Archive for the ‘Gender / Sexuality’ Category

So anyone watch South Park this week?


I must say, that this wasn’t the funniest episode I’ve ever seen.  It did however represent the “rock lifestyle” well through the guise of Guitar Hero.  Yet this episode seems as much a parody of the hardrock life as it was a stab at the fetishization of Guitar Hero.

 Another interesting point to consider is the “Queer-O” aspect, which I didn’t totally get.  Are Parker and Stone being ironic, labeling these “Guitar Heroes” as queer themselves, or are they reflecting a common stereotype? 

 For more thoughts on this “Guitar Hero” issue, you may want to read Farhad Manjoo’s blog posting, which I think really relates to the South Park episode:



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So, I recently read Jan Jagodzinski’s Music and Youth Culture (2005) and was exposed to more psychology than I ever knew existed.  After a vigorous reading (and subsequent re-reading) of some of Jacques Lacan’s terminology and Jagodzinski’s application of these terms to music, I figured the best way to see if “I get it” is to apply what I think I have learned to our classes recent topic of cock rock and heavy metal. 

For starters, Jacques Lacan’s version of psychology continues in the vein of Sigmund Freud (and anyone who knows anything about Freud knows that everything subsequently revolves around the male signifier: the phallus).  Lacan furthers Freudian psychology with his ideas of drives and desire: our biological urges vs. our subconscious needs. I will discuss “cock rock” and heavy metal using one of Jagodzinski’s main theses from his work: post-modern music is characterized by a perversion of male pre-Oedipal drives into “pure desire” and a hysterizaion of female post-Oedipal drives into “pure demand.”  Jagodzinski does not discuss “cock rock” specifically in his text, which is an obvious oversight, so I’m going to do my best instead. 

For this posting, I will focus on idea’s primarily from Robert Walser’s chapter “Forging Masculinity” from Running With the Devil (1993) in regards to his strategies of gender and power: exscription, misogyny, romance, and androgyny. 

EXSCRIPTION: why are no girls allowed?  “Cock rock” and heavy metal seem to be an all-boys club, so what is the Lacanian psychological reason for taking women out of the picture?  Walser claims “Feminine intimacy …produces a dependence on the other that threatens masculine independence” (115).  Jagodzinski would counter that then “perversion inverts the struggle of separating from the Mother and establishing masculine authority….Rather than being the phallus…he attempts to have the phallus” (52).  A man can therefore only be a male because he is independent of the female.  Walser continues, “Metal shields men from the dangers of pleasure—loss of control—but also enables…images of…metalized male bodies” (116).  Jagodzinski supports this notion with “becoming metal” and the “death drive,” describing a “Body without Organs” that is machine-like and free of desires, especially the death drive, which is the pursuit of pleasure to excess which leads to death (18).  It makes sense that the male would want to protect himself from the “anxiety about the vagina” and distance himself from as much temptation as possible (54).  Walser’s interpretation of “women as sex objects” is supported by Jadogznski’s idea of the hysterization of the scopic drive, which makes women a demand of the male gaze (Walser 116; Jagodzinski 54). 

MISOGYNY: why do men hate women?  Maybe “hate” is strong, since both male authors seem to prefer the term “anxiety:” Walser claims to “assuage male anxieties about the sexuality of females” whereas again Jagodzinski claims a more general “anxiety about the vagina” (Walser 117; Jagodzinski 54).  Again, both authors seem to agree about the mysterious dichotomy of the nature of the female: Walser’s angel/witch and Jagodzinski’s virgin/slut.  Yet again, this all returns to Lacan’s notion of the female Otherness and her eternal “lack” of a phallus.  Jagodzinski points out the source of misogyny being this angel/witch or virgin/slut dichotomy, since this is the way in which the “castrated” female is able to pursue her pleasure (without the need for a phallus) (54).  The fear of the phallus becoming insignificant would be enough to make any male potentially anxious. 

ROMANCE: is this just a silly girl thing?  As according to several of the other authors from this weeks reading selection, apparently it is commonly held notion that men are interested in sex and women are interested in love.  So where does romance fit in to “cock rock?”  Walser cites Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet (1986) as the first instance of commercially successful romantically-themed metal songs.  This album’s biggest hit, “Livin’ on a Prayer” was responsible for Bon Jovi’s increased appeal of female fans.  Jagodzinski would posit this as a perfect representation of perversion in postmodern music.  In Lacanian terms, a perversion is the inverse of a normal fantasy model (12).  A fantasy: I need capital to acquire the object of my desire.  A perversion: someone’s object of desire can bring me capital.  Thus, Bon Jovi adopted a more commercially appealing style (jeans and no make-up) in order to sell more records and attract more female fans.  As Walser states, “To offer such a pay off, [a band] must break away from metal” (122). 

ANDROGYNY: why do men want to look like women?  This is perhaps the most baffling trend in heavy metal; a male-dominated genre where men dress like hyper-females.  Walser argues that glam metal represents “the dissolution of the ego in the flux of musical pleasure,” and briefly cites the castrati as a historical counterpart (124, 126).  Jagodzinski also discusses the interesting disposition of the castrati, giving them the unique status of the “disembodied voice” from a castrated body (either male or female) that is pure, and free of death and desires (56-57).  Thus, the glam metal bands also become free of desires as they to, in there grotesque “feminine” appearance are able to become disembodied and free of their perverted desires.  (On a side note, I would like to laugh at the ridiculousness of this interpretation, seeing as the members of the quintessential glam-band Poison were all notorious womanizers and/or coke-addicts). 

In general, Walser and Jagodzinski have similar interpretations for the psychology that makes “cock rock” tick.  Of course, one would have to buy into this psychology in order to believe it.  Gender is a social construct, and somewhere along the way, American society decided that the guitar was a phallic instrument that boys should play in order to impress the pants off of girls.  Of course there is no natural significance to the guitar; it is simply an extension of male-dominated/phallocentric notions.  I would wonder if Freudian/Lacanian theory would pan out in a vaginocentric culture.  As Freud would say, sometimes a guitar is just a guitar.   

PS – I may have completely butchered Lacan’s psychology.  I’m not even 100% for certain which aspects of Jagodzinski’s book are based on Lacan and which are based on Deleuze (i.e. “Becoming-Metal”…which I don’t really understand anyway).  But I did my best, and please any comments are welcome.

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I wanna be your guy (x2)

I already know the way you walk home.

your three favorite movies and your telephone.

I wanna be your guy (x2)

you may find it funny but i noticed your hair, today.

you were wearing it in a slightly different way.

I wanna be your guy (x2)

maybe i’ll try and call you again.

i wonder if it’s okay to call past ten.

i’ll make you dinner and write you a song.

you’ll love me and leave me before too long.

I wanna be your guy. (x4)

The above song, by now-defunct Muckafurgason is one of the tracks featured on “The Gay EP,” their last release. Without having told you so, you might assume the song was from a 1950’s teeny bopper to the cutie in the poodle skirt next door. The music (which is, unfortunately not available on YouTube) is a throwback to 1950’s lounge music, which of course is meant to heighten the sense of irony. I was reminded of this track while reading through Philip Auslander’s Performing Glam Rock of University of Michigan Press – particularly during his discussion of Sha-Na-Na. The strange combination of 1950’s aesthetic riffs with post-counter-culture sexual ethics as a means of critiquing the limitations of those ethics is a kind of dissonance that I find fairly provocative. I am not attempting to say that Mucka is glam rock (or even, I suppose, that it is directly influenced by glam), but our discussion of the performance of homosexuality made me (myself a ‘mo) want to take the opportunity to toss a couple things out there.

I ‘m not even sure that Mucka’s members are themselves gay – information about the band and its members is a little tough to come by). If not, this would provide one connection with many of the glam rockers of the 70’s for whom exaggerated expressions of gender and sexuality were a means to…to…to rebel (fitting them into the Oedipal complex discourse of music history)? To create a wider space for people to accept / discover their own identities? To shock, to provoke? I’m not sure actually.

Bowling for soup’s “I’m Gay,” potentially has similar undertones (depending on whatever Mucka actually meant with the Gay EP tunes). “I’m Gay” plays off of the double entendre as a way perhaps of re-claiming the word for straight folks (they’re all straight). The song is a cheeky, cheerful diatribe against rockers that are too emo, the central thesis of the song seems bet summed up by the line “I think rock and roll is really funny when it’s serious.” Notable in the lyrics is the bridge section where a dialog develops between the lead singer and various members of the band:

Leader: It’s perfectly fine to be a happy individual

(One band member repeats)

L: Chris, Gary, you wanna join in

Chris : Yeah Man

Gary: Sorry Dude…

L: It’s perfectly fine to be a happy individual

Others: It’s perfectly fine to be a happy individual (in a fake campy accent)

How are we supposed to understand that little quip? What is it’s deliberate message? BFS obviously doesn’t want you to take them too seriously (Sha-Na-Na?) – I mean, the title of the album the song comes from is “The Great Burrito Extortion Case.” However, the song portrays a tenuous support, maybe a conflicted one, for the source of the songs pun – gay people. I tend to think it was inserted into the song to increase the appeal to people who are not affirming of LGBT folk – “hey guys, we’re just kidding, some of us aren’t comfortable with it either…”

Sigur Ròs’ Jonsi Birgisson, however, is the real thing. The FAQ page of the band’s official website reveals that yes in fact, Jonsi is gay. There is only one SR song I know of that deals with issue of homosexuality, the video for Vidrar Vel Til Loftarasa (Good Weather for Airstrikes) from ágætis byrjun (an alright start) features the story of a small Icelandic boy with a penchant for playing with dolls (hey! it’s gender performance!) and his father / community that provide a painful and difficult environment for his identity formation. Here’s the link:

Sigur Ròs presents a stronger, more direct activism – even if perhaps too literally-minded – than did the glam rock of the 70’s or the sarcasm-rock found in Mucka (maybe) and Bowling for Soup. There’s little symbolism here, nor reference to any other time but our own. Also, and most importantly, Jonsi self-identifies unambiguously as a gay man – which makes a big difference.

Anywho, this post is getting interminably long, so I leave you with a short list of some other interesting folks to check out: Matmos (and Martin Schmidt’s solo project Soft Pink Truth), Ani Difranco (of course), Tori Fixx (gay hip-hop artist), Jason and DeMarco (crappy gay contemporary Christian duo), Chris Garneau (a kind of clippy Sufjan Stevens), and Rufus Wainwright (esp. “Gay Messiah”). Let me know what you think.

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