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Some Gatsby Afterthoughts

Special thank yous to Adrienne for planning (and silverware), to Rachel for the best potluck contribution, to Ashton for bringing the DVD, and to Tedward for valiantly taking home all leftover food so no one else had to carry it.

Confession: I did not expect to like the DiCaprio/Mulligan version at all.  But I did.  A lot.  It’s  gorgeous, of course.  And both Gatsby and Daisy were significantly more human in this version–reinforced even in simple ways like the fact that Nick repeatedly called Gatsby “Jay,” which is not true of the novel or Redford/Farrow movie.  As a result, Leo-Gatsby seemed more vulnerable, his carefully constructed world on a much shakier foundation.  I had loved Redford-Gatsby, but he is a cardboard man, and Leo-Gatsby showed the work it took to be Gatsby.  And Mulligan-Daisy was both much more likeable and more awful, since her guilt for Myrtle’s death is more profound if she isn’t simply a twit.

Still struggling with how I feel about the Nick-in-a-sanitorium invention.  And with the combination of explicit information about the 20s for an ignorant American viewing public being carefully woven into the film, only to be juxtaposed with radically anachronistic elements (not the music– I liked that much more than I anticipated).

Both Toms stink.  Bruce Dern-Tom is not nearly enough of a “brute,” to use Daisy’s word.  And Joel Edgerton-Tom is not believable as old money– would Tom Buchanan ever wear dirty polo clothes to a dinner with guests?  No way.  Very interesting difference in George Wilsons, one of whom is so beaten down and lost and the other of whom is a man ready to kill.

It has already been well established that I can find a phallic symbol anywhere.  But please, people: Nick and Gatsby on the porch with a huge white column between them (Redford version)??  The sharing of one cigarette??  Etc. etc.  Don’t even get me started psychoanalyzing Gatsby’s wombish swimming pools, in which he meets his death.

Lastly (maybe): why did Leo-Gatsby say “old sport” to rhyme with “Colbert Report”?  That was awkward.

Claire’s Reader Response Analysis of “Radioactive,” by Imagine Dragons

The song “Radioactive” is a very popular song over the last year, and most people have seen the music video. People that I have spoken to about the music video had interesting reactions to it, so it seemed like a rich source for analysis by reader-response criticism. I’ll be focusing mainly on transactional reader-response and affective stylistics in my analysis of the music video.

Watch the first video (lyrics only) first, or at least read through the lyrics, to get a feel of the song and it’s message, and then watch the music video and go ahead and feel confused. I did too. A link to the lyrics is here.



Transactional reader-response, according to Tyson, focuses on how a reader and a text interact, and the significance or meaning of the text is the poem, which is found in the transaction that occurs between the two. In order for a meaningful transaction to occur, the text must be read in aesthetic mode, with attention to emotional subtleties, and not focused solely on the facts. Affective stylistics centers on the idea that a text is an event that occurs as it is read, and it analyzes the cognitive processes that occur to the reader as they read.

My analysis will incorporate these two perspectives, focusing on the cognitive processes and subsequent emotional transactions that I experienced while watching the music video, and then evaluate what the text accomplished overall by scrutinizing the “poem” I experienced and analyzing my response to that interpretation.

The music video starts off with a shot of a girl walking down a wood path. There is a crow cawing, and the leaves are blowing across the ground. The sky is gray, and there is no music. The natural drama of this scene excited me and made me a little nervous. It reminded me of the eerie, twilit pathway in Jane Eyre, right before she meets Rochester. There’s a feeling of imminent action. The shot is also shown from far away at ground level, which resists my idea of my normal position in my world, subverting my feeling of normalcy, solidity, and self. As the music begins to play, scenes of the girl with shocking blue eyes, carrying a covered case, are interspersed with shots of the band members in a jail, and eventually some scenes of a group of men betting on something. I felt disappointed at the direction the video was taking. The camera repeatedly paused for close-ups on the girl’s eyes; this combined with the theatrical scenes of the men felt a little overboard.  I had interpreted the song to be very meaningful, and (at this point) I wanted to take the video very seriously as well. But it seemed like the music video was taking itself too seriously – predictable and overly dramatic.

Then comes the unexpected.

The rest of the music video is about a puppet monster that brutally fights and kills other puppets in a ring surrounded by angry, betting men. The monster is undefeated, until the girl brings in her teddy bear to fight in the ring. The teddy bear uses its power-punch and laser-vision to destroy the monster and several cronies as well. The girl takes the key from the head honcho and frees the band from jail. Hooray! The head honcho is then presumably killed by the angry horde of puppets.

When I first saw the music video, I was honestly incredibly uncomfortable with it. The transition from what I thought was an artsy, classy, albeit predictably melodramatic music video to a startlingly violent puppet massacre really took me by surprise and put me on edge. My viewing of the rest of the movie was strongly colored by my disapproval of the sudden, uncontrolled direction change. I’ve never been a fan of puppets (the Muppets so frightened me as a child that I hated every one of them, sans lovable Kermit, of course) so I wasn’t exactly thrilled with that plot choice. Scenes such as the beheading of a puppet, a puppet in a noose, and a horde of puppets surrounding the bad guy as he screams in terror to presumably maul him to death, I found disturbing, out of context of the song, and confusing. However, I found myself (a little against my will) smiling at the (darkly) uplifting plot of the music video. Good (fluffy pink teddy bear) triumphs over evil (puppet monster that mutilates other puppets). It was unexpected, and maybe a little refreshing. It felt good to see the plot sort itself out, and I had to admit that it seemed to fit with the lyrics of the song, which reference a revolution and reform- a new age or awakening (“I raise my flags … it’s a revolution I suppose” and “I’m waking up, I feel it in my bones … welcome to the New Age”).

As I looked back to analyze my response, I began to appreciate more what the music video had accomplished. The way the video had made me feel when it subverted all of my norms expectations and spun around in a completely different and unexpectedly positive direction (uncomfortable, confused, disapproving, even a little scared) mirrored the subject of the song itself: a revolution. The video had shaken me up, as revolution usually does, but had given an uplifting, positive message of new life, reform, transformation, and renewal in the end.

Ian’s Psychoanalytic Analysis of “Hospice” by The Antlers

–Listen here

–Lyrics here

Hospice is a ten song, 52-minute story of a hospice worker who falls in love with his patient, a victim of terminal bone cancer.  Musically and lyrically, it is a work of art.  The album, although an allegory for the author Peter Silberman’s abusive relationship, is still ripe with potential for psychoanalysis in the story itself.

In my criticism, I will focus on the character Sylvia rather than a specific song, since the album tells her story.  I will not be analyzing the characters in the text, and not their metaphoric purpose, because the characters of the text are more fruitful for this exercise.

We have two main characters in this tragic story: the Hospice Worker–a male nurse who I will call the Singer–and the patient he falls in love with, Sylvia.  Sylvia has had cancer since she was a little girl, and the following image (from the album’s digital booklet) is the best preface for her story that I could offer.

PrefaceHer psychological issues transcend that of a typical cancer patient.  Just from this small preface, we can see that she suffers from nightmares and delusions, and an ambiguous darkness that follows her like a shadow.  When she “fell crossing that street,” her sense of reality became intertwined with the demons she faced in her head.  She saw ghosts, like the bald boy who died in the ward, and for a better part of her life couldn’t escape them.  Furthermore, we can conclude that Sylvia’s parents were abusive in one way or another.  From track 7, “Two”:

“Daddy was an asshole, and he fucked you up; built the gears inside your head and now he greases them up. And no one paid attention when you just stopped eating.”

Sylvia is physically self-deprecating; in track 3, “Sylvia,” we see that she has tried to kill herself by sticking her head in the oven (certainly an allusion to Sylvia Plath).  The Singer stops her, and then implores that she go back to “screaming and cursing,” that she “remind [him] again how everyone betrayed [her].”  He would rather take that than her death.

We are not given background information on the Singer, but rather become aware of his character through his narration.  He is in love, if you can call it that, for it is no doubt a corrupted form of love.  Love implies some sort of reciprocity.  Maybe more of a vacuous adoration, one which leaves him wanting more after every wound.  The Singer’s professional job, which is to care for Sylvia, becomes his personal job.  However, what he does for Sylvia is never enough to satisfy her; she is always left bitter.  The two marry, and the rings become a symbol of bondage.  From track 4, “Atrophy”:

“With the bite of the teeth of that ring on my finger, I’m bound to your bedside, your eulogy singer.”

Psychoanalytically, what does this mean?  Let’s start with Sylvia.  The first thing to note is that Sylvia’s childhood development stages were severely impaired.  Her father, who she tried to love during the Oedipal stage, was abusive.  This could mean that she generally displaces her anger and hate onto other people who attempt to love her, i.e., the Singer.  Sylvia also suffers from terrible nightmares, which, according to Freudian psychoanalytic theory, are in some way the results of repressed memories.  Track 7, “Two,” indicates where those repressed memories might come from:

“You had another dream, it was more like a nightmare.  You were just a little kid and they cut your hair.  They stuck you in machines, you came so close to dying.  They should have listened, they thought that you were lying.”

In this particular dream, it seems that the latent content and the manifest content are one in the same.  She has nightmares that harken back to the days when she was plunged into grand and frightening machines as a young girl.  Sylvia’s nightmares are so prevalent that I would say she has trouble disassociating them from reality, and becomes unable to control her repression of these memories.  This is what Freud calls the “crisis.”

Finally, Sylvia was also exposed to the concept of death at a young age.  A child who becomes aware of their own mortality before the teen years certainly is liable to develop a very potent thanatos, or “death drive.”  From sticking her head in the over to other forms of self-deprecation and injury, Sylvia does her fair share of death work.  However, this could be a vehicle of repression, which would explain the nightmares full of demons and visions of ghosts that possibly represent her repressed fear of death, which is more imminent and real for her than we can imagine.

This somber tale of impossible love is, although depressing, beautifully written and unbearably cathartic.  Sylvia is a tragic character, and a productive case study for psychoanalysis.  The Singer could be as well–but that will have to wait for another day.

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.

Choose Dates/Topics for Applied Theory Posts!

This is another Doodle poll; for each theory listed, up to three students may sign up.  The link for the 9:30 section is here, and the link for the 11:00 section is here.

The basic gist of this assignment is as follows:  Each student will be assigned to one specific theoretical movement early in the semester and a schedule will be posted on the blog.  On the day we read about that theory, you will post to the blog an analysis of a film, song, or children’s book that is clearly informed by the theoretical questions and vocabulary for that critical group.  500-750 words.

Canvas now has an assessment rubric for this assignment, and there is a word document with the assessment criteria on the Rubrics page under Assignments above.

Psychoanalytic Theory and Marxist Theory, both in Week 3, are available if you want to do this assignment early!

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)!