Sunday, November 8, 2009

Janie's Got A Gun and Justified Private Violence

Twenty years ago, Boston-based rock band Aerosmith released its highly successful album Pump. Amongst Pump's various tracks was the Grammy award-winning song (and MTV award winning music video directed by David Fincher) Janie's Got A Gun (JGAG). The song highlighted a significant social and legal issue - sexual abuse and incest. JGAG conveys the narrative of the song's protagonist Janie who kills her father for having raped her (presumably not for the first time).

In this blog post, I want to briefly explore how the song deals with the idea of private violence in a familial context. In JGAG, there are fundamentally two acts of familial violence that transpire:, where one causally leads to the other: 1) a father raping his daughter; and 2) the daughter killing her father, both in response to and in order to stop prospective rapes by him against her.

The father and his acts are accurately characterized for what they are - as unjustifiable and wrongful. The rape of one's own child (and anyone else for that matter) is an act of a troubled and disturbed mind - although not necessarily a product of legal insanity. This is conveyed in the following lyrics:

What did her daddy do?
He jacked a little bitty baby
The man has got to be insane
They say the spell that he was under the
lightning and the thunder knew that
someone had to stop the rain
Although Janie is a teenager (as suggested at least in the music video), the father's death is justifiably violent - as justification for raping a "little bitty baby". It also conveys the power imbalance that exists between a parent and child, even when that child is a teenager.

Janie's violence is justified as more than just an act of retribution. It is also presented as a form of remedial action and prospective self-defence. She is the "someone" who "had to stop the rain." As with many individuals who suffer from private violence, there is a fear of revealing it to others only to be disbelieved or to have no action taken to stop it.

They said when Janie was arrested they
found him underneath a train
But man he had it coming
Now that Janie's got a gun she ain't never
gonna be the same.


She had to take him down easy and put a
bullet in his brain
She said cause nobody believes me
The man was such a sleaze, he ain't never
gonna be the same.
Janie in this narrative is not presented as just an object of her father's madness/lust/desire, but she is also an agent who takes control of that which causes her utmost pain. Notwithstanding and perhaps in spite of her father's depravity and metaphorical insanity, her agency is nevertheless manifested through a sense of humanity - by taking him down easy and putting a bullet in his brain. One could easily imagine more painful, deserved and vengeful instantiations.

Janie's actions taken against her father are analogous to those who suffer from Battered Spouse Syndrome, where the act of violence waged against an abusive spouse leading to the latter's death does not take place at the time of or in expectation of an imminent attack. It occurs while the abuser is or might be caught unaware of his/her impending death- perhaps even after an abusive act has transpired. In the music video for JGAG, Janie kills her father while he sits in his study, after having just raped her.

The song does not reveal Janie's ultimate fate following her arrest. The song does however convey, intended or otherwise, a sense of justice, retribution and self-defence through Janie's actions.

No comments: