ARTICLE DANIEL MCKERNAN
THE NEWEST VIDEO FROM HERCULES AND LOVE AFFAIR IS A MINI DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE REAPPROPRIATION OF THE WORD "CUNT." WATCH NEW YORK'S SCENE-STEALERS EXPLAIN EVERYTHING, THEN READ OUR DISCUSSION WITH HL&A'S ANDY BUTLER AND DIRECTOR MATT LAMBERT
July 29th, 2014. The official video for Hercules and Love Affair's "My Offence" premieres exclusively on VMAGAZINE.COM
DANIEL MCKERNAN: Whose idea was this video?
ANDY BUTLER: My initial idea was to contextualize the song through a series of filmed interviews with performance artists who explore profanity and gender in their work—academics, i.e. linguists, specifically those in the field of gay language and identity—and use that film as a press piece…I had just finished a video with David Wilson, a peer and good friend of Matt Lambert's, and was telling him about my desire to film relevant people and ask them about their relationship specifically to the word "cunt," what they thought about reclaiming words that had been used to oppress, etc. David immediately thought of Matt. When I talked with him for the first time, [Matt] mentioned the idea of combining the two formats (music video and documentary) and that honestly invited a bit of skepticism into my MTV-generation brain. After a good twenty minutes of talking though, I started to see his vision...
MATT LAMBERT: David and I had recently been talking about the importance of young filmmakers creating work with a social awareness, and especially LGBTQ directors’ roles in cultural conversations during this time when issues around this community are a major focus in the media. So, this project came at a perfect time in relation to what I've been working on the past few years in Berlin. There was a really great synergy between Andy and I and there were hours of night Skype sessions spent discussing what would ultimately become this modest five-minute piece of work.
DM: Regarding reclaiming profanity as empowerment, did you have a list of other words that you were considering—or was this C-word pretty much the epitome of that re-appropriation?
AB: The song was written due to my personal relationship to this specific word. Having struggled with being oppressed because of a feminine or weaker demeanor at points in my life and growing up in a highly charged, somewhat violent, macho environment, feminism was something that I wanted to learn about and ultimately found liberation and empowerment through. The C-word has a special place in both feminist and queer theory discussions of language as it floats between one of the most reviled and offensive and a term of highest adulation and admiration in relative contexts and communities. I had moved to Austria from New York and was using it in my lexicon to the amazement and confusion of non-native English speakers. After having to explain what I meant a number of times, I started thinking more critically about my use of the word and its history. I felt compelled to explore it, playing with the concept of a tom-heavy bitch track, and with a powerful queer identifying vocalist like Krystle Warren, who was up for the challenge.
DM: I’m stuck on the lyrics, "my essence is my offence…" What is the significance of this phrase (which repeats throughout the track)?
AB: Those words are a direct quote from Andrea Dworkin (I thought previously it was attributed to Germaine Greer, actually), and they speak to the notion that the very physical identifier of the female form is the root of what is wrong with her—and that one nominative word attached to it is coincidentally or not so coincidentally also the most offensive in the English language.
ML: Juliana [Huxtable] once did an interview and was asked what the greatest shade she'd ever thrown was. She answered, Existing in this world. This is something we touched briefly on in the video and has been a magical statement that has resonated with me. There’s an absurdity in the notion that the people who are responsible for evolving the way humanity, society and pop culture look at identity, sexuality, gender, and aesthetics—people who I consider to be almost holy—can also be perceived by others as obscene by the sheer nature of their existence. The essence of them that makes them such outstanding humans is the same thing that can be deemed offensive. This contradiction and the opposing forces that exist within culture are what move us forward.
AB: There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with using and manipulating language—it is a powerful tool that can bring people together and create solidarity as well as having a ghettoizing and segregating effect... Presenting the possibility of such fluidity around meaning in words as we have here can create more sensitivity to the awareness of language.
ML: I spoke to some of the people that appeared in the video for over an hour on the subject. Each of them had a different answer and different relationship to the word “cunt” as well as the appropriation and reclamation of profane language as a means for pushing culture forward. We could—and maybe should—make an hour-long documentary with all this footage. [Laughs] With each conversation, I thought I'd get closer to understanding the subject—and thought I was quite versed in it before I started—but now realize how dense it all is. Language, especially when dealing with issues surrounding identity, defines people's realities whether they choose to embrace or ignore it.
DM: How did you come to this selection of individuals?
ML: I met Juliana last summer in Berlin. Andy had a lot of suggestions and we also worked with Richard Kennedy to pull in a lot of our supporting cast.
AB: The first thoughts were performance artists and people who have a direct relationship or use the word in their everyday parlance. This helped identify a handful of people like Kalup Linzy… New York nightlife figures like Honey Dijon, as well as younger artists like Contessa Stuto…
DM: This is the third single from the new Hercules and Love Affair album, The Feast of the Broken Heart, and you're currently off playing some live dates in Europe. Any proper tours in the?
AB: We’re finishing festival season in Europe, with some great dates in Ibiza… And then an American tour, which has not happened since 2008 for us. We’ll hit South America and Asia in the Fall and Winter, too. We’ll have a re-release and a bunch of remixes of our first single, "Do You Feel the Same?" from this record coming in October on Defected Records, so lots more stuff to come.