Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Giving the bird on a public platform and the psychology of stage fright

Reading about the Sri Lankan singer's obscene gesture - see the excerpt below from a blog on the Internet - I wondered about its psychological roots.  

M.I.A and the middle finger malfunction!
Quite a bit of he thunder however was stolen from Madonna by the middle finger of M.I.A or Mathangi”Maya”Arulpragasam the British singer of Sri Lankan Tamil descent, if reactions in the western media are a measuring device to gauge its impact.All “MIA” (Missing In Action)did was to raise her middle finger in a seemingly spontaneous manner with lips mouthing an alleged expletive during Madonna’s performance of “give me all your luving”.A wag on twitter called it a middle finger malfunction!

”Flip the bird” is what they call the act of raising the middle finger as a rude,obscene gesture.Maya’s middle finger “uplift” and the ensuing blaze of negative publicity
She was born in Hounslow,London on July 18th 1975. Her father is Arulpragasam an engineer who was a founder member of the Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students(EROS) which later evolved into the Eelam Revolutionary organization (EROS) He is called Arular and wrote the Tamil novel”Lanka Rani” based on the 1977 anti-Tamil violence. 
MIA or Mathangi Arulpragasam known as “Maya” is a Rapper, vocalist, singer-songwriter, record producer, visual artist, activist, photographer, fashion designer, model. Her musical compositions are classified as being a combination of different elements from genres like alternative dance, electronic,world,hip hop,alternative rock etc.

Now the analysis:

Two motives are easy to conjecture. M.I.A is a Srilankan Tamil who deeply identified with the cause of the Tamil Eelam - the creation of a separate nation for Tamils in Sri Lanka. Their efforts,  after decades of struggle, which spanned the entire life of the singer, ended with a brutal genocide, the heinous character of which matches that of the Nazis. So the primary  motive for showing the finger had to be a gesture of defiance against the world for its indifference towards - if not secret enjoyment of - the genocide. 

The second motive of course had to do with it being her only chance to make it super big.  It is not every day that an aspiring female artist, especially who is neither White nor African-American but a South Asian, gets to be on the Superbowl half-time show.  Now or never; either she was going to be catapulted to thunderous global chatter or drawn back in to  obscurity, wresting no more than 15 second of fame, as Madonna's extra, at her tryst with destiny. And she grabbed the moment. 

The courage to be able to move that middle finger let alone make that gesture while being watched by hundreds of millions of eyes shows that the woman has guts.

But beyond these two obvious reasons there are always  deeper unconscious motives to such behavior, the analysis of which may explain as to why so many of us have such a crippling fear of appearing on stage. 

The desire to be famous, to be in the limelight and the center of attention, to watch others go gaga at one's performance, has its roots in wanting to reverse our lot with that of our parents. Not the parents of today, but how our parents appeared when we were tiny tots; from our prehistoric childhood, when our universe was nothing but a miraculous creation of our all powerful father, and everything that was lovely and worth admiring was the extension of the most beautiful woman in the world, our mother. 

In our earliest childhood our parents appear to us as the grandest people in the world, virtually king and queen, whose every action looks divine. But as we grow older, and our critical faculty sharpens, no doubt because of the repeated disappointments life metes out despite the presence of our parents, we begin to compare them with others, and it goes without saying, to their disadvantage. Little by little they start to lose their grandeur and appear no better than the average Joe. In fact worse. For taller you are, the harder you fall.  And we rarely ever forgive them for this great let down. And as if to make up for this earlier false overestimation of their real worth our fault-finding faculty is always on a lookout for an opportunity to even the scales; to teach them a thing or two.

Without forgetting that the original attitude of great respect and love for the parents (filial piety) persists side by side, it is this desire to grievously insult them if the opportunity arises that lies behind "stage fright". For if they happen to be on the ground and looking up at us, as we once looked up to them with awe and respect, then it offers the perfect chance to show them the contempt that they were once so quick to display to us. For when our parents take that precipitous fall from our grace, society/public/social institutions take the significance of the parents. And it is this wish to say something really defiant, blasphemous, insulting, abusive, sexual to the gathering of people - parent substitute - which, one is afraid, may inadvertently escape, despite one's best efforts, that causes fear of being on the stage. For behind public performance and public speaking lies a nagging concern that instead of doing the right thing in society one may say something wrong or make some terrible gesture. It is the fear of behaving like "M.I.A." that keeps many talented people from ever reaching their full potential. Though they have no knowledge in their conscious mind that behind the desire to please the multitudes and be their darling lurks the fantasy to horribly insult them. 

For by flipping the finger at the world she was also serving her parents and society - the society of those Tamilians who were butchered, raped and treated worse than slaughter house animals, while the world   watched and just let it happen.

Flipping the finger from the stage at public deserves a few more psychoanalytic comments. Stage is the place where one puts up one's show to the public/society. If public/society takes over the significance of one's parents then the desire to appear on stage has its origins in putting up a show for the latter. Once again a reversal of the situation of childhood when we were the eager spectator and they were on the pedestal.  

Now there is one show of our parents that we desired to see more than anything else. The show which the Hindus call ras-lila - the song of Krishna consorting with gopis. Really an artistic religious rendering of the father making love to the mother. It is the desire to see the father's genital organ in action - which later would become the rationale behind all pilgrimages: to get the darshan (viewing) of Shivalingam and other deities in their glory, with the elaborately carved temple and its chambers representing the mother - to witness the parental intercourse which later in reversal becomes the motivation to put up one's own show for the public.

And one of the motives for seeing the parental intercourse is to compare one's own prowess with that of the father. And here one finds oneself severely short. The father in all respect outclasses the little Oedipus - the principal reason why the oedipal phase in the boy comes to an end. One simply cannot compete with the father at that tender age. Reluctantly the boy gives up the parents as love objects and enters the latency phase. But not without sustaining a permanent narcissistic scar of inferiority. Here we come upon, as if by accident, into the clue that explains the notorious inferiority complex of mankind and it's preoccupation with lengthening of the male sexual organ.

And it is to reverse this nagging sense of inferiority which lies behind all spectacular deeds and shows, including such flamboyant ones as pyrotechnics, stunts, jumping from great heights, climbing the tallest mountains, playing the guitar like Led Zeppelin, and bending it like Beckham, they are all trying to prove to the father that see, in public eye, I am uniquely superior to you. Just like the father once appeared as the most unique person in the world the son is showing him that he is even better.

Flipping the finger - symbol of erect penis - is also in the same series, and here one cannot help but notice that by showing his penis to the public the son is also making an attempt to overcome his castration fears. It is in its own way declaring, "I don't give a shit for you any more. The power which had impressed me so much once, I am harder than that now, and can stand my own ground."

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