‘Chanson Française is a good lyric, and if possible good music. Chanson Anglais-Americaine is good music and if possible good lyric’. Charles Aznavour outlines ‘the real difference’ between French and Anglo-American popular song in a recent BBC documentary ‘Chanson d’Amour: the Story of French Song’ (BBC4 Documentaries 2015). A good number of Aznavour’s contemporaries concur with him and the programme’s presenter Petula Clark, that it is language that is the most important element of Chanson Française. Musician Alain Souchon recalls hearing ‘Mick Jagger once on the radio, he said, “In England and in America they make rock ‘n’ roll, in France they are better at making wine”. And I understood why he said that’. But for Souchon the music isn’t so important because ‘if you understand the lyrics of Serge Gainsbourgh or Claude Nougaro you understand that it’s magical’. Even Zaz, member of a younger generation who incorporates Anglo-American elements into her continuation of the Chanson tradition, agrees that ‘in France we focus more on the text. I don’t want to talk crap, but in the English-speaking world, there’s more emphasis on the music and making the words rhyme. We tend to intellectualize things’. ...
Chanson Française owes its origins of course to the Chanson Réaliste moment of Aristide Bruant and Le Chat Noir around 1893 that brought young intellectuals together with the demi monde of artists, workers and prostitutes. ‘People spoke a lot about sexuality’, affirms Clark, ‘and it produced some strange and dark characters’. Hélène Hazera is even more succinct. ‘Chanson Réaliste is about prostitutes, prostitutes, prostitutes (laughs), sailors … and prostitutes’. Chanson Française is an endless commentary on a particular signifier of jouissance, then, as much as a song of love, whereas Anglo-American popular music offers a performance of jouissance regulated by rhyme, rhythm and melody. In fact, the English ‘yeah, yeah, yeahs’ that produced such amused disdain in the French in the 1960s were conveying their enjoyment of American music in such excited imitations that they sometimes exceeded the intensity of the originals. The Beatles in their cover versions of Barrett Strong’s ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ and the Isley Brothers’ ‘Twist and Shout’ scream with the excitement of fans of African-American music – a jouissance at the jouissance of the Other – that rapidly spread like a wave to their own fans, the resulting ‘Beatlemania’ establishing the group as a cultural phenomenon.
In fact the distinction described by the French commentators between French and Anglo-American popular music divides attitudes in the African-American tradition. The reduction of black people to the jouissance of the body, of their being ‘slaves to the rhythm’, was fiercely contested by the exponents of modern jazz, for example, who went out of their way to produce un-danceable, cerebral music. Even in the pop tradition the new music of Motown, the inspiration of The Beatles, focused on narrative. George Clinton recalls the criticisms received by Godfather of Funk, James Brown, for his grunts and nonsensical noises. ‘Back then, in my Motown days, we used to criticize him … At Motown, we specialized in lyrics. Berry (Gordy, Motown’s president) made sure we got a story out of every song.’ Clinton was later to change his mind, however, when more African-American storytellers started to sample him. ‘Everyone thought James wasn’t saying anything’ [but] ‘hip hop came along and we realized James was saying more in one “unh” than all of our stories combined.’
One of Clinton’s most famous songs and statements is ‘Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow’ (1970), a kind of wo es war that neatly offers two opposing messages depending on the addressee. From a conventional ‘white’ perspective constrained by the ‘mind-forged manacles’ of Western rationality, it promises a liberation of the body. From the other perspective, it is precisely the mind that needs to be liberated from its servitude to bodily pleasures. This reversal is also conveyed musically in the song’s combination of funk with electronic avant-garde sounds, psychedelic effects, and Gospel, the importance of the latter being registered in the second line, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is Within’, that always follows each repetition of the title.
If the jouissance of Chanson Française, in its classic realist phase, circulates around the figure of the prostitute as das ding, soul, gospel and funk at their most sublime find their reference in the acclamation of God in vocal performances that are drawn from the pure difference of lalangue that lies at the basis of both speech and song, language and music. In the signifiance and spirituality of the la la las (if not the yeah, yeah, yeahs) and even in the grunts and ‘ughs’ of James Brown, this sort of black music exemplifies ‘a form of jouissance that is not in the repetitive circuit of the drive but in what Lacan calls the en-corps, an “enjoying substance” which insists in the body beyond its sexual being (XX: 26/23). For Suzanne Bernard, it is in the traces of this form of jouissance of the ‘en-corps’ that we can discern something of the poesis – the something coming from nothing – that Lacan links to the contingency of being and, ultimately, to the path of love’.1
Free your ‘a’s and your mind will follow.
1 The full quotation is « Let whoever cannot meet at its horizon the subjectivity of his time give it up then. For how could he who knows nothing of the dialectic that engages him in a symbolic movement with so many lives possibly make his being the axis of those lives? Let him be well acquainted with the whorl into which his era draws him in the ongoing enterprise of Babel, and let him be aware of his function as an interpreter in the strife of languages. » It can be found in "The Function and Field of Speech and Langage in Psychoanalysis”, in Ecrits. Trans. Bruce Fink. Norton Press. p. 264.
For 7 years, Mad Men (AMC: 2007) was the most profound and artistic American TV series with the greatest popular success. Even Barak Obama cited it as a reference in his State of the Union address in 20141...
...The story takes place in the 1960s, at the peak of modern advertising’s rise to glory2, when marketing, the empire of images, and consumer capitalism began to transform human life. The characters are organized around an advertising agency and the fictional events are intertwined with the historical and social events of the decade.
One of Mad Men’s interesting traits is, precisely, that it takes the romantic memory of the sixties and deconstructs it, thus reflecting that, if counterculture did actually exist, it was the effect of a sexist, racist, religious and imperialist American ideology. This was clearly represented by the advertising agencies on Madison Ave., and by their mostly Republican clients , an exchange which led to the consecration of the American way of life as the hegemonic cultural model of the late 20th century.
Therefore, Mad Men’s spectators are invited to discover that behind flower power, the sexual revolution, the beatnik poets, and Woodstock, in the system’s hard core, the most powerful tool of cultural domination was being honed: modern advertising. Fed by the spread of mass media, Hollywood’s star system, and the transnationalization of the economy, advertising would give birth to a new world.
This is precisely what Lacan noted in 1970 when he announced that we would all soon be Lacanian: “The ascent to the social zenith of the object I have called small ‘a’ would suffice (…) because, when one doesn’t know what saint to commend oneself to, (…) one buys anything”4.
In March 2015, the launch of Mad Men’s final season was announced, and it was promoted as “the” cultural event of the year”. The streets in the cities with greater visibility on the planet became screens replicating the slogan of the grand finale: Mad Men, the End of an Era.
In the series’ final episode, Don Draper, the protagonist, ends up in a hippie therapeutic community in California after a personal crisis. He cries on the phone as he speaks to one of his colleagues, who says “I know you get sick of things and you run, but you can come home. Don’t you want to work on Coke?” Later in the episode we see Don meditating under the sun. The spiritual leader declares “The new day brings new hope, (…) a new day, new ideas, a new you.” Don and the rest of the group respond with a ommm; the camera closes up on a smiling Don. His eyes are shut. Immediately after that, the Coca-Cola “Hilltop” (1971) commercial is featured: an interracial crowd of long-haired teenagers wearing batik shirts sing: “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. What the world wants today: Coca-Cola.” The end!
During a seminar on Mad Men held at the New York Public Library, its creator, Matthew Weiner, avoided a definition about this controversial finale; in other words, it isn’t clear whether the Coca-Cola ad taken from real life as documentary material to crown the end of the series means that Don actually returned to New York and turned the Age of Aquarius into a commercial to sell soda. However, Weiner did say “…but it was nice to sort of have your cake and eat it too in terms of, like, what is advertising?”5
In 1966, Jacques Lacan travelled to the United States. In his conference in Baltimore on October 21, he said “When I came here this evening I saw on the little neon sign the motto ‘Enjoy Coca-Cola’. It reminded me that in English, I think, there is no term to designate precisely this enormous weight of meaning which is in the French word jouissance, (…) If the living being is something at all thinkable, it will be above all as subject of jouissance.”
Lacan could have mentioned any social American reference in order to speak about jouissance, but he chose, precisely, a Coca-Cola billboard. I see that choice as an interpretation; in it we can find the key which — starting from his latest teaching — gives us tools to understand the contemporary subject under the influence of the push to jouir.
Mad Men doesn’t tell us about the end of an era: it only narrates the beginning…
1 “It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode.” These were the words with which Barak Obama mentioned the series during his State of the Union address in Congress, referring to equal pay for women, on January 28, 2014.
Congress, referring to equal pay for women, on January 28, 2014.
2 “Mad Men” was a slang term coined in the early 60s to refer to advertising executives working on Madison Avenue, New York.
3 Carrión, Jorge. Teleshakespeare. Las series en serio. Buenos Aires: Interzona, 2014.
4 Lacan, Jacques. “Radiofonía”. Otros Escritos, p.436. Buenos Aires: Paidós, 2012.
5 www.avclub.com, 2015
The Obama Administration has been notable in the media because of the number of deportations that have occurred during this presidency. However, from 2014 to 2015 the deportation numbers dropped. ...
...“According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) data, the Department of Homeland Security deported 414,481 people in fiscal year 2014, down from 438,421 the year before.”1 This drop in numbers may be due in part to the deferments by the Dream Act.
In June 2012 President Obama initiated the well-known Dream Act, officially named Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This law doesn't represent an all-encompassing solution to the complicated U.S. immigration issues, but since its implementation it has had a great impact on the lives of millions of young immigrants who have lived in the United States since they were children, many of which immigrated while they were still babies and many of which only speak English. “Approximately 1.4 million immigrants living in the United States could qualify for the deferred action initiative, either now or when they are older.”2 This means that at least for the next two years they can get permission to work legally in the United States, have a right to receive college tuition benefits, and be allowed to remain in this country, rather than being deported to countries they don’t know much about and which have traditions that they don’t identify with.
Many families have been separated because of the immigration policies adopted in the United States in recent years. However last year President Obama announced The Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA), another law which also defers the deportation of “3.7 million unauthorized immigrants parents of children with US citizenship or green cards”.3
This is a topic that provides the Lacanian psychoanalytic field a chance to study the effects on the subjectivity of someone who identifies with the U.S. culture and has to deal with a country that does not recognize him/her as a member of its society.
Within the Lacanian psychoanalytic approach, identification is formed by the incorporation of an Other. This Other –in this case the State- acts as a guarantor of the development of this person by providing services such as a mandatory education for a child to start at five years old; this same state that makes education mandatory including these “illegal aliens” in the system is the same one that's letting down these individuals. What would be the effects of this rejection on the subjectivity of these people?
Meanwhile this Other also has configured certain ways of jouissance particular to this society, such as the way of forming social bonds, the life dynamic, possible projects and desires, and so on. How could someone change a way of jouissance just because the State policies mandate it?
The Dreamers have found a solution via the Act (and their acts, psychoanalytically speaking). They have created organizations and have become activists that not only dream about the legalization and basic rights they are claiming, but who raise their voices to demand a basic inclusion that allows them to stay where they were placed by the same State that now is trying to take them out.
The latest policies created by the current Administration open up interesting opportunities for this population allowing them to be more included than excluded. Lacanian psychoanalysis has clinical evidence that shows the havoc that someone suffers when the ground of her/his identifications are staggered.
(Edited by Silvia Guzman)
1 Retrieved from: blogs.reuters.com
2 Retrieved from: immigrationpolicy.org
3 Retrieved from: immigrationimpact.com