the phallic order. It is entirely in line with femininity (see Lichtenberg-Ettinger,
6. The idea of a “dissipative object” being equivalent to Lacan’s sinthome has been
extrapolated from Harari (2002).
7. This reading is opened up by applying Krzysztof Ziarek’s (2002) interpretation
of Heideggarian poiêsis to art as a “third way” beyond formalism and ideology
critique. Art is given its own specific force of escaping manipulative power
(Machenschafft and Technik) of metaphysics.
8. This is Heidegger’s stance on art as developed in Letter on Humanism (Ziarek,
2002, 180).
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8 SrninI CoNNrc1ioNs: Tnr MM Snow
1. USA Today, November of 2000. All Marilyn Manson quotes that follow can be
found online at: Ͻhttp://www.angelmanson.comϾ. They are listed with the
date and source they came from.
2. Rolling Stone, January 23, 1997.
3. Circus Magazine, June 1997.
4. Huh Magazine, December 14, 1996.
5. Dazed and Confused, August 2000.
6. Interview with Barbara Ellen, “I was Kind of a Disturbed Kid,” The Observer,
Sunday 4, 2003, emphasis added Ͻ
7. RIP Magazine, November 1996.
8. CFNY, May 30, 1996.
9. Dutch TV Guide, October 10, 1998.
10. Metal Edge Magazine (no year or date provided on website).
11. Underscope Magazine, no date given, emphasis added.
12. Kerrang Magazine, September 20, 1997.
13. Marilyn Manson is addressing the Columbine shooting,, in
November, 2000.
14. British NME Interview, August 30, 1997.
15. Talk Magazine, November 2000.
16., November 4, 2000.
17. Radio 1, October 17, 2000.
18. Melody Maker, September 20, 1997.
19. Dazed & Confused, September 2000.
20. USA Today, November 2000.
21. Kerrang Magazine, December 14, 1996–1999.
22. Raygun Magazine, December/January 1998.
23. Chart Magazine, October 1998.
24. Guitar World Magazine, December 1996.
25. Circus Magazine, February 18, 1997.
26. Chicago Tribune, 1998.
27. Details Magazine, December 1996.
28. Penthouse Magazine, May, 1997.
29. Mechanical Animals-Official Website Interview, September 9, 1998.
30. New Music, October 2000.
31. Metal Edge, October 2000.
32. Rolling Stone, July 26, 2000.
33. Rolling Stone, Issue 815, June 24, 1999.
34. The portrait can be found online at: Ͻ
manson_marilyn/news_feature_092002/Ͼ, emphasis added.
35. Alternative Press Magazine, October, 2000, emphasis added.
§ BrvoNn 1nr Lnw: Tnr AN1i-SIncxrn ns
Mnss Munnrnrn
1. Boy bands in particular, but also “pop idol” singers are explored in the next
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2. This startling information came out in a documentary on Michael Jackson by
Martin Bashir who spent eight months making the 90-minute program which was
first aired on February 4, 2003 on ITV1 in Britain. Jackson’s mediate statement
was that Bashir had “betrayed his trust” through his documentary. His fans know
that he doesn’t “sleep” with children but “loves” them.
3. The picture is available online Ͻ
4. The implications of Gothic romanticism as a source of creativity in the myth of the
“innocent child” are developed in part one of Youth Fantasies (2004, 35–38).
5. Online Ͻwww.waveamerica.comϾ.
6. Videogame violence is more fully discussed in Youth Fantasies (2004, chapter 7).
7. Transcripts of trail and psychiatric reports can be found online Ͻhttp://Ͼ.
Io Tnr Nrw Cns1nn1i: MrN II Bovs
1. There is also Japanese pop music (J-Pop) which we do not discuss. Japanese “idol”
singers are also produced and promoted across various mass media, including the
sale of idol cards at convenience stores and street stalls. There are many boy acts
and girl-pop available but the J-Pop music industry does not easily translate into
global music genres based around Western music. Some forms of J-Pop resemble
Western genres. In the late 1990s the “visual-kei” boy bands meshed glam and
Goth styles together.
2. This is known as intentional and unintentional “backward masking” where a
verbal message is first recorded and then reversed in direction. It is then superim-
posed on an existing musical passage. Its possibility first appeared as a tape mixing
error in the late 1960s in the Beatles’ song “Rain” by John Lennon. He liked it
so much that he left it in. In this technique, what is gibberish and meaningless at
normal speed becomes intelligible played backward. The devil’s influence in unin-
tentional backward masking is a whole other problem. As comedian Jay Leno put it:
“You know what you get when you play Twisted Sister’s ‘Burn in Hell’ backwards?
‘Go to church and pray on Sunday.’ ” It raises many of the same issues as the influ-
ence of violence in the media. Judas Priest, in 1990, was accused of subliminal
message, “Do it” in their song, “Better by You Better Than Me” (Stained Class).
The suicide of Ray Belknap and the attempted suicide of James Vance were
blamed on its influence, which the prosecutor representing the parents said caused
the suicide. Judge Jerry Carr Whitehead exonerated the band ruling that there was
no scientific proof for a direct causal (see Moore, 1996).
3. Jennifer Lopez has tried to turn this voyeurism around by purposefully editing
Paparazzi pictures into her video, “Jenny from The Block ft. LOX,” This is
Me . . . then. Explicit photos and video footage of her romance with Ben Affleck
are blatantly on display. Such a move does not drain her of sexuality, rather, it’s
as if she steals back the Paparazzo’s jouissance, thereby enhancing her own
sexuality. Their romance, however, could not be sustained within such a
media blitz.
4. Jon Murray’s comments can be found online Ͻ
5. ϽϾ.
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II Pos1ronrnN Hvs1rnics: PInviNc wi1n
1nr VinciNi1v Cnnn
1. “Women in Rock,” available online Ͻ
2. Jennifer Lopez who was born in 1970 making her 30ϩ is perhaps the limit to
the age range we are considering here. Lopez’s sexual presentation, however, is
compatible with our categorization as a dirty virgin.
3. Walkerdine (1997, 99–106) argues that figures such as Shirley Temple as a little
girl heroine in the Depression and films such a Little Orphan Annie, Curl Top,
Dimples etc., helped solicit sympathy from the very rich to support the new
initiatives like the New Deal.
4. What passes for identity for Deleuze is an “assemblage,” which is a cluster of
subjectivities produced momentarily by the semiotic, material, and social flows.
This concept has affinities with Stuart Hall’s influential notion of “articulation”
(see Deleuze and Guattari, 1977).
5. There is no consistency to the spelling of grrrls. We are using three r’s rather than
two because the extended guttural sound produced is more in keeping with the
intention of the movement.
6. We discuss Buffy The Vampire Slayer extensively in an upcoming book on television
youth fantasies.
7. tv media, Nr. 42, October 12–18, 2002, Austria’s equivalent to TV Guide.
8. People Magazine, August 22, 2002.
9. Issue 10 of Analysis (2001), the journal for the Australian Centre for Psychoanalysis
concentrated on Encore and Feminine Sexuality. Susan Schwartz’s (2001) article of
Marguerite Duras’s The Lover makes this Other body jouissance understandable.
10. MacCannell (2000) attempts to provide the dangers of Sadean in her section,
“The Soul of Woman under Sadism.”
11. The work of the late Linda Singer (1993), “Sex and the Logic of Capitalism”
remains one of the best analysis between designer capitalism and the porn industry.
12. The Courtly Lady is discussed by Lacan in Seminar VIII, Ethics. We shall return
to its implications as developed by Zizek in subsequent chapters.
13. In the famous case of the butcher’s wife, a case of hysterical behavior Freud
described in The Interpretation of Dreams (SE IV, 146–151), the objet a is caviar.
Her husband was attracted to a thin woman, yet he liked plumper women like
his wife. Caviar became an object around which she could thwart his desire.
By telling her husband that she craved caviar, she incites desire to buy it for her.
But, by saying it is just too costly, and thereby denying its pleasure, she demands
that he doesn’t satisfy it either. He is jerked around for his lack.
14. This view of Madonna is not popular amongst feminists who tend to defend her
changing alter egos as performative critical parodies of patriarchy (see McClary,
1991, for instance).
15. Britney Spears: “Too Sexy, Too Soon?” People Magazine, February 14, 2000.
16. Since this was last written Britney Spears married Kevin Federline in October,
2004 after a number of publicity stunts. Perhaps by the time this book comes out
they will have been divorced?
Iz Tnr DiIrrrns or GunIz’ Drsinrs: Prnvrn1iNc
1nr Pos1-Pn1ninncnnI Onnrn
1. Lacan’s difficult essay “Kant with Sade” is given a full explanatory treatment by
Zizek’s “Kant with (or against) Sade,” Zizek Reader (1999a).
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2. In New Mexico in 1993 it was 13; by 1998 it was 17. Maine went from 14 to 18
during the same time (Levine, 2002, 252 ft. 49).
3. This area extensively under cyber-fantasies in Youth Fantasies (2004, section III,
Cyberspace as Obsessive Interpassivity).
4. A full discussion is found in Youth Fantasies (2004, 116–119).
I¸ Tnr Goon Wi1cn-Bi1cn: GnnnI Powrn ns 1nr
DrsuuIirn1rn UcIv Ars1nr1ic
1. The Riot-Grrrl Manifesto can be found on Hanna’s website Ͻhttp://www.Ͼ.
2. This album cover can be found online at the website. Reynolds and
Press (1995, 338) read it as being poised midway between a pucker and tight-lipped
I( Tnr Nrw VinciNi1v: Tnr Nos1nIcic Rr1unN
or 1nr VriI
1. In contrast the 2004 winner, 21-year-old Ericka Dunlap, an African American
from Orlando, Florida promoted a platform named: United We Stand. Divided
We Fall: Celebrating Diversity and Inclusion. An educational stance, her speaking
engagements were aimed at understanding and appreciating other cultures and
customs in America.
2. The information surrounding the understanding and appreciating controversy
of Erika Harold’s reign as Miss America can be found online. See Lara Riscol,
“Miss America’s Stealth Virginity Campaign.” Ͻ
3. Trent Lott has had a number of racial incidents in his past. The latest one, which
has called for his resignation as Senate House leader, happened at a hundredth
birthday party for Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. Lott claimed the
country would have been better off had Thurmond been elected president in
1948 on a platform built around racial segregation.
4. Kirsty Doig, vice-president of Youth Intelligence, a market research and trend-
forecasting group in New York City, makes this claim. The Project Reality online site
carries a similar claim. See also ϽϾ.
5. Romance is being perverted on several fronts. The reality television show
Bacherlorette (2003), which featured Trista Rehn as the postmodern Cinderella
who finds her one true man from a cast of 24 willing bachelors, attempts to
restage the fantasy in such a way that the belief can be maintained despite a cyni-
cal audience. Trista consults her family as to who they think is the best choice;
even her dad is asked by one of the final contestants, Ryan, to give his daughter’s
hand in marriage. The Bachelor, into its second season as of 2003, came to a halt
when Aaron Beurge ended his engagement with his “chosen” one, Helen
Eksterowicz. Fox’s Joe Millionaire stages yet another version of finding the “one.”
Choice of money or love is being tested. These shows raise the question of what
happens when the couple exits reality television’s stage set of cameras, limousines,
romantic get-a-ways, fine dining, and steps onto the stage of banal existence.
When firefighter Ryan, definitely made sexier after 9-11, whom Trista chose to be
the “one,” goes off to work with his lunch pail and spends more time at the fire
station with the boys than her, will the romance survive? Or, will the fantasy turn
into a living horror, the prince turns back into a frog—make that a toad?
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6. Seems that both spellings are used hijab and hejab.
7. The “Rules Girls” emerged from the best seller The Rules: Time Tested Secrets
for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider (1996;
see also Salecl, 1998, 169–170).
8. This conclusion was reached in January 8, 2001 when the first phase of a three-
phase survey of teenage health in the United States called the National Longitudinal
Study of Adolescent Health, sponsored by National Institute of Child Health and
Human Development (NICHHD). The 63-page report on teenage sex and
virginity surveyed 90,000 adolescents from grades 7–12 in 145 U.S. schools.
See National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Ͻhttp:// Ͼ.
9. For an attempt to grasp the circulation of postmodern female bodies utilizing the
semiotic square as developed by A. G. Greimas see jagodzinski (2003d).
I¸ Tnr FnN(nnnic1): Tnr SINTHOME or
BrIirviNc iN 1nr MuI1iÞIrs or ONE
1. In my own very inadequate way, I am borrowing from Alan Badiou’s (Hallward,
2003, 61–66) philosophical stance developed in Being and the Event. Badiou
incorporates Lacan’s notion of the subject and, at the same time, avoids theoriz-
ing the subject along poststructuralist lines by “grounding” subjectivity in a neo-
Platonist view of “being as one.” Such a position is then immediately qualified by
Badiou’s rigorous opposition to this as the founding principle of ontology by
(paradoxically) elevating multiplicity and, therefore, pure difference so as to explore
the dialectic of one and its multiples. In his view, there is only multiplicity or a
“multiple without-one,” at the same time a “consistent multiple” is a composition
of ones. This is a oneness in the making, an aporetic principle of singularity, what
can be identified as a sinthome. It seems to me that Badiou is advancing insights
of chaos theory and, perhaps fashionably, he will continue to receive more and
more attention.
2. This term is developed by Mestrovic (1997) who argues that postmodernity has
been deflated of any genuine emotion, that affectivity is constantly being staged
and manufactured. See Youth Fantasies (2004, 109–111, 221–223) for a full expla-
nation of his stance.
3. See Youth Fantasies (2004, section III) for our analysis of video games as an obses-
sive compulsion. The notion of “interpassivity” is developed by Robert Pfaller (2000)
and elaborated by ZIzek (2002a).
I6 Lr1’s Rnvr No1 Rncr! Nrw Acr TrcnNo HiÞÞirs
nNn Dici1nI EIrc1noNicn
1. Reynolds motions in the direction of Deleuze and Guattari. “The rave also corre-
sponds to Deleuze and Guattari’s model of the ‘desiring machine’: a decentered,
nonhierarchical assemblage of people and technology characterized by flow-
without-goal and expression-without-meaning” (246). To this he adds the BwO as
“composed out of all potentials in the human nervous system for pleasure and
sensation without purpose: the sterile bliss of perverse sexuality, drug experiences,
play, dancing, and so forth. In the rave context, the desiring machine and the
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body-without-organs are fueled by the same energy source: MDNA” (246). The
BwO is the drive mechanism that I shall develop in this chapter.
2. Great Britain’s Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 (Chapter 33),
was the first English Law to provide an “official” definition of the rave and to
regulate the handling of the musical gatherings.
3. The play of the portmanteau word U(hr) Klang trades on the German Ur, which
means original, first or primal, and Uhr which means clock, while Klang means
sound. Hence, we are referring to a primal regulated sound.
4. The notion of a primal sound continues to be a point of fascination (see Rothenberg
and Ulvaeus, 2001). In music therapy there has been an attempt to reach autistic
children using only sound. The assumption being that the body will respond to
sounds heard in utero.
5. I have some differences with Herzogenrath’s (2000) interesting thesis concerning
Techno, which he brilliantly develops by discussing The Prodigy’s album Music
for the Jilted Generation Our thesis, in many respects, inverts the many claims
made by Herzogenrath. These differences can be summed up as follows:
(1) I place the Techno beat into the womb, as the first lack, whereas he places it
in pre-Oedipal pubescence stage of childhood. (2) I stress Freud’s grandson Ernst
second game of the drive where no signifier has been found in the mirror—no
alter ego has emerged as yet; no moment of satisfaction has been captured, only a
continuous repetitive process of appearing in the mirror. Herzogenrath stresses
Ernst’s fort/da game, which is already in the Symbolic Order of language. He sees
it as an oscillation between Kristeva’s semiotic and symbolic, whereas we theorize
it as an oscillation (to stay with Kristeva here) within the chora itself. (3) I theorize
the paradox of “natural computerization” or “Natural Techno” by reversing
Herzogenrath’s reading of the signifier as being “natural” while Kristeva’s semi-
otic affect is machine-like. In other words, I reverse the beat from Herzogenrath’s
1 to 0 as 0 to 1. These differences are best understood when both positions are
compared side by side. The reader is recommended to read Herzogenrath’s inter-
esting account.
6. Achim Szepanski is a leading figure in the Techno scene in Frankfurt, Germany
who established the Force Inc., in 1991, along with his influential Mille Plateaux
label (one of five). This label exemplifies the ideological “force” of Szepanski, which
specifically attempts to explicate the theories of Deleuze and Guattari. Ian Pooley,
DJ Tonka, Mike ink, Alec Empire, and Oval were some of the better known artists
that emerged during those early years in their anti-rave stance, having felt that rave
in Germany had become just another commercial adventure. When 70-year-old
Deleuze committed suicide, Szepanski produced a double CD, “In Memoriam
Gilles Deleuze.”
7. In Seminar II The Ego in Freud’s Theory (1998, 185–193, 300), Lacan illustrates
through an examination of the game of odd and even (Ϯ, 01) that it is the signi-
fying chain and its laws that determine the effects of subjectivity because there
is some kind of inherent machinic operating principle, a law in the Real, that
cybernetically operates as an automaton. Human beings, in this sense, are already
cyborgs caught by the repetitions of the signifying chains. So here is one difference
that emerges between rave and Techno: the raver wants to avoid an encounter
with the signifying chain, although that is impossible.
8. The relationship been Virtual Reality (VR) and Real Life (RL) is fully explored in
section III on cyberspace in Youth Fantasies (2004).
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9. My brother-in-law, Bernhard Lang, is a Neue Musik composer in Vienna and an
a.o. Professor of composition at the University of Music, Graz who deconstructs
musical instruments and voice into their “natural techno” impulses using
computer technology and computer note notation. His Differenz/Wiederholung
(2000), based on the integration of the ideas from Deleuze, William Burroughs,
and Christian Loidl (a free-form Viennese poet) can only be performed after long
practice sessions because the work is so demanding. The conductors, the musi-
cians, and singers have to rethink their relationship to sound and repetition. Lang
stages one variation of this attempt of a Real ethic of “natural technology.”
His work is not the Techno of House or the Rave scene, but the meditative effect
is similar. The audience experiences being put on the “cut” between noise and
music. It is an experience one can only be immersed in; it cannot be described. Not
every composer of the Neue Musik (Lang’s contemporaries include Peter Ablinger,
Klaus Lang, and Nader Mashayeki) is successful, for it requires a different way to
“listen” to the world. The environmental fractal sound-scapes that this small group
of composers produces are intensely labored and labor intensive. They provide the
opposite spectrum to the rave scene, but no less engaged in theorizing a natural-
techno U(h)r sound. An attempt to grasp Lang’s theory of sound can be found in
the inside jacket cover of Differenz/Wiederholung (see jagodzinski, 2000).
10. His website Ͻwww.force-inc.netϾpresents his difficult theoretical stance, “Digital
Music & Metatheory” under “T” for theory.
I, AN E1nicnI “Ac1” iN 1nr RrnI: A Bnirr
Mrni1n1ioN 1o CIosr
1. This theoretical stance of a fundamental “social antagonism” and “society does
not exist” was first introduced by Laclau and Mouffe (1985) and given a psy-
choanalytic twist by Zizek (1990).
2. A forthcoming book on Youth Television Fantasies explores this possibility.
3. Josephson Institute of Ethics, “2002 Report Card: The Ethics of
American Youth.” Ͻ
4. I have interpreted the death drive in its singular most devastating consequence
as suicide, but as Lacan (1995) notes, “every [partial] drive is virtually a death
drive” (275) in the sense that it can take over the body. I have mentioned, for
example, Jim Carrey’s performance in Liar, Liar where the oral drive becomes a
death drive ruining his life as a lawyer.
5. Zizek’s thoughts on the “act proper” can be found in (2000b, “Class Struggle,”
pp. 121ff ) (2001a, On Belief, 85–85) (2001, Fragile Absolute) and (1999b,
Ticklish Subject, 374–378, 391–392). For a severe critique on Zizek’s use of
Antigone as an example of an act see Grigg (2001).
6. Roland Joffé’s brilliant movie Fat Man and Little Boy (1989) illustrates vividly
this sublime terror on the face of Oppenheimer as he watched the bomb go off
at Alamogordo, New Mexico. Mouth and cheeks violently quivering from the
wind blast, the bomb’s red glow with its mushroom cloud reflected on his gog-
gles, Oppenheimer reputedly uttered a phrase from Hindu scripture in the
Bhagavad-Gita, “I am become death, the shatterer of worlds.”
7. In Youth Fantasies (2004) I identify the same phenomenon in the realty TV talk
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8. Hardt and Negri (2000) develop the notion of biopower in a “society of control.”
They argue that Foucault’s biopolitics and Deleuze and Guattari’s “desiring
machines” (while an improvement over Foucault) are both inadequate for the task
of grasping the social material conditions that produces surplus value based on
intellectual, immaterial, and communicative labor power. They develop their own
theory based on a group of Italian Marxists (like Negri himself ). The point is that
a “society of control” is heading in the direction where the human being
is defined strictly by the bodily organs s/he owns and (frighteningly) can sell
(e.g., sperm, eggs, and body parts) if the restrictions of the law are lifted.
9. The X and Y Gen are developed in the opening chapters of Youth Fantasies (2004).
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