“Rumour” is predicated on Chlöe Howl’s gaze returning back to us. I don’t mean this in a familiar register — this isn’t warmed over Laura Mulvey with a reflective moment stapled on. There might be fertile fields here to understand how that look is agential, important, or whatever liberatory quality we want to claim that it has. What strikes me about this gaze isn’t its performance of power, but that it is a pure surface.
In 2013, I wrote this about rapper phenomenon RiFF RAFF:
Riff Raff’s body is pure surface; it is pure aesthetics. He stands in front of us. He dances. His famous “wardrobe changes” happen in front of us, in split seconds. Riff Raff takes on the persona of a biker. He takes on the persona of a basketball player. He takes on the persona of someone who actually wears a shirt. Riff Raff adapts and changes; he doesn’t take on those roles–he is them all, concurrently. Each of them is the “real” Riff Raff. It isn’t a coincidence that he repeatedly claims that he could have played for the Lakers, or the Seahawks, or any other sports team. Riff Raff is pure potential.
Rethinking the claims here, we can summarize that quotation with something more simple: Riff Raff is presenting us with a Deleuzian virtuality. He is literally pure potential, able to do or become anything in a contingency with what has been actualized in the world with, and around, him.
“Rumour” is the visual opposite of “Neon Freedom.” The sole narrative environment of the music video is a grand, British-esque hall. “Rumour” has baroque and historical where “Neon Freedom” was violently decontextual, and we can imagine some real Hogwarts shit going down in the “Rumour” space (but the weird old man on the stage is a chessmaster instead of a wizard). There’s some bondage going on, perhaps allegorically in a world where you want to read allegories, and we see unbound chess players winning games as tied and gagged losers are taken away in protest.
Of course, in the spirit of the radical rock n roll difference, Chlöe Howl shows up to mess this whole business up. She plays chess, laughing and performing indifference, and the establishment can’t handle it. The chessmasters become infuriated, lose, and then are hauled away by their own system. It’s the perfect dream of the liberal youth. Hope, change, and things’ll be better when I’m in charge, man.
Chlöe Howl is always looking at the camera in a tableau. She gazes, and in gazing in presented as part of an apparatus that is looking directly at us.
While it seems like the intent here is to create a forceful gaze that decenters us, or decenters the ability to merely look at persons like objects, my experience is that it does something directly opposite of that: Howl becomes part of a landscape. The gaze is much like an apple staring back at me from a fruit bowl, unable to differentiate itself from the mass despite clearly being separate from it. Howl’s persona here is eerily similar to Riff Raff’s in the “Neon Freedom” video, despite the world around her being quite different. Relationally, she is defined through the surface that she is a part of–Riff Raff was amongst a play of surfaces; she is merely the metasurface, part and parcel with all other objects.
Despite seeming more actualized, more real, than Riff Raff’s ephemeral surface-being, Howl is further into the virtual. Part of everything, pure potential to cause things to happen, she recedes into the landscape painting of existence.