Thursday, March 18, 2010

Melinda Tankard Reist, going gaga over Gaga, and a good, hearty frothing and foaming ...

Melinda Tankard Reist's fine outburst in The Australian under the header Going Gaga over raunch dressed up as liberation took me back to the grand old days of Andrea Dworkin.

Never was someone so angry and so agitated and frothing and foaming at the mouth as Reist is over pop upstart and juggernaut Lady Gaga. Indeed it reminded me of the wonderful small town morals of the great town of Tamworth, from where I hail, and my mother's beady eyed disapproval of loose girls with their loose ways (oh the joy of discovering the truly loose real Dorothy Parker).

What's needed for a simple-minded rant of the simple-minded Reist kind is a simple-minded symbol, and where better to look than pop music, which has constantly sought to epater the bourgeoisie as a way of generating a meal ticket. From the free love hippies to the punks, so it's always been.

Cue Reist going gaga over the way Gaga symbolises the decline and fall of western civilisation. Being of an age, I can't remember how many times I've read this kind of denunciation. It's way easier to write than an analysis of glass ceilings, or pondering whether women can actually enjoy pornography. No, no, no, just like sexual intercourse, Gaga is an invasive, upsetting thing.

First it's important to have a debate, ostensibly with others, but convenient, and handy for winning the point, with yourself:

The 24-year-old New Yorker, christened Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, has sold eight million albums. While she's here, we'll hear all about how she's avant-garde. Cutting edge. Risque. Experimental. Transgressive.

What? You mean like Schoenberg and Stockhausen? Or maybe Michael Jackson? Michael Jackson is cutting edge? Sheesh, then there's hope for kitchen sponges.

Silly you, of course she's not a radical, she's a conformist.

But Lady Gaga isn't pushing boundaries. She's a conformist. This is demonstrated in the nine-minute video clip for her new hit single, Telephone. It's revered by frenzied Gaga lovers across the globe as the next Thriller. Popular blogger Mia Freedman, recently lamenting the sexualisation of girls, "adores" it. It's filed under "cool clips" on her blog.

Astonishing news. A woman who sold 8 million albums, has a publishing deal with Sony, is handled by the likes of Interscope and others, isn't the new Varese. Thank the lord that's clear. But if she's a conformist, where's the shock, what's the problem? Ah for that, we have to cut to the real chase ...

... the clip endorses and entrenches some of the worst stereotypes about women and sexuality. And littering the film with a range of brands suggests Gaga and the media moguls who run her empire are more about profit than art.

Amazing. Product placement. Show me the money says Gaga and her capitalist gurus. Who would have guessed. More profit than art, when they should be starving in garrets like extras looking for a job in a Puccini opera (or perhaps lingering after a bullet to the head, Vincent van Gogh style).

Normally I'd skip over the next bit, the frothing and the foaming over the synopsis, the slavering over what's going down, and the whipping it up like cream ready to enrich the moral panic fruit salad, but it's just too tempting.

Instead of just linking to the video clip - Lady Gaga has her own official YouTube site with squillions of hits - it's much more fun to entertain you by helping you to understand fully the dangers of Gaga, as she riffs on the classic Z grade movie genre Women in Cages, Women in Prison, and Women in Chains.

So let's cut to the real real chase:

Her clip, viewed millions of times since last week's release, is set in a women's prison filled with prostitute-styled nasty girls. As one yells: "Gonna make you swim outta here in your own blood!" (how adorable), Gaga is thrown into a cell by two tough female guards and stripped. Naked, she throws herself against the cell bars. Her barely pixilated genitals and breasts are freeze-framed. Her boyfriend calls but she tells him she's "kinda busy right now", then cavorts with her sexy inmates in skimpy bra and knickers. Some argue this is the radical bit. She wants to be herself and have "fun with the girls" and not be bothered by a man.

Oh in your dreams you gherkin. Even Samuel Z. Arkoff knew it wasn't radical. Let alone Quentin Tarantino. Never mind, shock me some more, sock it to me, even hand out a spoiler or two:

This fun includes watching two jailbirds fight, one kicking in the other's head with her stilettos and punching her in the face as inmates cheer. It includes being submissive to a heavily tattooed butch lesbian (I hate to spoil the surprise, but she's in leather) in the prison yard, who touches Gaga up while pulling a mobile out of her pants. Cue lingering camera shot on Vodaphone.

Oh those bastards at Vodaphone. Cancel my subscription immediately.

If Gaga is so radically different, why is her clip one big advertisement? Vodaphone, Polaroid, LG, Diet Coke, some kind of fast-food something. Pro-Gaga cultural analysts respond that this is an ironic take on the power of capitalism and advertising. "Give us more irony!" say the corporations.

Oh those devious satanic capitalist corporate mills. Is there nothing they won't do to soil women and feminism and righteous leftist thinking? I'll brood about that each time I sit down to watch my LG screen and sip on my diet Coke. How dare they!

But hang on, who said Gaga was radically different? Could it be Reist, so she can win an argument with herself?

Lordy, it's just dress ups and acting out in a pop song, not the Marquis de Sade (and nothing wrong with that). A kind of updated Cindy Lauper, or even, hush my mouth, and wash it out with soap, Madonna. Remember when she was getting hot for Christ on the cross?

But still Reist rants:

Our heroine is then bailed out (by Beyonce, no less) who tells her: "You've been a bad bad girl, Gaga." Did you get the S & M reference? How daring.

What? You want more daring? You want Bettie Page?

They then go on a mass poisoning spree (Beyonce's breasts make a special appearance) before driving off Thelma and Louise style, although T and L didn't have "Pussy Wagon" sprayed across the back of their car, a yellow Chevrolet Silverado SS borrowed from Kill Bill: Volume 1. That's where all the cool Quentin Tarantino references come in. It really is one big Macy's parade mess of Midnight Express meets Kill Bill meets Thelma and Louise meets Zoo magazine meets Pulp Fiction meets Martha Stewart on crack. All these pop-culture references make it a masterpiece, apparently.

Sheesh, it's just a video clip. It isn't Chris Cunningham, doing Come to Daddy, though that thought might upset the 23 year old director Ryan James Yezak. As for masterpiece, how about a bit of pop fun? You know, in the way it wouldn't be a Quentin Tarantino movie if it didn't have a scalping scene in it. Along with lots of movie references.

But of course it isn't the art or the lack of it upsetting Reist. It's the sex, and people not thinking of the children.

Won't someone think of the children and the helpless young people tormented by pornographic male fantasies, never mind Gaga's sex, as she's just a helpless, hapless pawn in the capitalist system.

Unless of course she's not a pompous prude like Reist:

The clip is just one more thing catering to pornographic male fantasies, part of a broader cultural story being read by young people forming their understanding of relationships and sexuality.

Ah yes, reading the movies. Pardon me while I go outside and do a post-structuralist semiotic upchuck.

Phew, sorry about that. What I meant to say, was "shocking, now let's get down and really talk dirty".

Women, aka bitches, love being violent to other bitches. Girl-on-girl action, lesbian cliches. Nakedness. Voyerism. Exhibitionism. Objectification. It's a carnival of spread legs and pubes shaved to within an inch of the performer's life and inanimate objects as phallic symbols. Because, as we know, women can't help sucking things that have any distant resemblance to the male organ. And what's so counter-cultural about groin-emphasising costumes, shredded fishnet stockings and a leopard-skin body suit? That has never been done before?

Um, I'm getting the message Reist didn't like the clip. Perhaps doesn't like fellatio. Or carrots. Or cucumbers. Maybe cunnilingus. Who knows? It all seems problematic, but what you might think is wild... turns out it isn't edgy at all.

This is not about being edgy. It's about playing to sex industry-inspired scripts. Fetishising sexual violence isn't all that imaginative. It's standard fare.

You see! It's just standard porn fare, and as we know porn is at the heart of the American pie (keep your dick out of that pie, boy) picket fence family home. Why you could even make Blue Velvet as a homage to the happy picket fence home. Pity about the ants and the ear, but how about we have an advertisement for a plastic surgeon lying alongside it on the lawn?

But wait, Gaga has committed even more vile transgressions, a bit like snatching a wafer out of the hands of a Catholic priest and shoving it who knows where, as if she's in a Walerian Borowczyk movie. She's shamed feminism!

The film ends with the feminist symbol. Now this is audacious. In attaching this liberation symbol to her video, the film sends a deceptive message about what feminism is. Is not answering the phone to be seen as some radically defiant act? Does feminism mean violence is so democratised that women are free to hurt each other and men as well? Is baring your body the way you strike a blow for women? Is taking a ride on a disco stick a sign of true womanhood?

Oh indeed. The weight of ideological implications in a pop music video clip just overwhelm me. What a profound dialectic revolves around the question of taking a ride on a disco stick.

When they should have made the clip in the style of Carl Dreyer doing Joan of Arc.

That's what some women think the film is about. One wrote in an online forum about the clip: "What's wrong with a girl having her boobs out in a confident and completely sexy, self-assured way?" And another wrote: "Gaga's clip shouts girl power with its nakedness."

Gaga is contributing to the distorted, one-dimensional cultural script about girls and women that is spread with zeal under a veneer of liberation. It not only constricts their freedom but takes the focus off what needs to happen for true freedom to be realised.

But what the fuck is true freedom? The right to think, act, dress and look like a Catholic nun, or the wife of a Muslim fundamentalist locked into a burka?

Give me Gaga every day of the week. Sure I might dress like a dowdy suburbanite, but she's in showbiz. I expect her to flash her boobs, do drugs, flaunt herself like a pair of Elton John glasses in a Barry Humphries frock. Only kinda modern.

And not cop a backlash from conservative prudes, whining about how capitalism wants to get out and sell stuff, when really what gets their goat is the icky sex stuff.

With a bit of luck, Gaga might avoid becoming Courtney Love, and laugh all the way to the bank (not that Love can't manage the occasional throaty chuckle), but if not, who cares. It's the Californian way, and if you want to turn out young conservatives, give them Courtney Love as a mother.

Moral panic? Meh.

Funnily enough, I hadn't given Lady Gaga a thought until today, but prompted by Reist, I faithfully headed off to YouTube to check it out.

Naturally I watched the official explicit version, and as always in these things, I wondered what the Reistian fuss was all about. Turns out I can take Gaga, and I can just easily leave her, and no, the world didn't move for me.

But irony of irony, thanks to Reist, I added to the Gaga clickometer, and copped an ad for the latest Jennifer Aniston flick, The Bounty Hunter, featuring Gerard Butler handcuffed to the bed. Worse still, in the extended trailer, he tosses her like a wheat bag into the trunk of a car. All in the name of a meet cute romcom.

Sheesh, that Gaga influence is everywhere. Won't someone think of the children?

Then I thought hang on - watching the second half of the Gaga clip, which turns into a I Dream of Jeannie lush fantasy, I felt, in the manner of Peter Costello, like doing a Crocodile Dundee, and saying hey, that's not a video clip, this is a video clip.

Whatever, and to each their own, but while I might, or might not, watch another Gaga clip, please remind me never to read Reist again.

Suddenly I realised there was a good case for soma being distributed amongst the general population. Just to settle things down, and bring a bit of peace and quiet to the pond.

And so to the clip:

1 comment:

  1. great article, was looking for someone to write about how "lady gaga is a pawn for capitalism" on google and this was the first in the search!


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