Morna Laing (University of the Arts, London), ‘Queering’ the Female Face: Pain and playfulness in the music videos of Coco Rosie’

Morna Laing of University of the Arts, London, will be speaking at the Effaced from History conference on April 2. To register and view the full program, visit the conference website.

Abstract

In this paper I theorise the deliberate modification or ‘queering’ of female-gendered faces in the music videos of Coco Rosie. Mary Douglas (2002) famously argued that ‘ideas about separating, demarcating and punishing transgressions have as their main function to impose system on an inherently untidy experience’ (5). In terms of gender identity, this equates to a taboo on sameness (Lorber and Farrell 1991), under which men and women are punished for failing to inhabit the gendered norm assigned to them from birth (Butler 1993). The music of Coco Rosie belongs to the ‘freak folk’ genre, with the two sisters using make-up and wooly faux facial hair to transgress the norm for female faces. The punishment entailed by this transgression is visualised simultaneously through drawn-on beards that resemble bruises and painted tears that make visible their psychological suffering. The violence done to queer faces and queer subjectivities in the present is further underlined by the musicians’ reference to witches, whose non-normative appearance and lifestyles were punished, historically, by pain of death. Ultimately, this paper considers how Coco Rosie’s faces tell the story, both tragically and playfully, of the violence done to the parts of women and men that are not permitted to show through, or that show through only at great cost.

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