Mary’s Psychoanalysis of a Song: Suspender Man by Steam Powered Giraffe

Time for a longer than expected post that’s not about Gatsby!

Some background: The most basic description of Steam Powered Giraffe is this: they’re a musical group trained in pantomime, and half of them are professionally costumed as steampunk-ish robots. (Check out their youtube videos if you want to see them in action!)

“Suspender Man” was written by one of the group’s main performers: Bunny Bennett, who plays the male robot character of Rabbit. She is openly MTF trans, and has explicitly stated in an interview that she has planted a lot of symbolism and supposedly blatant references to her female identity in this song. I’ll analyze what those might be and how they relate to the recent things she’s told blog readers about herself. Due to copyright reasons, I cannot post the song’s mp3 here, but here’s a link to the lyrics. I will gladly play it for us in class sometime if anybody’s interested.

The song starts off with the Suspendered Man appearing out of nowhere in the bayou. It’s apparently a very strange night since “the gators were all drinking tea in a dreamy pantsless glee” when Bunny’s robot character, Rabbit, discovers the Suspendered Man. The gators defy the concept of gender by being naked during their tea party and show right away that Bunny isn’t comfortable with society’s expectations. This idea of freedom is portrayed as feminine due to the tea party the ‘gators are participating in; tea parties are considered a female activity.

The Suspendered Man himself is dripping with male imagery: “the biggest red suspenders I ever did see” and a banjo “holstered” in his hand. Banjos are an obvious phallic image, and suspenders prove to be a symbol of conformity throughout. The Suspendered Man is the epitome of maleness and initially draws Rabbit in with saying how his “banjo has shown [him] the promised land”, implying that maleness is “Right”. To get him to start playing, Rabbit flips a coin into the Suspendered Man’s tip pot, which in itself is a yonic symbol in need of other analysis. This indicates how Rabbit currently subscribes to inherent male symbolism and how Bunny used to for years. The Suspendered Man then starts the music in a masculine, wild manner: “He plucked those strings and belched a giggle/He tapped his foot, howled like a hound/Igniting up the unholy sound.” 

The chorus verses start with how Rabbit has “never never…ever heard anything so great” as the masculine symbol of the Suspendered Man playing his phallic banjo. (That was not a sentence I expected to write…) The chorus insists that everyone wants suspenders and a banjo because of how awesome this mysterious bog-man is. An entire crowd “swarmed the swamp and was tossing in coin after coin” when they heard him play. The crowd is subscribing to the idea of standard heteronormativity; not only are they all abusing the poor tip jar, they all want more suspenders to keep their own identities literally suspended and hidden from others (symbolized here by pants), and a Freudian analysis would say that everyone wants a banjo due to an improper development during the phallic stage, leading to penis envy.

Near the end, the Suspendered Man disappears, leaving behind just his suspenders and banjo. The band says “that’s what he gets for selling his soul to the bog”, where the bog is a metaphor for the  mire of mixed genders/identities in the real world. He died for the social ideas of normativity to appeal to others, but it changed who he was until he faded completely away. The same concept could apply for Bunny: she has since stated that she made herself completely miserable by trying to convince herself to identify as male for years because it was “easier”.

The last few lines end up meaning that trying to change one’s true identity is like trying to do gypsy magic: it just won’t work. One of the very last lines is also a sign that Bunny has made a decision about herself: “You could wear a dress, and have no need [for identity suspension]!” She has concluded that being comfortable is just as important as fitting in, but sometimes you cannot do both. The background vocals even state that “the alligators had it right/wearing pants, it sure does bite,” going back to the idea of freedom and nonconformity being a release, but not ideal for every day use.
Freud would have a field day with Bunny herself, but I’m not going to do that here since I don’t know enough about her life to be able to say “x is probably because of y during stage z” in his style of analysis.

Mary’s Bridge to the Blog: Gatsby Discussion

Today’s discussion started with Fitzgerald’s biographical information—from his infidelity and alcoholism to his and Zelda’s ennui and rampant partying.
Someone suggested that Fitzgerald is like Tom, and Zelda is like Daisy but if it’s really considered, they were more like Gatsby and Daisy: Zelda was a rich girl from the South, Fitzgerald a military boy from a poor Midwestern family. He made a fortune to win her back. The biggest difference is that they did get married, but shortly after that their relationship went to hell in a handbasket.
My biggest question is: how biographical is “The Great Gatsby”? We know that Gatsby despises social structure because society expects him to stay in his place and essentially never rise above it. When he does rise above it, he is met with scorn and dislike from those who have always had status and are of old money. Gatsby himself finds his fortune through illegal means, such as gambling and bootlegging, despite the fact that many readers assume he is a Good Guy. He profits financially from this line of work, but I’m not sure he profits socially, especially not when everyone starts to get the hint that he’s a bootlegger.
Does Gatsby reflect anything about Fitzgerald himself?

We know that Gatsby is actually similar to Nick up to a point, as Nick finds himself despising the Midwest (like Gatsby did) and comes to the East to find himself or find a career. If Gatsby does symbolize something about Fitzgerald, does this mean that Nick does as well? The huge difference between them is that Nick is still poor, and goes home to the Midwest at the end, and develops the same cynicism many people developed after witnessing the extravagant carelessness of the Jazz Age. Nick talks about working at his father’s business and marrying a girl from his hometown. Then he goes to New York to leave everything behind, but finds that New York is awful for him and runs away home to leave New York behind him. Does this evaluation of Nick prove that he exemplifies good ol’ Midwestern values like family and contentment? Or is this simply how Nick copes with everything: by running away (albeit temporarily)? It seems to me like he’s a bit defeatist by the end of things, but still has an admirable hope within him that can be rekindled if he gets away from the kids (because let’s be honest: Tom, Daisy, Gatsby; they’re refusing to grow up in some ways because society has told them to) in New York and back to calmer society in the generic Midwestern town he’s from.

The idea that the rich characters are refusing to grow up is shown in their varying levels of practicality. Gatsby is immensely practical …until he falls for Daisy. Then everything he does is for Daisy and Daisy alone, no longer for his own self-improvement. Daisy is a bit foolish and romantic at the start of the book, but by the end her own cynicism has caught up with her and she only sees one outcome of the altercation with Gatsby and Tom: stay with Tom because it’s the socially right thing to do.
Speaking of Tom, what about him?
He’s not romantic (he was never going to run away with Myrtle), nor is he necessarily practical (rents an apartment for Myrtle’s excessive amount of purchases bought with his own money, but not for her living self). Yet he still seems to be childish in some manner. Any ideas?

We also discussed symbolism of color and the place of women, ultimately ending full-circle by re-discussing Fitzgerald and whether he was racist himself, or if his characters are just a product of the racism of society. Sadly, I don’t have the space to discuss those in-depth.

Feel free to discuss any of the above (including those last points I haven’t elaborated on)!