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Paintings framing the character Elaine are drawn from the Thoth Tarot Deck.
Kate Morgan

That’s a phenomenally good question. I’m not sure I can say. In my Barthian “dead author” shoes, I want to say it’s reifying the divide while dismantling the idea of disempowerment.

But it’s also drawing specific attention to the divide, both visually and contextually in how the plot develops.

I like your reading of the situation through Butler as well. I think The Love Witch would definitely fall in the lines of “everywhere else being a risk,” besides the Tea Room, which is a place men are not allowed. It’s still semi-private, and not public.

Despite the fact Elaine poisons her lovers, it’s easy to equally see her as victim. I’d almost say she mirrors the structural violence inherent to her relationships back.

Paintings framing the character Elaine are drawn from the Thoth Tarot Deck.
Michael Frazer

Very insightful discussion of feminine spaces as depicted in this film. It’s interesting that this depiction goes hand-in-hand with some of Butler’s “Contingent Foundations.” She notes especially the stereotypical/sexist dynamic underlying culture around the time of publication, namely the assumption that “there is no enclosure, that is, no protection, other than the home as domestic marital space.” In context, she is posing the problem of the language that persistently blames the victim. In the rhetoric, she notes the implication that women are supposed to, by patriarchal norms, stay at home and everywhere else is a risk. Clearly, it’s a domineering and problematic mentality to impose a binary like this, and Butler is pointing that out. Now, I’m curious about this idea of the domestic as feminine space versus the world as masculine (as per this heteronormativity that Butler is taking to task). Do you see this domestic space that Elaine inhabits as contributing to this binary, or dismantling it? Especially if she is using her powers to find love, but love that repeatedly ends in death? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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Michael Frazer

I definitely think that Karin Dreijer Andersson is playing with the “occulting process,” so to speak. At some point in the video, there’s a man looking from the house and watching the ritual (2:59). There’s the juxtaposition of domestic and pagan again, suggesting that there’s intrusion in the ritual, and perhaps that’s the point. As you note about the Sami people and Norwegian/Swedish culture, there seems to be a similar dynamic playing out here. This form of ritual is inherently spectacular, and the video is almost voyeuristic, possibly as a method of criticizing those entering into the space without welcome. It’s rather interesting that we are let into the process, but never the result in a way. The video for “If I Had a Heart” seems to be the aftermath of a massacre. The one for “Stranger than Kindness” (her Nick Cave cover) features a crystalline object emitting light in a foggy house, one that is moved with a specific (yet unclear) end, also resulting in a very subtle death at the end. Only the insider will know the purpose of the ritual intent.

I’m trying to think of any example that answers your question about pop/counterexamples, but everything I come up with emphasizes body. Interestingly, reading your characterization reminded me of another Scandinavian band, Norwegian indiepop group Casiokids, whose music videos tend towards cultish fascination. “Det haster!” depicts a cult centered on stuffed animals; “En vill hest” features a presumably cursed statuette. What I find interesting is that all of these instances emphasize body. In “Det haster!,” a young man slices his arm and drips blood on a Moomin doll. In “En vill hest,” another young man performs an exercise routine in front of a mirror while the house begins to burn, presumably because of the statuette. I think it’s important that we have these exchanges of body linked to spectacle as ritual is often about gesture and signification. Even if occulted from the Gaze, there is often a link between bodily performance and ritual. The body and gesture signify something aside from/beside language as an extension into some other realm.

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Kate Morgan

I’m not overly familiar with Fever Ray, but I love the detailing of occult history going on here. I love the way the DeBordian spectacle is leveraged for performance.

I think that might be most of Rock as genre—at least from the glam days forward though.

Thanks for the thoughts. I’ll have to muse on them some more.

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Matt Smith

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?

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Michael Frazer

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.

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Heather Lusty

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?

Heather Lusty

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.

Heather Lusty

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.

Michael Frazer

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.