The Pornography of Despair: Lust, Desire and the Music of Matt Johnson

  • Stuart C. Aitken Department of Geography, San Diego State University
  • James Craine Department of Geography, San Diego State University


This paper is about intense emotions -- lust, desire, pain, longing, passion, anger, frustration – as they are expressed in the alternative rock music of Matt Johnson and contrived in our listening experiences. The “soundscapes” Johnson creates with the various musicians who comprise his band The The are at times ironic, at times contradictory and as often as not darkly situated on the underbelly of seeming human frailties. With this paper, we draw on Johnson’s work and art to articulate themes of male heterosexual desire and lust, and their relations to aspects of identity. We argue that Johnson uses lust and desire to particular effect, creating an “emotional geography” from which potentially liberatory social relations may emerge. We argue that Johnson’s work is a plea to place male emotions more centrally in our ways of knowing the world. Much of Johnson’s inspiration derives from a quirky understanding of the impact of global forces on the lives of individuals. It also offers a different way of knowing masculinity, one that embraces realities such as promiscuity and prostitution without judgement, treating them simultaneously as material, emotional and spatial. This differs from a rather narrow but nonetheless monolithic view of promiscuity as deviant and sick, and prostitution as an inevitable outcome of unequal divisions of power predicated upon dangerous aspects of male sexuality. Johnson’s work mediates psychoanalytic theories of desire spatially, suggesting an energy and a place out of which social activism emerges.

How to Cite
Aitken, Stuart, and James Craine. 1. “The Pornography of Despair: Lust, Desire and the Music of Matt Johnson”. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies 1 (1), 91-116.