Monday, 3 December 2007

The Jungian psychological model

The Jungian psychological model

Adapted for the criticism of film (Davies, Farrell, & Matthews, 1982), Jungian analysis can be used to examine the way a succession of images involve an audience and draw perceptual, affective and cognitive responses from them.

Jung's work in psycho-analysis viewed the human psyche as a self-regulating system that tries to achieve balance between the conscious and the unconscious, resolving the struggle between the psyche's public persona and private shadow. The images of the dream world depict the struggle each person experiences between the persona and shadow sides of self (Rushing & Frentz, 1980).

Davies et al (1982) use Jung's series of dream images, or archetypes, as an analytical method for studying the verbal and visual whole of a film. In their method, each element of the film is analyzed to discover the archetypes found in story, characters, progression of scenes, special effects, cinematography, sound, and editing. The goal of criticism using the Jungian psychological model is to provide an understanding of the archetypal themes the viewing audience experiences and to discover the psychic role such an experience might play for them.

Jung's list of the most frequently recurring symbols from the shadow side of self is used to analyze message content (Davies, et al, 1982):

Mother or origin symbols that represent the female, animals, darkness, and the primeval. Spirit symbols represent sources or places that provide renewal, energy, and guidance. Transcendence symbols represent heroes, rebirth, initiation rituals, and images of light. Wholeness symbols are displayed as circle configurations, a mandala, stones, or treasure. Jung's theory of dreams finds these symbols commonly occurring as paired opposites.

Critical analysis of rhetorical acts applies the same approach--determine how juxtapositions of opposing symbols are indicative of the search for balance between the rational outer world and the irrational inner world. Rhetorical acts, such as music video, offer the audience a means of coping with exigencies in their world through the video's ability to strike a balance between the persona and shadow.

The Jungian psychological model may have particular applicability for understanding narrative and conceptual videos as a source of cultural identity for the MTV generation.

Music video and dreams have much in common. The narrative, dream-like structures of video contribute to the viewer's personal stock of cultural imagery and also create a culture-wide "dreampool" (Kinder, 1984). From dreams individuals experience a selection of images that become a kind of cultural imprinting. Like dreams, music videos can stimulate viewers to retrieve specific images every time the song is heard.

"If music video reflects recent currents in popular culture and if we acknowledge the possibility that mass media are significant contributors to our cultural dream or image pool, the similarities between dreams and videos may surely be culturally significant." (Abt, 1987 p. 99)

What that cultural significance is may be found in the similarity between music videos and dreams in terms of their structure and significant symbols. "One of music video's distinctive features as a social expression is its open-ended quality, aiming to engulf the viewer in its communication with itself, its fashioning of an alternative world where image is reality" (Aufderheide, 1986 pp. 57-58). Likewise, dreams engulf the individual in a world with flexible patterns and fleeting images of reality.

A strong connection between the aural-visual world of music video and the dream world may exist because both perform similar functions for the psyche. Like a dream, the text of a music video has the ability to expel one's congested and repressed emotions and desires. There is also "the immense potential of both dreams and video for triggering physiological reactions to symbolic stimuli. In this sense, both music video and dreams dwell in the dicey cease-fire zone between the demands of society and the desires of the individual" (Harvey, 1990 p. 52).

Further, the shifting symbols of the dream world exist in the seemingly random flow of symbols in some music videos. Most other genre of visual narratives--film and episodic television, for example, typically have some thematic or structural closure that marks the narrative boundaries (Harvey, 1990). Narrative and especially conceptual music videos are not bound by this convention.

"Symbolic systems are established--then, abandoned. Fragments of myth are introduced, then invalidated by subsequent and seemingly random symbolic contradictions. The rules change constantly; one minute a man is a man, the next minute he is a guitar, the next minute he is a fish." (Harvey, 1990, p. 50)

The fluid, non-linear quality of symbols in music-video-as-dream-state has some particular implications for how the viewer uses the verbal and visual levels of message in decoding a video as a source of cultural identity or community. A rhetorical act in the medium that functions to solve some problem for the viewer may do so only after the viewer has decoded a very mixed message. As Lisa St. Clair Harvey indicates:

"Anarchy often triumphs in the text of music video. Social reversals remain reversed; excessive behavior is followed by yet more excessive behavior rather than by the re-imposition of cultural taboo; temporary insanity hardens into a state of semi-permanent lunacy, as inanimate objects take on life, people turn into guitars and clocks and robots, and definitions of "living" and "dead" of "male" and "female," "here" and "now" become up for grabs and open to interpretation." (p. 50)

The impact on the problem-solving abilities of the MTV generation is that living in the world of music video, like living in a perpetual dream state, becomes an alternative to active participation in the extant culture.

The MTV generation creates not the counter-culture of the sixties, but a counterfeit culture that neither conflicts nor intersects with the mainstream culture. Aufderheide (1986) characterizes this culture."Music videos offer a ready-made alternative to social life. With no beginnings or endings--no history--there may be nightmarish instability, even horror. But there can be no tragedy, which is rooted in the tension between an individual and society. Likewise, there is no comedy, which provokes laughter with sharp, unexpected shifts of context, making solemnity slip on a banana peel . . . identity can change with a switch of scene, a change in the beat. The good news is: you can be anything, anywhere. That is also the bad news--which whets the appetite for more "news," more dreams." (p.66)

Eurhythmics, "Sweet Dreams"

There is a certain intertextuality between Annie Lennox's hair style and mannish dress with that of fitness guru Susan Powter that may have Jungian implications for the female symbol. Lennox's image and musical style, along with the myriad of shifting symbols in "Sweet Dreams," make the video an interesting collection of Jungian archetypes.

Lennox, who claims her music is influenced by sixties soul music, and her partner Dave Stewart have in fact updated the Motown sound. "Sweet Dreams," according to Szatmary (1991), "featured the sultry, Motown-influenced vocals of Lennox over the insistent beat of a drum machine" (p. 262). Although it does not feature inspired lyrics, 60 words repeated enough times to fill 3:10 in the video version, the lyrical element of "Sweet Dreams" also offers some interesting symbology when viewed from the Jungian perspective.

With such a sparse narrative, and instruments used so blatantly as props that even the worst air band would blush, the video presentation of "Sweet Dreams" is purely conceptual and highly Jungian. The tension depicted exists between the Mother of origin (Annie's persona) and wholeness (her shadow). Lennox, despite her buzz haircut, black suit and tie, and black riding crop or baton, is overtly feminine with her heavily made-up eyes and bright red lipstick, and in the way she carries herself.

We first see her in what looks like a conference room. The walls are lined with gold records (circles) and Dave sits at the conference table working what appears to be a primitive computer (technological treasure). As pictures of the earth seen from space (a circle partially obscured by clouds) and crowded streets are projected on a video screen (more technological treasure), Annie eyes a globe on the conference table and sings:

"Sweet dreams are made of this.
Who am I to disagree.
I travel the world and the seven seas.
Everybody's looking for something. "

These lyrics repeat five more times before the song is over. On the first, one the symbols of wholeness, a circular red spot on Annie's forehead (her third eye), enables both of them to move outside the conference room and encounter additional elements of the Mother of origin.

Through Annie's third eye we see the pair floating down a fog-shrouded river (the primeval) in a skiff and eventually encountering a herd of cows (animals), some of which appear when the video returns to the wholeness of the conference room. While they are outside the the conference room, Lennox's costume changes briefly to a floor length red evening gown as she and her partner mimic playing cellos. Only for this fleeting moment and at the video's end, as she prepares to go to sleep clad in a night gown, a copy of a book entitled "Sweet Dreams" on her night stand, do we see her wearing what we think of as a woman's garb.

Jungian symbolism is found primarily in the visual images of "Sweet Dreams." However, one aspect of the lyrics offers us an impression of the struggle between shadow and persona with some feminist implications. The business world has historically undervalued women and the rock music scene has welcomed women with less than open arms. A Jungian critic would suggest that Lennox's female persona has had to make a pact with the devil of her shadow's desire for success:

"Some of them want to use you.
Some of them want to get used by you.
Some of them want to abuse you.
Some of them want to be abused. "

In her case, the pact requires her to suppress rather than exploit her sexuality in her dress, at least while she is within the confines of the business world. The visual symbols of conference room and the outside world of nature underscore this pact. Outside that world she is free to be herself from time to time.

"Hold your head up. Movin' on.
Keep your head up. Movin' on."

A stronger Jungian interpretation of physical features can be made about Lennox's eyes, something that was also an important element in her latest video, "Diva." The fact that they are heavily, almost cartoonishly, made-up has already been mentioned, but this, combined with her pale skin tone, means that the viewer's eyes are drawn to them. Corporate (shadow) Annie's eyes don't blink, a remarkable performance. They are piercing blue orbs, simultaneously commanding and disturbing. But there are brief glimpses, especially at bedtime, of the other (persona) Annie's eyes. Devoid of make-up, their lids flutter and there no doubt they belong to someone at peace with her identity.

"Sweet Dreams" may be regarded as an archetypal conceptual video. Its visual symbols and enigmatic lyrics typify the fluid, non-linear progression of images in the dream state. Decoding these symbols may produce different identities, depending on the varying textual experiences the viewer brings to bear on "Sweet Dreams." A viewer, cognizant of the inner workings of the music business, may see Lennox and Stewart as caught in the struggle between the shadow's desire for creativity as an artist and the persona's suppression by the rock industry's commercialism. Another viewer, seeing the video for the first time years after its release and familiar with Susan Powter's numerous talk-show appearances and infomercials, may interpret Lennox's persona in terms of Powter's. This might produce a powerful female symbol.

Some of our students interpret "Sweet Dreams" in the context of a larger business-world versus personal-needs struggle. They read the video's meaning as the board room represents a job, the social and parental imperative to find employment upon graduation. The personal needs and desires represented by playing the cello, being outside, and even having time to have a "sweet dream" are secondary to the need to get a job. Students frequently see themselves as the cattle, animals herded into the business world. Our students usually interpret "Sweet Dreams" as a bad dream about their fear of not finding jobs in a shaky economic environment.

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