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Glitter, Glam, and Lady Hate: The Scissor Sisters’ “Invisible Light”

Scissor Sisters’ “Invisible Light” should be one of my favorite videos of the year. It starts off with a pretty solid Hammer Horror pastiche, with the Gothic elements firmly in place – a woman is left alone in the manor with her child and is menaced by evil forces – which segues into a bizarre vision of the future filled with fake movie science and intense hypnotism montages. It is basically a short Tarantino film – whenever you feel the story lacks emotional nuance or intelligence, toss in another allusion for the film nerds. Stylistically, it is beautiful.

But there is a lot of violence against women in this video. There is sexual degradation, and feminized body horror, and a rape scene in this video. If you’ve never heard of them or their music, Scissor Sisters is a gay group that makes gay music for gay people. This video was intended for my consumption, it was linked to by the largest gay blog I follow, without comment.

The video is below, it is NSFW for violence against women, sexualized violence, and bare chests:

Here to chat with me about this video is my good friend Satah! A few months ago Satah wrote a song about street harassment that was linked by Hollaback NYC and Amanda Hess and ever since ey’s been one of my favorite people in the Social Justice Blogosphere.

GARLAND: So this video. There’s a lot of violence against ladies in it. And more than that, there’s a lot of the type of violence that is directly specifically towards ladies. And that gives me pause.

SATAH:: Yep, there are some very tried and true anti-lady sentiments in here! It only takes, what, twenty seconds for a woman to be likened to a piece of meat? The dead poultry mind control is exactly like those terrible corona ads where taking the cap off of the beer made ladies naked or whatever, but with the creepy addition of i’m-going-to-consume-this-bird’s-flesh-in-effigy-of-your-own sort of tones.

GARLAND: Clearly the female body is a thing of power! It is also horrible and terrifying beyond comprehension. And, like, weirdly religious? With the animal on the crucifix and the stigmata and some sort of Goddess with a 200 watts in her mouth? After that scene where she’s kneeling in front of a naked dude with her mouth open, I was like “What is going on with this video?”

SATAH:: The whole experience was a long series of “What is going on in this video,” interspliced with “Oh no, I’m not feeling okay with this” and also “Look at the little turtle!” The woman kneeling and having a psychic orgasm seemed to be kind of a recurring theme in which ladies were overcome with the pure manliness of men doing man things and it gave them the sexy vapours? Like the girl in the white pants watching the dude chop up wood (wood hurr hurr (but seriously, i question his chopping technique)) and clutching her derriere? Which, honestly, he looked just as confused as i was at that moment.

GARLAND: And the size of the piece of wood he’s chopping changes from one frame to the next. I’m not sure if that’s a metaphor. I think the whole thing is supposed to be the tale of one woman remembering all the times she’s died while under hypnosis, with a pretty thorough account of the many sexual tortures she’s undergone. Perhaps I’m naïve, but I expected that a gay group like the Scissor Sisters would be releasing something more progressive than Gothic Humiliation Torture Porn.

SATAH:: Oh! That’s why i thought they were all the same woman? They ARE? I wasn’t sure if i was just having a “series of pretty blonde skinny women”-induced facial recognition chip glitch, but… okay. GOOD. I don’t know much about the band, but, you know, gay movements haven’t always been the best at women? Presumably because fighting the overarching systems of society doesn’t mean you are exempt from them, which, BOOOOO. Add in the whole music video– expectations, i guess– and you have sort of a huge mess of potential “WHY CAN’T YOU BE MORE AWESOME AT THIS??”

GARLAND: I think they’re the same woman, but they could just be two very similar looking women. Who have a lot of horrible things happen to them but WAIT! maybe it was all a dream. Because obviously if it was a dream it doesn’t count.

SATAH:: Right! The clown especially didn’t count, because that was a scary damn clown. And if it was all a dream, I can forgive the wood chopping, because it was working on dream logic. Also if it was a dream, I can pretend that the cages were all references to Miley Cyrus’s “Can’t Be Tamed” video, which kind of makes the whole thing a little less scary, though the mud-slinging scene is still making me cringe whenever i remember it? That was possibly the crowning moment of “not okay” for me.

GARLAND:  It seems odd and disconcerting to that you’d be watching a music video and be subjected to this much disgustingly blatant misogyny. The whole thing makes me want to call up my friend Miley and ask her if she’s got something to take the edge off.


  1. juliemccloud wrote:

    The mudslinging and costumery reminded me of Belle de Jour. I felt like most of the video was referencing older films.

    Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 7:55 pm | Permalink
  2. scrumby wrote:

    It was like a seventies horror film preview. Definitely saw some Suspiria and The Shining in there,maybe even some classic porn. But I guess even an homage to an older media which feature a lot of problematic content doesn’t excuse the replication of it. Do we really need to keep glorifying horrible ways for women to die and get tortured even if they look cool?

    Friday, December 17, 2010 at 3:47 am | Permalink
  3. Eline wrote:

    Before I saw the video I thought, but surely I could relativise their comments and maybe they’re overreacting? because it’s The Sciccor Sisters after all! As far as I know they’ve never done something misogynist at all, on the contrary, I’ve always found the women they portrayed in their vids and songs to be fun-loving, strong and owning her sexuality. But oh wow, this video. I am so disappointed. I wonder what the woman in the group thinks about this?

    I would’ve preferred if you commentary was with someone who actually knows The Scissor Sisters though, because all in all, it might be just a bad decision of their record company that went over the group’s head? Because, what the hell happened? And so you guys might not be so quick on referencing to (a past of) misogynist behaviour in gay movements. But probably their minds got clouded by the “coolness” of referencing old porn and horror though.

    Friday, December 17, 2010 at 5:41 am | Permalink
  4. Chris wrote:

    Huh, you know, I didn’t think much about how lady-hatin’ this video was. I guess cause I’m a sucker for old horror movies, so I was too busy getting all excited over the Eraserhead chicken and such. I s’pose if you’re going to string together a ton of old horror movie references there’s no way it wouldn’t be misogynistic if you didn’t play around with it much, though.

    I’m pretty new to Scissor Sisters, I only just got Night Work recently, but I get the impression that they’re a pretty dude-centric band, queerness aside. There’s Anna, obviously, but she only sings on, what, two songs on the album? And most of their fans are fellow gay dudes, from what I can tell. Not that any of that’s a bad thing, but gay guys aren’t exempt from misogyny, either (boy aren’t they).

    Friday, December 17, 2010 at 9:43 am | Permalink
  5. Patrick M. wrote:

    Gay guys are not exempt from misogyny just like women are not exempt. Everyone can be a hater. But I wonder if feelings would be different if this were a video made by women. I also do not know much about Scissor Sisters; is it possible they identify more with the belabored lady than the chiseled woodsman? If the violence is meant to represent the artist’s suffering instead of their hatred does that make it ok? Regardless, it’s provocative without being articulate and so it’s a pretty lazy sort of art, though certainly a godsend to some Jungian writer looking for fodder.

    Friday, December 17, 2010 at 10:43 am | Permalink
  6. Jess wrote:

    Noes! I haven’t watched the video yet (I’m at work), but “Invisible Light” is the track of crowning awesome on one of the year’s albums of the most crowningest awesomeosity. I mean, spoken word from Ian McKellen? How can you go wrong?

    …Apparently by making a nasty misogynistic video. Huh.

    Friday, December 17, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Permalink
  7. Rima wrote:

    This doesn’t add much new to the conversation I suppose, but in the wood chopping, I definitely saw the axe as his penis, and the wood as the woman… so, a lot more violent than just “he is so manly it makes me hold my buttom.”

    Saturday, December 18, 2010 at 1:38 am | Permalink
  8. a.b. wrote:

    Equal parts excited that TBD was talking about the Scissor Sisters (and my first knowledge of their new album) and really disappointed that the video appeared to be a trite mish-mash of anti-lady stuff. I tried REEEEAALLL hard to rationalize what they were doing. Showing how stupid objectifying women is? Making fun of misogynist classics? Blowing up our ideas of “sexy”? I am still confused and can’t find another blog that’s talking about it. What Garland said about, “Clearly the female body is a thing of power! It is also horrible and terrifying beyond comprehension” I thought maybe the band was doing this video in the same facetious tone. But you can’t put something out to the mainstream like that and expect them to parse it out to that extent. I want to know what the band thinks, since they weren’t even in the video.

    Monday, December 20, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Permalink
  9. Sam wrote:

    Isn’t there a good dose of Angela Carter in this video, though? The scene of the husband feeding the wolf is interspersed with the scene of him extending the hand to the daughter,symbolically equating wolves and girl-children (like Carter’s “The Company of Wolves”). This would suggest that the video might be trying to revise patriarchal imagery. Also, the film allusions tend to focus on the violence toward and sexual repression of the housewife of the 60s and 70s. It’s a specific kind of femininity on which the video is focusing. I don’t see the violence against women as being applauded in this video–the men seem very sinister and manipulative, not at all laudable. Furthermore, there’s the image of the burning bed, an allusion to an influential narrative of domestic abuse, and then this image is converted into the woman drifting down the river on the bed, like the infant Moses. I wonder if the Cleopatra-like figure is supposed to be the Pharaoh’s daughter who rescues Moses? Thoughts? Does anyone else see Hitchcock’s”Marnie” (hypnosis, marital rape) as an allusion? I also think “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is in play here. And “Last Year at Marienbad” (which some critics see as addressing the emotional trauma of rape)?I see what everyone is saying about the degradation of women, but I think the imagery is meant to indict the situation this woman is in, not the woman herself (or women in general). However, there doesn’t seem to be any solution offered (except for the image of pills and the “opiate utopia” of the lyrics) to this clearly abusive domestic situation. That *is* a problem.

    Wednesday, December 29, 2010 at 8:35 am | Permalink
  10. Ellie wrote:

    I saw it a lot like Sam did, apparently. Although I think perhaps the woman on the bed is more reminiscent of the Lady of Shalott. Which is another narrative of a woman abused by a dude. (Freaking Lancelot.) So yeah, the violence in this video squicked me out quite a bit, but it does seem to be presented as menacing/sinister, rather than something to be lauded.

    Although I don’t know how the sexy stigmata figures in. Or the wood chopping, which was kind of awkwardly hilarious. Or the woman being, um, mudded to death? That didn’t make much sense to me, in any terms other than what Garland said about degradation. These holes might disrupt my entire argument. I did see more Angela Carter in this video than I did, say, Tarantino. (Although I get that was just a comparison in terms of effect, not content.)

    Thursday, December 30, 2010 at 12:10 am | Permalink
  11. Sam wrote:

    Ellie, I didn’t even pick up on the Lady of Shalott reference, but I think you might be right. I’m in two minds about this video and have been wavering back and forth since making that post. It seems to me on the side of its “articulation” that there is a unifying theme of horses (usually associated with female libido–this would be another connection with “Marnie”). Then there’s the religious imagery–stigmata, the wound in the side of the Cleopatra-figure, the chicken (which has already been associated with objectified domestic femininity) on the cross, which I see (although I’m wavering on this)as woman’s self-sacrifice of her own divine potential (in both cases these women reduce any kind of personal divinization or mystery to sexual engagement with an abuser). And the Angela Carter connection, which I think is there, is further undermined. For Carter, the wolf is the simple, pure, animalistic side of sexuality, male and female. But the wolf is caged in the daughter’s bedroom; the housewife is trying to kill it with scissors; and then we have that final image of the husband hand-feeding it (symbolically winning the daughter away from the abused wife). So I think the video is articulate given its overlapping unifying images (although the turtle is still a mystery to me…). The problem is, as I said before, that the only solution offered to the frustration of women’s sexuality (and this is treated very ambivalently–a whole range of motivations is offered, from her personal boredom to the husband’s and hypnotist’s abuse)is drugs. But then the whole issue of the appropriateness of using these images for a song we’re supposed to dance to remains. I agree this may be an instance in which the band wasn’t involved in the decision-making process, but why would anyone decide to use images of the destruction of a housewife’s sexuality for a dance track? I mean, her self-division and descent into glittery madness and sexual liberation is cool and all, but is a woman’s learning to smoke like her abusive husband really something to dance about?

    Thursday, December 30, 2010 at 8:55 pm | Permalink