In an essay of 2008, Paul Kingsbury stated that “our submission to a ‘monstrous duty to enjoy’ is coextensive with a capitalist regime that bombards us with promises of enjoyment, yet ultimately deprives us of enjoying ourselves.”[1] It is this very issue, discussed in depth by the cultural critic Slavoj Žižek, that facilitates the splenetic tirades of both Žižek’s wide-ranging criticism and Jason Williamsons’ lyricism concerning enjoyment. In today’s austerity-ridden society, where Sleaford Mod’s acerbic verbal attacks are being launched, the post-punk and indeed post-modern Nottingham duo reinterpret a discourse that upholds that of Žižek’s: that we are void of autonomy in the face of our manipulative superegos, that our sense of enjoyment is fundamentally flawed as a result of this, and that our postmodern society has not yet uncovered a solution to this Capitalist agenda. Whilst being a rather depressing notion, that we are doomed to be “drones to the delusions of a never-never land,”[2] Sleaford Mods ultimately, and combatively, uphold our Žižekian “obligation to enjoy.”[3]

The provocations of the Marxist thinker Slavoj Žižek provide a compelling, yet often precarious, basis upon which to analyse the lyrics of Jason Williamson, frontman of Sleaford Mods. Žižek’s work in this area draws heavily upon that of Jacques Lacan, and this conglomeration led to the concept of enjoyment being a capitalist creation, cleverly designed in order to manipulate. Although this can be meant in broad terms, such as in relation to nationalism for example, where “the east is watched for bizarre jouissance[4] by the west, in a Marxist focus it “is a materialisation of what Lacan calls the ‘Real’ –  a tremulous part of our emotional lives that constantly threatens to upset our sense of everyday reality.”[5] In a slightly more brash manner, Sleaford Mods highlight this dilemma in the song ‘TCR’, where Williamson sings that “the trappings of luxury can’t save you from the nail-biting boredom of repetitive brain injury, the injury of your useless mind.[6] The idea of entrapment is indeed evocative of the Marxist idea of Capitalism’s malevolent grip; enjoyment for the post-punk group here is always problematic and materialistic. Williamson’s incensing rhetoric is often contingent in its delivery, with attacks on Capitalism ranging from The Daily Mail, who he accuses of revelling in “the abuse of human right for the lust of yachts in sights,[7] to famous models: “David Gandy, utter blue tits, right wing sex tips, ripped up Tory cunt.”[8] Such openly politicised polemic marries well with Žižek, who believes there is an “urgent need for repolitisation,”[9] and Sleaford Mods, in an unlikely manner, serve to not only uphold our Žižekian “obligation to enjoy”[10] but to fill in the gaps of the Slovenian psychoanalyst’s discourse. What we must not forget is the importance and consequence of the lyrical form and its sense of persuasion that perhaps surpasses the written word. The lyric has long-outstripped the Romantic notion of “the expression of intense personal experience,”[11] moving on to the public domain where collective issues are dissected. Especially in the environment of the concert, the lyric is a tirade of inescapable proselytization; there is something extremely powerful about the utterance of words. Consequently, when Williamson demands “don’t let the mechanics of beer trick you into thinking you are some kind of warrior, eating barbwire on the wave of violent disorder,”[12] he vividly brings to life Žižek’s emphasis on “both the celebratory and bizarre sides of jouissance as part of the ‘metastases of enjoyment,’ in consumption, especially capitalistic commodity fetishism,”[13] warning us about the dangers of submitting freely to the synthetic enjoyment Capitalist charms.

What bonds the contentions of Žižek and Sleaford Mods even more tightly together, is their united cry of ‘no future,’ where neither can or want to provide an alternative to “the global liberal-capitalist order.”[14] When in an interview Williamson bleakly stated that “the thing is, there really is no future for a lot of people out there,”[15] he verbalised what was metaphorically present in the music video for ‘TCR’: an endless racing kit, marrying “perfectly to the idea of life’s rotating dross.”[16] And whilst not quite surrendering to the Capitalist regime, a vitriolic diatribe ensues with no real end to it. This leads to what Žižek referred to as a “fetishistic split: I know very well that the democratic form is just a form spoiled by strains of pathological inbalance, but just the same I act as if democracy were possible.”[17] Indeed, Sleaford Mods say that we should “f*ckin’ bin it, Ryvita existence, a pointless opposition to the fat, of pointless State resistance.”[18] Ryvita, in a literal sense, represents something dry, dull, and uninspired, and is a Capitalist company, seemingly cashing in on its desire to bend our lives into its mould. Williamson wants to get rid of this lifestyle, yet, as Moolenaar states, “none of the critics of capitalism […] have any well-defined notion of ‘how to get rid of capitalism.’”[19] In this manner, Sleaford Mods silently support Žižek’s “obligation to enjoy”[20], with the typified punk attitude of ‘no future’ not having any way to fight the way in which Capitalism controls our enjoyment.

This depressive sense of scepticism towards enjoyment finds itself in the basic tenets of Postmodern theory, which both Sleaford Mods and Žižek indulge in. Specifically, they both, through a postmodern lens, believe that enjoyment is ruled by a metaphorical authority figure, an “Oedipal father,”[21] who is slowly beginning to die: a figure that once protected and inhibited our sense of jouissance. Jouissance here refers to, in a psychoanalytical sense, an enjoyment that is somewhat transgressive of its prohibitions. Žižek’s principal influence, Lacan, highlighted that when one transgresses enjoyment, it inevitably will lead to pain, and thus jouissance and the ‘painful principle’ are mutually exclusive.[22] In ‘Under the Plastic and NCT,’ Williamson rants: “surfing comments, looking at the likes […] we pander to the camera and we want to be observed.”[23]  In this scenario when one is wanting validation and attention from others through the form of social media, the postmodern dilemma of jouissance is laid bare; the seemingly pleasurable idea of ‘likes’ and validation comes with a sense of paranoid obsession and self-consciousness. These apparent enjoyments that are ultimately corrupted reflect how, in our postmodern world, “the old modern order of desire, ruled over by an Oedipal father, has begun to be replaced by a new order of the drive, in which we no longer have recourse to the protections against ‘jouissance’ that the Oedipal father once offered.”[24] Whilst Žižek is thought to have reinterpreted or even reinvented the established Lacanian discourse, critics such as Breger find that his political musings are inherently postmodern just like Lacan’s were; that Žižek affirmed “a constitutive ambivalence towards [authority] figures – by which [his work] remains nonetheless obsessed.”[25] This dichotomy unravels also in Sleaford Mods’ ‘Giddy on the Ciggies:’ the song’s speaker holds himself with a sense of arrogance concerning his own agency and autonomy, “humanist as opposed to your shop floor representatives,”[26] but then catches himself and his self-righteousness: “Oh no, I did a Thatcher.”[27] It is a stark example of how easy it is to fall into the Capitalist trap, and how, in our postmodern world, it is inevitable to commit indiscretions in the pursuit of truth ad enjoyment.

Another way in which the songs of Sleaford Mods uphold our Žižekian “obligation to enjoy”[28] is through their explorative analysis of the super-ego’s role in enjoyment, something that Žižek called the “Master of Enjoyment.”[29] The super-ego, a section of Freud’s structural model of the psyche, is the part of us that concerns our morals and the internalisations of cultural rules.[30] Adversely, both Žižek and Sleaford Mods portend that by adhering to our super-egos, enjoyment is unattainable, despite what society may think. In ‘Jobseeker,’ Williamson’s petulance is clear: “So Mr. Williamson, what have you done to find gainful employment since your last signing on date? Fuck all. I’ve been sat around the house wanking.”[31] Although cultural rules imply Williamson’s state of unemployment is something unacceptable, and that his super-ego should be affected by it, Žižek would perhaps defend Williamson’s actions; he contends that “the more we obey the superego’s order and renounce enjoyment, the guiltier we feel, for the more we obey the superego, the greater is the enjoyment accumulated in it and, thus, the greater the pressure it exerts on us.”[32] The super-ego is then transformed from an apparent force of morality and goodness into something malignant and harmful. If, then, society or the state crafts these cultural rules that the super-ego abides by, then “the State is no longer your voice, the mechanics hijacked by the lies.”[33] This corrupts the entire social structure, meaning that enjoyment is merely a tool used by our morality, to pressure us into some sort of cataclysmic moral breakdown. Indeed, according to Žižek, our super-ego is “the obscene.”[34]

In conclusion, Sleaford Mods construct a polemic that agrees with Culler: “lyric is more than a construction of the moment.”[35] Their carefully constructed lyrics may originally seem like thoughtless rambles fuelled by anger and profanity, but, being what many consider to be punk musicians, they pursue “the main principle of punk: the pursuit of the ‘pleasure principle.’”[36] Although this pursuit is conclusively ill-fated, with notions of enjoyment being reviled, they successfully implement Žižek’s theories in a manner which stresses the contemporary importance and relevance of them. Though the words chosen by Williamson cannot be called subtle, the nuanced critique behind them indeed is, with sophisticated analysis of notions of postmodernism, psychoanalysis and politics paving the way for a comprehensive view of enjoyment.

 

[1] Kingsbury, P, ‘Did somebody say jouissance? On Slavoj Žižek, consumption and nationalism’, Emotion, Space & Society, 1.1, (2008), 48-55. (p.50).

[2] Sleaford Mods, “Under the Plastic and NCT” in Divide and Exit (Harbinger Sounds, 2014).

[3] Flisfeder, M, ‘Subject of Desire/Subject of Drive: The Emergence of Žižekian Media Studies’, Reviews in Cultural Theory, 3.1, (2012), 25-37 (p. 26).

[4] Said, E in Kingsbury, P, ‘Did somebody say jouissance? On Slavoj Žižek, consumption and nationalism’, Emotion, Space & Society, 1.1, (2008), 48-55 (p. 49).

[5] Kingsbury, P, ‘Did somebody say jouissance? On Slavoj Žižek, consumption and nationalism’, Emotion, Space & Society, 1.1, (2008), 48-55 (p.50).

[6]Sleaford Mods, “TCR’” in TCR EP (Rough Trade, 2016).

[7] Sleaford Mods, “The Mail Don’t Fail” in Twiswas EP (Invada Records, 2014).

[8] Sleaford Mods, “Giddy on the Ciggies” in Key Markets (Harbinger Sound, 2015).

[9] Moolenaar, R, ‘Slavoj Žižek and the Real Subject of Politics’, Studies in East European Thought, 56.4, (Dec 2004), 259-297 (p. 259).

[10] Flisfeder, M, ‘Subject of Desire/Subject of Drive: The Emergence of Žižekian Media Studies’, Reviews in Cultural Theory, 3.1, (2012), 25-37 (p. 26)

[11] Culler, J, ‘Why Lyric?’, PMLA, 123.1, (2008), 201-206 (p. 201).

[12] Sleaford Mods, “Under the Plastic and NCT” in Divide and Exit (Harbringer Sounds, 2014).

[13] Kingsbury, P, ‘Did somebody say jouissance? On Slavoj Žižek, consumption and nationalism’, Emotion, Space & Society, 1.1, (2008), 48-55 (p.49).

[14] Moolenaar, R, ‘Slavojj Žižek and the Real Subject of Politics’, Studies in East European Thought, 56.4, (Dec 2004), 259-297 (p. 259).

[15] Williamson, J in Harris, J, ‘Sleaford Mods: ‘Most days I’d only have enough money for a Mars bar and a can of Special Brew”, The Guardian, 17 July 2014

[16] Williamson, J in Chang, M, ‘Video of the Moment #2181: Sleaford Mods’, There Goes the Fear, 9 September 2016

[17] Breger, C, ‘The Leader’s Two Bodies: Slavoj Žižek’s Postmodern Political Theology’, Diacritics, 31.1, (2001), 73-90 (p. 74).

[18] Williamson, J. ‘Under the Plastic and NCT’ in Divide and Exit, Sleaford Mods, Harbinger Sound, 2014.

[19] Moolenaar, R, ‘Slavoj Žižek and the Real Subject of Politics’, Studies in East European Thought, 56.4, (Dec 2004), 259-297 (p. 262).

[20] Flisfeder, M, ‘Subject of Desire/Subject of Drive: The Emergence of Žižekian Media Studies’, Reviews in Cultural Theory, 3.1, (2012), 25-37 (p. 26)

[21] Copjec, J in Mellard, J, ‘Lacan and the New Lacanians: Josephine Hart’s Damage, Lacanian Tragedy, and the Ethics of Jouissance’, PMLA, 113.3, (1998), 395-407, (p. 396).

[22] Evans, D, An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis (Routledge, 1996), p. 93.

[23] Sleaford Mods, “Under the Plastic and NCT” in Divide and Exit (Harbringer Sounds, 2014).

[24] Copjec, J in Mellard, J, ‘Lacan and the New Lacanians: Josephine Hart’s Damage, Lacanian Tragedy, and the Ethics of Jouissance’, PMLA, 113.3, (1998), 395-407, (p. 396).

[25] Breger, C, ‘The Leader’s Two Bodies: Slavoj Žižek’s Postmodern Political Theology’, Diacritics, 31.1, (2001), 73-90 (p. 75).

[26] Sleaford Mods, “Giddy on the Ciggies” in Key Markets (Harbinger Sound, 2015).

[27] ibid.

[28] Flisfeder, M, ‘Subject of Desire/Subject of Drive: The Emergence of Žižekian Media Studies’, Reviews in Cultural Theory, 3.1, (2012), 25-37 (p. 26

[29] Žižek, S in Mellard, J, ‘Lacan and the New Lacanians: Josephine Hart’s Damage, Lacanian Tragedy, and the Ethics of Jouissance’, PMLA, 113.3, (1998), 395-407 (p. 403).

[30] Freud, S, On Metapsychology – The Theory of Psychoanalysis: “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”, “Ego and the Id” and Other Works, ed. by Dickson, A (Penguin Books Ltd, 1991), p. 89-90.

[31] Sleaford Mods, “Jobseeker” in The Mekon (A52 Sound, 2008).

[32] Žižek, S in Kingsbury, P, ‘Did somebody say jouissance? On Slavoj Žižek, consumption and nationalism’, Emotion, Space & Society, 1.1, (2008), 48-55 (p. 50).

[33] Sleaford Mods, “Under the Plastic and NCT” in Divide and Exit (Harbringer Sounds, 2014).

[34] Žižek, S in Mellard, J, ‘Lacan and the New Lacanians: Josephine Hart’s Damage, Lacanian Tragedy, and the Ethics of Jouissance’, PMLA, 113.3, (1998), 395-407 (p. 403).

[35] Culler, J, ‘Lyric, History and Genre’, New Literary History, 40.4, (2009), 879-899 (p. 883).

[36] Kahn-Egan, S, ‘Pedagogy of the Pissed: Punk Pedagogy in the First-Year Writing Classroom’, College Composition and Communication, 49.1, (1998), 99-104, (p.100).

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