February 7, 2007

The mainstream media notice Prince's phallic guitar shadow.

Checking Site Meter this morning, I can see I'm getting a lot of visitors searching for things like "Prince Superbowl silhouette" and "Prince Super Bowl silhouette."

(The incorrect one word spelling seems to be more common. We've spelled it both ways in the comments. It's easy to remember that the one word spelling is wrong: Just think about how it can be misread as "Superb Owl.")

My post, "About that silhouette," shows up on the first Google search page. So, I figure the mainstream media have caught up with Prince's phallic guitar shadow. Let's see if we're getting amusement at the blatant-yet-subtle imagery or if they're seeing it as in their interest to pretend to blow a gasket so they can manipulate readers into a frenzy like they did in the old days when Justin Timberlake popped Janet Jackson's armor-clad breast out of her costume.

If I go back to the older stories, I find things like the NYT's "A Noncontroversial Prince, Just the Way the N.F.L. Likes Him":
No doubt National Football League officials were pretty pleased... They know that the halftime show is still haunted by the specter of 2004, when Justin Timberlake enlivened an otherwise unmemorable show by baring Janet Jackson’s breast. Somehow, Timberlake’s role has been largely forgotten, but Jackson’s career has still not recovered. And compared with the controversial Jackson, Prince must seem like a pretty safe bet.

Would that last statement have made any sense at all 20 years ago? In 1987, Jackson was best known as Michael’s effervescent younger sister, and Prince was perhaps the most polarizing pop star in the country; the sexually frank lyrics of his “Darling Nikki” had helped spark a national debate about explicit lyrics.

Yesterday’s command performance was yet more proof that Prince has made that familiar journey from pariah to American treasure. He has a catalog of hits that everybody seems to love (even the players, who normally take little interest in the halftime show, were quoted praising Prince), and he sings and plays and moves as well as he ever did.

Best of all, he does not carry himself as a pop-star emeritus. Did you see his face during the first verse of “Purple Rain,” when he tossed his bandana into the crowd? He looked as if he were getting away with something.
I'm going to assume that -- unlike the headline writer -- the author of this piece, Kelefa Sanneh, knew that he did "get away" with something.

(Political information not included in this article: It was specifically Al Gore's wife Tipper -- not some red state prude -- who flipped out at "Darling Nikki" and ignited that national debate about sexy song lyrics.)

Here's one of my TV photos to refresh your recollection of the subtlety/blatancy of the tiny genius's imagery:


This isn't just a chance image. The whole time the sheet was up, the shadow looked phallic and was moved about into various different phallic positions. I thought it was obvious that Prince had his eye on the silhouette and was playing a shadow game:


It looks like the main MSM story that threw a spotlight on Prince's japery was Jake Coyle's AP piece "Prince's Halftime Imagery Questioned":
A number of bloggers have decried [sic] "Malfunction!" - including Sam Anderson at New York magazine's Daily Intelligencer. Daily News television critic David Bianculli called it "a rude-looking shadow show" that "looked embarrassingly rude, crude and unfortunately placed."

CBS spokesman Dana McClintock said Tuesday that the network has received "very few" complaints on Prince's performance. CBS last aired the Super Bowl in 2004 when Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake's "wardrobe malfunction" sparked criticism and a subsequent crackdown on broadcast decency from the Federal Communications Commission.

But this time, it was the NFL that produced the halftime show (MTV had in 2004). Spokesman Greg Aiello said the league has received no complaints.
That was what was so brilliant about it. The kind of people who would get upset and complain couldn't see it or might perhaps think they see it but fear the embarrassment of being told that they are the one with the dirty mind.


"We respect other opinions, but it takes quite a leap of the imagination to make a controversy of his performance," Aiello said. "It's a guitar."...

For decades, the electric guitar, by nature, has been considered phallic. From Jimi Hendrix's sensual 6-string swagger to Eddie Van Halen's masturbatory soloing, the guitar has often been thought an extension of a male player's sexuality.

Was Prince's pose phallic?
I love all the additional amusement I'm getting out of reading things like this. It was completely clear, yet there's still the question: Did that even happen? It's this playfulness of creating ambiguity in the midst of utter clarity that will go down in pop culture history.
"The short answer is, of course it is," says Rolling Stone magazine contributing editor Gavin Edwards...
And the long answer is: Wow!
"All that said, it didn't seem like a sniggering little puppet show," adds Edwards. "I think it was one of those things because a guitar at waist level does look like an enormous phallus."
Oh, come on. Was Edwards watching? Give Prince credit for this creativity. This wasn't just the usual guitar-is-phallic business. This was art. It came from a mind. It wasn't "sniggering" and it (really) wasn't "little," but it actually was a puppet show. A quite clever one. The billowing sheet looked beautiful waving in the light. It fit the stadium space sublimely, and made the little man big -- which is what the Viagra-consuming football viewers are always hoping for. Give the artist the credit he deserves.
By enlarging his shadow, it's possible Prince intended to accentuate this aspect of his solo, but it's just as likely it was accidental....
Now, I'm outraged at the denial of artistry. These critics think they are the perceptive ones and the dumb musicians only happen to flash imagery for the critics to choose to make real with their writing.

("All the critics love u in New York/Yes, we're certain of it, he's definitely masturbating.")
Stephen Colbert reacted with mock outrage on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" Monday night: "They knew that they were dealing with a lustful, pansexual rock 'n' roll deviant," said Colbert, who joked that the sheet hid (not enhanced) Prince's "demonic guitar phallus."...
Actually, he said, "I don't care what you do with your demonic guitar phallus, any Hassid worth his [something Hassidic?] will tell you that as long as it's through a sheet it's kosher."
"If people want to be hypersensitive, they can be hypersensitive," says Rolling Stone's Edwards. "Those trombones are phallic, too. What are you going to do?"
I am going to draw a distinction between artistic creativity and mere chance.


Pogo said...

The media on Prince: "Am I seeing what I'm seeing?"

Satyr becomes satire.

ShadyCharacter said...

Actually, I thought it looked more like a "devil tail" like you might have with a halloween costume.

Bissage said...

Ann Althouse said: “It’s this playfulness of creating ambiguity in the midst of utter clarity that will go down in pop culture history.

Well, if Prince has seen farther than his fellow men, perhaps it is because he stood on the shoulders of that giant of spectacular ambiguity, the baton-twirling drum master Wilbur Duckworth.

Tom said...

Oh, for pete's sake, media people, OF COURSE it was phallic, and it was absolutely intentional. This is a man who walked around on stage with the butt cut out of his pants, who named an album Soft and Wet, who would hook a hose up to his guitar and spray the audience after rubbing the neck for several minutes in a most vigorous fashion. So quit obsessing--YES, it was meant to be that way.

After watching the halftime performance, I dug out my copies of that quartet of masterpieces he produced in the early 1980s--Dirty Mind, Controversy, 1999 and Purple Rain. I had forgotten how truly great those albums were. Except for maybe the BEatles, not too many acts produced so much music of such quality in so short a time.

free lunch said...


Were you under the impression that devil tails weren't phallic? They just had enough ambiguity that allowed kids to weaR them, too.

yetanotherjohn said...

On the campus of the University of Texas is a statue of George Washington. Among other things on the plaque accompanying the statue is the fact that the statue was erected by the daughters of the American revolution (their words). George is wearing a sword and has his hand on the hilt in a heroic pose.

If you get to just the right angle, it looks like the daughter have erected something else on the founding father who seems to have slept everywhere in the Eastern seaboard.

sonicfrog said...

All Hail Prince! He is the heir-apparent to James Brown.

I was wondering if anyone would make a deal out of it. It has gotten a bit of buzz, but not much. Thing is, all the boomers out there who have ever been to any number of rock concerts have seen a guitarist in this pose time and time again. They're used to it. On stage it is as commonplace as the guitarist playing behind his or her back, or the drummer twirling the drumstick. My last band would have had us doing the thing if we had made a video for this song. I think we're all used to it. It's a part of lexicon of rock and roll. Of coarse I wouldn't be surprised if some feminist says we're sexist because we made a big deal of Janet Jackson’s boob-boo and not of Princes silhouette (baby you're much too fast).

When I watched the halftime show, I was more fascinated by the fact that he was playing the guitar in the rain in front of the largest audience in the world. Yes, the band was canned, but he was not (most live performances of this nature are - too time consuming to set up and sound check to get a good sound and you need to get on and off the stage with minimal set-up time). I called Cliffie my guitarist in San Diego to confirm. Now that everything is wireless there is little chance of a shock, but moisture could have caused a malfunction in either the guitar or mic and ruin the show. I'm sure they had the pre-recorded stuff on stand-by, and think they may have had to use it for the guitar toward the end of the show, as the volume had changed on the last song. Anyway, I admired and applaud Prince for going ahead and performing live in the rain.

BJK said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nee said...

I agree with Tom,
intentional &

Wishful thinking and ornreyness too,perhaps..

vbspurs said...

Actually, I thought it looked more like a "devil tail" like you might have with a halloween costume.

IIRC, in some world myth narratives, the Devil uses his tail as a second phallus.

So it all ties in, Shadycharacter. :)


Annie said...

Obviously, phallic, devil's-tail-phallic (quite beautiful!), and intentional.

I was more worried about what was that thing that the shadow was cast on. "Billowing sheet," OK. In your photos it looked like a giant brown paper bag.

For decades, the electric guitar, by nature, has been considered phallic. Oh, yeah. Less remarked on is the fact that if you sat in front of the speaker while a young man struck a chord you could feel a (close eyes, here goes) dildo of sound waves vibrating inside you.

- amba

Ann Althouse said...

Annie: LOL. I can name the concert where that effect was by far the strongest -- practically a sexual assault by vibration: Nine Inch Nails.

WWW said...

So what are your thoughts on the 2018 silhouette during Justin's tribute to Prince? I have to say.... the 'weird meter' is off the charts. Might want to look that up.