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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: Chant of the Ever-Circling Skeletal Family

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`Chant of the Ever-Circling Skeletal Family`, which comes right after Big Brother takes over, is two minutes long. What else is two minutes long? How about the "Two Minutes Hate", the daily ritual from 1984? The Big Brother system in Orwell`s world is founded upon hate, and maintains itself by providing its citizens with objects to fear and hate, which it pretends to protect them from. In the Two Minute Hate, which every citizen is obliged to participate in, the people sit in front of a screen which projects these fearful images and they scream abuse at it for two minutes. Well, in Bowie`s world, the Big Brother system is founded on rock`n`roll, so the two minutes are not of hate, but of rhythm. It is a rock`n`roll charade – they are singing "shake it up, shake it up, move it up, move it up" in a rhythmic way, like many rock`n`roll songs do – but the rhythm isn`t joyful, it is mechanical. While the people participating in the Two Minutes Hate are turned into "a grimacing, screaming lunatic", the people here are turned into automatons. Instead of becoming more alive, they have become cogs in the machine.

In Orwell`s story, when the Two Minutes Hate are over, the face of Big Brother appears on the screen, to provide the people with reassurance that he is there to protect them. Orwell tells us that "at this moment the entire group of people broke into a deep, slow, rhythmical chant of `B-B! ...B-B!` - over and over again, very slowly, with a long pause between the first `B` and the second - a heavy, murmurous sound, somehow curiously savage, in the background of which one seemed to hear the stamp of naked feet and the throbbing of tom-toms. For perhaps as much as thirty seconds they kept it up. It was a refrain that was often heard in moments of overwhelming emotion. Partly it was a sort of hymn to the wisdom and majesty of Big Brother, but still more it was an act of self-hypnosis, a deliberate drowning of consciousness by means of rhythmic noise". Something similar happens here, as the record ends with a stuck-needle effect, repeating "Bro! Bro! Bro! Bro!" - which, of course, connects us to the hip lingo of the sixties. The Hippie revolutionaries, borrowing from African-American talk, would call each other "brother" or "bro" to signify their brotherhood and the utopian brotherhood-of-man that they were going to bring. Well, this is what their utopia would come to in Bowie`s vision: their language of brotherhood would become language for worshipping Big Brother. They will indeed be a family, but, instead of growing and progressing they will be ever-circling, instead of alive and healthy they will be skeletal, and instead of singing rhythmic songs of joy they will be chanting repetitive hymns of servitude. Fade out.

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