Since David Bowie’s death earlier this year, I’ve already written two articles on the psychology of Bowie (which you can read here and here) but this article takes a look at the more extreme aspects of Bowie’s life (excluding his various addictions which I briefly examined in my previous pieces). As a long-time David Bowie fan I’ve been meaning to write this particular blog for a long time but just never got around to it. I had made lots of notes taken from various Bowie biographies (see ‘Further reading’ below) but Dr. Dean Ballinger (University of Waikato) recently beat me to the punch by publishing a similar article to the one I had planned in the March 2016 issue of the Fortean Times.
During Bowie’s five decades in music he has been interviewed on almost every conceivable topic but it’s always the interviews about his most extreme and esoteric subjects that have caught my eye whether it concerned his religious and spiritual beliefs, his political views, or his moral philosophy. I’ve always looked for hidden meanings in his lyrics and taken the view that his lyrics provide an insight into his personality as much as anything else that I have seen or read about him in the print and broadcast media. Like most other hardcore Bowie fans, I have been poring over the lyrics of his final studio album Blackstar now knowing that he wrote and recorded it while suffering from an aggressive form of cancer. The album is arguably his most cryptic and mysterious since the classics of the mid- to late-1970s (Station To Station, Low and “Heroes”) – although I also love 1.Outside and Heathen both lyrically and musically.
Looking back, it was probably the Station To Station title track that really made me wonder what was going on in Bowie’s head. Although Bowie says he was “out of his gourd” on cocaine at the time (and has little recollection of recording the album), the lyrics (as a teenager) made no sense to me at all (“Here are we/One magical movement/From Kether to Malkuth/There are you/You drive like a demon/From station to station”). I had no idea that Kether (“the crown” – divine will or pure light) and Malkuth (“the kingship” – the nurturing receptacle of the light) originated from Kabbalah (an esoteric school of thought rooted in Judaism) representing two of 10 sephirots (sometimes spelled ‘sefirots’ and meaning ’emanations’ or ‘attributes’) in the Tree of Life.
During his cocaine-fuelled days, Bowie rarely slept and filled his time reading books. Not only books about Kabbalah but also books on the occult (a number of books by Aleister Crowley; Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier’s The Morning of the Magicians; Israel Regardie’s books on the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn), on the symbolic obsessions of Nazism (most notably Trevor Ravenscroft’s The Spear of Destiny), and defensive magic and tarot cards (Dion Fortune’s Psychic Self-Defense) as well as more general books on the secret history of Christianity, UFOs, political conspiracies, and numerology. It’s also worth noting that Bowie’s 1976 persona (‘The thin white duke’ in his ‘Station To Station’ lyric) is almost certainly taken from Crowley’s erotic poetry (“The return of the thin white duke making sure white stains” from the 1898 book White Stains).
It’s been claimed by Chris O’Leary (author of the excellent Rebel Rebel and founder of the Pushing Ahead of The Dame website) that “Bowie’s immersion in Kabbalah was part of an overarching spiritual quest that took him from Tibetan Buddhism (he almost joined a monastery in the late 1960s, until his teacher told him that he’d make a better musician than monk) to Christian mysticism, occult worship and a flirtation with neo-Nazi imagery that nearly derailed his career when it was discovered that he collected Nazi memorabilia”. I hadn’t realised that Bowie had made reference to the occult in earlier songs such as ‘Quicksand’ (The Order of the Golden Dawn – a late 19th/early 20th century organisation devoted to the practice of occult, metaphysical, and paranormal phenomena, and the root of more traditional modern day occult practices such as Thelema and Wicca) as well as Tibetan Buddhism (more specifically his use of the word ‘Bardo’ in the song – the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth).
Bowie’s interest in Buddhism and Tibet dates back to the 1960s as evidenced by songs such as ‘Silly Boy Blue’ (first demoed in 1965). In an interview by Bowie with the Melody Maker (24 February, 1966) notes:
“I want to go to Tibet. It’s a fascinating place, y’know. I’d like to take a holiday and have a look inside the monasteries. The Tibetan monks, Lamas, bury themselves inside mountains for weeks, and only eat every three days. They’re ridiculous—and it’s said they live for centuries…As far as I’m concerned the whole idea of Western life – that’s the life we live now – is wrong. These are hard convictions to put into songs, though”.
Chris O’Leary also noted that:
“Bowie’s interest in Tibetan Buddhism wasn’t a sudden trendy affectation—he had begun exploring the religion when he was in his mid-teens, first inspired by reading Heinrich Harrer’s 1952 book Seven Years in Tibet, and he eventually met and befriended the Tibetan lama Chimi Youngdong Rimpoche, who was exiled in London. Bowie even fantasized about becoming a Buddhist monk – cropping his hair and dyeing it black, wearing saffron robes and even changing his skin color (he’d have to settle for becoming Ziggy). Buddhism was an early influence in his songs: he had meant for the backing chorus of his single ‘Baby Loves That Way’ to sound like chanting monks.”
Bowie didn’t appear to have strong religious beliefs. In an interview in 1997 he noted that there was an “abiding need in me to vacillate between atheism or a kind of Gnosticism…what I need is to find a balance, spiritually, with the way I live and my demise” but in relation to thoughts on his own mortality he said “I believe in a continuation, kind of a dream-state without the dreams. Oh, I don’t know. I’ll come back and tell you”. In addition to his spiritual leanings, Dr. Ballinger in his 2016 Fortean Times article goes as far to say that occult and paranormal themes constituted an “integral dimension” of Bowie’s career. Bowie clearly had an interest in aliens, science fiction, and the paranormal as reflected in many of his singles dating back to ‘Space Oddity’ (1969) through to ‘Loving The Alien’ (1985) and ‘Hallo Spaceboy’ (1996) (as well as many album tracks and his acting breakthrough as an alien in Nic Roeg’s film The Man Who Fell To Earth). Dr. Ballinger also argued that:
“Bowie was also reading upon esoteric subjects and alternative ideas in a relatively in-depth way beyond fashionable name dropping is made clear by the songs on his fourth album, Hunky Dory (1971). The jaunty pop of ‘Oh You Pretty Things!’ is belied by lyrics that evoke a rather sinister picture of spiritual evolution, in which the listener is asked to ‘make way’ for ‘the coming race’ of ‘homo superior’ Nietszchean super children…The ‘coming race’ is also a probable nod to the Bulwer-Lytton novel of the same name that became a staple of the ‘Vril’ mythos associated with occult-minded Nazis, a subject that would have a rather negative influence on Bowie in the near future. More overt is the ballad ‘Quicksand’, in which Bowie expounds a New Age manifesto – ‘I’m not a prophet or a Stone Age man/Just a mortal with potential of a superman’ – with reference to the Western magical tradition (‘I’m closer to the Golden Dawn/Immersed in Crowley’s uniform/of imagery), [and] The Tibetan Book of the Dead (‘You can tell me all about it on the next Bardo’)”.
Bowie wasn’t the first musician to use The Tibetan Book of the Dead as inspiration for lyrics. More famously, John Lennon used it for The Beatles classic ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, the final track on the 1966 Revolver album (something I forgot to mention in my previous article on Bowie and The Beatles). However, John Lennon based his lyrics after reading The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead written by Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert. (And while I’m going off on tangents, I just wanted to mention that Alpert’s most well known book Be Here Now just happens to be the title of (Beatle-loving) Oasis’ third album).
Dr. Ballinger also makes the argument that in Bowie’s 1972 breakthrough LP The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars there were “evident resonances between occultism and his musical career” and that he drew inspiration from a wide range of esoteric cultural influences to source “stimulating ideas and imagery to explore in lyrics, costumes and videos”. Ballinger also claims that Bowie’s work at this point of his career had a more integral relationship with the theory and practice of magic and occultism:
“Parsing Crowley’s legacy, one of the key aspects of magic is the transformation of the self (and, possibly, the wider social reality) through acts that focus the imagination/will towards such change, such acts including sex, drug consumption, meditation, and creative performance (i.e., rituals). In this vein Bowie can be considered a distinctly magical musician whose whole career revolved around the transformation of the self and the wider culture through the ‘ritual performances’ of rock music, such as concerts, recordings, and videos. In his most influential period of the 1970s, Bowie created personae (such as Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, and the Thin White Duke) and undertook musical experiments (the ‘plastic soul’ of Young Americans and the avant-garde/krautrock/funk synthesis of the ‘Berlin trilogy’) that in turn transformed rock culture by inspiring scores of other artists. The gender-bending that was a notable aspect of Bowie’s personae in this period (for example, the androgynous cover photo for The Man Who Sold The World (1970) or the 1979 video for ‘Boys Keep Swinging’), and the cultivation of bisexual overtones in his lyrics and performance (‘John, I’m Only Dancing’ as an account of bisexual angst), are also interesting to consider in relation to Crowley’s emphasis on sexuality as a core component of magical transformation”.
Like some of the best music by The Beatles, some of the best music made by Bowie was while he was using drugs excessively (often described by his biographers as a ‘cocaine-induced psychosis’). Bowie himself claims that in 1975 he was in poor mental and physical health but ironically he was producing some of the best music (and acting) of his career. However, Bowie’s cocaine addiction has also been used as an excuse for his behaviour during the 1976 period where he flirted with Nazi occultism and made the claim that the UK would benefit from a fascist leader (“I think I might have been a bloody good Hitler. I’d be an excellent dictator. Very eccentric and quite mad”). Many musicians have said they are interested in Nazi imagery and fashion (e.g., Bryan Ferry) and others have collected Nazi memorabilia (e.g., Lemmy) but these interests do not mean such people are Nazi-loving or fascists.
Bowie’s esoteric and occultist interests appear to subside as his career progressed and it wasn’t until his final album that Bowie appeared to be using music (and the accompanying promo videos) in a symbolic way for people to re-interpret his music as a cryptic death note to all his hardcore acolytes (of which I would include myself). Unless Bowie left any explanation for his final seven songs, we can only speculate. However, I’ll leave you with the thoughts of Dr. Ballinger who has done a better job than I could ever do:
“The Blackstar album has seen Bowie go out with a distinctly occult bang…As every prior Bowie album cover has featured a portrait, the five-pointed ‘black star’ of this one is presumably meant to represent Bowie too – perhaps in his ultimate persona as spirit (the five-pointed star being a classic Hermetic/Gnostic symbol of ‘man as microcosm’, with the contradictory image of a ‘black star’ also evoking a koan or the alchemical union of opposites). The creepy atmosphere conjured up by the lyrics of the title track – “In the villa of Ormen/Stands a solitary candle/On the day of execution/Only women stand and smile” – is successfully evoked in the video for the song. Bowie is depicted as preacher of some dark 21st century faith, brandishing a Blackstar bible among acolytes whose spasmodic ‘dancing’ suggests a state of possession. A reading of the imagery here as analogous to Crowley and his Book of the Law is perhaps apt; director Johan Renck, who designed the videos with Bowie, has mentioned Crowley as a reference point. Some kind of Hermetic/Gnostic subtext about eternity, spirit and the flesh is further implied in the imagery of the video’s other ‘storyline’, in which the shade of a dead astronaut – Bowie himself, in his formative Major Tom persona? – floats up into a ‘black star’ of eternity, before, in a possibly Orphic reference, leaving behind his bejewelled skull for ritual veneration by a sect of mutant women. Where the esoteric overtones of the ‘Blackstar’ video are eerie, those of the video for ‘Lazarus’ are poignant. Bowie plays himself as a patient in a hospital bed, whose closet is a portal from which appears a double who is seemingly meant to signify his essential spirit. This figure is not garbed as Ziggy, the Thin White Duke or any of Bowie’s most famous personae, but in the striped black jumpsuit in which he undertook the famous occult photo shoot for Station to Station, in which he is depicted drawing Kabbalistic symbols on the wall. That Bowie chose this costume for his valedictory performance suggests he was giving a subtle nod to the deep, lasting metaphysical significance that this period had upon the rest of his life”.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Ballinger, D. (2016). The mage who sold the world. Fortean Times, 338, 28-33.
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Spitz, M. (2009). Bowie: A Biography. Crown Archetype.
Trynka, P. (2011). Starman: David Bowie – The Definitive Biography. London: Little Brown & Company.
Earlier this week, I appeared on BBC radio talking about the psychology of hoaxing after someone had made hoax calls to the police about a bomb being on Nottingham school premises. I have to admit that I’m no expert on the psychology of hoaxing but I’ve always had a personal interest in hoaxes especially those in science (such a the Piltdown Man ‘missing link’ hoax), cryptozoology (such as Bigfoot, the Abominable Snowman, the Loch Ness Monster), parapsychology (alien abductions, flying saucers, etc.), art hoaxes (such as the Nat Tate scandal, a fake biography written by William Boyd and given credence by US writer Gore Vidal, Picasso’s biographer John Richardson, and David Bowie), and literary hoaxes (such as the German magazine Stern publishing Hitler’s diaries before they realised they were fake).
I also grew up in the late 1970s and 1980s enjoying television shows like Candid Camera and Game For A Laugh where hoaxing was the shows’ main ingredient in the name of entertainment. This has carried on into today’s light entertainment strand such as the hoaxes with celebrities on Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway. I’m not claiming that such shows make hoaxing socially acceptable or socially condoned but they probably help in softening individuals’ attitudes towards hoaxing.
The radio show I was interviewed on wanted to know about why people hoax and the underlying psychology of a hoaxer. Before looking at any articles on what motivates a hoaxer I made a list of all the reasons I could think of what might cause people to hoax. My preliminary list included hoaxing (i) for amusement purposes, (ii) out of boredom, (iii) as an act of revenge, (iv) as a way to gain fame and/or notoriety in some way, (iv) to gain attention, such as faking illness [Munchausen’s Syndrome], (v) to demonstrate cleverness (or a perception of cleverness) to others around them, (vi) to disrupt the status quo (including terrorist and non-terrorist activity), and for political causes (such as claiming to be a victim of a racist hate crime).
After this (and in preparation for my radio interview) I went on Google Scholar and was surprised how little research had been done on the psychology of hoaxes (although there is plenty of research on more general areas such as the psychology of deception). One online article on hoaxes gave a different list of reasons as to why individuals would carry out hoaxes that was very different from my own speculations. The five reasons listed were to: (i) draw attention to their fraudulent skills, (ii) gain financial benefits through their deceit, (iii) “put their bait out and see who falls victim or target specific individuals to vilify or discredit, especially those who pose a threat (paranoia)”, (iv) feed people’s secret prejudices and beliefs, and (v) fool people “because it’s fun”.
Although there are many similar definitions as to what constitutes a hoax, I decided to use the Wikipedia definition as the basis for this article as it was more detailed than others that I read:
“A hoax is a deliberately fabricated falsehood made to masquerade as truth. It is distinguishable from errors in observation or judgment, or rumors, urban legends, pseudosciences, or April Fool’s Day events that are passed along in good faith by believers or as jokes”.
In his cunningly (or should that be ‘punningly’) titled recent book Hoax Springs Eternal: The Psychology of Cognitive Deception, the psychologist Peter Hancock highlighted six steps that characterise a truly successful hoax:
- “Identify a constituency – a person or group of people who, for reasons such as piety or patriotism, or greed, will truly care about your creation.
- Identify a particular dream which will make your hoax appeal to your constituency.
- Create an appealing but ‘under-specified’ hoax, with ambiguities.
- Have your creation discovered.
- Find at least one champion who will actively support your hoax.
- Make people care, either positively or negatively – the ambiguities encourage interest and debate.”
In a short (but interesting) online presentation, Chris Jones noted that hoaxers exploit human psychology in order to persuade us to do foolish things. More specifically, Jones asserted that hoaxes prey upon a number of human traits including good will, naivety, greed, fear and anxiety, and a deference to authority (such as your doctor, lawyer, your bank, etc.). This is supported by the computer hacker Kevin Mitnick who in his 2002 book The Art of Deception claims that human beings are the biggest threat to security and that human emotions such as willingness to help others, personal gain, trust, fear of getting reprimanded, and conformity are the primary reasons social engineering techniques (which include hoaxes) can be so successful.
In an article in The Independent, Rose Shepherd interviewed a police inspector (Glen Chalk) and a psychologist (Dr. Glenn Wilson) about individuals’ motives for hoaxes concerning information about crimes that had been committed. Chalk noted:
“People have various motives…Some people might be overly helpful. They could have some information, and then embellish it. Others might be outright malicious…[These] are probably fantasists, anxious to help or to associate themselves with events…A lot of callers are attention-seekers”.
Dr. Wilson added that hoax callers enjoy “a sense of potency” and:
“They may be people who feel they make no impact on the world, and this is one way they can do that, rather as fire-setters start fires then stand back to admire their handiwork. They see people running around and think `I did that!’ For people who feel they have no power, it is the capacity to influence events. There may be an element of exhibitionism, of getting into the public eye. For the time on the phone, at least, everybody is terribly interested in what they’ve got to say. Anonymity spoils things, but they might deliberately then get caught, and might even become famous as a result, in a rather lesser way than those who kill a celebrity: they get fame in a very backhanded way. [Not all nuisance callers are knowing hoaxers: some probably, genuinely believe they have something to offer]. I suppose they may think they are being helpful…perhaps telling police where a body might be found. They might really think they are psychic. They’re not trying to be obstructive; they just want to get in on the act.”
The article also made reference to one of the most notorious hoax calls of all time, the infamous “Jack” who pretended to by the Yorkshire Ripper and ended up subverting the police hunt for the real female serial killer. Although many believed that “Jack” should have been pursued, Inspector Chalk concluded that there was “not a lot of point in prosecuting the sad fantasists”.
The Wikipedia entry on hoaxes provided an interesting ‘typology’ of hoaxes that could certainly be used in further academic research. The list included:
- Socially appropriate hoaxes (with April Fools’ Day being the most noteworthy example)
- Religious hoaxes (such as Maria Monk’s 1836 best-selling book Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, or, The Hidden Secrets of a Nun’s Life in a Convent Exposed that claimed there was systematic sexual abuse of nuns by Catholic priests and that the priests murdered the resulting babies).
- Anthropological hoaxes (such as the fossilized skull and jaw remains of the Piltdown Man collected in 1912 and exposed as a forgery in 1953 as the lower jawbone of an orangutan with the skull of modern man).
- Hoaxes as scare tactics (such as those that appeal to individuals’ subjectively rational belief that the expected cost of not believing the hoax outweighs the expected cost of believing the hoax).
- Academic hoaxes (such as when Polish psychologist Tomasz Witkowski published a fake article in the psychology journal Charaktery)
- ‘Sting operation’ hoaxes that are used by law enforcement to catch criminals.
- Art hoaxes such as art done by chimpanzees and elephants that fooled many art critics.
- Internet hoaxes (such as the online videos claiming that iPods could be charged up with an onion and Gatorade).
- Computer virus hoaxes
Dr. Ross Anderson notes in his 2008 book Security Engineering that frauds and hoaxes have always happened, but that the Internet makes some hoaxes easier, “and lets others be repackaged in ways that may bypass our existing controls (be they personal intuitions, company procedures or even laws)”.
As a self-confessed music obsessive, my all-time favourite hoax was music magazine Rolling Stone’s 1969 invention of the debut album by the Masked Marauders, a ‘supergroup’ featuring Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger. As a 2014 article in Mental Floss recalled:
“Due to legal issues with their respective labels, the stars’ names wouldn’t appear on the album cover, but the review extolled the virtues of Dylan’s new ‘deep bass voice’ and the record’s 18-minute cover songs…The writer earnestly concluded, ‘It can truly be said that this album is more than a way of life; it is life.’ For anyone paying attention, the absurd details added up to a clear hoax. The man behind the gag, editor Greil Marcus, was fed up with the supergroup trend and figured that if he peppered his piece with enough fabrication, readers would pick up on the joke. They didn’t. After reading the review, fans were desperate to get their hands on the Masked Marauders album. Rather than fess up, Marcus dug in his heels and took his prank to the next level. He recruited an obscure San Francisco band to record a spoof album, then scored a distribution deal with Warner Bros. After a little radio promotion, the Masked Marauders’ self-titled debut sold 100,000 copies. For its part, Warner Bros. decided to let fans in on the joke after they bought the album. Each sleeve included the Rolling Stone review along with liner notes that read, ‘In a world of sham, the Masked Marauders, bless their hearts, are the genuine article’.”
It all goes to show that people will believe what they want to believe. I probably would have fallen for this hoax as well but I was only three years old at the time.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Anderson, R. (2008). Security engineering (2nd edition). Chichester: Wiley.
Caterson, S. (2010). Towards a general theory of hoaxes [online]. Quadrant, 54, 70-74.
Daly, K. C. (2000). Internet hoaxes: Public regulation and private remedies. Located at: http://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/8965617/Daly,_Karen.html?sequence=2
Dunn, H. B., & Allen, C. A. (2005, March). Rumors, urban legends and Internet hoaxes. In Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Association of Collegiate Marketing Educators (p. 85)
Edward, G. (2010). Profiling hoaxers: The psychology of fame. Bigfoot Lunch Club, January 27. Located at: http://www.bigfootlunchclub.com/2010/01/profiling-hoaxers-psychology-of-fame.html
Hancock, Peter (2015). Hoax Springs Eternal: The Psychology of Cognitive Deception. (pp.182-195). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Heyd, T. (2008). Email hoaxes: form, function, genre ecology (Vol. 174). John Benjamins Publishing
Hobart, M. (2013). My best friend’s brother’s cousin new this guy who…: Hoaxes, legends, warnings, and fisher’s narrative paradigm. Communication Teacher, 27(2), 90-93.
Hyman, R. (1989). The psychology of deception. Annual Review of Psychology, 40(1), 133-154.
Mitnick, K.D. (2002). The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security. Indianapolis: Wiley.
Podhradsky, A., D’Ovidio, R., Engebretson, P., & Casey, C. (2013). Xbox 360 hoaxes, social engineering, and gamertag exploits. In System Sciences (HICSS), 2013 46th Hawaii International Conference (pp. 3239-3250). IEEE.
Raymond, A. K. (2014). The 14 greatest hoaxes of all time. Mental Floss, March 31. Located at: http://mentalfloss.com/article/49674/14-greatest-hoaxes-all-time
Shepherd, R. (1996). It starts with a hoax…It ends with havoc. The Independent, July 31. Located at: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/it-starts-with-a-hoax-it-ends-in-havoc-1307603.html
“Now there’s a really good book…[by French economist] Jacques Attali wrote in the late [1970s] called ‘Noise: The Political Economy of Music’…and the main tenet of that book is that…music is the best form of prophecy that we have…so that working with music or sound is our best way of divining a future, and being able to show to ourselves what’s round the corner in that psychological, or even psychic sense” (writer and graphic designer Jon Wozencroft being interviewed for the 2007 film Joy Division)
As a poverty stricken teenager in the early 1980s, all of my minimal disposable income was spent on buying records, cassettes, and music magazines (and to be honest, 35 years later nothing much has changed except I now buy far too many CDs instead of cassettes). Unlike most of my friends at the time I refused to be pigeon holed as a new romantic, a punk, a mod, or a goth because I liked music from all those genres. In the early 1980s was as equally as likely to buy a record by Adam and the Ants and Bauhaus as I was to buy records by Secret Affair and The Clash. I was also into city music scenes with my favourites being the ‘Liverpool scene’ (Echo and the Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes, Wah! etc.), the ‘Sheffield scene’ (Human League, Heaven 17, Cabaret Voltaire, etc.), and the ‘Manchester scene’ (Magazine, Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Smiths, The Passage, etc.).
The Manchester music scene was incredibly buoyant although often portrayed by the music press at the time as psychologically and emotionally ‘miserablist’. My parents could never understand what I saw in the “depressing and alienating music” (as they saw it) of bands like Joy Division and The Smiths. But it was through these bands that I developed an interest in psychology and what could be described as ‘psychgeography of post-punk’. In the case of Joy Division, their geographical location in Manchester and its surrounding area (Salford, Macclesfield) was integral to their music. In fact, a number of commentators (such as Liz Naylor, the co-editor of City Fun fanzine) have asserted that Joy Division “relayed the aura of Manchester” in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
All of my information about Joy Division came from reading the NME, listening to the John Peel Show on Radio 1, and listening to their two studio LPs (Unknown Pleasures and Closer) and assorted singles (that I mainly taped off the radio as most of them were not widely available). I was too young to go to gigs and they rarely appeared on television. Of the four members of Joy Division – Ian Curtis (vocals), Peter Hook (bass guitar), Bernard ‘Barney’ Sumner (guitar), and Stephen Morris (drums) – it was Curtis that captivated my adolescent attention. It was through Curtis’ documented medical conditions that helped develop my interest in psychology. Curtis suffered from epilepsy (like one of musical heroes Jim Morrison of The Doors) and clinical depression. It has also been alleged that he suffered from bipolar disorder (i.e., what used to be called ‘manic depression’) although this was never formally diagnosed (and many of those close to Curtis claim that such a claim is speculative at best).
Descriptions of Curtis’ behaviour on first sight look like bipolar disorder given the reports by his wife and others of his severe mood swings (where on one day he could have feelings of happiness and elation but on the next day could have feelings of intense depression and despair). However, other members of the band claimed that the mood swings were caused by the epilepsy medication Curtis was taking. However, bipolar disorder is not uncommon among musicians given many other high profile rock and pop stars have suffered from it including Brian Wilson (Beach Boys), Syd Barrett (Pink Floyd), Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Ray Davies (The Kinks), Sinéad O’Connor, Poly Styrene (X-Ray Spex), and Adam Ant (to name just a few). Curtis was never afraid to write about psychological and medical conditions and the song ‘She’s Lost Control’ is arguably the most insightful song ever written about epilepsy (based not on his own experiences, but his observations of a female epileptic client who died while he was an Assistant Disablement Resettlement Officer based at the Job Centre in Macclesfield).
As any Joy Division fan knows, as a result of his severe depression, Curtis committed suicide by hanging himself on May 18, 1980 (a date I always remember because it was my favourite gran’s birthday), just two days before Joy Division were due to go on their first US tour. Even as a 14-year old teenager, I remember going to my local library in Loughborough not long after his death to learn more about depression, epilepsy, suicide, and attempted suicide (as he had two previous attempts to commit suicide earlier that year). I’m not saying that this alone was responsible for my career choice but it certainly facilitated my growing interest in psychology and mental health issues.
It was also through Joy Division that I started to read history books (and still do) on various psychological and non-psychological aspects of Nazism (and is evidenced by my previous blogs on the personality of Adolf Hitler and Nazi fetishism). Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Joy Division were often accused of having Nazi tendencies. It didn’t help that their name came from the 1955 novella House of Dolls by Jewish writer and Holocaust survivor Yehiel De-Nu (writing under his pen name Ka-tzetnik 135633). The ‘Joy Division’ was the name given to a group of Jewish women in World War II concentration camps whose only purpose was to provide sexual pleasure to Nazi soldiers. I have to admit I’ve never read any of De-Nu’s books. According to an online article by David Mikies (‘Holocaust Pulp Fiction’), De-Nu’s writings were “often lurid novel-memoirs, works that shock the reader with grotesque scenes of torture, perverse sexuality, and cannibalism“. In the 2006 book Joy Division and the Making of Unknown Pleasures, Jake Kennedy asserted that “Curtis’ fascination with extremes would hint to anyone willing to look beyond the headlines that the choice of name was probably an old fashioned punk exercise, matter of old habits dying hard”.
One of the bands earliest songs ‘Warsaw’ (which was also their band name prior to becoming Joy Division) is arguably a lyrical biography of Hitler’s deputy Führer Rudolf Hess. The song even begins with the lyric “3 5 0 1 2 5 Go!” (Hess’ prisoner of war serial number after he was captured after flying to the UK in 1941). Another of their early songs ‘No Love Lost’ features a spoken word section with a complete paragraph from The House of Dolls. A 2008 article by music writer Jon Savage in The Guardian newspaper noted that Curtis’ songs “such as ‘Novelty’, ‘Leaders of Men’ and ‘Warsaw’ were barely digested regurgitations of their sources: lumpy screeds of frustration, failure, and anger with militaristic and totalitarian overtones”.
Deborah Curtis (Ian’s wife) also remembered that her husband had a book by John Heartfield that included photomontages of the Nazi Period and that graphically documented the spread of Hitler’s ideals. The cover artwork of the band’s first record, the ‘An Ideal For Living’ EP, also featured a boy member the Hitler Youth drawn by guitarist Barney Sumner banging on a drum. Much of the flirtation with Nazi symbolism was arguably juvenile fascination and playful naivety. It’s also been noted that Joy Division’s early music concentrated on the nihilistic provocations of industrial music’s pioneers Throbbing Gristle (whose music I also examined at length in a previous blog). An interesting 2010 article by Mateo on the A View From The Annex website defended Joy Division’s use of Nazi imagery and lyrics:
“The Labour government´s betrayal of the working class during the 1970s and the rise of Thatcherism at the end of the 1970s heralded a future of mass unemployment, government repression and decaying industry. The perspective taken by Ian Curtis, the band´s sole lyricist, towards this growing authoritarianism and despair is crucial to understand if one is to place the references to fascism found in the band´s album art in the context intended by the artist, that is, a despairing anti-Nazism…Punk at that time was a unique music scene in which battles between anti-racists and neo-nazis were being thrashed out at concerts as the skinheads tried to appropriate the punk aesthetic and hijack the following of alienated, disillusioned working class youth who gravitated towards such a sub-culture in places like Manchester at the beginning of the 1980s…The lyrics of Ian Curtis made it clear that this was a presence suffered and feared as opposed to tolerated or toyed with by the band…Joy Division feared fascism, they did not flirt with it and the artwork and lyrics in ‘An Ideal for Living’ serves as a warning of growing fascistic tendencies in British society…For this, Curtis and his bandmates should be lauded for tackling such a controversial issue and expressing such a well-grounded fear and hostility towards such a veritable enemy of the working class during a swift turn to the right in Britain”.
By all accounts, Curtis was a voracious reader and read books by William Burroughs, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Franz Kafka, Friedrich Nietzsche, Nikolai Gogol, Jean-Paul Sartre, Hermann Hesse and J.G. Ballard, many of which made their way into various Joy Division songs (an obvious example being their song ‘Interzone’ taken directly from a collection of short stories by William Burroughs). As Jon Savage noted:
“Curtis’s great lyrical achievement was to capture the underlying reality of a society in turmoil, and to make it both universal and personal. Distilled emotion is the essence of pop music and, just as Joy Division are perfectly poised between white light and dark despair, so Curtis’s lyrics oscillate between hopelessness and the possibility, if not need, for human connection. At bottom is the fear of losing the ability to feel”.
J.G. Ballard was a particular inspiration to Curtis (particularly the books High Rise and Crash, the latter of which was about the suffering of car accident victims and sexual arousal, and which I wrote about in a previous blog on symphorophilia). One of Joy Division’s best known songs (the opening ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ from their second LP Closer) took its’ name from Ballard’s collection of ‘condensed novels’ (and given its focus on mental asylums is of great psychological interest). So distinct is Ballard’s work that it gave rise to a new adjective (‘Ballardian’) and defined by the Collins English Dictionary as “resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in J.G. Ballard’s novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity, man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments”. Given this definition, many of Joy Division’s songs are clearly Ballardian as they examine the emotional and psychological effects of everything around them (including personal relationships on songs such as their most well known and most covered song, and only British hit ‘Love Will tear Us Apart’).
The overriding psychology and underlying philosophy of both Ian Curtis and Joy Division are both contradictory and complex but ultimately the band members were a product of the environment they were brought up in and the sum of their musical and literary influences. At the age of 24 years, Curtis’ suicide was undoubtedly tragic and like many other literary and musical ‘artists’, his death has been somewhat romanticized by the mass media. Although he didn’t quite make it into the infamous ‘27 Club’ of ‘rock martyr’ musicians that died when they were 27 years (e.g., Dave Alexander [The Stooges], Chris Bell [Big Star], Kurt Cobain [Nirvana], Richey Edwards [Manic Street Preachers], Pete Ham [Badfinger], Jimi Hendrix, Robert Johnson, Brian Jones [Rolling Sones], Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison [The Doors], Amy Winehouse) he is surely a candidate for being a prime honorary member (along with Jeff Buckley). Retrospectively looking at his lyrics (“In the shadowplay, acting out your own death, knowing no more” from ‘Shadowplay’, you can’t help but wonder (given that many of them were autobiographical) whether Curtis’ death could have been prevented by those closest to him.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Curtis, D. (1995). Touching From A Distance. London: Faber and Faber.
Curtis, I., Savage, J. & Curtis, D. (2015). So This Is Permanence: Joy Division Lyrics and Notebooks. London: Faber and Faber.
Gleason. P. (2015). This Is the Way: “So This Is Permanence” by Ian Curtis. Located at: http://stereoembersmagazine.com/way-permanence-ian-curtis/
Hook, P. (2013). Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division. London: Simon and Schuster.
Kennedy, J. (2006). Joy Division and the Making of Unknown Pleasures. London: Omnibus.
Mikies, D. (2012). Holocaust pulp fiction. The Tablet, April 19. Located at: http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/97160/ka-tzetnik?all=1
Morley, P. (2007). Joy Division: Piece by Piece: Writing About Joy Division 1977-2007. London: Plexus Publishing.
Reynolds, S. (2006). Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk, 1978–1984. New York: Penguin.
Savage, J. (2008). Controlled chaos. The Guardian, May 10. Located at: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/may/10/popandrock.joydivision
Regular readers of my blog will be aware that I describe myself as a music obsessive with an eclectic taste ranging from Iggy Pop and Adam Ant through to the Velvet Underground and Throbbing Gristle. Another genre of music that I have more than a passing interest is that of ‘Krautrock’ (see my previous blog on Kraftwerk and their alleged addiction to cycling). Krautrock (as you can probably guess) is a somewhat derogatory term – believed to have been coined by the renowned music journalist Ian MacDonald – to describe a number of German bands that came to the fore in the British music scene in the early 1970s (most notably Amon Düül, Faust, Can, Kraftwerk, Neu!, Kluster, Cluster, Harmonia, Popol Vuh, Ash Ra Tempel, and Tangerine Dream).
Krautrock (as defined by the British media) has traditionally been viewed as electronic in nature (although many of the compositions in the late 1960s were far from electronica and utilized ‘found sounds’ from whatever was to hand) with an emphasis on improvisation and somewhat minimalistic arrangements. The Wikipedia entry on Krautrock also notes that:
“The term is a result of the English-speaking world’s reception of the music at the time and not a reference to any one particular scene, style, or movement, as many Krautrock artists were not familiar with one another…Largely divorced from the traditional blues and rock and roll influences of British and American rock music up to that time, the period contributed to the evolution of electronic music and ambient music as well as the birth of post-punt, alternative rock, and new-age music”.
Given my profession, it won’t surprise you to know that as much as I love music itself, I am also interested in the psychology of the musicians too. When it comes to Krautrock, I have argued for the best part of 20 years (to anyone that would listen) that the psychology of the archetypal Krautrocker in the late 1960s was likely to be influenced by being raised in post-second world war Germany. It was only over the holiday period that my thoughts were confirmed by the artists themselves (in interviews with journalists and musicologists).
More specifically, I read two excellent books on different aspects of ‘extreme music’ over the Christmas period – Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany (by David Stubbs), and Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music (by S. Alexander Reed). Alongside this, I also watched the wonderful three-hour documentary DVD Kraftwerk and the Electronic Revolution, the BBC 4 documentary, Krautrock: The Rebirth of Germany, and the 2008 film The Baader Meinhof Complex (about the Red Army Faction, left-wing German militant group and based on the 1985 non-fiction book of the same name by Stefan Aust).
These books and films all made reference to the cultural, political, and psychological climate in post-war West Germany. There were a number of repeated themes that I couldn’t fail to notice. Firstly, many of the middle classes holding a lot of the important jobs (mayors, town leaders, judges, professors, teachers) were still Nazi sympathizers. Secondly, children born after 1945 were generally not told about their history by either their parents or their schoolteachers. Thirdly, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, teenagers said they experienced feelings of guilt but didn’t know what for. On the musical front, West Germany’s pre- and post-war musical legacy was “Schlager” music (described by music journalist Adam Sweeting as “a genre unpleasantly redolent of the sentimental slop with which Josef Goebbels had saturated the Third Reich”). As Wikipedia notes that:
“Schlager music (German: Schlager, synonym of “hit-songs” or “hits”), also known in the United States as entertainer music or German hit mix, is a style of popular or electronic music…Typical schlager tracks are either sweet, highly sentimental ballads with a simple, catchy melody or light pop tunes. Lyrics typically center on love, relationships and feelings”.
By the late 1960s, many older teenagers and students were united in their politics (the most high profile touch point arguably being the student protests across Europe in 1968). They were also united in their dislike of schlager music except they didn’t really know they were united. Pockets of underground music sprouted up across a number of towns and cities across Germany. Key bands in the history of Krautrock were formed in Dusseldorf (Neu!, Kraftwerk), Cologne (Can), Berlin (Kluster, Tangerine Dream), Munich (Amon Düül), and Wumme (Faust). Bands playing in one city had no idea that bands were forming in other parts of Germany with similar ideological, political and psychological roots. More bizarre was that none of these bands – at least initially – had no following in Germany itself. Most fans of these bands were in the UK rather than their homeland. It was the British music press (NME, Sounds) and DJs (most notably John Peel) that were waving the German flag.
Arguably, the most overtly political of the emerging Krautrock bands was Munich’s Amon Düül. Their band members lived in a radical West German commune including the gang that formed the Red Army Faction (RAF) in 1970 (the so-called Baader-Meinhof Group (or Baader-Meinhof Gang including Andreas Baader, and Ulrike Meinhof). The members of Amon Düül quickly dissociated themselves from the RAF saying that their comrades were going too far in making their political presence known. In fact, the band members ended up falling out with themselves leading to different versions of the band with the second incarnation (Amon Düül 2) becoming the most revered.
Another important hotbed of anti-schlager musical development was the formation of the Zodiak Free Arts Lab (also known as the Zodiak Club) by experimental musician Conny Schnitzler in West Berlin. The Zodiak Club provided a hub where anyone could come and play whatever they wanted amongst like-minded people pushing the boundaries of music with whatever was at hand. Schnitzler himself was an early member of Tangerine Dream as well as the founding member of later Krautrock bands such as Kluster and Eruption. The other important figure in West Berlin’s burgeoning Krautrock scene was Hans-Joachim Roedelius who played with Schnitzler in Kluster but then went on to form Cluster with Deiter Moebius (another key player in the Krautrock movement) but without Schnitzler.
In relation to the psychology of Krautrock, Michael Rother (an early member of Kraftwerk, co-founder of Neu!, and later in ‘supergroup’ Harmonia) was interviewed by David Stubbs in his book Future Days. Rother had actually studied psychology and that as a German he strived for an alternative identity, and a new personality almost:
“Studies into psychology also assisted Rother in realizing that as a young man coming of age in Germany in the late 1960s, he could not be impervious to the cultural, social and political forces ranging at that time, all of which would have a profound impact on his musical identity. He rejected out of hand the burgeoning violence and ‘lunacy’ of terrorist movements such as the Baader-Meinhof group, whom he regarded as on the wrong road altogether. At the same time, the horrors of the Vietnam War acted as a jolting reminder of the need to wrench oneself away from Anglo-American hegemony, to create oneself as a personality anew”.
Rother’s perceptions and psychological insights appear to have been shared by many other individuals forming bands across West Germany in the late 1960s. The complete silence by parents and teachers towards children about the actions of Hitler and the Nazis (most notably the genocide of the Jewish people living in Germany) left post-war adolescents psychologically ill at ease about their national and cultural identities. They needed to create something unique, something identifiably German, and something they would feel proud of. The new music of Krautrock met such criteria. But was the music really that new? Some (including myself) would argue that much of the burgeoning music in Munich, Dusseldorf, Cologne and Berlin had its’ roots in ‘musique concrète’ (“concrete music”) and the work of Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Developed by French composer Pierre Schaeffer at the Studio d’Essai (“Experimental Studio”) of the French radio system, musique concrète is a form of electroacoustic music. It comprises an experimental technique of musical composition that uses recorded sounds as raw material to create a montage of sound (often referred to as ‘found sounds’ but can include recordings of voice and musical instruments). Musique concrète compositions don’t follow any conventional musical rules of melody, rhythm or harmony. Many musicologists view musique concrete as a precursor to electronica. Furthermore, many groups from Throbbing Gristle to Depeche Mode have sampled ‘found sounds’ in their musical output as well as many of the earlier pioneers in Krautrock.
The roots of Krautrock can also be traced back to one of Germany’s musical giants, Karlheinz Stockhausen. I’ve been aware of Stockhausen’s work through his influence on the Beatles (Stockhausen is one of the figures on their 1967 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP cover). Although in the public’s mind it was John Lennon that was associated with the more avant-garde recordings by the Beatles (‘Revolution 9’ and ‘What’s The New Mary Jane’) and his first solo albums with second wife Yoko Ono (Two Virgins, Life With The Lions, and Wedding Album), it was actually Paul McCartney who first developed an interest in avant-garde composers such as Stockhausen. (In fact, prior to his relationship with Ono, Lennon was famously quoted as saying “Avant-garde is French for bullshit”). Evidence for McCartney’s interest in Stockhausen and the avant-garde is the still unreleased Beatles composition ‘The Carnival of Light’ recorded in January 1967 for The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave held at the Roundhouse Theatre).
Stockhausen is seen by many as one of the greatest musical innovators and visionaries of the twentieth century. His electronic compositions were way ahead of his time, and had a large influence on many more modern day recording artists including Frank Zappa, Pete Townsend (The Who), Roger Waters (Pink Floyd), and Björk. In relation to Krautrock, two members of Can (Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay) were actually tutored by Stockhausen at the Cologne Courses for New Music, and Kraftwerk claim they also studied under him.
In terms of Krautrock’s influence on modern music, it doesn’t matter whether it was genuinely new. It was genuinely (West) German and grew largely from individuals’ psychological and/or political reaction to their experiences of growing up in post-war Germany following the fall of Nazism. The content of the output may not have been psychologically-based, but the attitude and spirit in making such music arguably was. We are all products of our genetics and our environment, and post-war teenagers born after 1945 in Germany experienced a culture and an immediate history that most can never ever experience. The Krautrockers fighting (artistically, culturally and literally) against the ‘establishment’ in late 1960s brought about some of the greatest music ever produced, and I for one, am eternally grateful for the pleasure it has brought in my own life.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Blaney, J. (2005). John Lennon: Listen to this Book. Guildford: Paper Jukebox, Biddles Ltd.
Buckley, D. (2012). Kraftwerk Publication. London: Omnibus.
Cope, J. (1996). Krautrocksampler (Second Edition). Head Heritage.
Reed, S.A. (2013). Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music. New York: Oxford University Press.
Stubbs, D. (2014). Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany. London: Faber & Faber.
Wikipedia (2014). Krautrock. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krautrock
Wikipedia (2014). Musique concrète. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musique_concrète
“I love your blonde hair/I kiss your pigtails/And I could not share/The scratch of your nails/And though you mark me/Your eyes so glassy/Oh why did you have/To be so Nazi?/Remember the curls/Of the Deutscher Girls?/A love of mine/From down on the Rhine” (Deutscher Girls, Adam and the Ants).
The first time I ever associated Nazism with sexuality was as a young teenager listening to Adam Ant sing Deutscher Girls in Derek Jarman’s 1978 punk rock film Jubilee. The punk rock movement – and particularly the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees – were arguably the architects of ‘Nazi chic’ (defined by Wikipedia as “the approving use of Nazi-era style, imagery, and paraphernalia in clothing and popular culture, especially when used for taboo-breaking or shock value rather than out of genuine sympathies with Nazism”) when one of the Pistols’ entourage appeared on the London-region only television show Today (December 1, 1976) wearing a swastika armband. The Wikipedia entry on Nazi chic notes:
“In the 1970s punk subculture, several items of clothing designed to shock and offend The Establishment became popular…[Johnny] Rotten wore the swastika another time with a gesture that looked like a Nazi salute. In 1976, Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees was also known to wear a Swastika armband with fetish S and M clothing, including fishnets and a whip. These musicians are commonly thought to have worn such clothing for shock value…rather than being genuinely associated with any National Socialist or fascist ideologies”.
As an avid Adam and the Ants fan, I devoured every lyric of every song. One of Adam Ant’s heroes was Dirk Bogarde – as evidenced by the first album being named after him – Dirk Wears White Sox. The song Dirk Wear White Sox (a live favourite at their early gigs) wasn’t actually on the album and was never actually released on any official Ant recording. One of the reasons for this may have been because of the controversial lyrical content that also linked sex and Nazism via concentration camps:
“You gotta concentrate on kink/In a concentration camp/All dressed up like little David/In a concentration camp…You can get a uniform for free/Shiny boots of soft black leather/Oh how proud your mum will be”.
The inspiration for the song may well have been the controversial film The Nightporter starring Bogarde as a former Nazi SS officer (Maximilian Theo Aldorfer) and his “ambiguous” relationship with concentration camp survivor Lucia Atherton (played by Charlotte Rampling). As the Wikipedia entry on the film notes:
“Flashbacks show Max tormenting Lucia, but also acting as her protector. In an iconic scene, Lucia sings a Marlene Dietrich song ‘Wenn ich mir was wünschen dürfte’ to the concentration camp guards while wearing pieces of an SS uniform, and Max ‘rewards’ her with the severed head of a male inmate who had been bullying the other inmates, a reference to Salome. Thirteen years after World War II, Lucia meets Aldorfer again; he is now the night porter at a Vienna hotel. There, they fall back into their sadomasochistic relationsip relationship…The film depicts the political continuity between wartime Nazism and post-war Europe and the psychological continuity of characters locked into compulsive repetition of the past. On another level it deals with the psychological condition known as Stockholm Syndrome”.
“Somebody who becomes sexually aroused when seeing someone of the Aryan race in an SS Nazi, Third Reich uniform or Holocaust/Hitler related uniforms. Charlotte Rampling in ‘The Night Porter’ would be a Nazi Fetish for some men or women”.
Academically there has been little written on Nazi fetishism. I went searching online and found dozens of confessions by people claiming to enjoy and be fans of Nazi fetishism (as well as lots of websites – such as the uniform fetish site at Live Journal – that feature lots of sexually provocative Nazi fetish clothing). Here are some of the online admissions that I found. Obviously I can’t guarantee their veracity but they all seemed genuine to me:
- Extract 1: “Don’t get me wrong. I DO NOT IN ANY WAY support their murders, torture, or anything of the sort. I would never support such heinous actions. That being said…I like Nazis. I like the uniform, the boots (Yesss, the boots), the fact that they’re German/speak German, as well as the whole ‘Aryan’ look. Neatly combed blonde hair, blue eyes. My friends think I’m insane, because I’m half black and I like blonde Nazis. Anyway, I love the masculinity they seemed to have. It’s very attractive. It’s a fetish I have”.
- Extract 2: “I am a girl and I am turned on by The Nazi look blonde hair blue eyes and uniform, I can’t help but have thoughts about it is there something wrong with me? I think the holocaust was awful and I hate what the Nazis did but I just can’t help it, am I normal to have a weird fetish?”
- Extract 3: “Nazi fetishes are actually fairly common in BD/SM. There used to be tons of Nazi-themed pornography and general exploitation movies although as the years following WW2 pass it is becoming more uncommon…The taboo and violence attached to Nazis makes them a popular fetish for people of many races, religions, and sexual orientations. Nazi fetishism is currently most popular in Asian and in gay pornography”.
- Extract 4: “Lately, I’ve found myself getting a little too excited thinking about what most would call Nazi fetishism. I already had a bit of a German fetish, what with the accents and appearances, but when the SS uniforms started sneaking into my fantasies, when the idea of a little Nazi roleplay started to really appeal, things were different. I even fantasize about my love interest in the uniform (which is ironic because he is quite far from being an Aryan)!…I’ve uncovered other fetishes I have and now see how this fits in. (i) German accents are extremely sexy to me, (ii) I have always liked uniforms and nice clothes. (iii) taboo appeals to me quite a bit, [and] (iv) power and being dominated appeals to me” (z0mbiequeen)
- Extract 5: “I have a fetish for uniforms and I don’t blame someone for having a Nazi fetish, people who are sharply dressed do look pretty sexy, especially the women’s clothing. I don’t have a fetish for the accents and everything German…It could also be how Nazis are frowned upon, so having a fetish for something so controversial and wrong makes it dirty?” (lovingpegasister)
- Extract 6: “[Nazi] fetish is so common in many circles, from anime cosplay to gothic culture. They had the most badass uniforms at the time and they still look hot on just about anyone” (derBunker)
The Nazi clothing appears to be a fundamental part of the fetish and would appear to be a sub-type of uniform fetishism (that I outlined in a previous blog). In 2007, Roxy Music singer Bryan Ferry appeared to praise the Nazi style (both in fashion and architectural terms) when he was quoted in a German newspaper as saying: ‘The way that the Nazis staged themselves and presented themselves, my Lord!…I’m talking about the films of Leni Riefenstahl…And the buildings of Albert Speer and the mass marches and the flags – just fantastic. Really beautiful”. However, Ferry’s comments caused huge controversy and he then clarified his comments by saying: “I apologise unreservedly for any offence caused by my comments on Nazi iconography, which were solely made from an art history perspective”. This type of apology is very similar to the caveats made by Nazi fetishists online in justifying their like of Nazi imagery from a sexual perspective.
Arguably the most high profile case of Nazi fetishism was Max Mosley (youngest son of Sir Oswald Mosley, the former leader of the British Union of Fascists and former head of Formula One’s governing body) who was caught in 2008 on video with five prostitutes playing concentration camp fetish games. One article quoted [unnamed] “experts” saying: “While the Nazi concept is not unusual in sadomasochistic circles, playing both sides in such a kinky ritual is unusual”. Another (less high profile) case was that of Gareth Meade, a senior council officer in London (UK), who lost his job for gross misconduct after his involvement in Nazi fetishism was exposed by a Sunday newspaper. Photos of Meade posing in Nazi regalia was found on a gay sex website. Meade claimed in the newspaper interview that he was “not a racist” and that his sexual activity was “a private fetish”.
A recent 2013 paper published by Dr. David Lopez and Dr. Ellis Godard in the journal Popular Culture Review studied Nazi fetishism using online forum data (a method that I have also been using to study rare paraphilic behaviours and which I have recently published a couple of papers on – see ‘Further Reading’ below). They also view the fetish as a type of uniform fetish. Their paper notes that:
“Nazi uniform fetishists and role-players represent the diversity of BDSM subculture as it is a very unique activity with a specific form of expression. The most salient form of this expression is seen in the style and fashion of these fetishists and role-players. Style and fashion express autonomy, proclaims messages, establishes boundaries, and generates definitions of a subculture (Hebdige, 1979). For uniform fetishists, the uniform creates a context for the BDSM scene. A Nazi uniform is just one type of uniform fetish. We suggest for these participants, they are attracted to Nazism as a movement steeped in violence and evil and the uniform is representative of this movement. BDSM practitioners use the term ‘scene’ when referring to erotic power exchange”.
Lopez and Godard collected data from a BDSM site that had over 900,000 members. They then focused on specific discussion groups within the main site. One of these groups comprised individuals that were interested in ‘Nazi Uniform Fetish and Roleplaying’ [NUFR] and had 617 members. They also noted that there were at least 12 other similar groups with an interest in Nazi fetishism including ‘Females of the Third Reich’ (114 members) and ‘SS [Shutzstaffel] Protection Squad] Uniforms and Those Who Love Them’ (162 members). The NUFR group was chosen as the site to study as it had the biggest number of members and the most detailed postings from its members about Nazi fetishism. The data were content analysed and comprised over 300 threads (approximately 10,000 comments). The authors reported that members discussed the uniforms themselves, including where to acquire them and pointedly disavowed white supremacy and anti-Semitism, emphasizing only the erotlcism associated with the uniforms. They also reported that many posts commented on the sex appeal of the uniforms. In response to a post asking “What makes a sexy Nazi?” one respondent noted that:
“A well cared for athletic, mature female body, subtly made up fair skin and hard steely blue eyes, long dark hair gathered up carefully in a high ponytail. She is very stylish and well groomed, a pristine women’s tailored Black SS uniform laid out for her on the bed beside her as she sits gracefully at her dressing table in her delicate, demure lingerie and Fully fashioned seamed and Cuban heel Nylons leaning elegantly forward and to the side to pull up the zips on her gleaming almost mirror polished Black Leather 5″ heel knee boots. Her visor cap, Black Leather Gloves, 4ft bull whip and SS officer’s belt on her pillow along with the heavy Leather holster that shrouds her 9mm P38. The interest in Nazi role-playing and the Nazi fetish is for most people (I can’t vouch for everyone), is a stimulating response to strong imagery, well tailored uniforms, and notions of power and fear”.
As with the online posts I found online, Lopez and Godard noted that their participants were “very careful and go to great lengths to establish that they are not anti-Semitic or supremacists”, and were fully aware that confusion is possible. For instance, some respondents noted:
- Example 1: “People tend to automatically assume that someone who finds the uniform or the role-play sexy, is actually a Nazis themselves. Which I’m sure can be the case from time to time but couldn’t be further from the truth for me. I’m actually the exact opposite”
- Example 2: “There are a lot of Jews in this group, like me. Except we’re clever enough to know the difference between a fetish and actually committing racist acts”
- Example 3: “The biggest fan of my ex’s SS-uniform was a friend of ours who is Jewish”
- Example 4: “Jews like to play Nazis and Nazis like to play Jews”
- Example 5: “I’m a Jew who likes to keep being a Jew in my Nazi torture role-playing”
The authors also noted that not one post they examined expressed explicit anti-Semitism. It was the violent nature of Nazism, not anti-Semitism that motivated the self-presentation of individuals as ‘Nazis’ among Nazi uniform fetishists. They also added that it was the image of violence that was being portrayed, more than the actual violence. This is because BDSM play is highly controlled (as evidenced by, consensual scene negotiation and the use of safe-words). Based on the (mainly) qualitative data collected, Lopez and Godard concluded that:
“Nazi uniform fetish and role-play is just that, the playing of a role. The fetish serves to enhance the BDSM experience and has little to do with white supremacy or anti-Semitism. The world of BDSM is an erotically charged arena that incorporates a variety of interests, desires, and tastes. It is the association with evil that participants in Nazi uniform fetish and role-play find appealing. The self-presentation of erotic evil serves to contribute to the quality of the BDSM experience and allow participants in this subculture a safe and accepting environment in which to explore and express their fetish. This suggests, as oxymoronic as it sounds, that evil isn’t all that bad. The incorporation of evil symbols in a safe, non-harmful, consensual manner to enhance one’s pleasure suggests some performances (i.e., role-playing) serve a purpose in popular culture; it allows us to be bad”.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Betts, P. (2002). The new fascination with fascism: The case of Nazi modernism. Journal of Contemporary History, 37, 541-558.
Fuchs, M. (2012). Of Blitzkriege and Hardcore BDSM: Revisiting Nazi Sexploitation Camps. In Elizabeth Bridges, Kristin T. Vander Lugt, & Daniel H. Magilow (Eds.), Nazisploitation: The Nazi Image in Low-Brow Film and Culture (pp. 279-294. New York: Continuum.
Griffiths, M.D. (2012). The use of online methodologies in studying paraphilia: A review. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 143-150.
Griffiths, M.D., Lewis, A., Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Kuss, D.J. (2013). Online forums and blogs: A new and innovative methodology for data collection. Studia Psychologica, in press.
Hebdige, D. (1979). Subculture: The Meaning of sSyle. New York: Methuen & Co.
Lopez, D. A., Godard, E. Nazi (2013). Uniform fetish and role-playing: A subculture of erotic evil. Popular Culture Review, 24(1), 69-78.
Rocker, S. (2010). Council officer sacked for Nazi ‘fetish’. Jewish Chronicle, March 22. Located at: http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/29730/council-officer-sacked-nazi-fetish
Wikipedia (2013). Nazi chic. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_chic
One of the more obscure things known about Adolf Hitler was that he suffered from a severe case of syphilophobia (i.e., which – according to a 1956 definition in Blakiston’s New Gould Medical Dictionary – is a morbid fear of the sexually transmitted disease syphilis). Dr. Henry A. Murray in a 1943 report entitled ‘Analysis of the personality of Adolf Hitler with predictions of his future behavior and suggestions for dealing with him now and after Germany’s surrender’ diagnosed Hitler’s neurosis, hysteria, paranoia, Oedipal tendencies, schizophrenia, “infinite self-abasement” and syphilophobia (which he describes as a fear of contamination of the blood through contact with a woman). However, the report is vague on its sources, and presented little in the way of empirical evidence for its conclusions. According to a later 1986 paper in Genitourinary Medicine, by Dr. R. Fitzpatrick and his colleagues, the authors said that Hitler believed that syphilis was a Jewish disease that was transmitted from generation to generation.
Some definitions of the condition also note that it can include people who actually believe they have syphilis even though there is no medical evidence to support the belief (and as such is classed as a form of hypochondria). The phobic condition is also known by various other names including luiphobia (‘leus’ was a former name of syphilis), venereophobia, and venereoneurosis (although the latter technically include the fear of any sexually transmitted disease). The condition has been documented in the medical literature dating back the 16th century including references to venereoneurosis (called ‘noddlepox’). A 1938 paper in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Dr. Frank Cormia (who featured seven case studies of syphilophobia) wrote that:
“A morbid fear of syphilis has been present in the human race ever since the great plague of the early sixteenth century. Authentic written observations were first made by Turner, in 1567. Proksch published his ‘RadlinusVitus, Lues Venerea Imaginaria’in 1698”.
In one of the most detailed ‘modern’ accounts of syphilophobia in a 1957 issue of the British Journal of Venereal Diseases, Dr. Ida McAlpine (who outlined seven case studies in her report) argued that syphilophobia and venereophobia are not unitary conditions but rather non-specific symptoms of a range of psychiatric disorders. McAlpine noted that among 24 cases of ‘venereophobia’ only one was female. An earlier (1953) study by French medics Dr. P. Graciansky and Dr. E. Stern (in the journal La Semaine des Hôpitaux Thérapeutique) also had 24 cases of syphilophobia and reported that 14 were male and 10 female. For Dr. Otto Fenichel, the Viennese psychoanalyst (writing in the 1940s), syphilophobia comprised a “rationalization of unreal dangers connected with sexual activity, which on a deep, unconscious level, may represent disguised sado-masochistic wishes, for it is equally possible to be infected by other persons and to infect them”
In a 1963 study (again published in the British Journal of Venereal Diseases) of the incidence, pattern, and causes of psychiatric illness related to fear of venereal disease among 887 consecutive cases at an STD clinic, Dr. E. Kite and Dr. A. Grimble reported that psychiatric illness occurred in 5% of all patients, and was slightly more frequent in females (6%). Since the early flurry of studies published from the 1940s to the 1960s there was little (if anything published academically until the mid-2000s. A case report of syphilophobia was published in 2006 by Dr Arfan ul Bari and Dr. Ali Zulqernain in the Journal of Pakistan Association of Dermatologists. The authors reported the case of a 28-year old soldier:
“[He complained] of generalized weakness and some lesion over his glans penis and intermittent burning micturation [lasting] about 2 years. He has been visiting various doctors but was never satisfied with the treatment given…He had no history of any extramarital sexual relationship or any significant physical or psychiatric ailment in the past. General physical and systemic examination was unremarkable and on genital examination neither any active lesion, nor any mark of previous healed lesion was found. The patient insisted that he was suffering from the venereal disease (syphilis) and he had a sore over glans penis near urethral meatus…On the basis of absence of any suggested physical signs and symptoms, normal laboratory investigations and repeatedly negative serological tests for syphilis, he was considered to be a case of syphilophobia (hypochondriasis) and was referred to psychiatrist”.
Bari and Zulqernain claim that disorders like syphilophobia are “probably more common than is recognized” (although I’m unsure on what they have based this opinion on). They also provided some psychological insight into the condition:
“Perhaps because of the emotional issues surrounding sexual behavior, anxiety about a sexual encounter may manifest itself as a fear or conviction that one has been infected with a sexually transmitted infection. The problem often significantly impairs the quality of life. It can cause personal distress and keep people apart from loved ones and business associates…At some point in past, there was likely an event linking lues or syphilis and emotional trauma. Whilst the original catalyst may have been a real-life scare of some kind, the condition can also be triggered by myriad, benign events like movies, TV, or perhaps seeing someone else experience trauma”.
The most recent paper I have come across on syphilophobia was published in 2010 by the Russians Dr. A.N. Provizion and colleagues (published in Russian, so I only managed to read the English summary). They believe the condition to be of “importance” and that is a condition that psychiatrists should be more aware of. It may be that the condition has moved with the times and that other sexually transmitted diseases (like AIDS) are now more of a fear than syphilis.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Bari, A.U. & Zulqernain, A. (2006). Syphilophobia: a frustrating psychiatric illness presenting to dermatologists. Journal of Pakistan Association of Dermatologists, 16, 236-238.
Cormia, F.E. (1938). Syphilophobia and allied anxiety states. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 39, 361-366
Fenichel, O. (1945). Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis. London: NortonCo.
Fitzpatrick, R., Frost, D., & Ikkos, G. (1986). Survey of psychological disturbance in patients attending a sexually transmitted diseases clinic. Genitourinary Medicine, 62, 111-115.
Graciansky, P. & Stern, E. (1953). [Syphilophobia]. La Semaine des Hôpitaux Thérapeutique, 29, 2911-2915.
Hoerr, N.L. & Osol, A. (1956) Blakiston’s New Gould Medical Dictionary. McGraw-Hill.
Kite, E.d.C. & Grimble, A. (1963). Psychiatric aspects of venereal disease. British Journal of Venereal Disease, 39, 173-180.
McAlpine, I. (1957). Syphilophobia; A psychiatric study. British Journal of Venereal Diseases, 33, 92-99.
Murray, H. A. (1943/2005). Analysis of the personality of Adolf Hitler with predictions of his future behavior and suggestions for dealing with him now and after Germany’s surrender. A report prepared for the Office of Strategic Services, October 1943. Located at: http://archive.org/stream/AnalysisOfThePersonalityOfAdolphHitler/MurrayHenry-AnalysisOfThePersonalityOfAdolphHitler1943240p.Scan_djvu.txt
Provizion A.N., Provizion L.N., Shveduk S.V., Shedania I.E. [To the problem of syphilophobia], Том, 13, 147-149.
In a previous blog I briefly looked at some of the psychological research that had been carried out examining Adolf Hitler’s personality. I briefly mentioned in that blog some of the more salacious speculations about his sexuality. It’s not my usual style to speculate on the sex lives of people who are not around to defend themselves (although I did make an exception in a previous blog about the television personality Jimmy Savile).
Hitler’s sexuality has been the subject of scholarly (and not so scholarly) debate for decades. The vast majority of material has concerned Hitler’s sexual orientation and whether in fact he was gay (not that it bothers me whether he was or wasn’t). For instance, much media coverage was given to Scott Lively and Kevin Abrams’ book The Pink Swastika about Hitler’s (and other leading Nazi Party members’) homosexuality. Other scholars (such as the German historian Dr. Lothar Machtan) have tried to put the case forward that he was bisexual (which would make more sense given the five women he was alleged to have had sexual liaisons with above and beyond his longstanding 16-year relationship with Eva Braun) or that he was asexual – although I’ve yet to come across any scholarly evidence of this apart from a brief 1998 online essay by American Dr. Jack Porter. He wrote:
“Did Hitler despise homosexuals? Was he ashamed of his own homosexual identity? These are areas of psychohistory that are beyond known knowledge. My own feelings are that Hitler was asexual in the traditional sense and had bizarre sexual fetishes. All these things were of course kept highly secret from the German people”.
Many academics have disputed the allegations made in The Pink Swastika although Dr. Machtan published (what seems to me at least) a well researched German book on Hitler in 2001 (the title of which translates as Hitler’s Secret: The Double Life of a Dictator). He claimed that Hitler had many gay friends in Munich who helped Hitler win over the intellectuals in various social circles during his rise to power. This included Ernst Hanfstaengt (a business man and close friend of Hitler), Dietrich Eckart (a journalist and politician who helped Hitler form the Nazi Party), Ernst Röhm (one of Hitler’s closest confidants, and an officer in the Bavarian Army who later became the Nazi leader of the Sturmabteilung – the Assault Division), and Edmund Heines (Röhm’s deputy leader in the Sturmabteilung). He personally ordered the killings of both Heines and Röhm for their “immoral sexual behaviour”. The Wikipedia entry on Hitler’s sex life claimed that:
“There is considerable evidence that he had infatuations with a number of women during his lifetime, as well as overwhelming evidence of his antipathy to homosexuality, and no evidence he engaged in homosexual behavior”.
The American journalist Ron Rosenbaum (and author of the 1998 book Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of Evil) has been very critical of Dr. Machtan’s research and went as far as saying in a 2005 article for the Southern Poverty Law Center, that Machtan’s “evidence falls short of being conclusive and often falls far short of being evidence at all”. However, Hitler’s persecution of homosexuals was as abhorrent as his treatment of Jewish people (sending them to their deaths in the Nazi concentration camps – some of who were experimented upon in Hitler’s quest to identify what he believed was a biological basis for homosexuality). The Wikipedia article on Hitler’s sexuality cites the work of American historian Jonathan Zimmerman who claimed that:
“Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazis arrested roughly 100,000 men as homosexuals. Most convicted gays were sent to prison; between 5,000 and 15,000 were interned in concentration camps, where they wore pink triangles to signify their supposed crime. A study by Rüdiger Lautmann found that 60% of gay men in concentration camps died, as compared to 41% of political prisoners and 35% of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The study also shows that survival rates for gay men were slightly higher for internees from the middle and upper classes and for married bisexual men and those with children”.
Irrespective of whether Hitler had homesexual tendencies, no-one denies that during World War II, the allies did their best to cast Hitler as a sexual deviant with claims that he was a urophile (i.e., sexually aroused by being urinated upon in Hitler’s case). However, much of this can be dismissed as nothing more than anti-Hitler propaganda. Ernst Hanfstaengl (who was for quite some time a member of Hitler’s ‘inner circle’) was one of the few who openly spoke of issues surrounding Hitler’s sex life (after Hitler had committed suicide). In his 1957 book Hitler: The Missing Years, he wrote:
“Hitler was a case of a man who was neither fish, flesh nor fowl, neither fully homosexual nor fully heterosexual… I had formed the firm conviction that he was impotent, the repressed, masturbating type”.
In my previous blog on Hitler’s personality, I mentioned the two independent reports that were commissioned by the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) by psychologists Dr. Walter Langer (A Psychological Analysis of Adolf Hitler: His Life and Legend) and Dr. Walter Murray (Analysis of the Personality of Adolph Hitler: With Predictions of His Future Behavior and Suggestions for Dealing with Him Now and After Germany’s Surrender) during the World War II in an attempt to get inside the mind of Hitler. German politician Otto Strasser (a member of the left-wing National Socialist German Workers’ Party) claimed that Hitler had forced his niece Geli Raubel to urinate and defecate on him. In relation to his sexuality, this ‘evidence’ – I use the term tentatively – was used by Dr. Langer’s to assert that Hitler was an “impotent coprophile [and] possibly even a homosexual streak in him”. However, the report did conclude that the evidence surrounding Hitler’s alleged homosexuality was weak. Dr. Murray’s report briefly dealt with Hitler’s alleged coprophilic tendencies but was more concerned with Hitler’s probable schizophrenia (which I covered in my previous blog). In 2007, Dr. Frederick Coolidge and his colleagues published a paper examining the psychological profile of Adolf Hitler. Summarizing the work of Dr. Langer, they wrote that:
“Using sources only available up until 1943, Langer diagnosed Hitler as a neurotic bordering on psychotic with a messiah complex, masochistic tendencies, strong sexual perversions, and a high likelihood of homosexuality”.
More recently, Hitler’s alleged coprophilia was alluded to in a 2011 biography of Hitler’s lover Eva Braun by Heike B. Görtemaker. However, other recent books on Hitler have been more explicit. For instance, Greg Hallet in his chapter ‘Hitler’s Sexuality’ (from his 2008 book ‘Hitler was a British Agent’) wrote:
“Hitler’s close boyhood friend from Linz, August Kubizek, wrote Adolf Hitler, Mein Jugendfreund (My Youth Friend), ‘Adolf did not engage in love affairs or flirtations. He always rejected the coquettish advances of girls or women. Women and girls took an interest in him but he always evaded their endeavours’…During deconstruction, it is customary that the person is sexually abused in the manner which is most embarrassing to that person. In Hitler’s case, he was sodomised, creating a submissive distant respect for homosexuals like his bodyguards and some of his highest-placed leaders. His natural bent was developed into coprophilia (being shat on)…With each deconstruction an embarrassing addiction is developed and filmed. With Hitler it was sadomasochism, coprophilia and homosexuality. That is, he liked to be verbally abused and slapped around, to have his head urinated on, his chest shat on, and to have sex with men”.
None of this is definitive proof that Hitler was a coprophile but some would argue that there are enough indirect pieces of evidence to suggest that ‘there’s no smoke without fire’. As far as I am concerned it is never likely to be proven given any new evidence that is likely to have come to light would have probably come to light by now (but you never know).
Coolidge, F., Davis, F. & Segal, D. (2007). Understanding Madmen: A DSM-IV Assessment of Adolf Hitler. Individual Differences Research, 5(1), 30-43.
Görtemaker, H. (2011). Eva Braun: Life with Hitler. New York: Knopf.
Hallett, G. (2008). Hitler was a British Agent. London: Progressive Books.
Hanfstaengl, E. (1957). Hitler: The Missing Years. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode.
Lively, Scott; Abrams, Kevin (1995). The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party. Founders Publishing. Corporation
Moser, R. (2005). Anti-Gay Religious Crusaders Claim Homosexuals Helped Mastermind the Holocaust. Southern Poverty Law Center, 117. Located at: http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2005/spring/holy-war/making-myths
Plant, R. (1986). The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals. New York: Henry Holt.
Porter, J.N. (1998). Genocide of homosexuals in the Holocaust. October 10. Located at: http://chgs.umn.edu/educational/homosexuals.html
Porter, J.N. (1998). Sexual Politics in Nazi Germany: The Persecution of the Homosexuals during the Holocaust. Newton, MA: The Spencer Press.
Rosenbaum, R. (1998). Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of Evil. New York: Random House.
Rosenbaum, R. (2001). Queer as Volk. Slate, December 3. Located at: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2001/12/queer_as_volk.html
Wikipedia (2012). Sexuality of Adolf Hitler. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexuality_of_Adolf_Hitler
“I’m only interested in heavy metal [music] when it’s me playing it. I suppose it’s a bit like smelling your own farts” (quote by John Entwistle, bassist with The Who)
Despite the fact that the average person breaks wind 14 times a day, farting is one of those subjects and behaviours that tend to elicit two main responses – laughter or disgust (and embarrassment if someone farts in a situation that they would rather not have). In my early teens I remember watching a drama on television in 1979 about a professional farting entertainer starring comic actor Leonard Rossiter (i.e., it was about a guy who could fart at will and who made his professional living as an entertainer). I later found out that Rossiter was playing Joseph Pujol (1857-1945), the French flatulist (i.e., professional farter sometimes referred to as ‘fartiste’ or ‘farteur’) who performed under the stage name Le Pétomane. Pujol’s stage name literally means “fartomaniac” (as it combines the French verb ‘to fart’ [péter] alongside the French word for ‘maniac’ [-mane]). Pujol was able to control his farting via a rectal ‘inhalation’ method that allowed him to control the air with his anal sphincter muscles.
In researching this article, I only came across one academic reference to ‘fartomania’. In a 2002 issue of the Journal of the History of Sexuality, Dr. Frank Proschan wrote a paper about Paul Michaut, a French physician and member of the Société d’anthropologie de Paris. Dr. Proschan recounted that Michaut had spent the late nineteenth century studying medical, erotic, and scatological matters in South East Asia. One of the topics that Michaut wrote on was “fartomania” but Proschan’s paper did not give any details as to what Michaut had uncovered on this subject.
Perhaps the most infamous ‘fartomaniac’ was Adolf Hiter. I wrote about Hitler in a previous blog on coprophilia but according to his medical reports, Hitler is believed to have suffered from “uncontrollable flatulence”. The reason for this is thought to have been Hitler’s regular and seemingly relentless diet of prescription drugs and illicit drugs. His medical records also indicated that he took up to 28 different drugs to attempt to restrain his excessive flatulence. An article in Intelligent Life magazine noted that:
“Medical historians are unanimous that Adolf was the victim of uncontrollable flatulence. Spasmodic stomach cramps, constipation and diarrhea, possibly the result of nervous tension, had been Hitler’s curse since childhood and only grew more severe as he aged. As a stressed-out dictator, the agonising digestive attacks would occur after most meals”.
In a previous blog, I wrote about the novelist James Joyce who appeared to have many sexually paraphilic interests including somnophilia and coprophilia. However, I have since come across references to Joyce’s obsession with farting in his many letters to his wife (Nora). For instance, one of his letters to Nora said:
“I think I would know Nora’s fart anywhere. I think I could pick hers out in a roomful of farting women. It is a rather girlish noise not like the wet windy fart which I imagine fat wives have”.
There are also a number of reports that claim Mozart was “obsessed” with farting and scatalogia (which biographers attribute to alleged Tourette’s Syndrome), and which made many appearances in his “excrement-obsessed” letters. He even wrote a song called Lick Out My Arsehole. However, for some people, flatulence appears to be something that borders on the excessive and/or obsessive. The word ‘fartaholic’ appears in the online Urban Dictionary and is defined as “one who is addicted to farting, passing gas, breaking wind, fumigating the room, etc.”
While I was researching my previous blog on eproctophilia (i.e., individuals who derive sexual arousal and pleasure from flatulence), I came across these confessions online (click on the ‘extract’ number to go to the original source of each quote):
- Extract 1: “My name is Phil Philups. I am 105 years old, and I am addicted to smelling my own farts. It all started 40 years ago when my first grandchild was born. Whenever I changed her diaper, she would always fart. I soon realized that I love the smell. I would always offer to change her diaper, just so I could get a whiff of it. Ah, the sweet smell of gassy fumes. But eventually she grew up. I no longer had a diaper to change. As I had no more grandchildren, much to my dismay. That’s when it really started. Eventually, I realized that my own farts smell just as good. As soon as the fumes drifted up my nose, I was happy again. I would go into a closet and just let rip. I would sit there for hours, engulfing the scent…At night, I would stick my head under the covers and take in the sweet scent, so I was satisfied until morning. When I was alone, I found jars and let out my precious juices into them, so I could use them later, when I could not force myself to fart. I know this is weird, so I would like help”.
- Extract 2: “This sounds like a silly problem and some of you may laugh, but I love the smell of farts. If someone farts I have to go over and smell it, and I especially love smelling farts in the bath. I know this sounds disgusting or crude or whatever, but I think I need help. I’m the only person I know who enjoys this. I confided in my friend and she looked at me like I was psycho. Is there something wrong with me? Please help”
- Extract 3: “Is it normal to think that my fart smells really good? Every time I fart, I wait for it to get to my nose and I sniff it really hard. It smells fine for me. It only happens to my own fart. I think other people’s fart smells gross. I wait for my fart and I smell it every time! It smells good and I feel like I’m addicted to it! I couldn’t help but sniff it in”
- Extract 4: “My guy farts so much and when we are round his house he decides to fart on his cat’s head and then he sometimes does it up against the wall so it sounds louder. I’m getting scared. Sometimes he farts on me too. I don’t know how to stop him”
- Extract 5: “It’s killing me, everywhere I go if someone farts I’m right there sniffing it. How do I stop my addiction to fart sniffing?”
These short accounts did make me ask to what extent can farting be considered an addiction. In my eproctophilia blog (examining individuals who are sexually aroused by flatulence), there certainly seemed to be some evidence that some individuals seem to be obsessed with farting, and the self-confessed online admissions above (if true, and I can’t guarantee that they are) are suggestive of some people’s enjoyment of farting – beyond what most people would see as normal. However, I can’t ever imagine that the topic would become a topic of psychological research unless it leads to a negative psychosocial impact on the individual’s day-to-day life.
Gore-Langton, R. (2004). I know what made Mozart tic. Daily Telegraph, October 13. Located at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/3625399/I-know-what-made-Mozart-tic.html
The Inquisitor (2012). Adolf Hitler was a farting coke head, study finds. May 4. Located at: http://www.inquisitr.com/230386/adolf-hitler-was-a-farting-coke-head-study-finds/#pRE7dLhQKcyh9DEe.99
Intelligent Life (2007). The madman at the breakfast table: Hitler was even sicker than you thought. November 7. Located at: http://moreintelligentlife.com/node/399
Jameson, C. (2010). 6 famous geniuses you didn’t know were perverts. Cracked.com, June 1. Located at: http://www.cracked.com/article_18559_6-famous-geniuses-you-didnt-know-were-perverts.html
Proschan, F. (2002). Syphilis, Opiomania, and Pederasty: Colonial Constructions of Vietnamese (and French) Social Diseases. Journal of the History of Sexuality, 11, 610-636.
Wattpad (2012). My strange addiction (4: Gassy fumes). Located at: http://www.wattpad.com/4112339-my-strange-addiction-4-gassey-fumes
Wikipedia (2012). Le Pétomane. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Pétomane