Agata Kochel
Selected Topics in Gender Studies 30/4/2005
Unkle & DJ Shadow "Be There” and Björk “Possibly maybe” An Analysis Emphasizing Gender Matters


The Buggles once proclaimed in their famous song that video killed the radio star, but it wasn't until nearly two decades later that the slogan became prophecy. As radio and MTV grew increasingly. Music video medium has evolved slowly into something more than a marketing tool. Initially music videos were just another way to promote albums, but video makers quickly realized there was art to be made. The video clip belongs to what contemporary language defines as new media. The video is an "intertextual phenomenon" that essentially contains three elements: performance, narrative and the message conveyed to its viewer. The existence of these three elements leads to the connection text-image-viewer. The video clip (and its accessories; i.e. fashion and sexuality) is not standardized and is not the product of a rebellious, non-conformist social category. It is an avant-garde product. Most people in our postmodern world no longer receive information only by hearing or reading words. In our increasingly visual society, images and symbols speak as powerfully, and sometimes more powerfully than words. A Streetcar Named Desire, A Subway Named Seduction. “Be There” (Album: Psyence Fiction), directed by Jake Scott in the 1999, is a story which begins with an unknown girl traveling through an underworld of dark empty spaces, spiraling tunnels, cold fluorescent lighting of a midnight London subway ride. The atmosphere is lifeless. The camera goes back smoothly to the beginning of the corridor. We have the impression that someone is observing the girl as the camera retreats, following someone's footsteps in the distance. The following scene the supporting characters are introduced as 5 people entering a lift. We may notice at the beginning that there are covers of the Unkle cd, from which this song comes, on the walls of the elevator. 2 big black men, dressed like gangsters, very tough, imposing and authoritative. They are wearing hip-hop clothes: huge jacket, baseball-caps and golden jewelry. 2 white men, rather slim and small in comparison to the other two men. They are wearing clothes in brit-pop style. In the elevator is also a girl. She is the definitive protagonist of this video clip. She is wearing no make-up nor any particular hair-style. The white men give her a a stare, but there is no response from her side, as they become quickly intimidated by a black guy, and leave the elevator. The third scene starts when the girl leaves the lift, followed by 2 black guys. They are walking through the long spiraling corridor of the metro system. The relationship of these men to the girl is quite awkward and ambiguous. It seems, that the black guys are her bodyguards, however there is no conversation between them. The girl leads the guys, her eyes are downcast, she looks absent-minded. In one moment she turns back and checks if they are still behind her, if everything is ok. She smiles as one of the guys touches her cheek smoothly as if he was saying "I'll take care of you. Uncertain whether the men are her friends or strangers, i find it awkward and fascinating that she smiles at them. The fact that strange men are following this las down a long tunnel, such a vision could only be exciting for a male audience. Such a type of voyeurism, and other clues later in the video contribute to a fetish nature. The lyrics are clearly directed towards a women, the man wanting to take her precisely where she does not want to go and this is precisely the reason to take her there. And he will find any means of getting to her. Attention! What a sophisticated metaphor for penetration. Those two guys are entering a subway train closing a chapter. The protagonist continues in another direction She seems to be bored waiting for the tram. Her look is very unkempt, she is not very stylish, her hair is straggly, she looks untidy. We can see, that there are ants on her hand. They symbolize lot’s of small problems or general dissatisfaction in her daily life. She may be feeling neglected and insignificant. As she brushes the ants away, she suddenly she notices a black hooded figure who is huddled towards the end of the station. The girl seems to be a little afraid of this. When the tram comes, she enters it hastily. In the next scene we observe the girl sitting in the tram. She is completely alone- there are no people. She is bored but she has a walkman which she is listening to. Suddenly her walkman brakes down and she eject the tape and destroys it. The tram stops. The girl opens the doors and immediately closes them. She sensed something or someone that she saw through the window. On the other hand we can interpret this scene as her destiny – she has to go on, she can not leave her journey in this moment. She doesn’t know what to do with herself. She seems to be afraid of something. The subway is still riding and it is dark outside. A black figure emerges. The camera goes down to the level of her shoes. A can rolls to her feats, she is playing with it and smiling. She seems to remember something that was pleasant for her. She is closing her eyes and falling asleep. The black mysterious figure seems to be everywhere every time with her. She dreams about what has happened on the station. We can notice, that there are some drawings and writings and also an armband on her hand. These are probably from a hospital or maybe from a club. There are some screen shots showing her neck, lips, eye. This view is very erotic, particularly her turquoise high-heels. It is the first time that we see her sexuality so literally. When she travels on the train of male desire, she is given peace of mind. as you see in the clip she rides and rides until she reaches greater tranquility almost falling asleep. Therefore, we don't see her passion, her passion is irrelevant. The dark side of passion is revealed at the end of the clip, when the dark hooded figure grabs her with his arm, though she has already been hypnotized by his attraction. In this twisted male fantasy, what will happen to the girl, and how her story finishes is truly irrelevant. In this video clip we have a linear sequence of events. We are observers of the girl’s segment of life which is like a journey. The clip is filled with fear and discomfort. The atmosphere, that the director of the clip is trying to convey through detail is very psychedelic and also neurotic. The girl protagonist of this clip is shown to be very feminine. She has long hair, delicate face and she is wearing high-heels (they are weird in fact: turquoise from a patent leather). There is always someone to take care of her. At first there are two black guys- like bodyguards protecting her. Then it is a hooded person- like a guardian-angel. The guys around her are not sexually interested in her per say, however the entire sequence of action portrays a very banal male fantasy. Especially with her submissive nature. The armband, she is wearing on her hand shows, that she could be a patient in a hospital or maybe after clubbing. The girl seems not to know what to do with her life. There are only few symbols in this clip that can tell us something about this girl, about her life, problems, feelings. Ants on her hand belong to such a signs. They can symbolize lots of small problems, she has to manage but it is possible that they symbolize some kind of her illness. In one of the scenes we may notice a rolling empty can toward the girl that she then crushes beneath her heels. A can may indicate that there is something in the girl's past that she need to hold on to and preserve, or rather the past is holding onto her. On the other hand, if we suppose that the hooded figure passing the can towards her can be also a sign of some kind of male support. There is also a newspaper in her dream. It signifies that she needs to be more vocal in expressing herself. Her clothes generally reflect the way in which she behaves, an indifference or indecisiveness that tends to objectify her rather than reveal any individuality. Her high heels may symbolize lack of freedom to freely express herself. Wearing high heels is very uncomfortable and unnatural, therefore to wear them is a farce on beauty perfection, she is pretending. Her femininity is rather stereotypical, serving only as a raw element of seduction told by this story. The crucial symbol for this video clip is the subway. The girl enters the subway, that is easily associated with travel, change in time and space, and of course intercourse. She is exploring hidden aspects of herself. It is said that the scenery you see in your journey is telling of your feelings and circumstances you may be currently experiencing. In this video-clip the surroundings are completely black. It is dark outside, we see no lights and the tram is going to nonentity. According to this the protagonist has to be in a very bad psychological shape. The tram seems to be a ghost-subway. We are able to notice that someone is in control the tram. What is also very important is that she is only surrounded by men.

I would like to compare the video clip I described above to a clip directed by Stephane Sednaoui in 1996 to the Björk song, “Possibly maybe”. Björk's videos often fall short of the artist's musical genius, partly because her songs conjure a rich and intense imagery all on their own. So it is no surprise that the Icelandic singer's best video, and one of the greatest of all time, is as simple as they come. Although “Possibly maybe” is not a very complicated video clip but it consists of many symbols. I will examine the majority of them, but first describe the clip chronologically. In the first scene we see that Björk, who is the only protagonist, emerging from a blue sky with clouds which is quite kitschy, reminiscent of postcards of hindu gods. We have the impression that she is a goddess and she is closing in on us, though she is not walking, but hovering. Her figure is flickering as there is some static. Than the atmosphere changes and we see few screenshots of different objects: a wooden model of the ship, little statue of a praying girl, a picture of a woman with a sun instead of her head, some stones, an aquarium. All these things are scattered around a pink pillow. In the next scene we see Björk sleeping and hugging a porcelain doll. The room, where she is lying is lit with a black light. Suddenly she awakes, probably it is the ringing of the pink telephone. She kisses the doll on her head. In the next scene we see Björk in totally different-light, a blue- room. Biggest part of the interior covers a huge bed with snowy- white sheets. We again see a ship, painting of a “sun-woman” and a porcelain doll, that we saw in the first room. What distinguishes this clip is the big window, very sunny and bright. Next scene presents us Björk lying in a bath full of milk. She has no make-up. The bathroom has worm colors and there is a fish on the wall. It seems that Björk gets a lot of pleasure from herself. A Sensual bath is not really shown from a male point of view, who probably would not become excited by a almost covered naked woman bathing in milk. The next room, that we observe has black walls. We see Björk with plenty of buns in her hair and sequins on her eyebrows. She eats a watermelon and obviously it brings her a great pleasure as the juice drips down her elbow. She is rolling her eyes with passion. She is licks the watermelon peel and than her own arm. Just as with the milk bath, the watermelon shows pleasure of one's own body, though not very exciting for another person. She auto-erotically licks her arm. however, the lyrics add a another dimension to the meaning; on one hand she desires to be with him just like with herself, however, Björk finds pleasure with being herself, enjoys solitude and this is visible in the bath and watermelon. In the next scene we observe Björk in a “black-light room” playing with ships. She looks a little bit like a baby, on all fours, arranging stones on the floor. The next room, that is presented in this video-clip has a red color. Björk has a white frock on, bare foot with a twig in her hand. On the floor we observe again the same stones, geisha umbrella and a lamp resembling frog eggs. She is treading delicately between the stones and then lays down on a bed very sensually. We can notice that her dress is unbuttoned (?)-maybe her lover left this room for a moment and she did not manage (or want) to improve her look. She rests her bare feet on the pink satin duvet. The next scene shows us again the “black-light room”. Björk is playing with an antique camera: pulling out the lens and inserting it again. The next room, that is presented in this video clip is at first very dark. Than it began to lighten and we notice that the walls are actually violet with plenty of little fishes. Björk sits one her knees on the black floor. Her hair is straggly, her make-up perfectly done and she is wearing a long black dress. There is plenty of music paraphernalia, cd’s, mix of cables and an amplifier scattered on the floor. In the background we also see a vase with dried flowers and the painting with “sun woman”. Björk has headphones on her ears. We are back in the “black light room” where the neon glowing dust is expelled from a bottle on the floor. Björk is playing with the dust, she is making a hole with her finger, and sticking her tongue into this hole. In the next scene we see a black room, which is lightened in a blue color. Björk is wearing a red T-shirt and a red skirt, her hair is wet, her make-up is smudged. We observe fishes on the walls. The camera recedes and we see the whole room. It is empty but there is a bonfire in the middle. Björk is standing above the fire and when the camera recede one more time we are able to see that it is not actually a room but 3 walls sinking into an abyss. At the end of this scene Björk lowers her hands and head down in resignation. She seems to be very alone and lost. She is embracing herself.
In the “black-light room” Björk is self-involved, drawing with the neon glowing dust some circles around herself and she is playing again like a baby. She is obviously bored because we may notice that she is posing as some animal. Next in the blue room, Björk is sitting in a silk kimono. She has her hair done and she is doing her make-up- very intense and feminine with a mirror in her hand. Björk is sitting on the bed in the “black-light room”. She is reaching to answer the pink shining phone, but it stops ringing and she pulls her arm back. She is lying down on her bed., having never answered the phone. The video clip closes as it had opened, with Björk as a goddess. There are many signs that help us to understand definitely something about Björk's character as well as insight into her own psychology. The Possibly Maybe video is amazing for its use of contrasting colors, a variety of costume changes and Björk’s incredible performance. In the beginning the director uses very bright, flashy colors in contrast with monotone colors. Many rooms change their color after a while. Mostly they are black or cool psychedelic blue at the beginning, in essence a negative of the warmer oranges and reds. Maybe she feels trapped or repressed by the situation in which she is. Every single room represents a particular aspect of herself or a particular relationship. It looks like she is visiting hidden areas of the conscious mind and reveal to us- observers different aspects of her personality. She appears in 3 versions, warm (normal light) cold blue night (negative), and angelic metaphysical white, which opens and closes the video and appears throughout as well. In the first scene, when she is presented as a goddess, she is wearing a white robe, very “Jesus Christ” alike, her medusa-like hair is brought to life by a delicate breeze, though she has a bright, peaceful and kind face free of make-up. The brightness oozes from her figure, her hands are laid out in gesture of invitation. This view has some clear association with god. Björk is taking care of everyone, she knows everything, she will forgive all the sins. Bjork seems to have a clear mind, she is in equilibrium. The bright light, that comes from her body indicates that she has moved toward a higher level of awareness and feeling. God can also symbolizes an untouchable, unreachable, and unattainable notion of perfection. God tends to be represented as a man, perhaps a disturbance in dogma. The image of Björk hovering in the sky, however, is not quite perfect. It flickers, disturbed by a kind of static. Something or someone is disturbing this ideal. All the scenes in the “black light room” are full of fluorescent colors that “glow in the dark”. A spectrum of light which can reveal that which is hidden or perceived as blank in regular light. Maybe Björk is also a “tabula rasa”- when we don’t know her enough we may think that she’s untouched and pure, but the black light divulges every secret. Particularly the fluorescent vertical lines on her black dress, underlining her feminine shapes and a piece of red cotton crepe which is an indispensable part of a geisha coiffure called Uiwata. She sleeps on the bed having a geisha-doll in her hands, close to her body. As she couldn’t fall asleep from fear or loneliness not having a doll by herself, just like a little girl. It is possible that she-as a mature woman can not build any closer relationship with another woman. A geisha doll is a substitute for her. The ringing phone, she doesn’t even try to answer after waking up, can be a trial of communication from somebody. Maybe there is a situation or relationship that she is trying to keep at a distance. But she ignores it and the whole world outside. Björk put a fruit, which generally represents lust and sexuality, into her mouth, but in the “black light room” this activity doesn’t look that sensual as when Björk eats watermelon. She plays with the ships, stones, antique camera, neon glowing dust on the floor. She is totally into her own, childish world. We have the impression, that she is a little girl left by parents home alone and she has nothing to do. There is another scene made in the “black light room”. Björk is sitting on a delicate pink velvet duvet. We may notice that the phone is shining again but this time she tries to answer it. All for nothing- the phone stops ringing. When someone tries to reach her for the third time, she doesn’t even want to answer- just like at the beginning she decides to ignore the ringing. She goes to bed to look for security and restoration of her mind. She is obviously pacifying herself by retreated to familiar domestic surroundings. In the second room, that is presented, Björk looks very natural. She looks like a girl from around the neighborhood. She doesn’t even have any special make-up or hair dress. In fact, the natural light in this room by a big window, is an opposite realm to that of the black-light. It could be her opening on the world, the only way she can communicate with the surroundings, but the window is shut down and so it signifies her voluntary desertion and abandonment. The room seems to be very comfortable and peaceful, there is a degree of satisfaction with the character. In the next scene Bjork is taking a bath in milk. The bathroom is very bright. The colors are very warm and feminine. She is naked , she has no make-up. She looks pure and very natural. She is submerged in the milk just like beautiful Cleopatra, Neron’s wife or George Sand. As far as bath can symbolize a cleansing of her outer and inner self and a washing away of difficult times, a bath in the milk is an ancient method to nourish and rejuvenate the skin. We can also easily associate milk with a maternal instincts and motherly love. So maybe Björk is trying to purify herself as she prepares for a child. This bath may also be symbolic of ridding herself of old ideas, notions, opinions, and other negatives. Another room has black walls. Björk's hair is full of buns and sequins under her eye brows again. We observe Björk eating and licking a watermelon with excitement. This fruit because of its color and juiciness is associated often with emotions of love, desire, lust and fiery passion. On one hand she desires to be with "him," but she finds great satisfaction in being with herself. Björk finds pleasure with in solitude. In this scene we may also notice, that Björk has a tattoo on her upper left arm. It is a Viking’s compass. If the Vikings had bad weather or fog, they used to draw it on their foreheads with a piece of coal. Björk underlines in her interviews that this tattoo helps her not to get lost, as in her ancient Icelandic heritage. In the pink room we see Björk with her hair undone, and again a piece of red cotton crepebraide into her hair, tiptoeing with bare feet between the stones. She is wearing a white, short, Chinese style silk dress. But it is not perfect as we usually see. It is frayed. Björk looks very delicate and girlish, but the harmony of her image is being broken down one more time by the button that is unfastened. At the end of this scene she is lying down sensual on the velvet bedspread. It may represent her open sexuality and outward beauty. Searching for some symbols meaning, the design and look of the bedspread may be a clue as to what she is looking for sexually.
The “fire room” gives us a completely different image of Björk. For the first time we may notice that she feels really lonely and desolated by someone very close to her heart, although she is the only person presented in the whole clip. Her hair is wet, but there is no water. It makes her image more obscure. In the middle of the room is a bonfire. Fire, depending on the context can symbolize destruction, passion, desire, illumination, transformation, enlightenment, or anger. It may suggest that something old is passing and something new is entering her life. Her thoughts and views are changing. The fire, we may see is under control in one area, it is a metaphor of her own internal fire and inner transformation. Taking also under consideration the color of her outfit the fire can highlights her passion and love. This room becomes at the end of the scene a 3-wall box, which is placed in nonentity, convey that all is within her mind, and no one actually hears her screaming for her beloved, no one to receive her feelings, and to acknowledge loneliness. In the last presented “blue room” Björk is wearing a bright silk kimono and putting on lipstick. She is very sensual in doing this. We can not avoid an association with Björk as geisha. Her make-up is very strong, although her face is not traditionally pale. Her hair is combed smoothly to the back. It is also not a traditional bun, but a very perceptive observer may again notice, that a piece of red cotton crepe which is an indispensable part of a geisha coiffure called Uiwata is in her hair. These references to geisha, help us understand the choice of director of this clip. "Gei" means arts or performance in Japanese. "Sha" means people. Geisha are professional hostesses who entertain guests through various performing arts. Geisha girls and women are not ordinary hostesses and are not prostitutes. Geisha girls and women are trained in a number of traditional skills; Japanese ancient dance, singing, playing instruments, flower arrangement, wearing kimono, which is her biggest treasure, tea ceremony, calligraphy, conversation, alcohol serving manners, and more. Geisha girls and women are talented Japanese women who patiently go through extensive training. Every single gesture or piece of her outfit has a symbolic meaning. Putting her make-up can lat hours. Björk is an artist just like geisha. She is preparing in the “blue room” to attract and entertain a man and we can read from her face that she is very pleased by that. I would like to go one step further in the symbolism of the geisha doll. This doll, that appears in few scenes may also be a sign of lack of communication between her conscious and unconscious mind or just an immature attitude towards the opposite sex. What is sure, this doll symbolizes in the “black light room”, “light-blue room” and “music room” a childhood innocence and light-hearted fun. Maybe the doll is just an excuse for her. She is trying to plead her sexuality and femininity with a childish behavior. She is afraid of being perceived as a sexual object by a man. "Possibly maybe” video clip has a closed structure. It begins and ends with the scene that presents Björk as a hovering goddess. The director of this clip placed some small objects-symbols, we observe in different rooms, that also connect several scenes, creating a compact image of a woman; her feelings, her story and her concerns. And so there is a wooden ship in several rooms that may denote that she is exploring aspects of her emotions and unconscious mind. It is a cruise ship in fact, so it suggests pleasant moods…… There are some stones on the floor, which can symbolize strength, unity and unyielding beliefs. Some stones also carry sacred and magical meaning. A geisha doll that seems to be her one and only friend or just an object that Björk would love to be because she represents an ideal beauty, charm, poise and grace…… Small fishes on the walls in almost every room (bathroom, “music room”, “fire room”) are an ancient symbol of Christianity and Christian beliefs. So we get a clear reference to Björk accompanied by a pantheon of religious symbolism. It is the first religion presented in this clip so it may mean that Björk grew up in it and references tradition. At the beginning we also may notice a statuette of a praying girl. It is probably a hindu statue of a goddess. Another important object in this clip is a picture of a woman with a sun instead of her head. It can be a drawing her child did for her as a present. It may also have some symbolic meaning because sun represents peace of mind, enlightenment, tranquility, goodwill, and insight. So if it is only a picture maybe Björk strives to have such attributes. She aims to be a “sun woman”. She is her little “idol”. If it is Björk portrayed on this drawing, she seems to be very proud, that she gained this grade of initiation. All the objects seem to be very personal and we can even think that they were her personal belongings in her own house. Stephane Sednaoui carried about this effect in great details. Those little things, that come into view several times in different dimensions of her mind show an intimate and fragile picture of the personal. In order to understand this video, one must consider the use of color and contrast. The colors of the various rooms represent her emotions. And so “light-blue room” stays for health, understanding, and softness. The bathroom is in warm orange which combines the energy of red and the happiness of yellow. Orange represents enthusiasm, fascination, happiness, creativity, attraction, and stimulation. The next presented room is black-light, which evokes longing, romantic and nostalgic feelings. The “music room” also undergoes transformation. At the beginning it is black that is a mysterious color associated with fear and the unknown but than it turns to blue and purple, that can be a signs of knowledge, power and magic. The “fire room “ is also black and than it becomes dark green, which symbolizes greed and jealousy; Björk is torn after she has been cheated on by someone very close. A romance, love and friendship, that Björk feels are also expressed by the pink color of bedspread and the ringing phone. It denotes feminine qualities and passiveness. Throughout the clip Björk is the center. She is the protagonist and the only person presented. It gives us a conviction, that what we see is her very private inner-self.
On the other hand there is a fracture in herself which is exacerbates with his flirting and her sucking her own tongue remembering him and a memory of him. She is "calm as she watched the eruption of his volcano, admiring his lava." So what is it that her body is experiencing? Is it her hightened state or is it his state which she reflects? Is she the object of the reflection or the just the mirror? In the video, there is a light that turns normal lighting into a negative-like setting, so maybe this relates to this double meaning.
In the video clip for the song, “Be there,” we are introduced to a sensitive lonely and lost girl, placed in the modern world. We live in a society in which isolation is commonplace. In the impersonal climate of industrial society, even more people obviously suffer from a sense o
f loneliness-the loneliness within the crowd. This girl is not alone but she is lonely with her troubles. We see her endless journey of her soul in a man's world. In Björk's, “Possibly maybe,” we also see a woman as alone in isolation. Though, Sednaoui creates a neon dream world, which is auto-erotic and whose grotesque motifs are split between Björk's body and its surrounding world with suggested connections between them. In conclusion, the protagonist of the first video is a victim of objectification by a hunter lover persueing a woman object. The train is seduction and she is seduced by the stare of man. Labyrinths filled with fear and discomfort, uncertain whether the men are her friends or strangers. The fact is that this clip is strictly in terms of male desire, told by a man for a male audience. On the other hand, Björk is emphasizing self-desire she gets a lot of pleasure by herself. A Sensual bath is not really shown from a male point of view, quite frankly, the video is geared much more towards a female audience. Both videos deal with isolation, but with two very different kinds of isolation.