“The Damned Don’t Cry”: Melancholia and White British Masculinity in 1980s Synthpop Music

Mica Hilson


In “Mourning and Melancholia,” Freud describes the primary symptoms of melancholia as “a profoundly painful dejection, cessation of interest in the outside world, loss of the capacity of love, inhibition of all activity, and a lowering of the self-regarding feelings.” This is also a fairly accurate description of early 1980s synthpop music, which was full of white male British singers who maintained a numbed affect as they performed lyrics about loss, inaction, and inability.

Although some critics have derided this music as unemotional, this article explores how 1980s synthpop songs dramatize a kind of self-splitting, wherein the intense affect of grieving is displaced onto women and machines, while the singer maintains his impassive melancholy. Examining such popular acts as Blancmange, Thomas Dolby, A Flock of Seagulls, Ultravox, and Visage, it analyses both the songs themselves and their accompanying music videos to examine the performance of masculinity within them.

Drawing from Derrida’s work on hauntology, it also considers how 1980s UK synthpop performers were both haunted by Britain’s past and frightened that it may have no future. Enacting a repressed affect—the so-called “stiff upper lip”—that had served middle-class white men well in Britain’s imperial glory days but served little purpose by the 1980s, these singers dramatize the dilemma of not knowing how to develop alternative modes of sensitive yet emotionally direct masculinity.

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Works Cited

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Selected Videography

Adams, Bryan, “Run to You” (1984). Accessed 13 November 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCBASt507WA

A Flock of Seagulls, “Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)” (1982). Accessed 13 Novembre 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=opkzgLMH5MA

Blancmange, “Waves” (1983). Accessed 13 November 2020. https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=FwjFw6UxcD0

Blue Nile, “Stay” (1984). Accessed 13 November 2020. https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=yDGR8R5e0Qs

Bronski Beat, “Smalltown Boy” (1984). Accessed 13 November 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88sARuFu-tc

Dolby, Thomas, “One of Our Submarines” (1982). Accessed 13 November 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8OsZTJ5vfUs

Eurythmics, “Never Gonna Cry Again” (1981). Accessed 13 November 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KLruiHP8U8

Fixx, “Stand or Fall” (1982). Accessed 13 November 2020. https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=hAofFHPRZTE

Freur, “Doot Doot” (1983). Accessed 13 November 2020. https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=aexff90ZWiQ

Godwin, Peter, “Images of Heaven” (1982). Accessed 13 November 2020. https://vimeo. com/150471991

Sex Pistols, “God Save the Queen” (1977). Accessed 13 November 2020. https://www. youtube.com/watch?v=yqrAPOZxgzU

Tears for Fears, “Mad World” (1982). Accessed 13 November 2020. https://www. youtube.com/watch?v=u1ZvPSpLxCg

Tears for Fears, “Shout” (1984). Accessed 13 November 2020. https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=Ye7FKc1JQe4

Ultravox, “Dancing with Tears in my Eyes” (1984). Accessed 13 November 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSQWUZ8a2Ho

Ultravox, “Reap the Wild Wind” (1982). Accessed 13 November 2020. https://www. youtube.com/watch?v=NevzImTG_U0

Van Halen, “Jump” (1984). Accessed 13 November 2020. https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=SwYN7mTi6HM

Visage, “The Damned Don’t Cry” (1982). Accessed 13 November 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nVsrcmW3Yc8







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