Dr. Terry Chafeshaft is back with an in depth look at the suffering and torment explored in the video We’re Not Going to Take It.
“We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister opens with five young sons eating dinner quietly with their parents in a dining room lit only by a harsh sunset outside. They sit and eat in awkward silence until one of the sons asks to be excused from the dinner table. The mother obliges and the son goes upstairs. The rest of the family continues to eat and a song begins to play upstairs. “I know what this is”, says the father, “that’s………….music,” he slowly concludes with confusion and disgust. It will become increasingly apparent that this is a profoundly deranged man who struggles to identify basic strata of reality and who becomes increasingly unable to discern the objective from his own tortured subjectivity.
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The father, identified as “Douglas C.” throws down his napkin in disgust and heads upstairs to confirm his suspicion that there is, in fact, music playing upstairs and not just in his own mind. We cut upstairs to the son, who is listening to loud music while thrashing about wildly and out of sync with a silent guitar. The father opens the door and the music stops (or was it ever playing at all?).
The son, startled and meek, is reprimanded by the still-confused Father who asks, “do you call this a room?”, further underscoring his fundamental disorientation. He then begins to paradoxically destroy the room as he demands that the son clean it up, berating him and chastising him for a mess that he is mockingly creating. He also demands that the son “straighten up,” along with a series of other militaristic demands regarding his personal dress. Douglas then notices a “Twisted Sister” poster on the floor, picks it up and asks, “what is that?”, obviously struggling to comprehend the two-dimensional nature of a photograph that represents the band, but is not the band itself. The father’s increasing rage only serves to disorient him further: “What kind of a man are you?” he asks, losing his conceptual grip even further on the most basic of taxonomic divisions. “You do nothing! You are nothing!” he asserts, denying the existence of the son in the most fundamental respect.
It is at the height of this tirade that we are given a piece of information that is vital to understanding the paranoid confusion of the father. “I carried an M-16 and you carry that, that, that, guitar!?”, cries the father with disgust and disbelief. It is now clear that the father is a shell-shocked veteran of some kind who is prone to hallucinations and paranoid fantasies. “Who are you?! Where do you come from?!” he asks, revealing the totality of his schizoid detachment from his own flesh and blood. He finally builds to the most existential of all questions, “What do you want to do with your life?”. The son takes a moment and then answers in a deep, now-pubescent voice: “I wanna rock!.” He then strikes a powerful chord on the guitar and it makes a sound that is undeniably real. The father is shaken by the visceral power of the electric guitar, and he falls (or perhaps unconsciously leaps) through a pane-glass second story window and lands on his back below. The mother rushes to his side and revives him with a bucket of water that she has (very presciently) prepared.
This has all been a set-up for what is clearly the most striking moment of the video; the son, now liberated temporarily from the authoritative gaze of his oppressive father, begins to dance rapidly in a circle until he transforms himself into a giant transvestite clown. He begins to sing the chorus “we’re not gonna take it” directly to the viewer over thunderous drums and cowbell. The father rushes back upstairs and cowers in front of the giant transvestite clown, his worst, most paranoid nightmare made manifest. The clown drags him down the stairs and returns to the dining room where he delivers a highly theatrical and rhetorical performance for the brothers, singing of his will-to-independence (“we’ve got the right to choose it, there ain’t no way to lose it” “this is our life!”, etc.) and then transforms the brothers into transvestite clowns themselves. The newly anointed cross-dressing performers then exit the house one-by-one, each hitting the father with the door on the way “out” (as it were) rejecting the bourgeois, militarized domesticity of his domain.
After the father loses and then regains consciousness, there is a time-lapse of unspecified length in which the sons have become a successful performing troupe and are now seen on a television broadcast in the very room they left seconds ago. They perform with energy and vigor in a non-descript medium sized venue as the audience nods their heads, violently and rapidly in enthusiastic affirmation of their efforts. In a deft adaptation of a classic clowning bit, the ridiculous has now become the norm: The drummer strikes a drum in slow motion and gold glitter goes flying; at once an act of brute-force and effusive, effeminate celebration.
In a notable transition, the concert shrinks on screen and reappears, two-dimensionally on a door in the home as if it were a poster. The harlequins then burst through their own image and slowly stalk the father as they continue to sing menacingly. The father then jumps (or is pushed) through another window and falls from the second story again only to be revived by the mother’s garden-hose gun.
We then cut back to the concert and the clowns continue to play: The drummer casts his sticks aside and proceeds to bash his drums with his fists in a primal tantrum in which adulation is courted through ritualized defiance. The singer sings to a slow-motion vision of his former self, reconciling his new identity as a fully actualized transvestite adult with his former, more timid child-self.
Meanwhile, on our other time-line, the father (more confused and desperate then even before) is seen climbing a tree with rope in an attempt to infiltrate a home that is no longer his. It is as though he is trying to return to his former, saner self, but is resorting to increasingly absurd and desperate measures to do so. He is now an intruder in his own home, a stranger in his own mind and enemy to his own family. This attempt fails miserably as he swings from the tree on a rope and crashes into the wall of his own home; essentially cast into the impermeable wall of his own insanity. He gives a deranged smile and falls unconscious yet again.
At the concert, the clowns play a harmonized guitar solo, expressing solidarity in their new identities, while the main clown is seen thrashing against an onstage fence, shaking off the lingering pain of his former bourgeois child-hood. As the group and crowd sing the chorus together, the camera cuts to a brief wide shot that reveals that the crowd is actually relatively modest in size, if not in their enthusiasm.
There is another jump-cut back to the house; The brothers continue to sing and stalk the father, who (now wary of windows) stands by the wall as they approach him. He then jumps through the wall backwards (his psychotic break complete) and lands on his back for a final time. He and the ever-loyal mother then have a mutual hallucination as they see five UFOs cross the sky: They look in utter bewilderment as their alien sons fly toward the viewer and slowly mutate into the TS (trans?) logo.
Clearly, this is a narrative about a paranoid schism between opposing realities informed by notions of mutable gender and identity. The father, in the throes of mental illness, becomes increasingly paranoid and hostile toward his own son. His militarized, conservative sense of masculinity and order combine with his latent coulrophobia (fear of clowns) and transphobia to manifest in increasingly vivid hallucinations where his sons transform into cross-dressing clowns and turn against him in an Oedipal coup. They also humiliate him successfully and publicly with their primitive song of independence, and the mother (while consistently there to revive him with life-giving water) cannot restore him to a state of sanity. His personal demons manifest themselves as too-absurd-to-be-real grotesques whose defiance seems to be increasingly rewarded as it intensifies. The only thought he can maintain is in fact a painful one: These are his sons under the wigs and clown make-up, singing mockingly of his own loss of control.
Some researchers estimate that 12% of the population is coulrophobic, and most scientists agree that the heart of the phobia is in not knowing who lies beyond the excessive make-up and hair, and in the clowns construction of a new identity using exaggerated features. Obviously, Douglas is experiencing a psychotic break in which these fears are projected onto his sons, rendering them absurd and alien to his embattled perception. These projections, when combined with his innate dread of an Oedipal threat, his confusion in the presence of music, and his rigid conception of masculinity prove to be to much for him to handle when his son, when asked of his life’s ambitions, tells his unstable father that he “wants to rock.”
Dr. Terry Chafeshaft
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