The Offspring, Behind your Walls : of Narcissistic Pain. (2300 words)
I am the center of the world because I am in pain. Get it ? Now, on your knees slave ! Get me a chocolate ice cream.
Since when I was a kid, I’ve rarely come accross works which gave advice to men with benevolence and intelligence when it comes to life, women or manhood.
Benevolence towards men hasn’t exactly increased since then nor has the intelligence of most discourses directed towards them.
The videoclip (link) for the last Offspring song, Behind your Walls, really made me wince. It tells us some sort of variation of The Sleeping Beauty fairy tales :
- A young man who is of age to become involved with a woman. => Prince is a metaphore for this.
- This young man is adventurous, he is disatisfied with his existence and is courageously looking for something more.
- In a world that suffers from a plague.
- After a few ordeals, he finds the princess, woman of age, to become his bride.
- There’s no doubt that these two are made for one another. The story is the one of how they find each other. It’s a clear « Once upon a time there was a… and they lived happily ever after. »
- The woman needs something from the prince. He is the solution to a psychological problem of hers while she is the solution of the problem in his world.
- He spontaneously sort things out for her and she sort things out for him.
The story of Behind your Walls follow this pattern.
The problem is that it is horribly condescending towards the male character and morbid in its description of his role. At the same time, the female character is also very morbidly constructed but it is less visible as this morbid depiction is flattering according to the morbid values of our culture.
Our young man has no face. No identity, no individuality. Only two luminous eyes : his identity is universel, eternal, undefined. He is the young man in survival mode, soon in search of his princess. Nothing specific about him just his survival instinct and sex drive.
The prince's shield and sword are reduced to his will to remain alive in an empty and hopeless world.
The young woman is in mourning clothes and her eyes are pain. She is sadness, grief, hopelessness. No desire to survive nor sex drive. She is exactly what this man is not.
The video starts with the young man walking around in your average apocalpyptic landscape. destroyed buildings, burnt cars. (Wrong: it starts with the woman in her cell but it's so forced and feminist and weak on a narrative level that it's easy to forget it).
I know it represents quite a jump to make when it comes to meaning but this desolate world is virginity. Yep.
Just like the prince of The Sleeping Beauty, our man has just come of age. He is old enough to find a partner but in this world, he doesn’t even know it. There’s no culture, no civilisation, no family, no friend, nothing to point at what he should search for.
Also, being a virgin suck the meaning out of life. Because not having experienced sex is a psychologically crushing question mark. It’s a knowledge we want to acquire. And libido being quite strong, it makes everything feel like a distraction from the main goal.
In The Sleeping Beauty, time has stopped, the forest and the city are invaded with brambles. Here it’s different, it’s not time that has stopped, it’s life. The city hasn’t paused, it is destroyed. Humans aren’t frozen or asleep, they’re probably extinct.
In this hopeless landscape, the boy survives and finds a pocket watch with the portrait of a woman : He enters time as soon as he discovers the opposite sex.
Appears a labyrinth. The labyrinth is several things. Of course it’s negative, it’s confusion, loss of bearings, chaos etc... but with a goal. Until that point the young man had no goal, now he has one : reaching and discovering what’s at the center of the labyrinth.
The fact that it should be the woman greatly supports the idea that the whole story is mainly metaphorical. He’s found her portrait, then comes across a mythological obstacle that he overcomes only to find… the woman he was already fantazising about. The goal created the labyrinth.
So yeah, all this is quite metaphorical. (or allegorical, I suppose)
That’s when the problem starts. Nothing that happens with the lady actually works (as a narrative). I could say it’s badly written, it’s weak, it’s not interesting, not subtle etc etc... but what truly bothers me is that it echoes morbid present perceptions and mental constructions.
The idea behind the female character is that she’s lost so much that she has become incapable of making contact with the exterior world.
The young man looks into her eyes, mirrors of the soul, and her soul is pain.
The thing is, it is very complacent. We’ve just seen this guy walk through an apocalyptic world. He most probably has lost his family, his loved ones. He surely has witnessed horrible deaths, has gone through traumatic experiences etc etc. The result is that he’s now just a walking will to survive, that’s the only thing that’s left of him, his faceless eyes of light.
So, this guy is very traumatized and necessarily went through a lot. Still, he is going to come across a woman who went through so much worse that she’s not even capable of making contact with other humans anymore. OF COURSE. She’s so lost in her pain, poor dear, she can’t even acknowledge his presence.
Sure, such a story could be told, and was told before, what’s truly problematic here is how it’s done. The woman isn’t curled up in a corner of the room, she’s not scared, she’s not crying and worse she's not trying. She’s sitting still at the center of a labyrinth, on a bench, just under a ray of light and wearing mourning clothes. She dramatizes her situation, it’s fake, it's staged, it’s narcissistic and egocentered.
Clearly, if there's a person at the center of this labyrinth, it is undeniable that that person wants to be left alone. You cannot accuse that woman of trying to get attention. Well, except that it is common knowledge that there's always an invaluable treasure at the center of a labyrinth.
"Don't miss me ! I'm here ! Under the divine light ! But I'm too sad to actually interact with you. Go away, I don't want any of your gifts."
From the second he enters the room, a more experienced men would know that she isn’t as traumatized as she pretends to be, that it’s for show and that she is putting on this show for him, to obtain something from him. I’m harsh, aren’t I ?
Except that it’s exactly what the story is going to unveil. She doesn’t move, doesn’t acknowledge the presence of the man… not until she’s obtained what she wanted and suddenly hugs him. She could see, she was conscious and she knows what he did for her.
Also, did she lose her children ? Were they crushed under a building ? Did her lover die burnt alive in front of her eyes ? No. Far worse, she used to admire a tree in the middle of the desert and now she can’t anymore. So traumatizing. Clearly there’s no chance that the young man endured something more horrible than this.
Clearly, the pain of the woman is given too much importance compared with what it truly is, with what the general situation is and with what the pain that the guy is necessarily experiencing is as well.
The fact that she should ignore him is really manipulative and morbid. She just needed to acknowledge his presence, ask for his help, make eye contact, smile, any positive human interaction would have made everything different. But here, she simply knows that he’ll do everything he can to get her attention. That’s far easier than explaining him that she wants him to get her a tree.
Things get creepier as the young man starts doing everything he can to cheer her up.
I don’t think it’s obvious, but the humiliation that he is going to endure is very violent.
First, he gives her the pocket watch. His time, her identity. He just wanted a human interaction.
Then, a book on which is written hope. Here he offers his friendship, the idea of supporting each other, doing things together, trying to survive, trying to improve their lives, to have good times, to entertain themselves.
As the book doesn’t work, he comes back with a ring. This time, he makes a more serious offer. Being in a couple, dating, marriage, a symbolic contract which means he’d be everything for her and she’d be everything for him. A strong engagement and promise. And it has to be noticed that she’d be the one to get the ring, to profit from this agreement on a material level. She still doesn’t care.
Why would she put a stop to his initiatives when the guy leaves every gifts behind whether she takes them or not. She ignores the pocket watch, get it anyway. Ignores the book, get it anyway. Ignores the ring, get it anyway.
Eventually he finds the sprout of a tree. BUT, because of the black and white, it’s easy to mistake this young tree with a flower.
A flower would be the female libido. It’s the final proposal, to be lovers and maybe to have children.
At this point, the young man has offered himself entirely. The woman hasn’t even acknowledged his presence.
Of course, it could be ojected to my piece of criticism that the woman never asked for anything, that which is a totally valid point in many situations. Yet, in that one, it isn’t.
If the world was fine and they met in a crowded room, there would be no reason for them to acknowledge each other. In a waiting room, they might greet each other with a nod. In a post-apocalyptic world where humanity is nearly extinct, any encounter asks for a long conversation and most probably the decision to stay together.
In the context it is extremely violent that the woman shouldn’t greet the man. She doesn’t even acknowledge his existence.
And that’s not a coincidence. As I was saying above, the post-apocalyptic world is a metaphore for the guy’s virginity. What does a virgin man want the most ? Be acknowledged as existing by women, as a potential sex partner (even though they’re not directly interested).
So, this man finds himself in a psychological trap, he needs to be acknowledged by this woman. Not to be loved by her, not to have sex with her, but to be recognized as worthy of the designation of « man. »
But the pervert narcissist deprives him of this acknowledgement.
It’s a common morbid behaviour of narcissist to obtain as much as they can from people they admire without ever having to admit that they admire or that they find them worthier than they are.
For example, one creepy behaviour I’ve witnessed in my life is that when a normal guy dates a girl who’s not particularly attractive, some (beautiful) narcissistic women suddenly feels the need to try and seduce him. He has become incredibly interesting. The fact that he should date a woman who is not so beautiful seems to suggest that there’s something true and deep between them, and spontaneously, narcissists get the impression that if they can destroy the couple, then it means they have more value than what was between the two persons. When truly, it’s just a tragic manipulation that means nothing.
So, forcing this incredibly strong and hopeful young man into despair would be the sweetest trophy possible. And this for a trifle and without moving a finger.
« I’m going to have him accept that I should find him less important than a tree, even in that context. »
In a similar way, a woman could ask her lover to go get her teddy bear in their cabin at the moment they are embarking in a lifeboat because the boat is sinking.
Behind Walls of Pain is in denial of the dynamics of respect and of importance that the story depicts, but they are there and they do not make the female character look good.
Eventually, after a long succession of failures, the young man falls on his knees and starts crying out of despair. His tear hits the ground and make the tree grow.
It has to be noted that this makes no sense at all. The tree wasn’t burried in the ground. It grows in about fives seconds. One tear really wouldn’t be enough.
Still, the tree grows and the woman recovers from her depressed apathetic mood.
The problem is that the guy’s personnality has nothing to do with her recovery.
This conclusion is the assertion that the guy is useless and worthless. Of course, without him, the tree wouldn’t be there, but when he brings it back, the tree looks like a flower. He wants to inspire sexual attraction to the girl.
The tree is just life in the middle of the desert. The desert being a metaphore for absence of libido for female characters.
So, yeah. The guy managed to trigger something but really, there’s nothing truly gratifying for him on a symbolic level at the end. What happens is a bit like buying a book to a girl who likes books and realizing that she already owns it but is so happy nonetheless because she really needed paper to start a fire.
There’s something discordant in the conclusion of this story.
This doesn't work. The walls of the labyrinth aren't the walls of her pain. The young man managed to reach her in spite of the labyrinth but once he faced her, her walls left him powerless. Destroying the labyrinth is like denying the efforts that the young man made.
Worst of all, it’s his despair, his tear, that solves everything and that’s the reason of this article.
Young men shouldn’t be advised to do everything they can to help and please women in order to get their attention. This is already morbid.
But bringing the dynamic to the absurd moment where despair becomes what triggers the girl’s satisfaction and awakening, is complete madness.
This mindset creates stalkers. This creates situations where girls do not know how to make a guy understand that they’re not interested, and situations where popular girls will obtain everything they want from poor guys who remain in denial about the fact that they are just mocking them and taking advantage.
But the problem goes deeper than this.
This video truly feels 2022 to me.
The dumb and narcissistic flattery of the female character oozes with modern nihilism.
I cannot find any other meaning to the tree of light than Life.
The girl’s fantazy is thus to watch life as something independant from her. She remains in the desert, watching this beautiful tree.
Everything she rejects from the young man is related to their roles as sexual beings. The fact that he’s male and she’s female. Sexuality, the perpetuation of life, is just unimportant here. Life, is just life; an independant admirable entity.
And so, those old sex drives that make the man so hopeful and active are to be dismissed. It’s only when he’s abandonned all that, that he becomes worthy of… a hug.
That’s morbid, that’s nihilistic and it’s absolutely not a coincidence that our youth should be fed with that kind of garbage.