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Pulp, Pornography and Spectatorship: Subject Matter and Subject Position in Pulp's This is Hardcore

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020

Nicola Dibben*
Affiliation:
University of Sheffield

Abstract

Sheffield pop band Pulp's album This is Hardcore (1998) problematizes media constructions of fame, masculinity, youth and sexuality as self-aggrandizing fantasies. Pornography and glamour function in the album as cyphers for the disparity between fantasy and reality - a disparity fuelled by the media and their highly alienated cultural forms. The album's critique of these fantasies is made both in its subject matter and through the alienated subject position it solicits - a subject position at odds with constructions of macho masculinity as the protagonist in sexual encounters, and with constructions of fame and stardom. Drawing on media theory, I situate the album as part of a more general critique of spectatorship and voyeurism, and of the forms of cultural consumption (including music) which encourage passivity and disengagement.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Royal Musical Association, 2001

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References

This research was carried out with the support of a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship. Earlier versions of this paper were presented as ‘Pulp, Pornography and Voyeurism’ at the conference ‘Popular Music and the Media: Television, Video and Film’ (Sheffield Hallam University, July 1999) and as ‘Construction and Critique of the Authentic Pop Icon’ at the Critical Musicology Forum (University of Surrey, July 2000).Google Scholar

1 Cocker, Jarvis, cited in Krugman, Michael, ‘Deconstructing Jarvis’, Raygun (http://members.tripod.com/-CleverSwine/nojava/raygun2.html, 30 June 1998).Google Scholar

2 Pulp, , This is Hardcore (Island CID 8066/524 486–2, 1998). The cover art is by New York artist John Currin (an artist who portrays ageing playboys and improbably fulsome women in hyper-realistic style); photographs by Horst Diekgerdes; computer-enhanced by Peter Saville.Google Scholar

3 See, for example, Baudrillard's account of how images produce reality rather than copy it (Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings, ed. and introduced by Mark Poster, Cambridge, 1988).Google Scholar

4 For an account of the poster's reception and its relationship to the title track of the album, see Eric F. Clarke and Nicola Dibben, ‘Sex, Pulp and Critique’, Popular Music, 19 (2000), 231–41.Google Scholar

5 Kuhn, Annette, The Power of the Image: Essays on Representation and Sexuality (London and New York, 1987).Google Scholar

6 Ibid., 33.Google Scholar

7 Ibid., 28.Google Scholar

8 Freud, Sigmund, On Sexuality: Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, and Other Works, trans. James Strachey, ed. Angela Richards (Harmondsworth, 1977).Google Scholar

9 The seminal work on this is Laura Mulvey's account of how the unconscious of patriarchal society has structured film form (Laura Mulvey, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ (1975), Visual and Other Pleasures, Bloomington, IN, 1989, 1428). Mulvey's argument is that mainstream film portrays a ‘hermetically sealed world which unwinds magically, indifferent to the presence of the audience, producing for them a sense of separation and playing on their voyeuristic fantasy’ (ibid, 20). This voyeuristic separation is enhanced by conditions of screening (such as the darkened audience and lit screen) and narrative conventions which provide the viewer with the illusion of looking in on a private world. According to Mulvey, cinema satisfies scopophilia, but develops its narcissistic aspect by focusing attention on the human form.Google Scholar

10 Lacan, Jacques, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridan (London, 1981).Google Scholar

11 For example, Kramer argues that in the nineteenth century the power to scrutinize women's bodies and behaviour was institutionalized (Lawrence Kramer, Music as Cultural Practice 1800–1900, Berkeley, CA, and London, 1990, 108) and that scopophilia rivalled physical penetration as the means of satisfying sexual desire for nineteenth-century men (Lawrence Kramer, ‘The Salome Complex’, Cambridge Opera Journal, 2, (1990), 269–94). Indeed, Kramer argues that ‘to the degree to which it is scopophilic, the unseen gaze of the audience is gendered masculine, regardless of who exercises it’ (ibid., 284, n. 31).Google Scholar

12 As Kramer remarks: ‘Appropriation of the visual field depends on a shared, tacit awareness that the man who gazes can be seen to gaze. The visibility of the gazing eye is also its vulnerability.’ Kramer, ‘The Salome Complex’, 274.Google Scholar

13 Althusser, Louis, ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (London, 1971), 123–73.Google Scholar

14 See, for example, Kramer, Music as Cultural Practice, 1–20. Drawing on speech act theory, Kramer argues that music is an act of expression/representation which can exert illocutionary force; music is an agent of culture because it participates in cultural discourse through which meanings are produced as part of the continual production and reproduction of culture.Google Scholar

15 'The Fear’, words by Jarvis Cocker, music by Jarvis Cocker, Nick Banks, Candida Doyle, Steve Mackey and Mark Webber. © 1988 Universal/Island Music Ltd, 77 Fulham Palace Road, London W6. Used by permission of Music Sales Ltd. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.Google Scholar

16 A similar image appears in the cover art to another album released the same year: Robbie Williams's I've Been Expecting You (EMI CD 97837, 1998). An inner photograph shows Williams dressed in a bathrobe, in a glamorous setting, looking directly into the camera. In this case, however, the photograph is part of the album's self-conscious, tongue-in-cheek reference to the world of the fictional character James Bond.Google Scholar

17 Pulp, , ‘The Fear’, This is Hardcore.Google Scholar

18 Cocker, Jarvis, cited in Krugman, ‘Deconstructing Jarvis'.Google Scholar

19 In the UK the forename ‘Barry’ has connotations of sleaze and banality as well as connoting a ‘ladies’ man'. Examples are Barry White, Barry Manilow and Barry from the TV soap opera EastEnders (1997–9). Barry may also be a reference to Barry Adamson, on whose album Jarvis Cocker appeared with a track related to some of the same issues (Barry Adamson/Jarvis Cocker, ‘Set the Controls for the Heart of the Pelvis’, Oedipus Schmoedipus, CD STUMM 134, 1996).Google Scholar

20 Pulp, , ‘The Fear'.Google Scholar

21 As with related methods of analysis (e.g. Philip Tagg, ‘Analysing Popular Music: Theory, Method and Practice’, Popular Music, 2 (1982), 3767), the validity of this reading is dependent upon a shared cultural understanding of musical materials and their social contexts.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

22 Reynolds and Press give the paradigmatic source for this as Bo Diddley, ‘I'm a Man’ (Simon Reynolds and Joy Press, The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion and Rock ‘n’ Roll, London, 1995). See also Led Zeppelin, ‘Whole Lotta Love’, Led Zeppelin II (Swan Song SD-8236, 1969). For other discussions of the role of the lead guitar in constructions of masculinity, see Simon Frith and Angela MacRobbie, ‘Rock and Sexuality’, On Record: Rock, Pop and the Written Word (London, 1990), 371–89; Robert Walser, Running with the Devil: Power, Gender and Madness in Heavy Metal Music (Hanover, NH, 1993); and Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender, ed. Sheila Whiteley (London and New York, 1997).Google Scholar

23 Reynolds and Press, The Sex Revolts, 21.Google Scholar

24 Ibid, 115.Google Scholar

25 ’ “The Fear” – Yeah, well that was something I got some chords for while being on tour and it's got a bit of a horror sound-track kind of feel to it.’ Jarvis Cocker, ‘Pulp from Disco to Hardcore’, BBC Radio 1, 1998/9.Google Scholar

26 See, for example, Status Quo, ‘Most of the Time’, On the Level (Capital LP 11381, 1975).Google Scholar

27 See cultural discourse, both past and present, which talks of music and musicians in these terms; for example, Robert Walser's discussion of Liszt (Running with the Devil, 76).Google Scholar

28 The backing vocals reference, on the one hand, those of progressive rock (compare the backing vocals on ‘The Fear’ with those of Pink Floyd, ‘Shine on you Crazy Diamond’, Wish you were Here (Columbia CK 33453, 1975) and, on the other hand, those of glam-rock (e.g. Queen). Yet the backing vocals in ‘The Fear’ are ridiculously extreme: they ascend to unfeasibly high registers only to collapse into incoherence and a lack of (vocal) control similar to that displayed by the lead guitar. Breakdown of the vocal signifies breakdown of the meanings with which progressive rock and glam-rock are associated: progressive rock's pretensions to profundity, heroism and transcendence are ridiculed and, in the case of glam-rock, its camp aesthetic is heightened into hysteria.Google Scholar

29 The Doors, ‘When the Music's Over’, Strange Days (Elektra 74014, 1967).Google Scholar

30 The Doors, ‘The End’, The Doors (Elektra 74007, 1967).Google Scholar

31 Note the parallel between The Doors’ ‘When the Music's Over’ and Pulp's ‘This is our “Music from a Bachelor's Den”’, which both equate music (the song) with life. Whereas both Doors’ tracks function as the final track on their respective albums, ‘The Fear’ is the first track on This is Hardcore. Both this and the constant play on delaying the end ('The end is near again') play against the expectation for it to function as the ‘real’ end of the album.Google Scholar

32 See, for example, the use of The Doors’ track ‘The End’ in the film Apocalypse Now (dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1979). Paradoxically, the track ‘The End’ is used in the film's opening sequence, perhaps tapping into the film's sense of futility. I am grateful to Kay Dickinson for drawing my attention to this use of the track.Google Scholar

33 The Doors, ‘When the Music's Over'.Google Scholar

34 Both ‘The End’ and the film Apocalypse Now reference ‘the East’ as a Western ‘voyage of discovery'.Google Scholar

35 Significantly, Jarvis Cocker's reference to himself as not being Jesus comes after his altercation with the Christ-like Michael Jackson at the 1996 Brit Awards. Cocker's stage invasion disrupted Michael Jackson's performance of his hit ‘Earth Song’, in which he appeared in white robes and arms outstretched in an imitation of Christ on the cross, ‘healing’ young children dressed as poverty-stricken urchins, and approached by men dressed as monks to receive his ‘divine’ touch. Via a spokesman after the event Jarvis Cocker stated: ‘My actions were a form of protest at the way Michael Jackson sees himself as some kind of Christ-like figure with the power of healing’ (http://www.baritalia.ukgateway.net/bar-brits.html, 24 September 2000).Google Scholar

36 Cocker, , ‘Pulp from Disco to Hardcore'.Google Scholar

37 See, for example, White, Barry, I've got So Much to Give (Twentieth Century 407, 1973), and the Love Unlimited Orchestra, Rhapsody in White (Twentieth Century 423, 1975).Google Scholar

38 Pulp, , ‘Seductive Barry’, This is Hardcore.Google Scholar

39 See, for example, the track ‘Sorted for e's and wizz’, Different Class (Island 8041, 1995).Google Scholar

40 Pulp, , ‘Glory Days’, This is Hardcore.Google Scholar

41 See, for example, Jarvis Cocker's account of the album's title: ‘I first came across the word [hardcore] in the late 80s, when I was going to raves and things. I listened to pirate radio stations and they'd always be saying “Hardcore: You know the score!” and all that kind of thing. There was always a kind of endurance test aspect to raves, because they would start at about 10 o'clock and just go through to morning or longer. So it was real hardcore if you were the one still dancing in the end. But really, the way that people achieved that was by taking massive amounts of drugs, so really there was a kind of sadness about it’ (Jarvis Cocker, cited in Krugman, ‘Deconstructing Jarvis').Google Scholar

42 A similar point is made by Hugh Aldersey-Williams, ‘Living Dolls’, New Statesman, 5 August 1998.Google Scholar

43 The theme of voyeurism may also have another autobiographical reference. In the track ‘Babies’ (His ‘n’ Hers, Island CID8025, 1994) Jarvis Cocker gives a first-hand account of spying on his girlfriend's sister as she makes out with boys in her room – a track which was allegedly influenced by a real incident.Google Scholar

44 Cocker, Jarvis, America Online (http://members.xoom.com/r-W-o/pulp/pulp.html, 30 June 1998).Google Scholar

45 Cocker, Jarvis, cited in Krugman, ‘Deconstructing Jarvis'.Google Scholar

46 Dibben, Clarke and, ‘Sex, Pulp and Critique'.Google Scholar

47 Cocker, Jarvis, cited in Krugman, ‘Deconstructing Jarvis'.Google Scholar

48 Baudrillard, Selected Writings, ed. Poster.Google Scholar

49 Debord, Guy, Society of the Spectacle (Detroit, 1987).Google Scholar

50 The idea that consumption leads to ‘stupefied passivity’ has been challenged by theories of popular culture (e.g. John Fiske, Understanding Popular Culture, London and New York, 1989); however, this is the viewpoint towards which the album addresses itself.Google Scholar

51 Gil Scott Evans, ‘The Revolution will Not be Televised’, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox (BMG Music 07863 666112, 1993).Google Scholar

52 The closing litany of ‘The Day After the Revolution’ ('The rave is over. Sheffield is over. The Fear is over …') can also be read as a satirical homage to John Lennon's post-Beatles track ‘God’ ('The Dream is over'). (John Lennon, ‘God’, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, Parlophone CD46770, 1970).Google Scholar

53 This sentiment is also expressed in earlier Pulp tracks (e.g. ‘Monday Morning’, Different Class: ‘There's nothing to do so you just stay in bed / Why live in the world when you can live in your head?').Google Scholar

54 Cocker, , America Online.Google Scholar

55 See, however, Clarke, Eric F., ‘Subject-Position and the Specification of Invariants in Music by Frank Zappa and P. J. Harvey’, Music Analysis, 18 (1999), 347–74, and Nicola Dibben, ‘Representations of Femininity in Popular Music’, Popular Music, 18 (1999), 331–55, for recent application of theories of subject position to popular song. Both these papers were influenced by a discussion of subject position in Dai Griffiths's ‘Sometimes it's Hard to be a Woman: Fixities and Flexibilities of Gender in Recent Song’, paper presented at LancMAC, Lancaster University, September 1994.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

56 For discussion of the relationship between individual spectators, structures of representation and subject position in relation to visual media, see Ang, Ien, Watching Dallas: Soap Opera and the Melodramatic Imagination (New York, 1985), and Tania Modleski, ‘The Search for Tomorrow in Today's Soap Operas’, Loving with a Vengeance: Mass Produced Fantasies for Women (New York and London, 1982), 85109.Google Scholar

57 Clarke, ‘Subject-Position and the Specification of Invariants’, 371.Google Scholar

58 Bloomfield, Terry, ‘Resisting Songs: Negative Dialectics in Pop’, Popular Music, 12 (1993), 1331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

59 Ibid., 14.Google Scholar

60 In fact, as Bloomfield points out, the notion that the Lied lays bare the ‘soul’ elides many different voices necessary to its production and consumption: the Lied is a complex interweaving of poetic text, compositional score and performers, which complicates the notion that it gives access to a single interiority. Even accepting this, the idea that this is a specifically ‘Romantic’ reception theory is problematized by a number of recent writings: see, for example, Susan Youens, ‘Behind the Scenes: Die schöne Müllerin before Schubert’, 19th Century Music, 15 (1991–2), 3–22; eadem, Schubert, Müller, and Die schöne Mullerin (Cambridge, 1997); and Lawrence Kramer, Franz Schubert: Sexuality, Subjectivity and Song (Cambridge, 1998).Google Scholar

61 Allan Moore has argued that the honesty to experience that music sometimes affords is carefully constructed ('U2 and the Myth of Authenticity’, Popular Musicology, (1998), 533).Google Scholar

62 Bloomfield, , ‘Resisting Songs’, 27.Google Scholar

63 The idea that music can construct ways of hearing is similar to the notion of voice in accounts of music and narrative (see, for example, Carolyn Abbate, Unsung Voices: Opera and Musical Narrative in the Nineteenth Century, Princeton, NJ, 1991, and Kramer, Music as Cultural Practice).Google Scholar

64 See Dibben, Clarke and, ‘Sex, Pulp and Critique'.Google Scholar

66 Pulp, , ‘The Fear'.Google Scholar

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