Pink Floyd’s Animals: An indictment of capitalism, and ideological support

By Anonymous


The summer of 1976 was not a good summer in Britannia. The economy was crumbling beneath the weight of striking trade unions and double-digit inflation and unemployment. More than one-hundred-thousand teenagers graduated that year to an idle and aimless life on unemployment. A strange climate shift, from one of a typically soggy summer, brought a rare heat wave. Originally considered a blessing beside the United Kingdom’s economic crises, the heat wave eventually proved to be just another in a long stream of curses as crops failed and water was rationed to the citizenry.

Amidst this turmoil arose a new order of teenagers. The punks had arrived. Music was reverting to a primal, three-chord, angst-ridden scream against the establishment, and established acts would either adjust beneath this new musical current or be swept away into obscurity.

Pink Floyd had – up to that point – represented everything that punk music was against: long, psychedelic and bloated musicality, and vague, self-indulgent lyrics. Indeed, they were specifically targeted by one of punks newly emerging heroes.

[Pink] Floyd played an unwitting role in Chelsea bondage-boutique owner Malcolm McLaren’s discovery of the notorious Johnny Rotten . . . McLaren recruited the “teenaged amphetamine hunchback with green hair and rotten dentures to match” as the Sex Pistols’ lead singer largely on the strength of Rotten’s “sadistically mutilated” Pink Floyd T-shirt with the words “I hate” scribbled in a Biro trembling with furious loathing above the Dodo’s moniker (Schaffner, 210).

It was apparent that Pink Floyd needed to adjust their musical and lyrical approach in order to keep up with the times of social unrest and ever evolving rock and roll.

In 1977, lead mainly by bassist and lyricist Roger Waters, the band composed and recorded what would prove to be their most politically charged and aggressive album to date, Animals. Although similar to George Orwell’s political allegory, Animal Farm, in its anthropomorphic manner of explaining political realities, this album was different in very specific ways. Orwell was dealing with the events following the Russian Revolution of 1917. Waters was commenting upon his homeland and its fiercely-capitalistic ways. In his book, Which One’s Pink?, Phil Rose provides a Marxist summary of what the content of the album might signify – both lyrically and musically. “Animals is a critique of the capitalist economic system. Roger Waters documents his own recognition of superstructure and, like Marx, attempts to illuminate the masses about their exploitation and oppression” (Rose, 60). Amidst all the turmoil, Waters had suddenly become greatly concerned with the political and economic state of his nation. This is reflected in his art. Although Waters made a conscious attempt to criticize 20th century capitalism in Animals, and actually accomplishes a scathing indictment of the economic base and the components that support it, he inadvertently provided support to the most insidious guardian of that base, cultural ideology.

It is important to cultivate an understanding of ideology in general, and how it interacts with a culture, in order to show how this piece of art contributes to it. Ideology comes in many forms. It is taught in scholastic institutions. It lurks in the murky waters of religion. It holds the puppet strings of the news media and product marketing. As we shall see, ideology even works its pervasive spirit into art and all other forms of entertainment.

Ideology is a force that is both materially intangible, and yet omnipotent in shaping the minds of a citizenry that must support the economic base. In his essay “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” Louis Althusser states that “Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence” (Rivkin, 294). Individuals within a national body, and under the influence of ideology, can only use the abstract material of that ideology in order to define themselves. Althusser believed that ideology is illusion. It provides the means employed by the individual to relate with his or her society. Hans Bertens’ comments about ideology are illuminating.

[Ideology] is that which makes us experience our life in a certain way and makes us believe that that way of seeing ourselves and the world is natural. In so doing, ideology distorts reality in one way or another and falsely presents as natural and harmonious what is artificial and contradictory – the class differences that we find under capitalism, for instance. If we succumb to ideology we live in an illusory world in what in Marxism has often been described as a state of false consciousness (Bertens, 84-85).

Ideology is like a lens a person must look through in order to accept – and succumb – to the often morally difficult realities of living within a vicious class struggle in which the individual is alienated from others for essentially being bought and sold in the market place as commodified labor.

Although varying ideologies might exist within a nation, and some may even be expressly attempting to undermine the economic base, they “are all subject to the ruling ideology” (Bertens, 85). Music, no matter how presumably revolutionary, is not excluded from this subjugation.

For one thing, anything created is in the form of past examples. Nothing is original and everything that is done or said is completely dictated by ever-evolving ideological constructs.

Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. And just when they seem engaged in revolutionizing themselves and things, in creating something that has never yet existed, precisely in such periods of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battle cries and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time-honored disguise and this borrowed language (Baxandall, 97).

Everything is dictated by something that has preceded it. This is seen in the allegorical device employed by, first, George Orwell, and presently, Roger Waters. All these past examples are charged with a pervasive and complex structure of meanings buried beneath the surface, literal meanings, and invariably afflicts those who both perceive them – and utilize them in defining who they are and how they relate to their culture – and those who use preceding material in the creation of art.

Ideology of Capitalistic societies, is not directly controlled at the hands of the capitalists. In his essay, “Subject, Interpellation, Ideology,” Grahame Lock comments that “the ruling class is itself ‘in ideology,’ not outside of it and controlling it” (Callari, 72). Capitalists too are subjected to capitalistic ideology. Ideology is not something that can be controlled, though every citizen participates in its reproduction, however unconsciously. Lock continues, stating “the ideological struggle is an organic part of the class struggle” (72).

Music is subjected to the influence of ideology. Music is a powerful instrument of the ideological constructs. In his essay, “Art and Social Evolution,” N.I. Bukharin states that, “[t]he hearers of a musical work expressive of a certain mood will be ‘infected,’ permeated, with this mood; the feeling of the individual composer becomes the feeling of many persons, has been transferred to them, has ‘influenced’ them. (Lang, 101). Yet what has influenced that composer – who influences his or her audience – is the omnipresent cultural ideology in which he or she lives, thus he or she is merely one of many speakers that the ideology is incessantly whispering through. One can imagine the ideological implications of the coarse and ultra-patriotic compositions played before thousands of screaming Nazis in Nuremberg in the mid 1930s. This is an overt display of ideology permeating the fertile realm of musicality. But it can be buried much deeper; ideology can work in subtler ways.

What happens when musicians seemingly create music that is in direct opposition and violently hostile to the prevailing economic base? Is this something other than ideology? This is apparently improbable, yet is it impossible? Very likely, the answer is yes.

Through studying Phil Rose’s Marxist criticism of Pink Floyd’s Animals, one thing becomes quite apparent: this is a very anti-capitalistic album. From the first few lyrical lines, the contempt the author has for capitalism is very evident. The song, entitled “Pigs on the Wing Part I” begins with a solo acoustic guitar, suggesting an intimate, confessional voice:

If you didn’t care what happened to me,
And I didn’t care for you,
We would zig zag our way through the boredom and pain,
Occasionally glancing up through the rain,
Wondering which of the buggers to blame
And watching for pigs on the wing.

In this brief, and gloomy oration, the narrator appears. He is speaking directly to the audience, in a sort of tearing down of the fourth wall – interacting directly with the listener. It is later revealed, that this narrator is a dissolute “dog.” He is part of bourgeoisie society, and expected to attempt to climb the ranks of society by any means necessary. Phil Rose’s criticism is illuminating here. “The narrator suggest that the only means of escaping what he sees as the directionless or meaningless modern condition is through human affection.” Waters suggests that capitalistic society is an endless maze in which one must “zig zag” constantly in order to stay afloat, beset on every side by both boredom and pain. The fact that the narrator “only occasionally glances up through the rain” suggests that he is peculiarly disinterested in taking part in the societal hierarchy. He is decidedly disinterested in climbing the social ranks.

The next song is simply entitled “Dogs.” It might have been called “Dogs, Two Different Ones,” because there are apparently two voices present. This is suggested by the fact that the band’s guitarist, David Gilmore sings the first few sections, and the piece is concluded with Roger Waters delivering the lyrics. Also, two distinct manners of thought become obvious. It begins with an older “dog” – representative of the stereotypical, cut throat “dog”, who attempts to reach the level of “pig” – giving advice to an up and coming “dog.”

The lyrics begin, “You’ve gotta be crazy, you gotta have a real need./You gotta sleep on your toes, and when you’re on the street,/you gotta be able to pick out the easy meat with your eyes closed./And then moving in silently, down wind and out of sight,/You gotta strike when the moment is right without thinking.” He suggests that only those with a “real need” or an incessant desire will climb the pecking order. This suggests that in order to be truly successful you must be possessed by some maddening thirst for power. The lyrics also suggest a cut throat, “dog-eat-dog” ethical standard in which all is fair as long as the acquisition of power and money are accomplished. The successful “dog” must always be watching out, as both prey and predator.

The second lyrical phrase is a more fine tuned advice, to be followed once the basic principles are laid down. The lyrics are accompanied by the entrance of the entire band and provided with a rich musical texture which lends a feeling of both sedation and melancholy.

And after a while, you can work on points for style.
Like the club tie, and the firm handshake,
A certain look in the eye and an easy smile.
You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to,
So that when they turn their backs on you,
You’ll get the chance to put the knife in.

Phil Rose explains that, “the dog suggests that eventually the attacker can adopt a deceitful, businesslike persona – characterized by a deceptively friendly ‘look in the eye’, and a fraudulent smile that can be called upon whenever necessary.” Waters is suggesting that this is a very unnerving way to live one’s life. In order to always stay competitive, the “dog” must hone his skills of deception, never trusting anybody, and never being trusted. Ultimately this a very lonely, and alienating existence.

Rose suggests that this first narrator, upon further reflection – suggested by the various musical devices employed – decides that the younger “dog” should be discouraged from this sort of life. The younger “dog” isn’t discouraged in order to save it from a vicious and hallow form of living, but rather to cut some of the competition this younger “dog” might pose to the elder “dog.”

You gotta keep one eye looking over your shoulder.
You know its going to get harder,
And harder and harder as you get older.
And in the end you’ll pack up and fly down south,
Hide your head in the sand,
Just another sad old man,
All alone and dying of cancer.

As the elder “dog” is giving this discouraging advice, he is beginning to realize that he is describing the realities of his own life. Rose explains how in the next verse, the full realization of his self-prophecy sets in. “The still menacing character of the first dog is confirmed by the now double-tracked lead vocal entry, but also by the return of the supportive background vocals. He describes the frightening condition caused by the second dog’s eventual, increasing paranoia – the final consequence of his past actions” (65). The older “dog” finally realizes that his past practices have affected his life and future in very real ways.

And when you loose control, you’ll reap the harvest you have sown.
And as the fear grows, the bad blood slows and turns to stone.
And it’s too late to loose the weight you used to need to throw around.
So have a good drown, as you go down, alone.
Dragged down by the stone.

Although he is speaking in the second person, the older, competitive dog is actually speaking to himself, finally realizing how ultra-competition – a very capitalistic virtue – has alienated himself from real human relationships. He is destined to drown in his own prideful, self-inflicted solitude.

What follows is a long instrumental part consisting primarily of eerily drawn out synthesizer intonations and a steadily increasing, yet droning, drum part. The word stone is repeated through echo to further emphasize the alienation. Phil Rose suggests that this is a time of reflection, where the younger “dog” – the one who spoke in “Pigs on the Wing Part I” – thinks about the contradictory advice he has been given. The drums becoming a more prominent part of the piece is meant to suggest that this “dog” is gathering a resistant attitude to this way of living, and is preparing a rebuttal. The protagonist of this story is beginning to pierce the illusion of ideology and reject its premises. The instrumental comes to a sudden end and the musical structure that began this piece is recreated – doubled acoustic guitar, and the eventual entrance of the full band. As if coming out of a disoriented slumber, the protagonist begins:

I gotta admit that I’m a little bit confused.
Sometimes it seems to me as if I’m just being used.
Gotta stay awake, gotta try and shake off this creeping malaise.
If I don’t stand my own ground,
How can I find my own way out of this maze?

He is trying to free himself from the ideological constructs that tell him who he is and how he is supposed to live his life. He views this as an absurd and – although disguised as a nobly narcissistic – self-destructive way of living. He sees beyond the rewards that capitalism offer; rewards like monetary gain and status elevation look pallid to him beside its grim byproducts. Rose suggest that “the fact that this dog says he must ‘stay awake’, intimates his reluctance to fall back into a ‘brainwashed’ state. In other words, he must ‘stand his own ground’ so that he does not fall under the influence of the first dog’s individualistic espousal once again” (66).

What follows, as the band makes its full entrance again, is a powerful and scathing reproach of the way in which his “mentor” has lived his life.

Deaf, dumb and blind you just keep on pretending
That everyone’s expendable and no one has a real friend.
And it seems to you the thing to do would be to isolate the winner.
And everything’s done under the sun,
And you believe at heart, everyone’s a killer.

The younger “dog” who has apparently broken free from a mind-numbing and destructive ideology attempts to illuminate some of the subtleties of that ideology. The fiercely competitive lives of those within the class struggle is shown once again to be deceptively not gratifying. Since “everyone’s expendable” nobody can form meaningful relationships with one another. Since those who must climb the pecking order believe that “everything’s done under the sun,” to suppress his or her “real need,” it leads him or her toward a paranoiac state in which everybody is potentially dangerous and hostile.

What proceeds is a long and dramatic solo that suggest a profound melancholy. Then a rifling of suggestive lyrics conclude the piece:

Who was born in a house full of pain.
Who was trained not to spit in the fan.
Who was told what to do by the man.
Who was broken by trained personnel.
Who was fitted with collar and chain.
Who was given a pat on the back.
Who was breaking away from the pack.
Who was only a stranger at home.
Who was ground down in the end.
Who was found dead on the phone.
Who was dragged down by the stone.

Waters suggests the metaphor that the individual living within capitalistic society is the dog in relation to his or her master, capitalistic ideology. The bourgeoisie competitor – or “dog” – is “told what to do by the man” and “broken by trained personnel.” These phrases represent ideological conditioning. To submit to them will eventually result in being “dragged down” by their inherent result on the individual psyche and the behavior it manifests, ultimately leading to a lonely, isolated life.

The next two songs are entitled, “Pigs: Three Different Ones” and “Sheep.” The characters portrayed in these songs are analogous of the capitalist and the proletariat, respectively. The “pigs” are displayed as gluttonous and immoral and are shown to suffer beneath these character flaws, despite being atop the social order. The sheep are displayed as mindless, completely controlled by ideological constructs. This is clearly articulated in Rose’s book. For the purposes of this paper, it need only be understood that like the “dogs” – as described above – the members of these distinct social classes all suffer, both because of the economic structure of capitalism, and the ideology that protects it. In this album, Waters is clearly trying to pierce the illusion of ideology in order to illuminate some of his audience members. But to what effect?

The final point, or – if I dare to say it – advice that Waters offers, is revealed in the final song of the album, “Pigs on the Wing Part II.” The song is one acoustic guitar, like its counterpart, but the vocals are double-tracked, to suggest a sense of intimacy.

You know that I care what happens to you.
And I know that you care for me too,
So I don’t feel alone,
Or the weight of the stone,
Now that I’ve found somewhere safe
To bury my bone.
And any fool knows a dog needs a home
A shelter from pigs on the wing.

The dog is offering some sort of advice. Having not allowed the system to crush his spirit, and make him submit to the cold claws of competition, he is still humanized, unlike others within his class of “dogs.” Rose states that, “the comfort he derives from the closeness of his relationship with another person acts as ‘a shelter’ from the conditions of ‘boredom and pain’ that are created by the desensitized pigs” (79). All three classes are mad and suffer, no matter their position. The system doesn’t change, it seems impenetrable. However, the individual can “escape” the system through intimate relationships with fellow citizens.

This seems to be very contradictory. Animals is a very critical piece of art which hopes to expose the structure of capitalistic societies as a very dehumanizing, almost sadistic, thing. Yet Waters offers no suggestion of what’s to be done about this brutalizing force. He merely states that we should deal with it, try to live within it without succumbing to its ideology. If the system stays the way that he describes it, the ideology will undoubtedly remain – even gather strength. Thus, by offering this “plan of attack” as it were (to merely accept the conditions and try to live within them as satisfactory as possible) he is essentially supporting that system – contributing to its ideology. Although he has been severely critical of capitalism, he ultimately contributes to the support of its economic base with this musical piece of ideology which is beneath (and subordinate to) the dominant, capitalist ideology, and contributes to the prevalence of the “false consciousness” discussed above.

Works Cited


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