Careless Whispers: From a Musical Opiates to False Noses

At the heart of London – where we stayed in Westminster – we watched a documentary about WHAM in our hotel room. My life moves from pinnacle to pinnacle. As an anglophile, WHAM has always intrigued me. How could this rainbow duo keep their relationship a secret, even to this day, when an observant person can see it at a glance?

To the heart and mind
Ignorance is kind
There’s no comfort in the truth
Pain is all you’ll find

It has likely been the largest brainwashing operation in human history: music from the eighties. The brain opiates that still blare out of millions of speakers in vacation paradises: wherever you go, you hear the same songs from the same time period. There is not a single new song: not even one. Young musicians are completely shut out from this bubble of happiness, where people of my generation dreamingly live out their perfect lives.

A vivid memory: Veronique and I were looking into the eye of a cricket. Veronique told me that it is a sort of dream entity, living completely in its own bubble, scarcely aware of us.

I believe this also applies to the majority of people. They live in a dream, and they violently push away anything that might disturb that dream.

To the heart and mind
Ignorance is kind
There’s no comfort in the truth
Pain is all you’ll find

When Slavoj Žižek spoke about the band Laibach in a recent interview, he described North Korea as a particularly postmodern country because it essentially embodies a new form of matriarchy – the leaders are oversized mother figures, everything is subjected to maternal power. Has Žižek never seen the statues in front of Buckingham Palace?

The Archetype of the Mother, Celebrated Right Outside Buckingham Palace

On the shadow side, we see this statue of Victoria: the Iron Mother, the embodiment of the Matriarch in her most supreme form.

So, we don’t need to look at North Korea when discussing postmodern Matriarchy. What struck me about this statue was that on the stone globe Victoria is holding, a small figure stands, a sort of pixie, which actually makes the statue rather distinctive, but oddly enough, there is no mention of this figure on the Wikipedia page for this statue.

Closeup of the ‘pixie’. Suddenly the statue of Victoria makes me think of the Sphinx, with that blatantly glued-on nose. Was that nose ever knocked off? What’s really going on here? The story gets even stranger when I view another photo of the statue on Wikipedia:

What’s going on? The whole pixie isn’t on there. A snake is writhing on top of the sphere – or is that too warm a word for the snake’s movements? Where did the pixie go? What happened here?

After some searching, I find the answer:

Sculptured arts expertise was called upon and were given the project to repair and replace missing or damaged parts of the sculpture.

Our main task was to re-carve the missing `George and the dragon orb` held in Victoria`s left hand, which had been broken off and stolen, along with her nose, fingers and cross from her crown some years ago. 

Replacing the George and dragon orb was very difficult, as no documentation on it could be found, apart from an old grainy black and white photograph.

So someone has placed an obedient and somewhat comical little figure (which certainly doesn’t resemble a saint) on that sphere and affixed a sort of fake nose to Victoria. How on earth can such casual treatment of a heritage that is so important in a supposedly perfectionist Anglophile culture take place?

No, here we really stumble upon the core enigma. That little figure, that fake nose. They have all the money in the world, but the statue of their own family right outside their door gets this treatment.

The matriarch, in the form of Queen Victoria, is presented here as a postmodern Sphinx. She is powerful and majestic, but also shrouded in mystery and deception. Her power is solid but elusive. Is the matriarchal Sphinx, like the Egyptian version, a guardian of enigmas? Is the nonchalance, the ‘careless whisper’, the secret she guards?

And then there is that little figure. In his innocent smallness, he seems insignificant, almost irrelevant. But he is placed at the heart of power, as a silent witness to the spectacle. Is he a symbol of submission, or is he the quiet, seemingly unimportant figure who speaks the truth that everyone else overlooks?

The inconspicuous little man, the fake nose, the careless whisper – these are all subtle hints that point to a deeper truth. They suggest a denial of traditional, rigid forms of power and authority. They are part of a postmodern version of matriarchy, in which classic power willingly adorns itself with a fake nose and a gnome to enable its own survival.

Hitler sounded like Donald Duck. In the 1980s, when the opiates on which the Vacation Empire full of entities with dream lives floats were created – then formed in the heart of the old matriarchy with the motherly Churchill, whose round face was continuously penetrated, indeed, impregnated by a cigar – yes, Anglia and her careless whisper, Guilty feet have got no rhythm

Though it’s easy to pretend I know you’re not a fool

It’s easy to put on a fake nose. The truth hurts, and so we might as well pretend that we are really moving.

Trusting the expert’s fake nose?

In the documentary ‘Wham’, a disturbing scene emerges around the song Careless Whisper. George had enlisted the crème de la crème of producers to immortalize this song but was confronted with a result that could not warm his soul. Tasteless. He relegated this production to the background, personally financed a new recording, complete with a broad brass ensemble, and this performance evolved into the monster hit he had envisioned.

Hence, he trusted his own feeling more than ‘the experts’.

Could this be the crux of the problem for the gentlemen and ladies of Buckingham Palace? That nose, could it not have been a matter of pecuniary importance? I have seldom seen a statue so malformed in my life. Does the cause lie in an unchecked trust in ‘the expert’?

During the coronavirus crisis, we saw a similar phenomenon: an unlimited naïve trust in ‘the expert’, while there were absolutely no ‘experts’ in the field of a new coronavirus, and the people who eagerly took on the role of expert took the playbooks for flu and tuberculosis off the shelf.

Relying on the expert. But I would then have to accept that one believes so deeply in this expert that one can no longer distinguish that it is a fake nose. I dare not rule out this possibility: a fanatic does indeed live in his own psychotic world. In that world, this is a perfect nose, for it was created by a real expert. Does this explain the strange presence of the gnome? Is that the incarnation of that expert? Or a grotesque attempt to distract the viewer’s gaze from the nose? Possibly ‘the expert’, after the failed creation of the nose, thought: darn it, I’m going to model a graceful little man so that the attention is less noticeable.

However, another possibility emerges, which perhaps seems more evident. Abuse is a central leitmotif at Buckingham Palace. Day after day, people are abused in the name of tradition; I am, of course, referring to the guard. I couldn’t bear to watch it for long, such a revolting form of schadenfreude. Given that this schadenfreude is so central to this carnivalesque building, it is not unlikely to assume that the abuse of one’s own family members is done deliberately, perhaps even to demonstrate that one possesses that power. The assertion of Might is Right is, after all, what the guard is all about.

You sit on a mountain of billions, but have a simple plumber model a fake nose. A grotesque display of the nonchalance that goes hand in hand with unlimited power. I fear that I have unmasked the true essence of this phenomenon here…

The truth and the nose share a paradoxical relationship. The nose, though a physical entity, carries an abstract meaning. Think of the story of Pinocchio, in which the nose grows as a symbol of lying and deception, while the truth, an immaterial concept, becomes physically tangible through the nose. It is an illustration of the duality of our existence, where the physical and metaphysical worlds meet and influence each other.

Indeed, I see three possibilities for this phenomenon. A psychotic trust in ‘the expert’. A demonstration of Might is Right. And then, in the realm of possibilities, there is a third option: a macabre rendition of Nikolai Gogol’s “The Nose”. Victoria’s nose, grotesquely enlarged, is in this scenario nothing more than a metaphor for the absurdity of power and the loss of personal identity therein. Just as the nose of Major Kovalyov in Gogol’s story mysteriously disappears from his face and begins a life of its own, in which it surpasses the Major in status, it is possible that Victoria’s fake nose tells a similar story – a tale of disconnection, alienation, and the loss of personal power in the face of impersonal institutions.

Looking at the art world, we are confronted with yet another dimension of this nose-truth dynamic. In the Tate Museum in London, there is a painting that illustrates the corresponding relationship between the nose and the truth in a quirky way – Picasso’s ‘The Woman with the Nose’. In this painting, the nose is magnified to absurd proportions, overshadowing the rest of the woman’s face. The artist plays here with conventional proportions and emphasizes the nose as the bearer of truth. Picasso’s painting echoes the theme of Gogol’s “The Nose” and the fake nose of Victoria’s statue, where the nose becomes a grotesque but powerful representation of the truth and absurdity of our lives.

In Poems to Read in the Dark, the play by Dmitri Shostakovich is also discussed, undoubtedly one of the highlights of world theater art. In Shostakovich’s opera, the major’s search for his nose provides a laughable yet deeply touching depiction of the human quest for truth and identity. The nose, now a freely roaming creature, becomes a grotesque personification of the truth, constantly on the move, and eluding those who pursue it.

And so we must cast our gaze upon this statue of Victoria, with her inescapably absurd fake nose. Could it be mere coincidence that in the era of the toupee boomers – an era marked by figures like Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, the era of the wild toupees – precisely in this era the old power is burdened with a fake nose and a gnome, a mockery that culminates in its absurdity in Brexit. My goodness, what an intriguing phenomenon one can observe if one does not let the gaze be distracted by a sadistic tourist spectacle for even a moment.

San Junipero

“San Junipero”, an episode from the highly acclaimed series “Black Mirror” on Netflix, is remarkably described on numerous internet sites as ‘one of the most optimistic episodes’ of the series – while I personally consider this episode one of the most disturbing.

In this specific episode, we are confronted with a virtual world in which the inhabitants, free from physical constraints and the burden of temporary existence, can be in a state of perpetual joy. This ideal image is described by many as a happiness bubble, a utopian paradise where the concept of suffering is an anachronism. But isn’t this perception essentially a grotesque deception?

The obsession with creating such happiness bubbles by technology companies is a frightening evolution. It seems a desperate attempt to create an archetypal dream consumer, an individual who can ‘block’ any unwanted reality with a single mouse click. This consumer chooses to immerse himself in fake happiness, while the real world, with its inherent pains and discomforts, slowly but surely fades away.

This dystopian landscape is reminiscent of the ‘happiness bubbles’ of holiday paradises, where the same tunes from the 80s reverberate endlessly for the pseudo-boomers, a generation that apparently enjoys this bubble of pseudo-happiness. Within this cocoon, there is no room for the millions of struggling musicians who are kept out of this feast of fake happiness. Despite their talent and dedication, they cannot find access to this exclusive world. Isn’t this a form of fascism, excluding and marginalizing those who do not fit within the narrowly defined parameters of the dream?

It is a prime example of what I have dubbed The Eternal Hazing: people who have to work hard all their lives, without this resulting in any access to actual power. You see it in the writers’ world, you see it in the art world, you see it in every world you focus your un-doped eyes on: here something has seized power and created an iron bubble of happiness, which is carefully shielded from new influences.

In the meantime, musicians can only survive by constantly performing – a circus that requires a huge amount of energy, both from the musician and nature, and thus accelerates climate change, but you hear nobody talking about that. Just like the climate knights are eerily silent about the massive increase in energy use behind ‘the internet of things’ or artificial intelligence: they act as if – indeed – the nose is bleeding..

This model is old – even in the past you saw that one artist (of the right political signature) was carried on hands and the other was allowed to chew on a stick. Totally unfair. But what is new about the modern form of this type of abuse is that the group that did get access to power is shrinking more and more, and the other group is growing explosively, into a huge Facebook ghetto full of ever-creating creatives without this ever having any impact on their societal success.

The Haves and The Have-Nots, with a big note that will be important here: one can wonder if The Haves can just become holograms and one can wonder if that has not been the case for quite some time already.

Martijn Benders, 28-29 july 2023, This will be part of my upcoming book ‘The Eternal Hazing’.

Martijn Benders has published twenty-six books, eighteen of which are in Dutch. He has been named one of the greatest talents of his time by critics like Komrij and Gerbrandy. He has also written three philosophical works, one of which is in English about the Amanita Muscaria, the Fly Agaric. Publishing on the international stage of The Philosophical Salon, he has also gained international recognition as one of the most remarkable thinkers from the Netherlands.