Ulrika Spacek and the Male Gaze

Words by Nils Rehlinger

Feature image courtesy of Ulrika Spacek


 

Repetitive and hypnotising, Ulrika Spacek is a five-piece London-based Indie-rock band who incorporate psych, avant-garde and stoner elements in a slumbery fashion. Their music is best describable through the metaphor of a loving family household: A supportive fatherly bass, triplet guitar children playfully harmonising, a moody teenager singing eerily in their locked room and a percussive mother who makes sure that the family’s daily routine keeps its rhythm. Now, apart from the brilliant music, the band’s artistic work also addresses interesting topics, such as the male gaze which has already been featured twice in the band’s videography.

The music video for their song ‘Full of Men’ has a rather easy setup, yet it is rich in meaningful subtleties. The video showcases a film set that looks like a TV cooking show. An elderly lady is preparing a dish from a cookbook, all under the cameraman’s supervision. However, the longer the video proceeds, the more unsettling it gets. At first, you will notice that the ingredients are not the freshest, but rather rancid. After careful observations of her facial expressions, one might find that her stare is bizarrely blank, disillusioned and somewhat creepy. It all comes to a high when she grabs the raw pale sausages and starts cuts them into little pieces with her scissors, all while the music grows louder and more distorted. The entire scenario seems a bit out of place and that is exactly what I believe the video is trying to establish.

The cooking, a typical act of female gender roles, takes place under the commandment of the cameraman. It is all being done to satisfy the man’s eyes, his gaze, his desire. The elderly lady is forced to perform, but it is this involuntariness which renders it all rather unnatural. Nonetheless, the lady shows resistance by menacingly cutting up phallic objects, such as the sausages, and cooking up a nasty, unappealing dish. The foul food alludes to the decaying façade of gender roles. They all supposedly had their purposes and were thought to be necessary for the functioning of society, but within the last few decades or so, more evidence has surfaced and proven how toxic and oppressing they can be for the development of personality and women’s freedom. All of these negative consequences are delicately present in the music video and to me, it concludes that gender roles are ideals from the past rotting away, just like the food that looks at least fifty years old.

The male gaze makes its second appearance in ‘Silvertonic’. Once again, we are on a film set, but this time the scenario is a fitness video shooting presented by a brawny trainer who instructs his skinny trainee.  Throughout the video, the young man is struggling to get through a number of intensive exercises while the trainer keeps a cold, unmoved face and continues to command him around. In-between the exercises, the trainee drinks a silvery potion, probably a sort of protein-shake to boost his muscle growth. The music video is topped up with shots of the trainer flexing his chiselled body in typical bodybuilding positions, captured by the cameraman with a dirty smirk on his visage. Even though this video is not as rich in disturbing subtleties as the previous video does not mean it is any less interesting.

The video clearly focuses on the male body ideal of being muscular. This intention of focus is efficiently highlighted in the shots illustrating both men flexing their contrasting bodies. It shows the enormous transformation that a man is expected to go through and the cameraman’s perverse grinning unveils that the idea of having a buff predator body is also a construction of the male’s desire to dominate. The trainer’s apathetic orders reflect macho men’s merciless pressure given by macho men who do not have arms like boa constrictors or the ability to choke a cow to death with the mere force of their biceps. The silvertonic in the video outlines the strangeness of protein shakes. If you think about it, these drinks are substitutes for a lack of ingested protein meaning that you are incapable of eating the amount of food that is required to bloat your supposed muscles: a tiny sign that you wish to exceed the nature of your body. Still, it is this striving for unnaturalness that is the ideal every man is presumed to pursue.

So, throughout both videos, Ulrika Spacek demonstrates how the male gaze sets standards for both genders and that the obligement to conform to these roles is simply an undesired pain in the ass. If you like their messages and are also into bands like Sonic Youth, Deerhunter or Pavement, then I highly recommend that you give the band a listen and perhaps you will also grow fond of them.

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