[WARNING: Video contains explicit content.]
It’s not a surprise that Beyoncé has caused another stir in the world of popular culture. Her most recent performance during the Super Bowl 50 halftime show will likely be remembered for years to come as one of the boldest and most talked about performances of all time. With that, “Formation” (her latest song, for those who aren’t familiar) is also wreaking havoc on everyone’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter feeds, and Snapchat stories.
While I have my own opinions about the meaning portrayed in Beyoncé’s lyrics and the images embedded within her most recent video, what I’ve found myself most intrigued by (for years, actually) is the powerful emotion and intensity Beyoncé evokes from her fan base. It’s like nothing most of us have ever seen before.
Who is Beyoncé?
Beyoncé is a Blank Slate….Just Like the Rorschach.
With all the most respect to Queen Bey, I have come to know and love Beyoncé as being a blank slate. This, inherently, is not a bad thing. There is something that remains mysterious and magical about Beyoncé that is naturally intriguing and appealing to her fan base and even her haters. Beyoncé has given us great hits, amazing visuals, powerful art, but we often do not get to know her deepest thoughts and feelings, her intended meaning behind her works of art, or the strategic purpose in any of the moves that she makes. Much of that is left up to interpretation. It falls in the hands of us (yikes).
Remember when I said that being a blank slate is not a bad thing? In psychology world, blank slates have been used for centuries and are typically referred to as projective tests or projectives. In fact, the Rorschach Inkblot Test is one of the most famous projective tests, which requires one to examine a series of ambiguous inkblot cards and determine what they believe to be present within the inkblot.
“In psychology, a projective test is designed to let a person respond to ambiguous stimuli, presumably revealing hidden emotions and internal conflicts projected by the person into the test.”
The very oversimplified version is this: It is common practice for a psychologist or mental health professional who is skilled in psychological assessment to present someone with an ambiguous image or statement, and have that person respond. Because the image or statement (whether it be a crazy looking Rorschach inkblot, an eccentric looking sculpture, or an incomplete sentence) is ambiguous, responses are usually so varied and unique, it can make your head spin. Present one ambiguous image to 100 unique individuals, and you are guaranteed to receive at least 50-75 unique responses. You may even receive five different responses from just one person, depending on how they feel or even the time of day.
So what does that tell us? Well for me, as a trained clinical psychologist, it lets me know that our perception of ambiguous stimuli (or things that are unclear or only partially understood) is largely driven by our thoughts, experiences, temperament, mood, education, family background, time of day, how hungry we feel… etc. So much drives how we see and interpret ambiguous information. And because each person has a different set of eyes, and a different set of experiences, we may each see and experience something totally different from the next person. Wow!
So my job, as the psychologist who made you take this silly projective test in the first place, is to understand how you perceived and interpreted the ambiguous information presented to you, what it means to you, and what it has to say about you, given the context of your experiences and environment.
Okay, Back to Beyoncé...
The allure of Beyoncé is that her immense influence and fame, coupled with her need and desire for privacy, evokes an astounding range of interpretation (from us) regarding her work, her image, and her intentions. Whether it be her strong Feminist stance, or a salute to the #blacklivesmatter movement, much of what we believe to be at the core of Beyoncé’s work has infrequently been directly stated as hard fact from the Queen herself. We actually have no idea what Beyoncé’s stance on feminism or the #blacklivesmatter movement truly is, but she gives us just enough to wonder and then make our own interpretations, then giving purpose and meaning to her work as we see fit… just as a great projective would and should.
With that being said, Beyoncé’s influence within popular culture is invaluable, just as the projective test has been within the field of psychology for centuries. Beyoncé gives inspiration and motivation to millions who are in need and searching for ways to be fierce and fabulous in a harsh world. For others, she annoys and irritates them because of her simplicity and apparent lack of transparency or lack of active vocal involvement in certain movements. For some, she is a great role model. For a few, she triggers hurt and discontentment. No matter what type of responses her image evokes, however, her image commands attention, gets people talking, and gives us a better understanding of what may truly be going on within ourselves and the minds of our society.
So, what does your reaction to Beyoncé say about you?
Dr. Amber Thornton
Clinical psychologist with a passion for family, community, culture, and diversity.