The Wall by Pink Floyd has been heralded as an iconic turning point in popular cultural history; a historical marker at the end of what has been termed the Post War Era, assisting in the creation of a new ideological framework. A multi-media, multi-dimensional cultural text found to be reviewed through the lens of British wartime and post-war discourse.
‘He (The main character of The Wall) was born in Britain during the war, lost his father in the Battle of Anzio (where Roger Waters’s father had been killed), and grew up in a post-war British society that was full of promises yet fraught with frustration. Investigating the “bricks” in the imaginary “wall” that hems in his personality, Pink senses connections between his own alienation, the psychological damage wrought by the war, the distortions inherent in a mediatized memory culture, and the destructiveness of the rock business.’ (Ackermann, 2012)
The totality of the work; the music, live show and movie are reviewed and subsequently stated to be speaking about and challenging the culture of rock itself and its tethering to capitalism. Most significantly, the work is said to be a comment on war; how people within a society are impacted by war and how society remembers its passing.
‘The Wall thus addresses, or actually confounds, two topics: the social functions of rock music, on the one hand, and British remembrance of the Second World War, on the other.’ (Ackermann, 2012)
This paper seeks to challenge the lens through which The Wall is commonly viewed, and suggest that this work, at its birth, contained little meaning of war or capitalism, but was almost entirely one man’s narrative of the Monstrous She and the Abject Mother. The Wall became a pop-cultural anthem of rebellion and anti-institutional ideologies globally and continues to be absorbed and reappropriated by diverse groups as a cry of hope and rebellion against ‘The Institution’.
The song, Another Brick in The Wall Part 2, was adopted as a soundscape of hope for the falling of the Berlin Wall in 1989; ‘The walls (Berlin Wall) breeching had a soundtrack of music that included Pink Floyd, not Beethoven’. (McNamara, K. 2015) UK based, The Telegraph, reported in 2010, ‘Pink Floyd’s anthem “Another Brick in the Wall” has become a hit for Iran’s resistance movement.’ (Hutchinson, P. 2010) Separated out from its context this single element of the work took on a life of its own; this paper seeks to review elements of this work within the context of its own totality, examining pieces of the work and how they interweave to illustrate notions of The Abject Mother.
There has been a lack of accessible feminist discourse on the work The Wall; perhaps because its patriarchal ideals are so obvious it was deemed unnecessary? Or at the time the Monstrous She narrative was overshadowed by the anti-fascist narrative? The nuance of The Mother narrative appears to have been predominantly overlooked, or indeed just accepted as a part of the patriarchal ideology of the time.
This paper aims to illustrate that through the guise of paying homage to fallen war heroes, and anti-authoritarian, anti-fascist narratives The Wall and its many facets are deeply connected to a personal relationship with his, the writer’s, mother and notions of She. Within this work, governmental institutions and the wars they perpetuate, capitalism and the rock industry it controls, in his personal narrative, are linked back to control of The Mother; His fighting against the institution is his fighting against Her.
Specifically, this paper will analyse the song Mother, released on the album The Wall, prior to the movie release and secondly The Wall Movie, paying particular consideration to the animated elements. This analysis will occur through the lens of Barbara Creeds The Abject Mother and Monstrous Feminine.
The beginnings of The Wall were written in the late 1970’s by Roger Waters, a member of the British rock band Pink Floyd, alongside Nick Mason, Rick Wright and Syd Barrett. Contextually, their country of origin was moving towards right leaning ideological changes delivered by the Thatcher government during the late 1970’s and into the 1980’s. It could be argued that this political change, to Brittan’s first female Prime Minister, a Prime Minister who history remembers as a deeply conservative leader, had an impact on the work The Wall, in the least a resonance with the writers’ narrative of Woman.
The song Mother, written by Rogers Waters, was released in 1979, on the Pink Floyd album The Wall. In a 1979 radio interview, Roger Waters was questioned by the interviewer on the song ‘Mother’: “What sort of mother is this mother?”, Waters response highlights his view of She, a view that underpinned the creation of this work; “Over-protective; which most mothers are. If you can level one accusation at mothers, it is that they tend to protect their children too much. Too much for too long. That’s all.” (Waters, R.1979)
Waters states this, as if commonly understood fact, a comment at the time, that was released without challenge. Waters goes on to note how happy he was that this song seemed to ‘get through’ to other mothers who were over protective. (Waters, R. 1979)
‘In the child’s attempts to break away, the mother becomes an ‘abject’; thus, in this context, where the child struggles to become a separate subject, abjection becomes ‘a precondition of narcissism’. Once again we can see abjection at work in the horror text where the child struggles to break away from the mother, representative of the archaic maternal figure, in a context in which the father is invariably absent (Psycho, Carrie, The Birds). In these films the maternal figure is constructed as the monstrous-feminine. By refusing to relinquish her hold on her child, she prevents it from taking up its proper place in relation to the symbolic. Partly consumed by the desire to remain locked in a blissful relationship with the mother and partly terrified of separation, the child finds it easy to succumb to the comforting pleasure of the dyadic relationship.’ (Creed, B. 1993)
Mother, do you think they’ll drop the bomb?
Mother, do you think they’ll like this song?
Mother, do you think they’ll try to break my balls?
Ooooo. Mother, should I build the wall?
Mother, should I run for president?
Mother, should I trust the government?
Mother, will they put me in the firing line?
Oooooh aaah. Is it just a waste of time?
(alternate: Oooooh aaah. Mother am I really dying?)
Hush now, baby. Baby, don’t you cry.
Mamma’s gonna make all your nightmares come true.
Mamma’s gonna put all of her fears into you.
Mamma’s gonna keep you right here under her wing.
She won’t let you fly, but she might let you sing.
Mama’s gonna keep baby cozy and warm.
Ooooh babe. Ooooh babe. Oooooh babe,
Of course mama’s gonna help build a wall.
Mother, do you think she’s good enough — for me?
Mother, do you think she’s dangerous — to me?
Mother, will she tear your little boy apart?
Ooooh aaah. Mother, will she break my heart?
Hush now, baby. Baby, don’t you cry.
Mama’s gonna check out all your girlfriends for you.
Mama won’t let anyone dirty get through.
Mama’s gonna wait up until you get in.
Mama will always find out where you’ve been.
Mama’s gonna keep baby healthy and clean.
Ooooh babe. Oooh babe. Oooh babe,
You’ll always be baby to me.
Mother, did it need to be so high?
The song, Mother, could be seen as a pop cultural illustration of Freudian psychoanalytic theory. A theory that underpins notions of The Abject. This song, while a seemingly small and unassuming element of The Wall, is a significant piece within the work that seems to deeply inform The Wall Movie and the animated elements within the film.
The Wall Movie
The Wall, the movie was released in 1982, directed by Alan Parker, the album and accompanying screen play was written by Roger Waters. The protagonist, Pink, a semi-auto-biographical character for Waters, was played by Bob Geldof, a musical icon in his own right. The animated elements of the film were created by Gerald Scarfe in collaboration with Waters vision for the film.
With very little dialogue or traditional plot structure the film is a layered surrealist work; film scenes dissolve into animation, moments are accented by lyrics, the lyrics are suspended within a soundscape that hold all the filmic elements together.
The brilliant animations illustrate deeper meanings within the film and lyrics; they provide the meta meaning on which the film is constructed. The filmic elements of this work, in contrast to the animated elements, very subtly suggest notions of The Abject Mother, as discussed below.
The illustrations, however, provide no room for subtlety within any of the suggested narratives; they are beautifully and aggressively, injected throughout the film in stunning and grotesque line and colour, audaciously illustrating The Abject Mother and the Monstrous She.
The animations; violent, grotesque and beautiful, in their own right, became iconic motifs of the time .. ‘This grotesque cast of characters would go on to become iconic figures in the landscape of pop culture.’ (Kennedy, P., 2016)
The narrative of The Abject Mother and the importance of her impact on this work seems to have been almost entirely overlooked, commonly the work is cited as anti-fascist and anti-institutional. The below analysis of the film seeks to illustrate how symbols of abjection and animations within the film illustrate and connect Mother to all control, that ‘The Institution’ is seen, through Waters lens, as Mother and his abjection of ‘The Institution’, is simply his abjection to ‘The Mother’.
Loosely, the narrative thread within this work, takes viewers through the life of its protagonist, Pink, his rise to rock and roll fame and his subsequent, personal deconstruction into isolation and madness. At this, Pink centric story we, the viewers, are given a context to his justified madness; the loss of his father to war, this death leaving his child-self to be alone with a controlling, selfish mother, his pain solidified by a controlling education system and government, and the final nail to his coffin, as it were, a wife who betrayed him. From here his character becomes the ultimate perpetuator of fascist ideals, the abused as abuser, the surface narrative delivered through this film is that the world in which Pink lives is the very thing that creates what he is trying to resist.
The narrative threads, all Pink problems, all the world’s problems, stitch back to the fault of The Abject Mother.
Our first introduction to She, The Abject Mother, occurs within the first 10 minutes of the film playing. Film stills above. The camera pans across what would seem to be an idyllic, English garden, a tray is filled with tea and biscuits, we see a woman sleeping, in a feminine floral dress, as the camera pans out and the focus is widened, the picture includes a traditionally pretty baby carriage.
On the face of it, there is nothing seemingly sinister about the image of a woman sleeping in a pretty English garden. This scene is however laced with symbols that subtly tell the viewer a lot about She, The Mother and her first introduction into the work.
Everything close to her person, speaks of self indulgence, the biscuits, the tea, the open women’s magazine all while She (lazily) sleeps. She may present with all the socially accepted elements of a ‘good mother’; nice baby carriage, well kept garden, pretty dress, but the child itself is away from her person, and remains crying in the carriage while the mother (self indulgently) continues to sleep.
The very next image that cuts into the film, and the above scene, an intentional contrast to the mother, is of Pink’s father, a dead war hero, we see his limbs dripping with blood; these contrasting images of Mother and Father delivering the narrative of lazy self indulgent mother sleeping while hero father fights and dies in a war for the freedom the mother has, to indulge in tea and biscuits, while leaving the son alone and crying.
The abject, as described by Barbara Creed, drawing on the writings of Julia Kristeva, is to be on the outside of self imposed parameters, away from your person, separated, as is shown in the above scene, with the child, uncannily away from the mother, while crying for her, a perpetual cycle of rejection and reconnection of she The Abject Mother, … ‘the abject, nevertheless, (must be) tolerated, for that which threatens to destroy life also helps to define it’ (Creed, 1993)
The story threads lead us next to Pink as an adult, the camera briefly rests in a room in disarray, moving across a cartoon filled TV, illustrating remnants of Pink’s childhood and innocence. The scene stops on an image of Pink, still below, in an outside pool, a body of water that becomes discoloured with his blood, with his own expelled bodily fluid, and he floats among the blood laced pool water, arms outstretched, the image very referential of the original male martyr, Jesus.
The original, persecuted He, persecuted by authority. This scene of staccato red and light cuts into the next image of The Mother. She is praying in a church, ignoring the child with the song lyrics ‘Daddy, what did you leave behind for me?’ released into the scene.
The following scenes slice in and out of heroic fallen men at war, and a return to the sleeping mother and crying child, reinforcing the contrast of Male Hero to Selfish Woman.
The narrative then moves through a few different scenes, introducing the viewer to the movie’s first animation sequence, where a bird from the idyllic garden scene transforms into an animation of a death bird plane of war and destruction, and we, the viewer, are thrown into a grey, black and red surreal animation of war and death. This image of war and death was born from the bird leaving the idyllic garden and sleeping mother- undertones of Pinks internal war spawned directly from his mother.
Pink, as a child is seen playing, and we are then taken to his school room and provided our first introduction to the school headmaster. The headmaster singles Pink out and ridicules him in front of his peers; an illustration of The Institution breaking the child’s spirit.
The narrative seems to be challenging authority in general as we are introduced to the first male perpetuator of control: The headmaster. This character becomes an iconic part of the work The Wall, in album artwork and live show sculptures. Waters comment on the headmaster and the education system is pop-culturally seen as one of rebellion against institutionalised control on a global scale.
What is significant, and significantly missed in this narrative is delivered in the very next scene. We are taken into the head masters home, where he silently eats dinner with his wife, She, by gesture alone, controls and directs his eating, emasculating, indeed castrating, his own agency. This image is manically sliced in and out of an image of the headmaster violently, and emotionally beating the child at school, attempting to reassert his masculinity.
This scene and subsequent animations of the headmaster further the notion that it is all the fault of She, the Monstrous Woman. The narrative states that even if it is a male perpetuating any negativity or violence it must be because driving him and controlling him is a monstrous woman.
The animations of the headmaster illustrate him as a puppet controlled by a grotesque, naked woman; his violence is not his own, but simply his need to regain control from The Monstrous Abject She. Shown in the below stills. She, spills out and over the chair with large dominant breasts; here she is illustrated uncontained with the very essence of her monstrosity, seen within the things that define her gender and separate her from He.
The first introduction to the headmaster then brings us to the most celebrated and well known lyrical lines of this work: ‘We Don’t need no thought control… teacher leave those kids alone…’ The children dissolve into anarchy, destroying their surround’s. While this aspect of the work has been championed as a cry of needed rebellion, it is illustrated by the preceding scenes of the headmaster’s wife, that this is nothing more than a personal narrative of Waters; indeed an illustration of Freudian, pop-culturally termed ‘mummy issues’.
As Creed notes, ‘the subjects first contact with ‘authority’ is with the maternal authority…’ (Creed, 1993), in this image of child anarchy against institutionalised education and authority, the narrative that underpins this scene is that the children are rebelling against The Abject She, the woman, the maternal, for it is Her who is behind all their institutionally inflicted pain and control.
We, the viewers are taken through a few other moments in Pink’s journey, and then we have our first introduction to his wife. We see a grown Pink, in a dishevelled bed, curling into his pillow after an un-answered call to his wife. The song ‘Mother’ rings through the next few clips and we are taken in and out of scenes with the wife, then mother, then wife again. We see a grown Pink alone in his bed, sliced in with an image of him as a child nestled into his sleeping mothers breast. The Abject Mother is repulsing and attracting, he needs Her and rejects Her all at once.
The narrative of Wife ends in her betraying him with another man, the film, disjointedly cuts back to Pink as a child at a local dance, this scene adds little to the actual plot and seems out of sequence; except the symbolism of She as uncontained monster is clearly illustrated in this scene with the camera focusing on the only overweight woman at the dance, her flesh flopping out of her frock. This scene laced with the betrayal of his wife is an expression of Woman as monster, the ultimate perpetuator of betrayal and pain.
From here we are shown the most symbolic and beautiful animation sequence of the work (36:05 minutes into the film). The Monstrous She and the Phallic He entwined in a dance of floral war and consumption.
This stunning animation is the ultimate illustration of the Monstrous She. A floral dance of dominance and submission and dominance again; all at once repelled and drawn into She. The male, phallic, shaped flower, unable to resist her glowing charms is consumed by her, by the Monstrous She.
A manipulative, sexual dance, come to me, the female flower beckons and soothes, come to me, I shall not hurt you, come into my gentle, soft, fleshy folds. He succumbs to her temptation, thrusting himself into her… he chooses, lost in a sensual dance, her tendrils tighten around him, a point of no return, they transform into death skulls and a struggle ensues. He is consumed by Her.
Doves fly away at consumption, an expression of peace and innocence lost. The fleshy petals of the Monstrous She transform into black wings and becomes the black war bird introduced earlier in the work. Mother, The Abject She is illustrated as war itself. Global fascism and war originated at She, and more significantly, his internal turmoil and personal war is directly connected to The Mother, mother as monster.
From this floral consumption, The Wall is built, and the war mongering He is spawned. He, as a child is transformed into the violent, fascist war monger; his purity and innocence taken by She.
The animation dissolves into grotesque, surreal and monstrous representations of The Abject She.
We see Pink further terrorised by his wife, after a scene of explosive violence from Pink; seemingly justifying his violence, because of course it is the fault of She, look how she terrorises him.
Pink dissolves into his own confinement and insanity, a wall built by Mother, to protect him. From maggots and rotting flesh he emerges from his madness as the hammer clad fascist leader. Pink travels full circle, perpetuating the very thing he was trying to deconstruct, the narrative elements leading up to these final scenes illustrating this violence originated from She.
Pink screams ‘Stop!’ and the clips transition into another beautifully grotesque animation scene, where he is on trial. We see our final images of Mother and Wife. A caricature of the mother and a monstrous wife.
The work ends in the wall being destroyed along with an ambiguous ending presented for Pink. Was he destroyed with the wall? Did The Monstrous She orchestrate his end?
It is unclear if this work illustrates a universal, misogynistic, patriarchal and narrow view of the world, perpetuating the narrative of She as it was and told through a voice impacted by social issues of the time or if perhaps this really was just Waters experience, and this story is told through his very personal lens of an emotionally abusive mother and a society controlled by a conservative, female led government?
In any case this aesthetically brilliant, multi-layered work, in its totality, reinforced social ideologies based on a patriarchal framework using the abject as a reference point to perpetuate a narrative of The Monstrous She.
- Ackermann, Zeno (2012) Rocking the Culture Industry/Performing Breakdown: Pink Floyd’s The Wall and the Termination of the Postwar Era, Popular Music and Society, 35:1, 1-23, DOI: 10.1080/03007766.2010.522830
- McNamara, Kathleen R. (2015) The Politics of Everyday Europe: Constructing Authority in the European Union, Oxford University Press, ISBN: 9780198716235 pg 89, Paragraph 1,
- Hutchinson, P. (2010) Pink Floyd backs Iranian protest song, The Telegraph
Online published version: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/music-news/7918129/Pink-Floyd-backs-Iranian-protest-song.html
- Waters, Roger (1979) Radio 1: Rock Shows Tommy Vance interview Roger Waters: Interview transcript
- Creed, Barbara (1993) The Monstrous-Feminine : Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis, Taylor and Francis, ISBN: 9780203820513
- Kennedy, Philip (2016) Illustration Chronicles, How Gerald Scarfe and Pink Floyd Built ‘The Wall’, Online publication: http://illustrationchronicles.com/How-Gerald-Scarfe-and-Pink-Floyd-Built-The-Wall
- Kristeva, Julia (1982) Powers of Horror: An essay on abjection, Translated by Leon S Roudiez. Columbia University Press, New York.