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The “Ulay Oh”: Music Video Analysis

The music video for the song How I became the bomb of Uwe Laysiepen (stage name Ulay) went viral by showing the reunion of two former lovers. Marina Abromovich, who is an artist, made a performance where she sat on a table with strangers and looked into their eyes for an hour. During the performance, Marina had a surprise encounter with her ex-lover, Ulay. This was their first meeting after 33 years of being apart. The meeting was filmed and accompanied by emotional music, so making the video popular. The lyric of the song and the video are simple, but they describe the relationship between Marina and Ulay in which the core ideas of patriarchy provided by Allan Johnson are embedded. This essay examines the Ulay Oh music video using Allan Johnson’s core ideas of patriarchy.

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Patriarchy is a social system that is characterized by male dominance. Allan Johnson suggests that “a society is patriarchal to the degree that it promotes male privilege by being male-dominated, male-identified, male-centered, and obsessed with control and the oppression of women. It is also organized around an obsession with control and involves as one of its key aspects the oppression of women” (5). His ideas are seen in the Ulay Oh music video in several aspects.

First, the lyrics of the song describe the image of a female lover as a “picture” that is unchangeable. For example, the song says, “there she was, she was just the same”, showing the female lover as an object. Such lines are repeated several times during the song and highlight the “simplicity” of the female character. This simple description of a woman illustrates male-centricity and dominance as in patriarchy women are usually undermined and not considered to have a unique personality. In addition, the lines “Ulay Oh, Ulay Oh” suggest Marina’s need for Ulay’s love and her regret of losing him. It demonstrates the patriarchal world view in which a woman always needs a man and that the one who suffers more from breaking up is a woman.

Second, the performance itself shows some elements of the patriarchal social system. There is a woman, Marina, who wears a red dress and meets strangers. She is sitting and being an art object for people. They do not speak or communicate with her, suggesting the times in which women did not have a political voice and were not allowed to share their opinions and ideas. She was just a beautiful “picture” that is admired by everyone, and no one cares about its history and content. Moreover, she was alone in front of many people, which demonstrates how patriarchy neglects female individuals and that every woman is an object to admire. Her red dress was eye-catching and revealing her for the public, illustrating that females are usually judged by their clothes and appearance. Such a judgemental approach is from patriarchy and its ideas of how “true” women should look like and act.

Third, the body language and emotions of two former lovers at the art performance also demonstrate aspects of the patriarchal social system. It shows that patriarchy is unconsciously embedded in people’s perception of the world and social order. Marina starts to cry when she sees Ulay, and she cannot hold her emotions towards him, while Ulay can control his emotions. Such different reactions suggest expectations society looks forward in males and females. Males are excepted not to express their emotions, strong and not being sensitive, especially in front of the public. In contrast, females are considered to be sensitive, emotional, “soft”, and weak. Therefore, Allan Johnson’s saying that “patriarchy does not refer to any man or collection of men, but to a kind of society in which men and women participate” makes a valuable contribution of understanding patriarchy as a social phenomenon (5). The video demonstrates clearly how both men and women are programmed to follow the ideas of patriarchy.

Speaking about the body language of two former lovers, Marina makes her first moves towards Ulay by giving him her hands. It seems like a woman needs support from a man, illustrating the male-centricity of the patriarchal society. She seeks Ulay’s response to maintain the situation and her emotions. Her attitude to stabilize the tension is dictated by patriarchy and its ideas. From the patriarchal world view, the image of a woman is a mediator of conflicts. Women are associated with peace, and when Marina gives her hands, it demonstrates this. Thus, the body language of two former lovers in the music video depicts some aspects of patriarchy and what it expects from man and woman.

Overall, the viral music video by Ulay where two former lovers meet each other after 33 years at an art performance depicts not only the deep feelings of Ulay and Marina but also some core ideas of patriarchy provided by Allan Johnson. Male dominance, centricity, oppression, and identity are shown in the music video through the lyrics of the song, the performance, body language, and emotions of two ex-lovers.

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Johnson, Allan G. The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy. Temple University Press, 2005.

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