The Mouth in Franz Ferdinand’s “Darts of Pleasure”
The music video for Franz Ferdinand’s 2003 single “Darts of Pleasure” is about seeing the world through the mouth. It follows singer Alex Kapranos through various tasks (e.g., brushing his teeth, band practice, sitting at the pub, attending a party) and alternates between showing Kapranos and showing the world from his perspective. Unlike most perspective shots, which position the camera as the subject’s eyes, the camera in “Darts of Pleasure” is positioned inside Kapranos’s mouth. The mouth becomes the centre of seeing. Furthermore, Kapranos uses his mouth to engage with the world around him. Peter Brooks argues that displays of the body are “used to define what is human” (4). One can learn more about what it means to be human by looking at the body. This is always a self-reflexive exercise, as a person defining what it is to be human is necessarily exploring the self. “Darts of Pleasure” explores the mouth in particular as a nexus of selfhood. It defines what is human by looking at the mouth specifically. This essay discusses the mouth in relation to the human body in terms of its significant functions: eating, speaking,singing, kissing, and sex. It explores how these functions contribute to the development of the self, the expression of the self, and the act of connecting the self to the other.
Mouths need to be cleaned. “Darts of Pleasure” begins with Kapranos brushing his teeth, which perhaps signifies the start of his day. The act of brushing teeth is a small act of taking care of the self and preparing the self for a new day. The camera alternates between the mirror in front of the sink and the inside of Kapranos’s mouth, where the viewer intimately sees the bristles scrub the foamy toothpaste on his teeth. Before beginning to brush, Kapranos spends some time observing himself, clenching his jaw and opening his mouth to look inside. The mirror in this scene is significant as Brooks—building on Jacques Lacan—describes the infantile mirror stage, stating that the “infant perceives his or her image in the mirror, and perceives it as unitary, whole, while the infant’s inner sense of self remains incoherent, unformed, incompletely separated from its surroundings” (14). Laura Mulvey argues that the mirror stage is when children “imagine their mirror image to be more complete, more perfect than they experience in their own body” (17). The infant is unable to grapple with its whole physical self in contrast with the incoherent inner self. While Brooks and Mulvey are writing about the child’s primary contact with the mirror, this relationship between the human and mirror persists throughout adulthood. The mirror constantly poses a crisis of identity. Mulvey elaborates on this, arguing that the mirror “is an image that constitutes the matrix of the imaginary, of recognition/misrecognition and identification, and hence of the first articulation of the I, of subjectivity” (18). Kapranos therefore looks in the mirror, imagining who he could be, which is different from the self that he does see in the mirror. “Darts of Pleasure” therefore uses its opening scene to establish that it is a video about the consideration of identity and how the self is formed through various gazes.
Mouths are for eating. “Darts of Pleasure” demonstrates this in a sequence where Kapranos is at a pub with his bandmates. He takes a gulp of beer, then he pops a crisp into his mouth and starts chewing it. These close-up shots of Kapranos’s mouth consuming food and drink are slightly unnerving to watch. Brooks argues that such displays of the body are “used to define what is human” (4), and the video poses eating and drinking as acts that define what it is to be human. They fulfill a biological need; the body requires sustenance. However, the practice of consumption is not entirely biological because, as Kapranos argues in his 2005 book Sound Bites: Eating on Tour with Franz Ferdinand, we create narratives in our processes of eating and drinking. The first essay in the collection, entitled “Curious Nibbling,” recounts a childhood experience in which Kapranos tastes various snacks that his parents had prepared for a house party: “More exploring. I’m curious to find out what tastes good. Crisps do—I know that already, so I eat them, enjoying the salt and the crunchy bites” (9). He then tries a cube of cheese: “I suck on one, even though I know it won’t be good. It isn’t, so I put it back in the bowl. Grown-ups’ food. Horrible” (Kapranos 10). He frames nibbling as a form of exploration, a curious journey to find the self. This is reinforced by his depiction of cheese as food for grown-ups, incompatible with his childhood self. The child Kapranos then tries a peanut for the first time and discovers he has a severe allergy after consequently drooling, puking, and shitting himself (11). He reflects on this experience: “I think about the food—its flavours and how it felt in my mouth, how different each thing was, how it could taste of joy, revulsion or painful destruction. I don’t think of it as a thing that stops me from being hungry. I know it is much more than that. Food is an adventure” (Kapranos 11). In this sense, eating is not only a biological act but also a narrative act. Brooks argues that “we are forever striving to make the body into a text” (7) by applying meaning or narratives to its functions. Kapranos certainly does this in Sound Bites. Furthermore, “Darts of Pleasure” ends with Kapranos proclaiming “Ich heiße Super Fantastische / Ich Trinke Schampus mit Lachsfisch” (2:28-34), which roughly translates to “My name is Super Fantastic / I drink champagne with salmon.” His acts of drinking champagne and eating salmon qualify his new identity as Super Fantastische. Consumption becomes central to the declaration of the self. The mouth is a tool for exploration—the development of the self—by eating.
Mouths are for speaking. Like eating, speech is a bodily act. Yet speech is primarily symbolic, as Brooks argues: “the most highly elaborated symbolic structures and discursive systems no doubt ultimately derive from bodily sensations. Yet these structures and systems move us away from the body, as any use of signs must necessarily do” (7). Speech is communicative, not biological. Speech is therefore a tool used to discuss the body rather than to engage with it, although it ironically requires body parts (teeth, tongue, lips) to function. Speech is also how one expresses the self. Despite “Darts of Pleasure” being primarily in English, Kapranos starts singing in German—a shift in speech—during the bridge, when the song becomes about the singer establishing his new identity as Super Fantastische. Furthermore, seduction—the act of closing the gap between the self and the other—relies on speech. The chorus of “Darts of Pleasure” closes the gap between self and other through an unexpected metaphor: “You can feel my lips undress your eyes / Undress your eyes, undress your eyes / Words of love and words so leisured / Words are poisoned darts of pleasure / Die and so you die” (0:42-1:06). The song foregrounds the mouth over the eyes. The functions of the mouth overpower the looking that the eyes can perform. It additionally ascribes an element of danger to the seductive “Words of love” that the mouth can speak. The video emphasizes the danger of the mouth: there is a low-angle shot in which Kapranos enters the band practice space and faces his nervous-looking band members (0:42). The camera is positioned in such a way that his mouth protrudes from the rest of his face, emphasizing it as his centre for looking and—considering his facial expression—conveying the mouth as the most threatening part of his body. While speaking can be a form of seduction, it is always preceded by the threat—or promise—of bodily contact. If the video portrays Kapranos’s mouth as threatening, it is essential to explore what it is threatening to do.
Mouths are for sex. The mouthy gaze in “Darts of Pleasure” is intensely erotic. Brooks, citing Georges Bataille, argues that “each individual feels himself or herself as discontinuous, and the erotic—the attempt to know another through breaching the lonely confines of one’s own body—marks an effort to know, if only momentarily, a kind of continuity with others” (8). Whereas consumption is about knowing the self, the erotic is about knowing others in relation to the self. Kapranos kisses various women in the video. There are close-up shots of puckered lips approaching his and at one point a tongue reaches for his own (2:32). Due to the perspective shots from his mouth, these actions are represented with maximal visibility. As with the eating, these shots are slightly unnerving. They are also erotic. The act of kissing closes the gap between the self and the other: the self touches the other while the other touches the self. This interrelation of the self and other is integral to the gaze in cinema.
Perhaps a viewer can find enjoyment in this gaze. Laura Mulvey argues that cinema offers the pleasure of scopophilia: there is pleasure in the very act of looking. She conceptualizes the male gaze, and then argues that cinema conditions its viewer to adopt the male gaze regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. Accordingly, in cinema, “the meaning of woman is sexual difference, the visually ascertainable absence of the penis” (Mulvey 21). Although the woman’s absence of a penis poses an opportunity for castration anxiety to be expressed, the woman is instead viewed as a source of pleasure and an erotic object. Perhaps the viewer imagines having sex with the woman, supplying the missing phallus. Mulvey argues that “the woman as icon, displayed for the gaze and enjoyment of men, the active controllers of the look, always threatens to evoke the anxiety it originally signified” (21). The anxiety that women provoke is certainly represented in “Darts of Pleasure” in the shot in which the camera pans from the band practicing to a group of women exercising in the same space, looking at the band as they practice (2:15). The women are engaging in masculine tasks (e.g., using exercise machines, lifting weights) and are looking at the band in judgment. They are also larger in number: seven women opposing the four men. While a viewer could certainly find pleasure in looking at them, the women still challenge the idea of men being the “active controllers of the look” (Mulvey 21) within the music video. The women are positioned in the corner of the practice space in such a way that they can look at the band, but the band cannot see them while they are practicing. The band members become the sexualized objects of the erotic gaze. Furthermore, the opening scene of “Darts of Pleasure” (in which Kapranos is brushing his teeth and looking at the mirror) frames the man as the object of the erotic gaze for the viewer. Not only is he gazing at himself, but the viewer is gazing at him as a sex object as he is shirtless throughout the entire sequence. The music video therefore complicates the gendered dynamics of the male gaze and poses men as objects to be looked at in pleasure.
“Darts of Pleasure” further disrupts the heteronormativity of Mulvey’s theory by posing Kapranos—who exhibits attraction to women and men—as the gazer within the video. While there is certainly an element of looking at women for pleasure, there is a notable sequence where Kapranos’s bandmates see him as a sexual threat. There are various shots of him aiming his mouth at his band members as they are playing their instruments. In one shot, he turns to the guitarist Nick McCarthy; this is followed by a close-up shot of McCarthy’s crotch (1:43). This shot can be read as a reversal of the male gaze, as it is premised upon the presence of McCarthy’s penis in his trousers rather than the absence of one altogether. The absence of the phallus is transferred to the gaze itself: the empty mouth yearning for oral sex. The close-up shot of McCarthy’s cock represents what is missing from Kapranos’s mouth. The shots of the microphone approaching Kapranos’ mouth also suggest fellatio more explicitly, considering its phallic shape. After all, a mouth can be considered a hole that needs to be filled. Kapranos’s mouth becomes a representation of the threat of castration; it is the empty space missing the penis. “Darts of Pleasure” therefore frames the mouth as an erotic object that represents the self desiring the other, establishing continuity with others to repair the boundedness of the self.
By placing the camera within Kapranos’s mouth, “Darts of Pleasure” emphasizes how the self interacts with the world through the mouth. Eating and speaking are acts that are used to define the self. Meanwhile, acts of seduction rely on the mouth to build continuity between the self and the other. By exploring the mouth in terms of its functions of eating, speaking, and sex, this essay poses the mouth as crucial to the development of the self. It is through understanding the functions of the mouth that we begin to understand our narratives about being human, about self-expression, and about our relationships with others.
Brooks, Peter. “Narrative and the Body.” Body Work: Objects of Desire in Modern Narrative, Harvard University Press, 1993, pp. 1-27.
Franz Ferdinand. “Darts of Pleasure (Video).” YouTube, 24 Nov. 2009, www.youtube.com/watch?v=wznMbAkyBHQ.
Franz Ferdinand. “Darts of Pleasure.” Franz Ferdinand, Domino Recording Co., 2004. Spotify, open.spotify.com/track/7h0jDykw4RpWFqUhZQuElW?si=11cb49a5b8d947b2.
Kapranos, Alex. Sound Bites: Eating on Tour with Franz Ferdinand. London, Penguin, 2007.
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Visual and Other Pleasures, Indiana University Press, 1989, pp. 14-26.
Date submitted: October 14, 2022
Date accepted: November 25, 2022
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