Take a moment to sit in silence, close your eyes and experience the darkness that accompanies it. If possible, sit for a minute, just a minute. What do you see? What do you feel? What do you hear without the lights? For some that minute was peaceful; for some it was horrifying. For some, that minute will change their life forever. We never believe it will happen to us and we live in a blissful ignorance, until it does. Every 73 seconds someone is sexually assaulted (“Scope of the Problem”) and every minute 20 individuals experience physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner (“Domestic Violence” 1) in America alone. These statistics are horrifying but obtuse and hard to relate to. Elliot Moss’ song “Without the Lights,” however, paints a much more relatable picture of a woman and her dance with a devil named abuse. His artful representation is a springboard for the uninitiated to become involved in activism against intimate partner violence and the sexual exploitation of individuals. The song and video also give a voice for those affected by intimate partner violence and sexual exploitation with which to tell their story. All in hope that others can see the cycle of abuse for the horror that it is and push towards ending it as a whole. This is a particularly important topic to discuss, especially now, as October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month.
The video directed by Phillip Chbeeb focuses on two characters and their roles in a dark and all too common story. The unnamed female character is the focus, as intimate partner violence, or IPV for short, primarily effects women (“Domestic Violence”1). Her male counterpart serves as the opposing force and villain. The story is told through highly stylized interpretive dance filmed in 3 locations and is set to Moss’ song originally released in 2016. The video opens with a shot of a young woman fiddling with a charm bracelet. She is dressed in a pale pink, lace dress which represents her innocence through the choice of color. According to color-meanings.com pink represents the innocence of childhood and unconditional love; it also is a sign of hope that inspires warm and comforting feelings (Olesen). As with all things, pink’s negative connotations, lack of willpower and self-confidence, are also heavily represented (Olesen). The negative aspects of the color choice are further compounded by the sheerness of the woman’s dress and her visible bra. The color and meaning are echoed in the garment but the implied sensuality of it being visible harkens back to the age-old argument of “she was asking for it.” The male character appears in stark contrast to the female character, representing the sullying agent to her innocence.
His entire persona is built to be intimidating and unsettling; as if he was the boogeyman himself. He is clad in black, rugged clothing, dripping of mud or tar. His visage is threatening and domineering, commanding attention with the black warpaint he sports. The usage of black for his character denotes the seductive nature and the mystery that surrounds him, as well as representing his need for power and control (“Black Color Psychology”). These two are the proverbial yin and yang of the cycle of abuse depicted in the video.
After her brief introduction, we see the young woman wistfully gazing at herself in a hand mirror as if looking for an answer she will never receive. She is meant to represent the average girl or woman with which to identify. She is the unexpected recipient of various traumas, but simultaneously someone you could share a room with and never be the wiser. She shows no outward signs of harm which is especially important as it highlights how we often discredit those suffering from mental and emotional trauma. The young woman begins to move the mirror about her body and her limbs disappear as the reflection in the mirror only shows what is in front of her. We do not see the character for who she is or what she stands for but rather we see through her, taking away her autonomy and labeling her view as incorrect or unimportant. We do this in order to make the world a safe place in our own minds, because often we cannot cope with the idea that the survivor had no hand in their own misfortune (“How to Avoid Victim Blaming”). This misdirection of blame leads to widespread flaws in the system though. Due to shame and guilt perpetuated by victim blaming mentalities alongside other factors, an estimated 44% of nonfatal domestic violence instances go unreported (“Police Responded”). In turn, this can create more victims and further impact the level to which IPV survivors internalize the events perpetrated on them.
The trauma that IPV and sexual exploitation survivors experience will forever be a part of them, carried like a stain on their consciousness that they will never be able to fully scrub out. This is shown through the video as the woman’s aggressor is ever present, if only as a warpaint costumed phantom in the depths of her subconscious – the mirror with which she evaluates herself. He is always watching and waiting to soil her both figuratively and literally. The couples dance begins first by him covering her eyes and removing her ability to see. Leaving traces of his aggressive hand placement, and thus his influence, in mud around her head and face. This blinds her to the wrongness of his actions and marks her as his own plaything to do with as he pleases. He frequently returns to sensually embracing her head as if to reassure her that what is happening is right and is what is supposed to be happening. His embrace and Moss’ lyrics “Baby take me with you please I don’t know what I’d do if you leave,” denotes the honeymoon or remorse phase of the abuse cycle (“Without the lights”). There are three phases of the abuse cycle and are named as such: the built-up phase, the explosion phase, and the remorse or honeymoon phase. The build-up phase is aptly named as this is the time in which stress and tension slowly accumulates until it reaches its overflow point. This is where the second phase, named the explosion phase, begins and the abuse and/or violent behavior is perpetrated. The cycle culminates with the honeymoon or remorse phase in which the aggressor apologizes or even swears to halt the abuse forever, only for the cycle to restart and repeat at shorter and shorter intervals (“The Cycles of Abuse”). These cycles are represented through the dance the couple shares in the juxtaposition of intimate and playful exchanges between the two and the fast paced, antagonistic, and heart-wrenching displays of aggression.
At this point, the video takes a darker turn, moving from the bright outside scenery of a heavily wooded space to a dark and hazy warehouse. It also becomes evident that what has been shown thus far is a metaphor for the physical and sexual abuse the female character is enduring in a relationship with an unidentified male. Both characters now wear black and are surrounded by various muddied sheets, denoting the passage of time and the increase in violent and traumatic events. The dance between the two then vacillates between aggressive participation and her violent exploitation. The female character struggles fervently against the male dancer but he is always able to forcefully quell her protest. The woman’s anguish is now ever present in her demeanor, translating into complete dissociation when flashing to reality in the latter parts of the video. He has taken her autonomy away from her, and she has become an unfortunate statistic before our eyes. In their lifetime, 1 in 5 women in the United States will be raped. In 29% of those cases, they were raped by an intimate partner (“Statistics”). This is blatant exploitation and Moss’ video shows the ugliness of it all. He ends with the line “Oooh call off the dogs, we found her in the woods” accompanied by the lasting image of the girl bundled in muddy sheets, embraced by that which haunts her, followed by a brief shot of her alone in a bedroom. Concluding her haunting tale and leaving us with a nonending to a story we so desperately want to end.
Through his song and video, Moss
attempts to push us towards advocacy for survivors of intimate partner violence
and the sexual exploitation of individuals. He calls us to action to stand against
it and end the cycle of abuse that is so prevalent and to try to break the
cycle. With the powerful images portrayed and the harrowing and unending tale
of a single unnamed individual, he calls for change. We can only hope that even
a handful of recipients of the message move toward active reform, because when
we stand hand in hand, we are a force to be reckoned with. Only then will this
story not have relevance; only then, we’ll be able to wash that stain out.
“Black Color Psychology and Meaning.” Color Psychology, https://www.colorpsychology.org/black/. Accessed 30 October 2019.
This is a popular source that I will be using to demonstrate the male character’s dress color scheme affects the meaning behind the actions and demeanor of said character in relations to the female.
“Domestic Violence.” National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, NCADV, https://assets.speakcdn.com/assets/2497/domestic_violence2.pdf. Accessed 30 October 2019.
This is a downloadable PDF that I will use to provide supporting statistics concerning domestic and intimate partner violence. I believe this is a credible source as this is obtained from a national coalition and activist group funded through charity and government grants.
“How to Avoid Victim Blaming.” Harvard Law School Halt, Harvard, https://orgs.law.harvard.edu/halt/how-to-avoid-victim-blaming/. Accessed 30 October 2019.
This is a popular source contributed to by students of a prestigious Ivy league law school that covers important current topics. I will be using this to support my ideas on victim blaming, and why it is harmful.
Olesen, Jacob. “Pink Color Meaning – The Color Pink.” Color Meanings, https://www.color-meanings.com/pink-color-meaning-the-color-pink/. Accessed 30 October 2019.
This is a popular source that I will be referencing in order to explain the color palette used for the female character and how it defines the parameters of her character in the story being told.
“Police Responded to Nearly Two-Thirds of Reported Nonfatal Domestic Violence Victimizations in 10 Minutes or Less.” Bureau of Justice Statistics, Bureau of Justice Programs, 2 May 2017, https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/press/prdv0615pr.cfm. Accessed 30 October 2019.
This is an article published by the Bureau of Justice that shows statistics from their data collection of reported domestic violence cases over the past few years. As it is a government run site, I do believe this is a credible source for information on the subject. I will be using this article to elaborate on the amounts of IPV go unreported.
“Scope of the Problem: Statistics.” RAINN, https://www.rainn.org/statistics/scope-problem. Accessed 30 October 2019.
This is another website that focuses on advocacy against rape and domestic violence. I believe it is a credible source as it is publicly funded and works closely with government officials in collecting its data. I will be using this site to further elaborate on statistics surrounding rape and domestic violence.
“Statistics.” National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, NCADV, https://ncadv.org/statistics. Accessed 30 October 2019.
I will use this to provide supporting statistics concerning domestic and intimate partner violence. I believe this is a credible source as this is obtained from a national coalition and activist group funded through charity and government grants.
“The Cycles of Abuse.” Domestic Abuse Project, Domestic Abuse Project Development, 15 June 2016, http://www.domesticabuseproject.com/2016/06/the-cycle-of-abuse/. Accessed 30 October 2019.
This is a popular source run by and organization aiming to educate on and break cycles of abuse. I will be using information from this website to define the different phases in the abuse cycle and what they characterized by.
“Without the Lights Lyrics.” Genius Lyrics, Genius, https://genius.com/Elliot-moss-without-the-lights-lyrics. Accessed 30 October 2019.
This is a popular source from which I obtained the transcripts of the song that I will be covering in this analysis.