Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Thank Gaga for the Postmodern Lady

I happened to read an analysis of Lady Gaga by Camille Paglia today which I felt needed some deconstruction... let's take a look at some of the uninformed arguments she makes:

She [...] has escaped serious scrutiny.
Actually, fans and/or academics scrutinise her work in great detail, comparing screencaps, evoking theorists and having all sorts of immersive experiences in response to the texts.

Although she presents herself as the clarion voice of all the freaks and misfits of life, there is little evidence that she ever was one.

It's all about how you feel inside, not what your status might suggest. There is just as much a market for people who feel comfortable in society, so the fact that she's self-identifying that way strikes me as genuine. I believe one of the reasons Gaga 'felt like a freak in high-school' (as she announced while being interviewed by Barbara Walters) is that she identified as bisexual and Christian. Unfortunately we still live in a culture where being non-hetero-normative is seen as an undesirable variation, mainly due to the corrosive social influence of intolerant religions (i.e. the majority of the ones I know). You'd think Paglia, who writes of being attracted to women, would understand this, had she done much research on Gaga.

Lady Gaga is a manufactured personality

I'm sure Gaga would welcome that analysis. She appears to be reveling in the manufactured aspects of her career, celebrating and problematising at the same time. 

Furthermore, despite showing acres of pallid flesh in the fetish-bondage garb of urban prostitution, Gaga isn’t sexy at all – she’s like a gangly marionette or plasticised android. How could a figure so calculated and artificial, so clinical and strangely antiseptic, so stripped of genuine eroticism have become the icon of her generation? 

Gaga is an icon of her generation because mainstream audiences are receptive to her entertaining them in ways that challenge pop music and performance norms. We already know the pop princess formula off by heart - relentlessly seductive, unproblematically feminine, constantly striving to be the ultimate heterosexual male fantasy. Gaga said in an interview that women are ugly as well as beautiful. She is performing the complexity of her tortured personality, and the conditions for her popularity is that she must both embody and mangle the conventions of female pop spectacle. Her posturing as grotesque, monstrous, murdered, murderous, horrific and otherwise off-putting are all part of a multifaceted performance which has intrigued the many millions who are fed up with the record labels getting away with giving us the same thing every time.

Gaga has borrowed so heavily from Madonna (as in her latest video-Alejandro) that it must be asked, at what point does homage become theft? However, the main point is that the young Madonna was on fire. She was indeed the imperious Marlene Dietrich’s true heir. For Gaga, sex is mainly decor and surface; she’s like a laminated piece of ersatz rococo furniture. Alarmingly, Generation Gaga can’t tell the difference. Is it the death of sex? Perhaps the symbolic status that sex had for a century has gone kaput; that blazing trajectory is over…

I believe Gaga has appropriated Madonna in ways that, while familiar, are also innovative in their context. For instance, while Madonna's pointy bras challenged what it was to be feminine and provocative, Gaga wearing guns on her breasts is a sign of her indoctrination by gay men with phallocentric defense systems which are so rigid that militarism seems an appropriate metaphor. It's more symbolic, perhaps, than what Madonna was doing.

It must be said that Christina Aguilera released the video for 'Not Myself Tonight' at around the same time as Gaga released 'Alejandro', which is even more of a homage to Madonna, however lacks the ingenuity of the latter's innovation. So if you're going to accuse people of copying Madonna, Christina is the #1 suspect. 

Surely if you're looking for a straight-forwardly sexual celebrity, the media will not let you down, Camille. Gaga is boldly subverting people's expectations of her as a sex symbol in order to shock them a bit out of the expectations every single other pop star has led them to develop over the decades. I think it's refreshing that Gaga is as guarded as she is over the top. It doesn't surprise me that Gaga fashions her "poker face" to go with her audacious ensembles. It's a layer of protection, and an appropriate way to respond to being in the spotlight almost 24/7.

Gaga seems comet-like, a stimulating burst of novelty, even though she is a ruthless recycler of other people’s work. She is the diva of déjà vu. Gaga has glibly appropriated from performers like Cher, Jane Fonda as Barbarella, Gwen Stefani and Pink, as well as from fashion muses like Isabella Blow and Daphne Guinness.

It's called intertextuality, or as someone wrote 'wearing your influences on your sleeve'. Reveling in the simulacra of the iconic, Gaga is the hyper-icon, brandishing forever a stance which is contrived from her predecessors yet also strikingly original.

Marlene and Madonna gave the impression, true or false, of being pansexual. Gaga, for all her writhing and posturing, is asexual. Going off to the gym in broad daylight, as Gaga recently did, dressed in a black bustier, fishnet stockings and stiletto heels isn’t sexy – it’s sexually dysfunctional.
Is Paglia saying asexuality is dysfunctional? Anyway, sexual dysfunction, as Gaga knows, is part of many a mainstream experience, and she happens to appeal to various types of it. Problematic, but very interesting.

Generation Gaga doesn’t identify with powerful vocal styles because their own voices have atrophied: they communicate mutely via a constant stream of atomised, telegraphic text messages. Gaga’s flat affect doesn’t bother them because they’re not attuned to facial expressions. 

I am something of a singer, and I believe Gaga does in fact have a powerful vocal style. This was discussed in an interview with Ellen, who complimented on her vocals. Gaga responded by saying she was surprised by how many people didn't expect her to have a good voice, matter-of-factly pointed out that it was her profession to be a singer. I also think these two sentences carry gross generalisations which are not relevant to me or any of my friends. As new texts appear in the world, they become studied in high schools, so I'm pretty sure your modern day technologically savvy girl or boy consciously uses different skills to extract maximum meaning from a face and an SMS.

The exasperating article (exactly how much research did she do for this article? Does she have anything positive to say?) continues at another address, but your truly has lost interest.

Now, back to Gaga Stigmata...

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