Eros and Thanatos – the foundational double-trouble of unconscious motivation. Creativity and destruction, sex and death – this is the history of life and the life of history. Our subterranean fantasies and fascinations are generally hidden from ourselves and where or when they bubble up to the surface in popular culture, beyond their semi-naked or transparent self-reference to the subject matter, the fascination of sexualised imagery is arguably more powerful than the horror of blood and death. This is a potentially hopeful thesis in that the instinct or orientation towards love (or at the very least the fecund creative psychological drives or reflexes of lust) conquers through an aesthetic experience the instinct for death and destruction.
This is a simplistic translation, certainly, but other than that psychoanalytic hypotheses are often uncannily compelling (and perhaps beyond any sensible or plausible truth), the drive to breed would have to be stronger than the desire to destroy or there would surely be significantly less people swarming this planet. Of course, despite that these are still early days and there exist ample contemporary opportunities for the balance-of-fascination or obsession to swing in the other direction – there are always, always, places on the surface of this human world where hate and destruction are in the ascension.
The takeaway from this ? Simple images are under analysis rarely ever actually simple, even where the psychic symmetries are liminal and much less hidden than is normative or conventional. Also, human motivations are generally very simple and, for all the complex material artefacts and externally-stored subjective semantics of our richly-layered subjective and cultural experience, the creative and the destructive forces in human nature are largely irreducible and responsible for most overtly good or evil acts that human beings engage in.
Where images like this gain at least some of their impact and power is in the interplay and flirtation between those foundational drives of sex and death; this is what makes it fascinating, potentially also what provides it cultural capital as being in some ambiguous or undefined sense of “cool”. It doesn’t even matter if you like or dislike the imagery – your mind is always already to some extent hard-wired or pre-programmed to respond strongly to it: by evolution, history, culture and subjective experience or primary semiotic and communicative participation in the world.