Theory Teacher's Blog

Found in Tranference

There are two inspirations for this post. First, an acquaintance of mine circulated on one of those “online social networks” a YouTube clip of this music video “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken,” by the band Camera Obscura, in which the boy and the girl dance through the shopping district of Shibuya in Tokyo for no sensible reason at all. Second, I’m going to be leading a three-week study-abroad trip in Japan this May, and since I don’t really have anything to blog about this week, I thought I’d blog about something that relates to my upcoming trip… even if the music video doesn’t really relate to my trip… or relate to anything at all.

Except maybe it does…. I’m going to try to say something immensely clever by the end of this post. What that will be, I don’t know yet. I hope you’re as excited and shaking with anticipation as I am about it. Anyway, here’s the music video, which my aforementioned acquaintance from the unnamed online social network claimed would be an “optical seducation.”

Oh, oh, so fun, so fun, indeed — a seductive frolic through color and 60’s kitsch. I’d never heard of the band Camera Obscura before, but because of the location in Shibuya, I was reminded of the movie, Lost in Translation. And if you haven’t seen this movie yet, you should. And if you don’t think you should, then it’s quite possible that you’ve got, um, you know… “issues.”

That movie came out in 2003, and the song about Lloyd came out in 2006, and so maybe the people in Camera Obscura saw the movie… but so what? Who cares that the synapses of my distrubed brain connected one thing with the other?

But here’s the thing — the thing of the two things. The two things are opposites. The music video is the reverse of the movie.

What? Is this the clever thing I promised?… Hold on.

The movie of course is about two characters — Bill Murray and Scarlet Johanson — who are “lost” even before they get to Japan, but who are even more lost in Japan where they don’t know the language or the culture. Obviously the whole “being lost” thing is a metaphor for how meaningless their lives had become before they even arrived on the scene. But they don’t realize their existential lostness until they encounter a literal lostness — similar to the TV show Lost.  (Except the literal lostness is actually the metaphorical vehical to explore their existential lostness.) Although the movie seems at first to be about their confrontation with the “other” foreign culture, we eventually realize that the real other is their own self.  I’ve written about the American fascination with Japanese otherness before [here]. Eventually Murray and Johanson become friends, come to like being in Japan… and find that their lives have meaning. In other words, they translate themselves. That is to say, it is their confrontation with otherness, with strangers, that allows them to reconcile themselves to their own internal otherness — to the fact that they had long before become strangers to themselves.

The music video “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken,” [lyrics]  would seem to be the total opposite. Instead of a confrontation with the other, the music video is fantasy escape into total otherness — the Shibuya skyline, the retro-60s clothing and furniture, the ecstacy, etc.  This is what Freud calls “transference” when you redirect your libidinal desires or feelings onto an idealized object. In this case, the idealized object is the metonymic symbolization of perfect happiness, and I’m using the word somewhat differently than Freud. For him, the object of transference was the doctor himself — the One who knows all,  the one who knows the secret cure. But the culture industry is in many ways a substitute doctor. And in the case of the music video, the singer longs to be the happy, skipping blond couple who seem to have some secret knowledge of the way to happiness. This is the solution to her identity, which is why she sings, “I know you can stay a girl by holding a boy’s hand.” The knowledge of this secret happiness is key, especially since the singer clearly knows that she does not know it. And in a sense, she doesn’t want to BE them at all (because who would want to, really?); she just wants to know what they know. She is “ready to be heartbroken.”

This is the secret to happiness, she believes… a secret she wants but doesn’t really want… but of course the writers of the song don’t really believe that. They are playing the standard love narrative, which soons becomes uncanny and strange, when the couple skips past the allusion to Andy Warhol’s famously postmodern Brillo boxes and we discover how completely reproducable Lloyd is. Immediately after the Brillo/Lloyd boxes we enter a Hollywood cinemascape from a 50s musical. The “boy” is, like the Hollywood romantic musical, a fabrication — a substitute for another, a constructed thing that confers identity on the girl. There is no unique “him” that is needed. Any “him” will do.

So, on the one hand we have Lost in Translation, with its fearful confrontation with otherness that leads the characters out of their psychological feeling of void. And on the other hand, we have the music video, with its desire for otherness that reminds the singer (if not also us) that her life is not the idealized one — an other that seems to be not just difference, but the big Other. The big Other with a capital O (according to Lacan) is the symbolic order that demands the subject not necessarily conform to it, but — at least — relate to IT somehow, whatever IT is, which of course we don’t really know because we only know that by holding the boy’s hand,  the girl gets some kind of status conferred upon her.

So, I’m almost done, amost done trying to sound clever. So, here’s the thing: in a sense, the music video is the flip side of the movie. What does this dialectic between two opposites teach us? Search me, I’ve lost myself.

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April 22, 2009 - Posted by | global, Japan, movies, race

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