Slave to the Rhythm: A Psychoanalysis

Grace jones

Grace Jones’ video (produced by Trevor Horn) “Slave to the Rhythm” puts goose-bumps on my arms every time I watch it. Meaningful, symbolic images flash on the screen constantly in a distorted manner, resembling a hallucination, or a dream-like state. As someone who is hoping to psychoanalyze this video, I don’t even know where to begin…but common sense tells me I should start with common sense.

If the average, Wal-Mart shoppin’ consumer were to be exposed to this video (which is highly unlikely, since Grace Jones has never really entered the realm of “mainstream”), they would probably be thinking something along the lines of, “That woman is crazy”, “She is weird”, “That video is weird”, “That shit is scary”, or “What a freak; shut that thing off!” Maybe the more open-minded interpretive community would think, “Wow, this video is intense. She is trying to portray some kind of deep, artistic message. This video is awesome” (That was actually my first common sense reaction to her video). Either way, we all, as consumers of culture, see her video and our common sense has us pinpoint what her and her video ARE, not what kind of emotion her video invokes and what it DOES to us. For me, Grace Jones’ video immediately brings up emotion I can’t put a finger on. The multitude of images flashing in her video puts me in a trance, a dream-like state. This is what her video DOES to me every time I watch it.

Sigmund Freud and other psychoanalysts focus on dream-states because our unconscious desires (the id), repressed by our ego, appear in our dreams as distorted images. If I were to draw a parallel to Grace Jones’ video, I would say that her images represent our society’s dream-state, with the bizarre, twisted images symbolizing our unconscious desires. We have repressed images of what popular media has shown us about slavery and about race, and they come back up in a distorted way in this video. In fact, the most obvious binary at play in this video is that of black versus white. The video also includes sexual fetishism and symbolism, as well as distorted movements – all characteristic of the dream-state.

One snippet in the video that demonstrates this well is around the 1 minute, 25 second mark. A black woman dressed in traditional tribal garb is drumming on a white woman’s nude derriere. This immediately brings up fetishism, since a woman’s ass is seen by many as a separate, sexual object. Seeing it smacked, or drummed in this case, is a turn-on for some. The white woman’s behind could also symbolize a drum, since it is being tapped on as such, and therefore could also be the symbol of a hollow object. Freudian thinkers see hollow objects in dreams as symbolizing the female genitals. This sexual fetishism and symbolism would make more sense to the mainstream if it was a white man drumming on her, but Grace Jones and Trevor Horn, the producer, decided to fuck with the mainstream and have the exact opposite, a black tribal woman (possibly representing a slave), drumming on her instead. The black woman is now dominant over the submissive white woman, which is not at all what we see in the popular media’s portrayal of the relationship between black women and white women. The white woman is also wearing long, pink gloves, which make me think of what an upper-class white woman of the eighties would wear. So the practically nude tribal black woman (typically thought of as lower-class, if not a classless slave) is drumming on an upper class white woman who is nude from the bottom down, but is decked out in fashionable wear from the top up. This snippet appears for all of three seconds, yet it has so much complexity.

This snippet would never see the light of day in our popular culture, because our egos would censor it. It doesn’t make any sense, and it seems vulgar and defies what we’ve been taught about the black/white and upper-class/lower class binaries. But leave it to Grace Jones and Trevor Horn to bring the unconscious into the conscious, via a twisted, dream-like video. This may be the reason this whole video is such an affective one for its viewers. It triggers what may be lying dormant in our unconscious, and stirs it to life. It does what Grace Jones probably meant for it to do: it gets us thinking.

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