Friday, August 20, 2010

Goo goo ga ga

Listen – the intention of that video was to show the hilarity to which people will fame-whore themselves. It was playing with the idea that I knew my style was something that people really were admiring. So I thought, Well, what’s the most ridiculous thing that we could immortalize? Something not fashion at all and make it fashion. And I was [looking at] a lot of Helmut Newton books and photographs, and there were all these disabled women who looked fabulous. So I thought watching the celebrity fall apart is so fascinating to everybody, why don’t I just fall apart for seven minutes and see what happens. The hilarity of the wheelchair being covered in diamonds…

Thus spake Lady Gaga, in the profile on her in this month’s Vanity Fair, a rag I admit to reading religiously. (Hey, it’s perfumed-up real pretty, which makes it perfect to wrap fish in.) You thought public morals and good taste were all she’d taken a chainsaw to – as you can see, she’s done a real number on the English language as well.

“But what makes her tick?” you want to know, as, apparently, all America does. Why, the same thing that has made every other “pop icon” tick, of course:

When I look into the crowd [at my shows], I feel like I’m looking into tiny little disco-ball mirrors and I’m looking into myself. And when I wake up in the morning, that’s what makes my heart tick.

As always with these weirdos, “It’s all about me!” But with “the Gaga,” it’s all about you too, dear fans:

It’s about loving who you are. I don’t want people to love me; I want them to love themselves. I have a relentless pursuit in me to give everything in me to my fans to make them feel good about themselves.

The proof is in the pudding, for Lady Gaga recalls the young lives she’s transformed, as evidenced by the sob stories she’s received from myriad teenage losers and misfits who have found hope in her music and an example in her life and work. And hers is, it seems, a faith-based philanthropy. She “currently ‘works with’ ‘spiritual guides’” and “used to pray every night that God would make me crazy”:

Listen, I prayed for a lunacy, and he gave it to me. It’s a bit of a sick thing when a 17-year-old says in her nightly prayers that I would rather die young and a legend than be married with children and die an old lady in my bed.

Not quite Solomon’s prayer for wisdom, or Christ’s “Thy will, not mine, be done,” but let it not be said that the former Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta remembered absolutely nothing from the nuns who taught her. Indeed, despite her slutty public persona, she is “quite celibate now.” Quite. Because “I don’t really have sex. Well, sometimes.” But only sometimes, you see, because:

I also think I’m afraid of depleting my energy. I have this weird thing that if I sleep with someone they’re going to take my creativity from me through my vagina.

You heard it here first, folks.

So, we have a “spiritually”-guided “icon” who sacrifices herself for her work and her followers, who in turn identify with her and find salvation in her work. In short, pop music fandom as atavistic religious cult, where the content of the religion is pure narcissism. Somewhere, Roger Scruton is saying “I told you so.”

What’s most amazing about “the Lady Gaga phenomenon” is that anyone thinks it is a phenomenon at all. It’s essentially the same shtick we’ve seen from David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Madonna, and a thousand others. New freak show, same as the old freak show. While in Prague recently I was flipping through the channels on the hotel TV and came upon her video “Alejandro.” Don’t watch this one with the kids. In fact, don’t watch it. But not because there’s any new depravity there. It’s just the same old depravity, perhaps even more tiresome than titillating given that we’re somehow expected to find it really envelope-pushing. Weird fascist aesthetic? Bowie’s Thin White Duke and Pink Floyd’s The Wall have been there and done that. Blasphemy? Madonna and Marilyn Manson beat her to it long ago. Virtual pornography? Since when have you not been able find that on MTV – or cable TV in general, or even just plain old TV?

Perhaps the one thing truly novel about the ex-Miss Germanotta is her choice of stage name. Not the goofiness of it, of course, but its “truth in advertising” quality. None of the absurd pretentiousness of the Bowie and Floyd albums I wasted so many hours of my adolescence on, but a proud expression of the truly infantile self-absorption of the pop icon. “Gaga” indeed.


  1. >Perhaps the one thing truly novel about the ex-Miss Germanotta is her choice of stage name.

    I reply: Not really. She took that from Freddie Mercury's Queen Song "Radio Ga Ga".

  2. It scares me that her music might become a standard in the future, but as you have mentioned, there have been plenty of publicity stunts like this pulled by many a performer. She is so out there, almost like a female Michael Jackson, with some Madonna. The worst part is how her songs get stuck in your head, forever. I always thought Gaga was quite an appropriate name.

  3. I also think I’m afraid of depleting my energy. I have this weird thing that if I sleep with someone they’re going to take my creativity from me through my vagina.

    Mandrake! We must protect our precious bodily fluids! "[Men] sense my power, and they seek the life-essence. I do not avoid [men,] Mandrake… but I… I do deny them my essence."

  4. Her interview answers are performance art. Bad performance art, granted. But it's adorable that Feser fell for it.

  5. I have no idea, Anon, how you could have read Feser's post and conclude that he "fell for it". Try reading it again, and look for words that indicate that "Feser" is describing Gaga as just more of the same old schtick.

    Now it is an adorable post, true enough. But not because "Feser" fell for anything. Like "Feser", I read VF religiously, and like "Feser", I wasted my youth listening to Bowie, Floyd and others. So I thought his post was "adorable" indeed, a kind of admission of guilty pleasures and the foolishness of youth. Which is indeed adorable, coming from the often somehwat, ah, intense "Feser".

    Your comment, though...not adorable at all. Not even one anonymous illiterate bit.

  6. After viewing her "music" video, I'm going to be in a foul mood for at least a few hours. Thanks a lot for bringing it to my attention, Dr. Feser.

    Her brand of narcissistic perversion is tiresome, to be sure, but also tragic, in that I am barely able to intuit (much less fully understand) the immense sort of inner, narcissistic forces that would impel a grown woman to drop all self-restraint and then make a shameless and infantile spectacle of herself in front of a worldwide audience.

  7. The more interesting question here might be what attitude social and cultural conservatives should have towards pop culture. I think our host mentioned he has a less withering view of it than Roger Scruton, for instance-- as shown by all the Steely Dan posts. I prefer movies to books, for instance. Does that make me a dupe of modernism, a slave of the entertainment industry?

  8. After viewing her "music" video, I'm going to be in a foul mood for at least a few hours. Thanks a lot for bringing it to my attention, Dr. Feser.

    Hey, I told you not to watch it!

  9. Maolsheachlann,

    In my view, conservatives like Roger Scruton take too negative a view of pop culture, while conservatives like Brian Anderson (who wrote South Park Conservatives) take too positive a view of it (though I respect both Scruton and Anderson very much). The right view is somewhere in the middle, though of course saying only that much is pretty vague. Someday I'll write something on this.

  10. At least David Bowie gave us that classic "Space Oddity" (Major Tom).

  11. I look forward to reading that. I don't know if you're aware of Peter Hitchens, Christopher Hitchen's brother-- an Anglican and a social conservative. He is entirely dismissive of television, and laments the loss of the English literary canon as a part of every English speaker's heritage.

    I can appreciate classic poetry and literature just enough to think he's right, and to be aware that I am impoverished because I don't know my Shakespeare, my Virgil, my Homer etc. (The latter two obviously not part of the English literary canon but you know what I mean).

  12. Dr. Feser and the excellent and wise Peter Hitchens (the sensible Hitchens brother) should write a book together.

  13. I think it becomes clear just how derivative much of Lady Gaga's work is when you compare, for instance, the video for "Alejandro" with something like Madonna's famous video for "Like a Prayer"; there's no real contest. Madonna took specifics of Catholic popular devotion and, so to speak, played them backward to portray sex in a purely religious vocabulary, made use of specifics of the devotion to St. Martin de Porres, now sexualized, in order to make a statement about race. Using sexualized blasphemy to talk about race relations was just a blatant attempt to stir up controversy by hitting three buttons at the same time, but you have to give some credit for the cleverness of the mix. But when Lady Gaga does it, it's warmed over and completely generic.

    At the rate you're going, Ed, I'm almost expecting a post any day on the philosophical implications of Ke$sha's "Blah Blah Blah".

  14. *Weird fascist aesthetic?*

    All these showboaters have such out-of-the-ordinary hair...Hmmm

  15. Hadn't heard of that one, Brandon, but having just Googled the lyrics, I think I will try to expunge it from the memory banks. Vile stuff. Just knowing that Lady Gaga exists was bad enough!

  16. Well, if nothing else, it's useful as a reminder that when dealing with Lady Gaga we actually are on the more enlightened end of the modern-day pop culture pool, however sad that fact may be.

  17. At least David Bowie gave us that classic "Space Oddity" (Major Tom).

    Neil, what's more important, David Bowie gave us such mind-bendingly psycho stuff as "Please Mr. Gravedigger." Oh, and "Love You 'Till Tuesday."