Fish Heads: What Society Turns Us Into.

The video for “Fish Heads” is an endless source of inspiration.

We have decided to tackle our second request together. Both of us found there is a lot to discuss with regards to this video and we are even thinking about starting a side project dedicated exclusively to it (maybe it even deserves its own podcast). As you will see. the video for “Fish Heads” is an endless source of inspiration. However, on this post specifically, we want to focus on the rejection of society and repressed sexuality expressed in the video through the use of Freudian symbolism.

The fact that the song doesn’t start immediately, but takes its time setting the mood, shows us that Bill Paxton Bill Paxton

(yes, the actor and director from blockbusters like Twister, Apollo 13 and True Lies) is a man that has many more layers to him than his hair cut suggests… he may look like a regular Joe but he is clearly a visionary. In the first scene the camera zooms in on an opening door that reveals the singers (comedy rock duo Barnes and Barnes) dressed in plastic bags, a clear reference (a little too obvious for our taste) that they are fish heads themselves. We are led through a morbid landscape, evoking images of loneliness and confusion in a manner reminiscent of Hitchcock and Fellini, a bizarre dimension that puts the viewer in an uncomfortable position – very “fish out of water”. It is all reinforced by the sound of steps and the drunk man, possibly a beggar but probably just a bum, seen at 1:34.

Eventually we get to the song itself but not before probably the most important moment in the video in terms of it’s influence. For a few seconds at 2.08 you can see an animation. It is an extraordinary moment in video history since we all know that this was the inspiration for A-Ha´s award winning video for their pop classic “Take on Me”. A-ha

The gender division presented in the fish heads is a subtle protest against the roles individuals must play in society. (This subject is touched again in the final scene when we see the duo wearing masks). It is a critique against modern values and how we are expected to wear sweaters, play baseball and even play drums (this sense of pressure and cultural suffocation is expressed constantly throughout the lyrics).

It is also a bold surrealist statement which draws on Luis Bunuel’s ‘Un Chien Andalou’ and it’s use of Freudian imagery.In particular, Barnes & Barnes utilise Freud’s dream analysis and his little-know ‘Fish-Heads Theory’ which states that the head represents suppressed feelings of sexual inadequacy and a fear of the bodily. Freud also wrote of the fish head as a supressed image of the subconscious mind, stating “fish represent the male genitalia, thus the fish-head represents a fear of castration”.

As in Un Chien Andalou, the use of dead animals draws on ‘Dead Animal Theory’, of which Freud writes “it is all about a fear of genital mutilation and of Oedipal sexual longing and is undoubtedly your Mother’s fault”. Further use of his theories is evidenced by the use of the image of fish growing like vegetables in the garden, of which Freud said “This is a complex set of symbolic representations with many layers of interpretation, however, when we strip it all down and look at it with the clear rational eye of objective reasoning it is quite obvious that it is all related to two things: your dick and your Mother. It’s all her fault. No shit”.

Therefore we can see Fish Heads as a song with a clear message, or at least clear to those familiar with the avant-garde tradition and the particular works of Freud that we have fabricated for the purposes of this analysis, and this message is simply fish heads, fish heads, roly poly fish heads, fish heads, fish heads, eat them up, yum.

We think there is an implicit message in the lyrics:

” Ask a fish head
Anything you want to,
They won’t answer,
They can’t talk!”

What do you think?

“Fish Heads” is a novelty song by comedy rock duo Barnes and Barnes, featured on their 1980 album Voobaha, which aired on NBC television on Saturday Night Live, on December 6, 1980.
Every Friday, local Jersey radio station Channel 103 hosts a “Fish Head Friday”, where every hour on The Breakfast Show, a verse and chorus from “Fish Heads” is played.
The song has been covered numerous times by artists such as: Wild Man Fischer, Eagle-Eye Cherry, Duran Duran, Buck 65 and The Bicycling Guitarist.
On the February 9, 2010, episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, the Roots played the song as Bill Paxton entered the stage as a guest. Paxton explained that it was the thirtieth anniversary of the short.

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5 thoughts on “Fish Heads: What Society Turns Us Into.

  1. What a strange song and clip, I’ve never heard of this before. I can’t argue with your analysis because I’m obviously not as studied in fictionalised Freud as you are.

    However, the song reminded me a little of the Residents (or at least what I’ve heard of them), and the clip (and to a degree the song) struck me as a little bit David Lynch.

    1. Thanks for your comment, we’re glad you enjoyed it!! Can see why you thought of Lynch! 🙂

      And yes, nobody knows more about fictionalised Freud than us, we are experts! 😉

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