by Helene Marie Thian
Fashion theorist Yuniya Kawamura defines ‘fashion-ology’ as the social science of understanding fashion from a critical thinking perspective (2005). The fashion-focused work of sociologists and theorists concerned with fashionology, along with Jungian psychology’s symbolic analysis of psychic manifestations, provides a framework to elucidate major points concerning David Bowie’s radical fashion proposals for his on-stage persona Ziggy Stardust.
Ziggy Stardust is the Third Man, an Androgyne who appeared on the rock music stage in the 1970s as if solely to expand the definition of masculinity by wearing gender-bending dress and adornment. Ziggy Stardust-as-Androgyne provided male youths in the postwar era the vision of an alternative to the established male role model of the patriarch in his uniform of a suit, and all that male suiting represented, thus spearheading a subcultural movement which included one David Jones who, in 1965, came to call himself David Bowie, thereby reacting against sacrosanct gender, class, and social norms. Bowie’s utilisation of the Ziggy Stardust character for his rock shows is an illustration of Butler’s theory of performativity (1990) as determinative of gender, or to be more specific, illustrative of non-heteronormativity as Butler maintained that gender assignment is a result of repeated performance by individuals from childhood of masculinity or femininity, and not biologically determined. Ziggy Stardust acts as a lightning rod for the power discourse, in line with Foucauldian thought, between the normative power establishment and individual, working class males in the postwar West, and played a not insignificant role in igniting the debate on the meaning and representation of masculinity and dress for men. This Third Man was the solution to the ‘tension of the opposites,’ as C. G. Jung (1956:63) would describe it. Ziggy Stardust was neither patriarch nor ineffectual boy but an androgynous subcultural figurehead for males postwar in the West in line with Hebdige’s (1979) theory of subcultures.
Power and the Body
The resulting push against the patriarchy’s established power structure is characterized by a paradigm in which its very undoing, or at the very least its modification, is inherent and dormant: the reaction against that power structure and what Foucault calls ‘the discourse’ on power. He argued that power and knowledge are inter-related and that every human relationship is a struggle and negotiation of power (Entiwistle, 2000:16-17). And that there is a push-me-pull-you power struggle involving personal desire pitted against ‘moral norms’ (Foucault, 1980:56 in Entwistle, 2000:18). These ‘reverse discourses’ have the effect of denigrating and marginalizing those who dare to buck the status quo but can form the underpinning for established categories of accepted dress and behavior which heretofore had no label because such was not only non-existent but unthinkable, such as “the homosexual” (Entwistle, 2000:18).
In the writings of psychologist Alfred Adler, the notion of the will to power takes precedence and shares some commonality with the philosophy of Friederich Nietzsche, whose work also greatly influenced Foucault. The idea that human beings are striving to assert themselves at all times is key in Adlerian thought and that hypothesis can be linked to Foucault’s notion of power centered in the physical body. By Adlerian standards, however, human beings are striving not just for assertion of their physicality but to manifest individual consciousness.
Jung postulated that the very existence of dualities, or opposites, as in the Chinese concept of Yin and Yang, produces that tension of the opposites. The powerful patriarch has a Shadow, or, the suppressed, ineffectual, and feminized masculine or ‘sissy boy.’ In order to find a resolution for the tension, what Jung called ‘the Third’ is required. Between the two extreme proposals for masculine sexuality and gender identity lies the resolution to the standoff, the Third Man as Ziggy Stardust. Ziggy arrived on the scene in the early 1970s and posed an important question to the society-at-large in the West: what does it mean at base to be a man?
The Third Man was, metaphorically -speaking, from outer space, thus no accident that Bowie’s space age alien called himself and his band ‘Ziggy and the Spiders from Mars.’ It is apropos that Mars is the Greek god of war for Ziggy created a firestorm, both in the moment on stage and long term in the realm of men’s dress in the West. This was the first encounter with the ‘outer space’ dress of Japan, and dress that was not only alien but feminized, such as a Madame Butterfly-esque kimono and knitted, body-revealing leotards and bodysuits by designer Kansai Yamamoto fit for a Japanese Bond girl in the 1967 film You Only Live Twice.
The body invested with the power in the 1970s by male youth in postwar England was David Jones-as-David Bowie, whose thin, pale, gender-ambiguous physical body made it easy for him to adopt a persona of an androgynous space alien Ziggy Stardust, and as the lyrics to the song Rock ‘n Roll Star say, ‘play the part’ (Bowie, 1972). His thin, white body with little physical girth or ponderousness represented the social group of unacknowledged white male youths in postwar England who were like ghosts themselves, living in a liminal space as not full-fledged, salaried breadwinners in suits but yet no longer children.
Ziggy’s persona also helped crystallize a ‘look’ and set up a platform, including platform shoes, for a publicly visible and identifiable gay male population which was on the cusp of emerging and needed a subculture figurehead, shaping a new image of the desirable male for heterosexual young women but leaving the glam clothing and makeup to the more alternative fashion-oriented male heterosexual and gay and bisexual males. ‘Fashion is obsessed with gender, defines and redefines the gender boundary’ (Wilson, 2003:117). David Bowie-as-Ziggy Stardust defined and redefined heteronormative gender boundaries and in a most public fashion. Bowie’s exercise of power, which was bestowed on him by the dynamic of a youthful generation postwar interacting with patriarchal forces, gave homage, ironically, to femininity, which had little to no power in terms of traditional men’s dressing, and loosened the bonds of a restrictive patriarchy-determined life as represented by the men’s suit. This exercise of power can be viewed as a result of the process of Symbolic Interactionism, described as the process of social change occurring when ‘collective mood, taste and sensitivity ignite and implode’ (Davis, 1992: 119).
David Bowie created the Ziggy Stardust persona for his musical performances in the 1970s, and it was a complete creation and a fait accompli. She/he was clothed, coiffed, and made up androgynously with Kabuki theatre-style makeup for the onnagata, or actors who play women’s roles; platform shoes fit for Carmen Miranda; and bodysuits, geisha-esque robes and unisex outfits. ‘The very style of this stage persona [of David Bowie] challenged the categories of masculine and feminine by pointing to the cultural construction of gender’ (Cole, 2002:1).
Ziggy Stardust concretized for the collective the reverse discourse on masculine power vis-à-vis the established notion of masculinity, the paramount question of the nature of what it means to be a human being in a body with both, as Jung maintained, masculine and feminine, or contrasexual, identities (1956). Ziggy Stardust-as-Androgyne also mirrored and embodied,the postwar angst of dispirited youths struggling to assert themselves as against the patriarchy which had been at the helm during war time and offered no effective solutions postwar to better the lives of the working class or provide opportunities for creative self-actualization to youth, both male and female. Bowie’s lyrics in the song Ziggy Stardust stated quite clearly what the logical outcome would be if the Kierkegaardian despair of postwar British youths could not be assuaged, ‘When the kids had killed the man, I had to break up the band’ (Bowie, 1972). Bowie himself stated in 1993 that the inspiration for the development of Ziggy was the book Wild Boys by William S. Burroughs, featuring “…marauding boy gangs… and their Bowie knives. I read everything into everything. Everything had to be infinitely symbolic.” (Harvey, 1996-2007), (Bowie, 1993).
The mandate to conform to the then ideal of the waged working man was issued by the ruling establishment in the power discourse and directed to anyone deemed a man who would potentially oppose it. That discursive exchange on the outlines and limits of self-definition for men was initiated by youth subculture in the UK in the postwar period, and subsequently in other nations, by way of Ziggy Stardust’s dress as the means for the discourse. As Edwards notes in Cultures of Masculinity, ‘…masculinity is increasingly all about artifice, appearance, and dressing up, or in short, performance.’ (2006:114) One’s art and artifice could create one’s reality, or so it was hoped, and forge a new man and a new reality for him, or in the words of that old saw, ‘Clothes make the man.’
Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust character was a cross-cultural creation built by bricolage, foreshadowing the arrival of the era of globalization and postmodernism. Bricoleur Davie Bowie dressed in Noh theatre-inspired costumes by Kansai, wore Japanese Kabuki theatre makeup, and thus created a Third Man representing both East and West, at once both cultures and yet neither alone, both sexes and yet neither alone, the penultimate postmodern human being.
He/she wore Carmen Miranda-esque platform shoes; sported an electric red mullet hairstyle which resembles the red wig worn by Kabuki actors portraying a lion, and referred to within the lyrics of Ziggy Stardust as ‘screwed down hairdo, like some cat from Japan’ (Bowie, 1972), along with Kabuki-style makeup, adding contrasexual elements to dress for men mined from the dress history treasure house of the East. The notoriously famous English eccentrics associated with sexually ambiguous dress styles constituted a subculture reacting to the heavy emphasis on Victorian morals in England, and a similar subculture existed in Berlin in the 1920s and Paris in the 1930s (Cole, 2011). Bowie as Ziggy in his sexually ambiguous dress can be characterized as an English eccentric, who spearheaded the creation of a Third Man subculture.
There was a confusing aura about Ziggy, an androgyne who made blatant sexual overtures onstage to male band member Mick Ronson but sang about sexual escapades with females in the song Suffragette City, providing evidence for the reverse discourse, for who could imagine a waged worker in de rigeur suit and tie speaking and acting like that publicly? Bowie was emphasising performativity (Butler, 1990) and repudiating the pull of the habitus, or socially prescribed norms of behavior and thought (Bordieu, 1984:170), in order to individuate (Jung, 1971), and simultaneously mirroring the efforts of postwar youths to individuate, to evolve beyond the confines of predictable class, gender, and sexual stereotypes. ‘Thus, David Bowie revealed the artifice lurking behind the veneer of authenticity in identities of all kinds, both on and off stage. This was seen to be an authentic creative act’ (Miller, 2011:138).
Bowie-as-Ziggy Stardust, as copied by postwar males, attempted to reclaim the power which the patriarchy had vested entirely in working men in suits. The suited figure of a man was no longer the symbol of a valid ideal for the male populace postwar, particularly not for the working class who would never end up as white collar workers anyway. So many young men had suffered a loss of life due to the war, which can ultimately be seen as the loss of scores of male bodies ready to wear patriarchy-approved apparel and act in line with patriarchal values. This meant that an alternative dress for men was needed which incorporated traditionally feminine signifiers into men’s fashion and ultimately, into a more prominent place in the male consciousness to dilute the disastrous effects of prescribed values, as represented by dress, for men. Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust integrated a diluted version of the geisha into his/her persona by way of Kansai Yamamoto’s Japanese costume designs. ‘It was believed that the investment in the body by power had to be “heavy, ponderous, meticulous, and constant” ‘ but this changed in the mid-twentieth century to a ‘ “looser” form of power over the body and new investments in sexuality’ (Entwistle, 2000:17-18, referencing Foucault, 1980:57-8). Power was being asserted through dress by youth subculture proposing an alternative identity for men, The Third Man.
Butler emphasised performativity (1990) as the basis of gender determination, and the assignment of gender is thus made in line with continually repeated acting out, or performativity, of gender roles. Ziggy Stardust publicly performed both masculine and feminine body languages aided in no small part by dressing and adorning him/herself in ways that signified both femininity and masculinity. This emblematic representation of both masculinity and femininity through performativity and dress is evidence of the increasing appearance of hermaphroditic representation in British society since the 1970s when David Bowie was performing as Ziggy Stardust.
…such imagery can be connected to, and indeed generated by,
specific movements in society, such as Gay… awareness, the
perceived decline of traditional patriarchal values, the increased
blurring of the roles of the sexes, and issues concerning gender.
Working class youth in postwar UK society who were followers of Bowie and his Ziggy Stardust creation were ‘…challenging at a symbolic level the “inevitability,” the “naturalness,” of class and gender stereotypes’ (Hebdige, 1979:88-89). The working class young men no longer wanted to ‘act like men,’ for the result had been the war and the subsequent loss of hope in Britain that the working class stiff would ever be anything but that or conscripts for the next war. As if acting out the adage that what one is what one does, then the ‘Bowie-ites’ (Hebdige, 1979:88), must have known, if only unconsciously, that dressing and performing as Androgynes would be a strong attempt to protest the relegation of the working class male to waged work without creativity and obedience to social mores and directives predetermined in line with the pat definition of masculine identity based on traditional dress.
Fashion is dress in which the key feature is rapid and continual changing of styles. Fashion, in a sense is change… In one epoch men parade in ringlets, high heels, and rouge, at another to do so is to court outcast status and physical abuse (Wilson, 2003:3, 6).
In the DADA art movement of the 1920s, Tristan Tzara’s robes-poèmes were dress designs interspersed with colours and texts, with the elements coming together in different ways depending upon the wearer’s movements. ‘The Eternally Feminine,’ for example, featured an “I” at the crook of the arm and an “e” at the fingers. (English, 2007:45) This Tzara work and Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust the Androgyne illustrate that fashion is an art for the human body, and as the body itself is an ever-changing construct, fashion is a quintessentially human art form as it, too, is body-based and ever changing and is a means to display the degree of incorporation of the contrasexual (Tacey, 2012) in the psyche. Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust is the penultimate example of the dance of the sexes in dress form and in the psyche of the human being.
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HELENE MARIE THIAN
A New Orleans native, Helene Marie Thian, J.D., M.A. is a fashion historian and Japan Specialist, a graduate With Distinction from the History and Culture of Fashion postgraduate programme at University of the Arts London/London College of Fashion and Pasold Research Fund grant recipient. She contributed her research to the V&A Museum for the ‘David Bowie Is…’ exhibition, is acknowledged in the exhibition catalogue and spoke at the Bowie Weekender. Her article on the influence of Japonism on the costuming for David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust is included in David Bowie: Critical Perspectives (Routledge, 2015), and her paper analysing Bowie’s customised jacket worn while in the band The Konrads is included in Enchanting David Bowie (Bloomsbury Press, 2015). On the occasion of Bowie’s death, Helene was interviewed by the BBC Singapore for an online article and by PRI’s Marco Werman for The World, a nationally broadcast radio program in the US. She had the privilege in 1978 of communing in a private gathering with Bowie post-concert in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and chauffeured him at his request. [to read more: https://www.davidbowieblackstar.it/helene-marie-thian-an-alien-in-louisiana/]