Elastic Art: Maddie Ziegler and the Sia Videos

Overview

The music video for Sia’s Chandelier dropped on May 6th, 2014, and it immediately invited controversy due to 11-year-old dancer Maddie Ziegler’s flesh-tone leotard which, in a certain light, makes her appear to be nude.  Soon after, the video went viral, becoming the seventh most-watched video clip of 2014 on YouTube; it has since amassed over 450 million hits there.  The controversy mostly abated, however, when the video received widespread critical acclaim, with Time magazine’s Nolan Feenay praising Ziegler for the best dance performance of 2014.  It went on to be nominated for both Video of the Year and Best Choreography at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards, winning the latter.  It was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Music Video.

Despite the controversy—or maybe because of it—the video, directed by Daniel Askill and Sia herself, made its mark, inspiring parodies by the likes of Jimmy Kimmel (he and fellow Jimmy Kimmel Live! cast member Guillermo Rodriquez were even assisted in learning the moves by Maddie herself) and Jim Carrey and Kate McKinnon on Saturday Night Live.  Maddie—wearing shorts beneath her famous skin-tone leotard—would recreate the video on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, but as is often the case when censorious tinkering of this type occurs, the addition of the shorts oddly seems to make the young dancer look more provocative rather than less.  The sleek, fully nude outfit gives Maddie an almost alien appearance, leaving no doubt as to the artistic intent of the video’s creators, whereas on Ellen’s show, particularly in the dim lighting, the girl looks to be wearing a pair of pale blue panties and nothing else, giving the performance a slightly tawdrier tone.  A note of interest here: when Sia stands offside in the shadows, with her back turned to the audience, she is effectively saying, “This is not about my surface, the side of me that is seen during a performance.”  We will better understand why that is relevant soon.

But the controversial nature of Chandelier pales in comparison to that generated by its follow-up, Elastic Heart, which was released on January 7th, 2015 and again features Miss Ziegler in the faux-nude getup, along with adult actor Shia LaBeouf (similarly attired), with the two stuck in a giant birdcage together and reacting to one another in a gritty and intense performance.  The negative reaction to the video has been so strong that Sia apologized to victims of sexual abuse over the potentially “triggering” imagery.  Of course, thus far no one has pointed out that one possible interpretation of the video is as a symbolic commentary on sexual abuse, though that is one of many.  Thus, we shall do a scene-by-scene dissection of both videos, with a particular focus on Elastic Heart, to better understand why these are indeed art, and why Sia should not have to apologize for them.

Chandelier

Initially the camera pans around what appears to be an empty, grungy apartment that has clearly seen better days.  As the camera offers us a quick look at the various rooms in the apartment, we get the sense that we are peering into a dormant place.

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Chandelier' (2014) (1)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Chandelier’ (2014) (1)

The first time we meet the sole human being who appears in the video (Maddie, of course), she is braced inside a doorway a couple of feet off the floor.  In terms of semiotics, doors and doorways are quite interesting.  As Claus Seligmann points out in this article on architectural semiotics, “For if architecture is at root a system of barriers that distinguish inside from out, this place from that, or place from nonplace, then the door is in our society […] the culturally mandated means of penetrating the barrier.”  That is to say, doors are transitional, a means of moving between two separate spaces, or two separate conditions, or even two separate realities.  That the dancer begins here is noteworthy, for we are being invited into an intimate space.  When she drops to the floor, we know we are thoroughly immersed in her reality.

But who is she, and why does she appear to be nude?  Well, the key to understanding who the child is lies in the wig she wears, which closely mimics the golden blond locks of Sia herself.  So this is Sia—not literally but metaphorically.  As for her implied nudity, we can view it is the ultimate form of vulnerability, a condition amplified by the infantine state of the figure.  But let’s not make the mistake of assuming our young Sia stand-in is perfectly innocent; after all, she is not meant to be an actual child but rather a metaphorical one.  This is an important point, because once we understand that child-Sia is symbolic, we must then try to determine what she is a symbol for.  Well, as this Sia stand-in is the only figure in the video, we could reasonably assume that we are seeing the inner life of Sia.  With that as our starting point, we now know that when the dancer drops onto the floor of this seedy apartment, we are effectively “dropping” into Sia’s mental/emotional world with her.  It’s a raw, murky, and somewhat bedraggled place, the place where Sia is most vulnerable because it is here that she is most herself.  This omni-personal identity, which is something like a kernel from which a great tree grows because it is our core identity, is sometimes aptly referred to as an inner child, hence our little dancer.

You’ll recall back when I pointed out how the apartment was a dormant place?  In that context, we can consider Maddie’s position bracketed in the doorway as something like suspended animation, or even a kind of sleep.  As the child hits the floor, she instantly comes alive, and we are mesmerized by her, this strange pseudo-nude little girl who dances her beautifully bizarre dance.  And as I said before, there is something almost alien about her, with her bright artificial hair and her teased nakedness, not only because she calls to mind iconic science fiction characters like Leeloo from The Fifth Element and (to a lesser extent) Pris from Blade Runner, but because she seems to be neutered, like a humanoid robot or some sexless being from another world.  Yes, our dancer’s world is at once familiar territory and exotic alternate reality.  Doesn’t that perfectly exemplify the realm of the subconscious?

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Chandelier' (2014) (2)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Chandelier’ (2014) (2)

As if to reinforce this point, in the first of only two extreme closeups of Maddie, staring out placidly at the camera, she appears to wind something into the wall and then immediately falls forward like she has been depowered, a robot turning herself off with an invisible key.  But then she pulls herself aright again.  Her hands are dirty, stained with pink chalk (makeup?), and we get the impression that she is burned out.  This is Sia remarking on the nature of her stardom, the fact that sometimes she is like an automaton going through the motions.  Her art, endlessly repeated night after night, and more importantly the requisite partying that comes with the job, have become a chore to her.  It’s a feeling I’m sure many celebrities have experienced.  This robot needs to recharge her batteries, and she does.

Suddenly, it’s as if she has reawakened, becoming something like a human again.  It’s a new day, literally and metaphorically.  The lyrics reinforce this.  We see her yawn and stretch, walking around the room as she rubs her belly in hunger.  She does the splits, perhaps as part of her morning exercises.  She is pushing herself, stretching her limits.  She is coming to life again, nearly—but not quite—ready to swing from the titular chandelier.

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Chandelier' (2014) (3)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Chandelier’ (2014) (3)

And then she really lets loose, going through a series of particularly lively motions—flips, tumbles, running through the apartment—and we know our inner Sia is juiced now, running on full speed, re-embracing and reinvigorating her art, and through her art, her life.

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Chandelier' (2014) (4)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Chandelier’ (2014) (4)

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Chandelier' (2014) (5)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Chandelier’ (2014) (5)

In the second close-up of the video, Maddie stands behind curtains.  The suggestion is of a performer looking out on her audience with mixed emotions.  And, perhaps it is just me, but there is a point in this sequence at which, just before she leaves the curtains behind, Maddie almost seems to be channeling the spirit of Marilyn Monroe.

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Chandelier' (2014) (6)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Chandelier’ (2014) (6)

At last, as the video reaches it’s end, Maddie/Sia is again framed by a doorway, but this time she is on one side of it while the viewer is on the other.  Maddie affects a stage bow here, referencing Sia’s identity as a performer.  This is goodbye for us—we are leaving Sia’s unconscious now, for our visit is over, and the little nude dancer in her head is seeing us off at the door.

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Chandelier' (2014) (7)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Chandelier’ (2014) (7)

Elastic Heart

Based on the resounding success of the Chandelier video, it only makes sense that there would be a follow-up video featuring Miss Ziegler, though few could have foreseen the inclusion of actor Shia LaBeouf in the same.  And yet, strangely, it works.  But what’s it about, exactly?  We have only gotten a hint from Sia herself, who has suggested that these figures are two separate states of herself, sometimes simpatico and other times at complete odds.  This makes sense (and reinforces our interpretation of the first video as a representation of Sia’s inner life), and so we already have a pretty good idea about what part of Sia that Maddie represents: she is the vulnerable, emotional part.  LaBeouf, then, is something else entirely, perhaps a need to control the emotional aspects of herself to function normally in her career.  Or maybe he is a predatory instinct born of show business, a moral flaw that Sia must fight to remain human in an inherently humanity-destroying job.  Another possibility here is that he is the untamed (wild) part of Sia, the part that only her heart can quell.

Whatever the case, the beauty of good art is that it is often open to interpretation, its meaning elastic and malleable to whatever the experiencer of the art brings to the table.  And with all of the controversy that has arisen over this video, with accusations that the video somehow encourages or promotes “pedophilia”, I would like to offer another possible interpretation: the video may, in fact, be taken as a condemnation of sexual abuse, wherein the characters are symbolic of the mental interior of an abuse victim.  Let’s consider the semiotics here.

First off, we see that both the child and the adult are trapped in an immense birdcage, facing off against each other.  Through our established theme, this can be seen as symbolic in a couple of ways.  First, the victim may be literally trapped with her abuser—this is often the case with sexual abuse victims, given that most abuse is intrafamilial and occurs in the home.  Such a child is under the complete control of her abuser, since he has custody and legal power over her.  Immediately we can see that the two are out of breath and in a heightened emotional state—they have been at each other’s throats for awhile, it seems.  The girl appears to be fending off the advances of the male, almost like a feral cat fighting off a wolf.  When she attacks, the wound is struck where?  Square in LaBeouf’s heart.

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Elastic Heart' (2015) (1)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Elastic Heart’ (2015) (1)

But after Maddie’s verbal assault hits its mark and she unleashes on him again (having found a weapon that works), she soon loses her voice.  Consider how there is power in a child’s voice—her ability to speak of her abuse may be the only thing that can truly end it—and child abusers often silence their victims with threats.  But there’s also a musical analogy here, as singers sometimes quite literally lose their voice for a brief time.  There is one point where the sexual abuse metaphor becomes most apt: as the two crawl on the floor like animals, Maddie suddenly flips onto her back, knees up and slightly apart; it seems she is inviting her abuser to take her, but as we soon realize, this is only a ploy to get him close enough so that she might attack him again.  Having gotten the upper hand again in their face-off, she grabs LaBeouf and tosses him against the wall of their shared cage.

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Elastic Heart' (2015) (2)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Elastic Heart’ (2015) (2)

Not long after this, LaBeouf climbs up the side of the cage and is suspended directly above Maddie for a second.  Here the abuser again uses his power and privilege over the girl (as a parent or foster parent) to his advantage.  This type of shot is often called a bird’s-eye-view in photography and cinema.  Resoundingly appropriate for a video set in a giant birdcage, no?  Moreover, it is largely agreed upon by critics that such shots in visual semiotics establishes a sense of vulnerability for those who lie at the distal end of the shot.

While LaBeouf hangs above her, Maddie seems to sleep, perhaps resting after the long battle.  Or maybe she is pretending to sleep, something long-term abuse victims have been known to do, though her surprise when LaBeouf drops down and intimately touches her face seems genuine enough that I take the first point as more accurate.

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Elastic Heart' (2015) (3)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Elastic Heart’ (2015) (3)

Maddie is once more on the defensive, but LaBeouf tries another ploy: he seems to offer her something in his hand, and Maddie sniffs at it.  What is he offering her?  My hunch is food, not only because of the way she sniffs it but also because of what occurs directly after.  With Maddie’s back turned to him, her defenses down, LaBeouf moves in.  But the little girl snaps at his hand, and thus quite literally (within a metaphorical context) bites the hand that feeds her, and for good reason.  This scene, I think, is the crux of the entire video.

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Elastic Heart' (2015) (4)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Elastic Heart’ (2015) (4)

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Elastic Heart' (2015) (5)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Elastic Heart’ (2015) (5)

Their ongoing war resumes, going on for a bit; however, something is different this time.  Maddie manages to find her way out of the cage.  The fact that she can fit through the bars while her abuser cannot is significant.  Likely we are seeing the victim growing up and moving away from home, while the abuser is still there.  But more importantly, the victim is now educated and aware, and she knows she can destroy him with a word.  The abuser is still obsessed with the victim, reaching for her through the bars, but she is out of reach.  Ergo, he is trapped in another way: his obsession with the girl has become something like an addiction.  He goes through a series of emotions here—sorrow, fear, rage.  Maddie, meanwhile, also appears to be torn.  She flashes him a false smile, but she is a bit confused by her own feelings.  Perhaps she has not entirely escaped after all.

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Elastic Heart' (2015) (6)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Elastic Heart’ (2015) (6)

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Elastic Heart' (2015) (7)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Elastic Heart’ (2015) (7)

In the end, seeing the man saddened and cowed before her, she slips back into the cage willingly and returns to him in what becomes one of the most poignant scenes in the video.  Maddie flips her legs over LaBeouf’s shoulders, and he walks around with her on his back; she is now his burden.  She expresses genuine care and concern for him here, though she also manipulates him, pounding on his forehead to force him to go through a series of face changes (masks?) for her own entertainment, and then toying with his face directly.

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Elastic Heart' (2015) (8)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Elastic Heart’ (2015) (8)

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Elastic Heart' (2015) (9)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Elastic Heart’ (2015) (9)

It is the girl who is clearly in control now, or so it seems.  She has forgiven her abuser, or at least made peace with him.  She even leads him to the edge of the cage and attempts to pull him out with her, to rescue him from the very prison he created for them, but this is where things become most complicated.  The scene plays out for a while, even after the music dies away, and it soon becomes difficult to discern whether she is still trying to pull him out or he is trying to pull her in.  Most likely it is both.

That is the complex nature of abusive parent-child relationships.  The child may escape the situation physically, but that doesn’t mean she is entirely free of it psychologically.  And she may still love the parent, perhaps understanding him better than he understands himself, and the nature of his obsession with her.  In the end, both abuser and victim are likely irreparably scarred by their unhealthy relationship.  That pretty well sums up what occurs in a much of the long-term intrafamilial abuse I have read about, where severing emotional ties becomes a lot more difficult than if the abuser had simply been an acquaintance.  The camera fades away with the two still engaged in this strange tug-of-war, leaving the viewer uncertain about the fate of man and girl.

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Elastic Heart' (2015) (10)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Elastic Heart’ (2015) (10)

That’s it.  That is one of my interpretations of the video, and I think I make a pretty strong case for it.  This does not, of course, mean that this was what Sia or Askill intended the video to be about.  Nor does it mean that this is my only interpretation of the video (it isn’t).  The reason I spent a good deal of time examining the video from this perspective is that I wanted to demonstrate something about the nature of good art: it’s meaning is malleable and is often viewed through our own filters.  As has been mentioned here before, those who tend to see obscenity in nude artworks of children are often the ones with the dirty minds, not the artists themselves.  Likewise, I am inclined to believe that we should look askance upon those who offer only the tone-deaf interpretation of the Elastic Heart video as a casual promotion of adult-child sex.

As for me, I see precisely the opposite in it.  In fact, this need not even be a metaphor for sexual abuse–any sort of abuse will do.  As for the discomfort the video may cause, so what?  If the video is indeed a symbolic look at sexual abuse, then it should make us uncomfortable.  Would anyone dare suggest that a film like, say, Bastard out of Carolina shouldn’t have been made because the graphic rape scene at the end is utterly disturbing (which it is—it may be the most graphically depicted child rape scene ever filmed)?  I certainly wouldn’t.  If art is to have any impact on us, it must challenge us.  I am also more than a touch concerned about the current trend of putting up “trigger warnings” on everything that might be even remotely offensive to someone–personally, I find it insulting to myself and to humanity as a whole this notion that we must necessarily be shielded against our own feelings, as if we were all emotional infants who must always be cooed to and comforted by the world around us.

Nevertheless, I will accept it if I must.  If you require a warning label on your art, I can look past it.  After all, controversy has rarely ever hurt sales when it comes to art, and if anything tends to encourage them.  What I will not accept is external pressure to change, destroy or even apologize for art that challenges viewers because some people are bothered by it.  In my estimation, Sia has absolutely nothing to apologize for.  She clearly did not exploit Maddie Ziegler to make her art, which is the only real consideration that should be given when it comes to featuring children in provocative art.  These videos have beautiful purpose, and that is its own moral defense.

Note: In addition to the Sia videos, Maddie Ziegler has appeared in videos for Todrick Hall’s Freaks Like Me and Alexx Calise’s Cry.

Tumblr: Sia (official site)

Wikipedia: Sia (musician)

Daniel Askill (official site)

Wikipedia: Daniel Askill

Maddie & Mackenzie Ziegler (official site)

Wikipedia: Maddie Ziegler

A Little Clair-ity: The (Un)tainted Love of Gilbert O’Sullivan and Clair Mills

Here’s something new, and a refreshing change of pace.  Although I don’t ordinarily dip into music (other than the visual aspects of it such as album covers, music videos, etc.), in this case I will make an exception.  There may be other examples in the future too, since music is an art form, though I am a little out of my element.

Anyway, I would like to draw attention to a song that perfectly illustrates the seemingly gargantuan disconnect between artists and the culturally unengaged when it comes to issues involving children, sex and love.  In late 1972 pop musician Gilbert O’Sullivan released a winning ode to a girl he greatly adored, Clair Mills.  This was nothing new—love songs are a staple of pop music and have been since its origin.  What made this song different is that Clair was a preschooler O’Sullivan sometimes babysat—the daughter of his manager, in fact.

Okay, so it’s a sweet song about a little girl.  So what, right?  Well, when you consider some of the lyrics in the light of today’s pedo paranoia, the situation becomes a little more complicated.  Lines like “I don’t care what people say, to me you’re more than a child” and “But why in spite of our age difference do I cry; each time I leave you I feel I could die” the meaning changes from a simple display of affection and admiration for a child’s innocence (a theme so clichéd in music of the late ’60s and much of the ’70s that even true believers began to find it cloying, and rightfully so) to something a little deeper and seemingly more romantic.  It would appear, then, that this song is what it sounds like: a romantic love song for a 4-year-old.  But what exactly is romantic love?  Is sex a necessary component of it, and if so, is it possible that a romantic attraction to a child must be tainted and uncouth by design?  I wonder.

In my estimation we have far oversimplified these issues in modern times, accepting as a given that there can be no healthy “romantic” (a loaded word) relationship between adults and children.  Now, before I go on, let me offer a little, er . . . clarity here: the immediate impression of many to such a statement is that to even consider the possibility that it is anything less than entirely loathsome for adults to be ‘in love’ with children—especially those that aren’t their own—marks you out as a vile and detestable defender and/or practitioner of kiddie rape.  There is no middle ground for a lot of people, and therefore no quarter shall be given to anyone broaching such ideas.

It should be apparent to any thoughtful person that this simplistic black-and-white view of a very complex and deeply misunderstood issue is more than a little problematic.  In any other context such thinking would be immediately and correctly aligned with a totalitarian worldview.  The Nazis, the Fascists and the Stalinists could only have stood in awe of the degree to which Western society has come to embrace the absolutist stance towards this matter that has taken root here amongst a mind-boggling array of political and social factions, bookended though it may be by the false/extremist feminists and the hardline religious types.

Photographer/Designer Unknown - Gilbert O'Sullivan - Clair (cover) (1972)

Photographer/Designer Unknown – Gilbert O’Sullivan – Clair (cover) (1972)

All of that being said, is it to be assumed that O’Sullivan’s ode to a beloved child is an open and blatant admission of a pedophilic attraction to a small girl, and if so, how did it fail to make waves when it was released?  After all, adult-child sexual encounters were still largely condemned by most of society even in the free-wheeling 1970s.  Does this mean that everyone in that decade was so hopped up an drugs that they barely noticed the sexual connotations in the song, which, to add insult to injury, had the unmitigated indecency to become a #1 hit in much of the English-speaking First World?  If all of that isn’t shocking enough, there was even a proto-music video made at the time that depicts “Uncle Ray” and little Clair frolicking together en plein air, with the little girl wearing a pedo-fetish dress if ever there was one that unavoidably flaunts her tiny panty-clad behind for O’Sullivan and all of his perverted ilk to gawk at.  And my God!  O’Sullivan joyously fondles that same behind right on camera!  Why hasn’t his head been served on a platter and delivered to Oprah yet?!

Unfortunately, there are people out there on which the facetious nature of the above paragraph will be entirely lost.  A lot of them.  And herein lies the problem.  A thoughtful, even-headed person will soon realize that this song “Clair” uses the language of romance in a transcendent way to underscore a relationship that young Clair herself has framed in her own mind, innocently or not (your definitions of the word ‘innocent’ may vary, faithful readers), as romantic (“Will you marry me, Uncle Ray?”)  I have myself been the recipient of just such a request by a girl of around the same age.  In that case I am certain it was very innocent.  But that’s neither here nor there.  Back to Gilbert and Clair.

How do we know that Mr. O’Sullivan wasn’t a creep who really did take advantage of this little girl?  We can start by reading Clair’s own words in response to a slew of insults and attacks that appeared at YouTube underneath the above video.  The poster of the video corresponded with the now middle-aged subject of the song, pointing out the horrendous libelous attacks on O’Sullivan’s character, to which he received the following reply:

Sorry you have to read the awful posts about the song Clair..
I was a toddler !!!!!! Please feel free to tell them that from me.
He is also a very kind and lovely man who I adore still to this day and I would ask them kindly to refrain and respect our wishes.

And there you have it, folks.  It is the statements of these outraged citizens who have been the most hurtful to Mills, not the innocent and well-meaning O’Sullivan.  And that, in a nutshell, is the problem with much of society with regard to this issue.  In their effort to stand squarely and unquestionably in the corner of justice, they have been too blinded by their own emotionalism and moral indignation to see the real complexities twined beneath the seemingly straight-edged surface of these things, and they often wind up doing more harm than good in the process, which is the inevitable result of taking any moral position, regardless of what it is, too far.  That’s why they can listen to a song that cleverly one-upped the teen love ballads of the era with a charming, audacious and somewhat tongue-in-cheek romantic ode to a preschooler and hear only a tribute to the object of a child molester (or at best an encouragement to child molesters), or why they can look upon photos of naked children by Jock Sturges or Sally Mann and see only sinister motives behind the photos.

But I can’t help coming back to this question: who are really the ones obsessed with child sex?  Is it people like Sturges or O’Sullivan?  Obviously not.  I have a few quotes that I read from time to time, to keep things in perspective.  Here are two that really apply:

All seems infected to th’ infected spy,
As all looks yellow to the jaundic’d eye. – Alexander Pope, Essay on Criticism

 

Every political good carried to the extreme must be productive of evil. – Mary Wollstonecraft

 

Photographer Unknown - Gilbert O'Sullivan and Clair Mills, The Australian Women's Weekly (June 6, 1973)

Photographer Unknown – Gilbert O’Sullivan and Clair Mills, The Australian Women’s Weekly (June 6, 1973)

Editor’s Note: I was quite moved by the O’Sullivan-Mills relationship and though such relationships are reasonably common, we are fortunate in this case to know about it because of one of the participants being an artist and expressing himself through song. However, I feel it important that those who have not personally experienced this kind of relationship get a firmer understanding of what is happening and a conventional Freudian interpretation is highly misleading and overly simplistic. These relationships can be complex and deeply emotional and no patent and lazy platitude is going to shed real light on it. It should never be naively assumed that because Mills was 4 years old at the beginning of this relationship, that she was simply a passive or subordinate participant. This is a real relationship involving two people and each contributes and benefits differently.

Before going on, I should say something about the nature of genuinely abusive relationships. Almost without exception, these situations involve desperate people that, because of their life circumstances, are not capable of engaging in and appreciating more sophisticated relationships. In the case of O’Sullivan and Mills, we are dealing with people with some leisure, who can enjoy the pleasures of life and have the ability to express compassion.

From an evolutionary standpoint, the cuteness and behavior patterns of children and babies motivate adults to treat them with tenderness and affection. I am reminded of an uncle who told me that he never dreamed he would be such a devoted father until after the birth of his two daughters. A man’s bond to his family is complex because, unlike a woman who literally experiences a series of hormonal switches upon pregnancy, birth, and suckling that help establish her attachment with her child, a man’s bond is emotionally triggered by his psychological involvement in the family. Therefore, it is possible for a man who does not have his own family to become attached to another–perhaps that of a sibling or close friend. This, I believe, was the allure from O’Sullivan’s point of view, and with sufficient affection and attention on the part of Mills, that relationship would have strengthened and evolved over time. Of course, as an adult O’Sullivan was capable of expressing a more adult notion of love through songwriting. This could be confusion over the intensity of his paternal-friendship love, but most likely it is a reflection of the difficulty in communicating this level of emotion to a general audience.

The young Mills would have had a lot of appealing qualities that she would not be conscious of which would facilitate a special bond, and that, simply put, is interpersonal chemistry. Even one who is generally good with children would likely have a special bond with a particular favorite and with whom there is a strong reciprocity. The most obvious benefit to the child is that she gets additional attention which certainly promotes healthy development–being held, consoled, fawned over, etc. More subtly, the girl gets a lot of feedback about her value, character and emotional needs which she subconsciously uses to judge the quality of relationships later in life.

Those fortunate enough to be involved in these kinds of relationships experience intense emotional attachment and perhaps the best word to describe it is romantic. But whatever word is used, it is a genuine form of mutual love devoid of inappropriate sexual connotations. -Ron

Gilbert O’Sullivan (Official Site) – Whatever happened to the real Clair?

Wikipedia: Clair (song)

Wikipedia: Gilbert O’Sullivan

Al Parker and Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt”

We lost one of our earliest and most important American science fiction and fantasy writers a couple days ago when Ray Bradbury passed away.  I devoured Bradbury’s short story collections when I was in high school.  A few months ago, while researching the art of illustrator Al Parker, I encountered an illustration he’d done for Bradbury’s story The Veldt which I first read in one of those collections, The Illustrated Man.  Because the story (and the illustration) features a little girl, it is appropriate for this blog.  Initially I set it aside for a future post on Al Parker, but I decided this would be a better time to post it.

Bradbury was a man of immense heart and imagination, who wrote several now classic stories and novels, including the anti-censorship masterpiece Fahrenheit 451.  Battling censorship is of course an issue very dear to me.  R.I.P. Ray Bradbury—you will certainly be missed.

And here’s a nice little summary of the story (that hints at the ending, in case you want to read it).

Addendum: If you’d like to see something really cool that’s based on The Veldt, check out this sweet animated music video for Deadmau5’s song of the same name featuring vocals by Chris James.

al-parker-illustration-fo

Al Parker – Illustration for Ray Bradbury’s ‘The Veldt’ (1950)

Wikipedia: Al Parker (artist)

Comments:

From Margaret Matchin on June 27, 2012
Hello, I would love to find the book with the Al Parker illustration in it. Can you tell me which one it is? there are a couple on E Bay, and I am trying to figure which one it might be…..thank you . Peggy

From pipstarr72 on June 27, 2012
Hi, Peggy. The illustration originally accompanied a printing of Bradbury’s story (under the title The World the Children Made) in the September 23rd, 1950 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. The story itself can be found easily today in the Bradbury anthology The Illustrated Man. As far as where the illustration might have been reprinted, I simply do not know. I encountered it on the internet and have not seen it elsewhere. It may be in a book of Al Parker’s work or it may not be. Sorry I could not be of more help.

Serge Gainsbourg, Melody Nelson and “Lemon Incest”

If you haven’t heard of Serge Gainsbourg, you’re probably either not a fan of music . . . or you’re an American. Just kidding on that last bit (although it’s true that we Americans tend to be pretty insular when it comes to culture–generally we don’t like to embrace music, movies or whatever if we can’t understand the language or we have to read subtitles.)

Anyway, back to Gainsbourg. Over the course of thirty years he put out nearly as many albums, including Histoire de Melody Nelson, a ravingly reviewed concept album that tells of an older man’s (Gainsbourg places himself in the role, veering into alternate history territory with this false biography) obsession and affair with the titular character, an underage nymphet he befriends after nearly running her over on her bicycle. The album was released in 1971, a decade before Bertrand Blier’s Beau-père (a film I think far better than both of the film adaptations of Lolita put together, by the way.) It’s clear to anyone who’s seen Beau-père that it was a least partly inspired by this album and by Gainsbourg himself, who, like the film’s protagonist, worked as a pianist in a lounge at one time.

The album’s cover is certainly provocative too, with a young girl dressed in nothing but jeans and holding a doll over her chest.

serge-gainsbourg-histoire-de-melody-nelson

Serge Gainsbourg – Histoire de Melody Nelson (cover)

Later, in 1984, Gainsbourg and his then 12-year-old daughter Charlotte (a well-established actress these days) teamed up on the song Lemon Incest, which invited plenty of controversy as it seemed to endorse father-daughter incest and sexual abuse.  Gainsbourg, however, rebuffed these accusations and claimed to merely be playing with the idea, as did Charlotte (even the original title is a French play on words.)  I concur.  This lighthearted and flirty song recognizes something essential in father-daughter relationships, I think: there’s a point near or just after a girl’s puberty when the relationship changes, and for a short time daughters often become slightly smitten with their fathers (and daddies too begin to see their daughters a little differently.)  I think this is normal; girls are learning how to relate to males, and it’s only logical that they would focus that on the male they love and trust the most.

That is, of course, only true if there is no abuse in the home and the girl does love and trust her father.  Girls are particularly vulnerable at that age because of their changing bodies, the hormonal fluxes and crazy emotions that come with puberty, and it is very important that adults not exploit that.  But I think there’s nothing wrong with a little nonsexual practice-run romance.  Yet, because of the stigma of incest this is probably going on a lot less these days, or adults feel guilty for even the most fleeting “inappropriate” thought towards a youngster and overcompensate, which, by the way, I think is a major contributing factor to the extant moral panic; it’s called the spiral of silence.

As for the song, despite the controversy it was released as a single, and there’s even a rather interesting music video for it, a little darker in tone than the song itself, with Charlotte lying about in panties and pajama top on a bed with Serge, in a weird sci-fi setting.  I’m not sure that was a particularly wise choice of everyone involved, but it is fascinating to watch and shows once again how the Europeans are far more relaxed about such things, or at least they used to be.  I think we’ve successfully exported our paranoia and moral outrage overkill on this stuff to much of the world at this point, unfortunately.

Charlotte & Gainsbourg - Lemon Incest (single cover)

Charlotte & Gainsbourg – Lemon Incest (single cover)

Universal Music: Serge Gainsbourg

Wikipedia: Serge Gainsbourg

Charlotte Gainsbourg (Official Site)

Wikipedia: Charlotte Gainsbourg

Vintage-Style Covers

Many album covers feature photos that are either vintage or made to look vintage, and of course, vintage photos of children are always popular.

mamas-pride-guard-your-heart-cover

Mama’s Pride – Guard Your Heart (cover)

Mama’s Pride (Official Site)

Wikipedia: Mama’s Pride

Darkwood - The Final Hour (cover)

Darkwood – The Final Hour (cover)

Darkwood (Official Site)

Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself (cover)

Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself (cover)

Andrew Bird (Official Site)

Wikipedia: Andrew Bird

First Aid Kit - The Big Black and the Blue (cover)

First Aid Kit – The Big Black and the Blue (cover)

First Aid Kit

Wikipedia: First Aid Kit (band)

NRBQ - Diggin' Uncle Q (cover)

NRBQ – Diggin’ Uncle Q (cover)

Number One Gun - Celebrate Mistakes (cover)

Number One Gun – Celebrate Mistakes (cover)

Number One Gun - Promises for the Imperfect (cover)

Number One Gun – Promises for the Imperfect (cover)

Wikipedia: Number One Gun

Graham Ovenden - Rosetta Stone - Foundation Stones (cover)

Graham Ovenden – Rosetta Stone – Foundation Stones (cover)

Wikipedia: Rosetta Stone (band)

Soul Asylum - Let Your Dim Light Shine (cover)

Soul Asylum – Let Your Dim Light Shine (cover)

Enter the Soul Asylum (Official Site)

Wikipedia: Soul Asylum

Stars - The Five Ghosts (cover)

Stars – The Five Ghosts (cover)

You Are Stars (Official Site)

Wikipedia: Stars (Canadian band)

Sun Kil Moon - Ghosts of the Great Highway (cover)

Sun Kil Moon – Ghosts of the Great Highway (cover)

Sun Kil Moon

Wikipedia: Sun Kil Moon

The Sallyangie - Children of the Sun (cover)

The Sallyangie – Children of the Sun (cover)

Wikipedia: The Sallyangie

VAST - April (cover)

VAST – April (cover)

VAST (Official Site)

Wikipedia: VAST

Deep Forest

I’m a fan of the group Deep Forest and I really dig this album cover, so I thought I’d share it today.

deep-brasil-deep-brasil-cover

Artist Unknown – Cover for Deep Forest’s ‘Deep Brasil’ album

And just for the hell of it, here are two music videos for Deep Forest songs. The first is Madazulu from the album Comparsa.  While the main character in the video is a boy, there are little girls interspersed throughout the video, the narrative of which concerns a kid who can apparently stop time at will and the various ways he uses this power for good (as well as occasional mischief.) The second is for one of my favorite songs ever, Sweet Lullaby. Here the main character is a little girl, and she rides around the world on her tricycle, observing and absorbing the various cultures she encounters, only to come full circle and return to the loving arms of her mother. I admit it: this video makes me teary-eyed.  Beautiful cinematography and scenery from all over the world are the highlights here.  The icing on the cake for me is the shots of Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Família.

Connie Talbot

I don’t usually post videos on here, but I thought I would do something a little different to round out our Little Dreamers series, since today is the last day of the month.  So here are a couple of different YouTube videos of Connie Talbot.  The first is of her performing John Lennon’s ultimate ode to the dreamer, Imagine.  The soundtrack for the clip is, I believe, taken from her studio album, and it has been put to a series of transitioning photos and video clips of Connie.  The second clip is more recent and shows Connie performing Adele’s Rolling in the Deep in the studio.  As you can see there, she’s becoming quite the lovely young lady.  Enjoy!

Connie Talbot – Imagine

Connie Talbot – Rolling in the Deep

Connie Talbot (Official Site – be sure to check out a new video of her here, featuring her singing the song Skycraper and playing piano too.  This girl has an amazingly bright future.)