Paul McCarthy’s “Family Tyranny” (1987)

I’m supposed to either be reading Siegfried Kracauer’s “Basic Concepts” essay or sleeping right now but all I can think about is this clip we watched in class on Wednesday which was an excerpt from the documentary, The Destruction of the Body (2001) about Paul McCarthy’s work. The clip is an excerpt from a film called “Family Tyranny” that was originally made by said man in 1987.

I want to give fair warning that it’s explicit but at the same time it’s not? Well, at least it’s suggestive of something explicit… so if you’re squeamish… turn back now.

Here’s the clip:

I wanted to share in class my epiphany about the Saussurean effect of the screen in terms of how it functions as the imaginary divisionary line between the signifier and the signified, but it seemed to run counter to the class discussion at that point in time, and I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time nor hold the class back from the end of lesson, so I kept this to myself.

The thing is it keeps bouncing around in my brain and it’s distracting me both from my readings and sleep so I’m just going to put this out there since I HAVE A BLOG NOW, and THIS IS WHAT BLOGS ARE FOR – info-dumping, verbal diarhoea, a repository for every stray, random thought that enters one’s mind.

Anyway, as I watched the excerpted clip, I couldn’t help but think that “Family Tyranny” is about a father sodomizing his son. Yet, not once is this word mentioned in the clip. Instead, it’s the combination of the white-coloured fluid leaking out, overflowing and dripping down the sides of what looks to be a punctured melon as the figure in the video further grinds a funnel into it while creepily singing the words, “daddy comes home from work again, daddy comes home from work” to what seems to be the tune of a child’s nursery rhyme.

The whole clip falls so neatly into this chasm of infinite possibilities of meaning between the signifier and the signified because the signifiers on screen are clearly not human, it’s not a sex act that’s happening on screen, key words like ‘sodomy’ or ‘child abuse’ or ‘pedophilia’ aren’t used yet there are enough signifiers (white fluids, the grinding motion of the funnel, the nursery rhyme tune, and the anthropomorphizing (?) of the melon with the word ‘him’) to imply clearly its signified meaning.

I think the fact that the signified can be so clearly projected in the minds of the viewers despite its loosely set up signifiers speak to the ever expanding pool of signifiers that can be used to signify the body and various sex acts. This also draws attention to the symbolic and metaphorical nature of sex and the body as something that we see embedded in any number of things we see, and experiences we have in daily life regardless of whether there’s any actual sex or bodies involved.

And it’s transgressive too! Because clearly the pleasurable kick one gets out of intellectually unpacking something is not suppose to be the emotional reaction one feels towards sodomy or child abuse.

Just goes to show how easily our minds and emotions can be fooled and manipulated I guess.


2 thoughts on “Paul McCarthy’s “Family Tyranny” (1987)

  1. I guess the above-mentioned Saussurean effect might be similar to Kracauer’s explanation of film’s indeterminacy. By the way, I am curious of to which point your class discussion went since you mentioned you did not want to run counter to it.


    1. I can’t quite remember where we were at but I think discussion got cut quite abruptly in the last 20min because we went from the disturbing stuff to the absolutely awesome Green Porno collection with Isabella Rossellini narrating the secret sex lives of insects and animals in nature. Man… it was so good.


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