On Phonogram and Breaking Up with Bands


We need to talk about how Emily/Claire handles her depression in Phongram: The Immaterial Girl. It is central to the whole story. Her first solution was to revel in it– black is what she wears on the outside because black is how she feels on the inside (that joke is in the actual comic, right?)  She even had a dependence on self-harm. Her later solution was to excise depression from her body– by making the deal with The King Behind the Screen to take away the vulnerable, sad part of her personality. That choice has come back to haunt her. Ok, worse, it’s come back to destroy her.

In issue 3 she uses her grimoire/fanzine to travel back in time to confront Emily and Claire debate each otherher pre-teen self. There, we finally get the debate between both halves of the character’s personality over which has the best interest of her early pubescent self at heart. Each of her halves ask her pre-teen self: would you rather have success or integrity? Brilliance or Decadence? Decadence or Tasteful Decadence? What does barely pubescent Claire decide? She blows the question out of the door. She will be something better.
On the one hand depression absolutely gets in the way of living your life the way you’d like to. It’s not glamorous. On the other hand, completely compartmentalizing yourself is generally not regarded as a healthy approach. But on the third hand– and this is my favorite hand– do we even really believe in an “authentic self” anymore? If there is no authentic self then why not get rid of the parts of yourself that aren’t serving you well.

Perhaps, Emily’s real problem is that she’s decided to be mean. Perhaps compartmentalizing her depression away isn’t actually the problem at all.

You could argue that if she doesn’t love herself (herself which includes her depression) how could she love anyone else. But who’s to say that darkness is the important part of her personality? Aren’t her wit and her enthusiasms a more important part of her personality? She can be witty and have impeccable taste in indie music while still being a good friend. She just chooses not to and that’s the problem.

But as I said in my last review, I can’t talk about Phonogram without talking about my personal relationship to music because that’s what the comic is about.

Anyway, this scene above, of Emily/Claire ending her friendship with Indie Dave, and The Immaterial Girl #3 in general, reminds me of when I stopped listening to Leonard Cohen going in to my senior year of college. His music made me sad. I had too many sad associations with his songs. I also stopped listening to The Smiths not long after that. Before that The Smiths had been VERY important to me.

The first time I played The Smiths again in years and years was when I was first started dating my husband. We spent an inordinate amount of time teaching each other our music. Still do. I hadn’t played The Smiths in a lifetime but it was my responsibility to his cultural education in the ways of goth and indie that he get to hear them. So I put on the tape (yes, tape) and I sang along. And to quote Lou Reed “it was aaaalright.”

Today, on those rare occasions when I’m not pushing for full cock-rock-bombast I’ll sing a few songs by The Smiths songs at karaoke. I’m really good at them and it doesn’t make me sad anymore. It makes other people happy because I’m A. good and B. they remember being a teenager. But I still don’t listen to Leonard Cohen. In both cases I made the right choice. It didn’t require any surgery though. Just pruning my music collection. And spending less time with depressing people and more time with people that make me happy.

Anyway I’ll be back with a new essay about Phonogram probably right around when it concludes. Here’s my earlier piece covering issue 1 and 2 with nods to the earlier series. I promise that essay is waaay less introspective and way more informative.

PS: I’m that jerk who doesn’t like Total Eclipse of the Heart. Except when it’s a joke in The Mighty Boosh. I love that bit. But I won’t begrudge you playing it. I know that I’m the one that’s wrong.

(Oh, hey, it’s Spiral from X-Men! Because I made jokes about having three hands! Also Spiral is the best!)

Also, I was googling for a definition of “Authentic Self” to link to for those unfamiliar with psychology. Don’t google it. The internet is dark and full of new wave horrors. Just visit Spiral’s Body Shoppe. What could possssibly go wrong?