The Sex Pistols

The Sex Pistols

The Sex Pistols were not into making overt political statements. They weren’t passionate about any causes, and weren’t backing any particular politicians. They were, however, interested in shocking people. There’s value in using your art to force people out of their accepted patterns in order to listen to what you have to say. But where so many shock artists (including the Sex Pistols) trip up is that you need to be actually saying something. It’s one thing to get everybody’s attention – any idiot with a couple pounds of ammonium nitrate can do that. There has to be something behind it or you won’t have people’s attention for very long.

Nowhere is the Sex Pistols brand of shock more, well, shocking than on the song “Bodies.” It’s the account of a girl named Pauline who had an abortion. By that I don’t mean she went discreetly to a clinic and had it done by a doctor. The song never really says this outright, but I have a feeling a coat hanger was involved.

John Lydon wrote “Bodies” about an actual girl named Pauline that he knew. There’s a legend about Pauline showing up at John’s door with blood all over her, clutching a newborn in a blanket, dead. Whatever the truth is, John was obviously very affected by his association with Pauline, such that he wrote his most violent, vitriolic and profanity-laced song ever.

The lyrics of “Bodies” explain in gruesome terms about Pauline’s multiple “abortions,” always emphasizing that she was completely insane. The line “Her name was Pauline, she lived in a tree” is a reference to Pauline sleeping in a makeshift treehouse on the grounds of the mental institution she was in. The lyrics also make much of the messy and disgusting physicality of her actions, using words like “gurgling,” “squirm” and “bloody mess.”

Johnny Rotten

Johnny Rotten

The chorus is generally just repeated screams of “Mommy! I’m not an animal!” The easiest way to interpret this is the aborted child speaking, begging for its mother to not abort it. Lydon’s use of the term “animal” is a little strange. Apparently, the child doesn’t deserve to be aborted because it’s “not an animal,” but Pauline herself is described as an animal. Apparently, what makes you an animal, and thus deserving of abortion, is actually having an abortion. It’s also ironic that towards the end of the song, Lydon is repeating “I’m not an animal!” so fast that the words just tumble out, and his voice makes him sound rather bestial.

At first, the harsh language about abortion suggests the Sex Pistols are making a comment about the subject. But listening for just a second reveals that the comment can’t be pinned down to a pro or con position. Based on this, I don’t think they really care about the positions; they’re much more interested in the violent, gruesome and disturbing imagery that abortion very easily lends itself to. The Sex Pistols aren’t really raising a question about abortion, or about anything; that’s not what they do. They create exclamation points, not question marks.

When “Bodies” is mentioned in a scholarly context, it’s sometimes touted as a pro-life song. I find this utterly ridiculous, and I’m sure the Sex Pistols would as well. First off, not a single pro-life organization out there would accept this as an anthem  because its focus is all wrong. The term “pro-life” (as ridiculous and wrong-headed as I find it to be) is oriented in the “life” direction, and “Bodies” is all about death.  Then there’s the fact that it mentions the word FUCK five times in the space of ten seconds. Objectively, the song is not fit for public consumption. And when John Lydon swears, he means it. Somehow, Lydon saying “fuck” is much, much worse than anyone else saying it.

When I was a senior in high school – at a school of 18 students which taught an extremely conservative (and thus imbalanced) curriculum – I had to write a 30-page research paper in order to graduate. In preparation, we read papers by other seniors who had already graduated. I read one that was on abortion. It detailed the history of abortion, explained several different types, and gave a step-by-step description of what physically went on with the procedure of each one. Even separated from all the political, moral and ethical issues connected to it, it’s still pretty horrifying.

Kermit Gosnell

Kermit Gosnell

I don’t care what you think about the pro- or con- positions, which side you come down on, or how vehemently you defend either viewpoint. Abortion is not only one of the most hotly contested issues of our day – it’s also one of the most complicated. But you just have to be a living, breathing, feeling human being to understand something like this. Everyone, no matter what side of the abortion issue they’re on, has some sense of what Kermit Gosnell did being wrong. And if you are one of those feeling human beings, you need to ask yourself if all that rhetoric about a woman’s right to choose or violation of the freedom of religion even matters in light of the cold, hard facts of what happens in an abortion. You have to make up your own mind about it.

Next: everything sucks!

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