One thing that strikes me about the ways in which we both discuss and utilize native ritual in popular culture is that the practices themselves are often occulted. One thing which causes a large amount of controversy within Native American communities is the practice of making their culture into a spectacle at all, and in fact some religious ceremonies are not performed in front of non-natives at all. The religions themselves are occulted from the eyes of those who have systemically oppressed them. It seems to me that Fever Ray is playing around in this milieu in this video, though of course perhaps it is correct to point toward a generalization of these reference points within native cultures. In particular, I wonder how the legacy of occultation of ritual plays into the relationship between Swedish and Norwegian peoples and the Sami people of the far north, the original tribal inhabitants of those Scandinavian lands. I know that Norway in particular has forced some of the same strictures historically against the Sami as the U.S., and knowing how political (in roundabout ways) Karin Dreijer Andersson is in her art, I wonder if this plays a role in the video for “When I Grow Up” as well. It of course plays well and meaningfully (as we can see in Heather’s comment above) across national borders, but it’s something to ponder, I think, with our object being “media” herein, and in this instance, its ability to reveal something which has heretofore been occulted in some way for very particular reasons, whether the object in question is real or imagined.
Thinking on the pair of your posts together, I like to think that Fever Ray’s entire album is playing on the notion of occult history within music itself, including the use of layered sounds, multiple vocal tracks, and chthonic tonality to evoke an otherworldly existence. Typically this existence has been hinted to in the claims of Satanic verses and prayers in reverse-playback of LPs and cover art for rock ‘n’ roll bands, as well as the many occult histories of music itself, including Robert Johnson’s rather infamous deal with the Devil. I’m wondering how this ties into the “spectacle” aspect. Do you see it as playing a separate part in how we view the ways gazing at the body works in this video? Are there counter-examples in similar videographies of pop artists?
That’s an interesting point about spectacle. It’s almost a Catch-22, isn’t it? It reminds me a bit of Charles Russell’s “The Context of the Concept,” in which he argues that there really is no escape from context. We are always already caught up in some sort of context and even resistance/opposition to the context is coded by it. So on the one hand, I think it’s as Debord says: this is spectacle. It’s a mass market music video. On the other, by subjecting the Gaze to subversion in a video that is meant for mass viewership, it still subverts (or at least interrogates) the larger Gaze of the viewing culture. It’s a give and take: as you say, “the medium problematizes the ritual and the gaze,” and vice versa. I think it ultimately subjects the medium itself to the same criticism by using the selfsame medium to express a message against it.
This was an interesting video. I wonder if there’s a way to approach the symbiosis between ritual and the natural elements via Native American dancing (as a way to call forth the elements, talk to the gods, show respect for life forces) - which I know little to nothing about. It seems like many of the elements of pastiche the actress/singer displays here harness that type of connection to animistic culture. And, I wonder if Guy Debord’s theory of the spectacle gives some perspective on the form here - video, meant to be mass distributed for promoting the music. “a spectacle is generally understood as a “person or thing exhibited to, or set before, the public gaze as an object either (a) of curiosity or contempt, or (b) of marvel or admiration.” Such an exhibition is intended to form an “impressive or interesting show or entertainment for those viewing it.” Certainly applies to the outer framework - I wonder if that clouds the artist/director’s intention of the gaze. I guess the medium problematizes the ritual and the gaze, by nesting potential perspectives?
I’ll check out Montreal tonight. I think “doom metal” is pretty diverse in itself, and what Ghost is doing is a definite departure from the established schtick. I like the link to McLuhan; yes, the medium (music, occult, spectacle) influences how the message is perceived, to an extent, but I think on the level of parody. And (give word limits) - I don’t think that Ghost is just about parody. They’re really doing something unique in the genre, but not just to satirize organized religion. Their music is, by and large, inspirational and positive, and celebratory. It’s hard to fit them in to the more image-based micro-genres of metal because lyrically and musically they’re pretty “abby-normal” for the doom metal subset.
I think the focus is contemporary has shifted from anti-war rhetoric of the 60s to the global spread of consumerism, poverty, inhumanity, political corruption. Allows for the same type of critique, but the targets have changed. I like your use of decolonization - yes, in a sense, I think western Christianity’s influence has oppressed new legions of people - through the same strategies of cultural, educational, and linguistic dominance. It’s a good analogy.
I really enjoy the discussion here on occult imagery as inherently subversive. Hanging on my wall, I have indie pop band of Montreal’s album False Priest. It features a fish-headed man with a gas mask in presumably religious garb, all surrounded by images of religion (books, flaming hearts, stained glass, &c.), and war (guns and an army of other fishmen). Similar imagery appears on the cover of their album Satanic Panic in the Attic and onstage in performance. These inversions sound really similar to Ghost’s.
I’m curious your thoughts on genre in particular. As Ghost is doom metal and of Montreal indie pop, I find it interesting that they tackle the same thing to some extent. Obviously, different genres can achieve similar ends. Do you think that Ghost’s image is contingent in some part on the genre itself? Along the lines of Marshall McLuhan, is the genre/medium itself the message in this case?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this.
I like your analysis. It seems like occult imagery in music has never really left popular culture since the life and times of the Beatles, Page and Plant—and the ilk though it was often more subtly presented then.
Do you think there is still a connection between these anti-war forces and Ghost’s performances? Do you think some of it might be a cry for decolonization in the same way goddess worship and paganism grew out of the explorations of third wave feminisms and the “call” given to explore this type of symbolism by second wavers like Luce Irigaray?
Those might be complicated questions, I suppose. It might be just enough to enjoy the music and the deconstruction of institutions that people identify with some of the less authentic aspects of humanity.
Thanks for your thoughts.
Hi Lauren - thanks for reading and commenting, and also for the heads-up about the SWPACA. I’d love to attend in the future. I can see the overlap in our posts too; I think Rowling is so crucial not only to the creation of texts/experiences but also to how canon is perceived. Great to hear you’re using Barthes too - I’ve often wondered how he (and Foucault) would account for someone like Rowling, and for the entertainment industry of today!
Hi Amanda - thanks for reading and commenting. The Harry Potter universe is indeed such a cultural behemoth that I can see why she would seek to remain so entrenched in the world. I think her role provides a kind of security as well; in the face of other franchises that often face reboots or instability due to industrial forces, texts/experiences endorsed by Rowling are imbued by a sense of authenticity. I did submit a joint proposal to your book with my colleague Kieran Sellars, but on a different topic I’m currently working on (Cursed Child). Thanks!
Hi Emily - thanks for reading and commenting. Rowling’s taste-testing is one of my favourite examples of her complex and often bizarre authorial role! I agree that it’s interesting to consider what Rowling thinks about fan interventions and these fan-based challenges to her authority. I’ve been thinking about Cursed Child a lot lately, and it occurs to me that A Very Potter Musical offers an interesting fan-led comparison!