Born Which Way?

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I thought I’d have to listen to a lot of Lady Gaga to find something worthy of a piece. I was pleasantly surprised. Today we’re listening to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way.

To understand this video, you have to understand two things. First her core audience (for this video) of 12-18 year old girls. If you can’t put yourself in the mind of a 13 year old girl, you’ll never get it.

The second thing you need is some kind of sense of music history. “Wait, Nap, what do 13 year old girls know about music history?”

Exactly.

What makes Lady Gaga so hip is that you don’t need anything to appreciate her, except an open mind. She blends poignant spectacle with hints of myth and legend and wraps it up in a lovely, made-for-the-new-millennium empowerment package. She’s incredibly accessible, but again, only to those with an open mind.

With that said, let’s examine the video. It opens with a couple of symbols, the unicorn and a pink triangle. Then Lady Gaga with her hair done like a pope’s hat. There’s no rhyme or reason here, it’s a mashup. She gets right to the point. “This is the manifesto of Mother Monster.” She’s declares a new race. Not a new community, not a new movement. A whole new race of people. There’s a reason she used that particular word. “A race which bears no prejudice, no judgment, but boundless freedom.”

It’s a direct shot across the bow. “Manifesto” is a powerful word. It instantly separates you from everybody else. She’s setting a language and a tone for her audience. She’s creating a subtext.

All throughout this, remember these are kids watching. They don’t really understand pink triangles, unicorns or pope hats. These are just images they’ve probably seen and heard about. The only thing that’s going to strike the mind of the 15 year old when they see a pink triangle is that whole Teletubbies thing. Maybe they know it’s somehow connected with LGBT, but that’s it.

They don’t know the history and that’s the point. When they think of the pope, they think of the pope’s hat. They don’t know anything about the gay community, and really, they don’t care. All they know is that these images annoy grown-ups.

They know that grown-ups are messes, ready to go off about things, giving little to know explanation, for their sake. When the grown-up yells, “Why are they putting all these gay images on the TV? Won’t somebody think of the children?” the child wonders what all the fuss is about. Therein lies the subtext. Here’s the secret language Lady Gaga is speaking with her audience, the shared understanding among these kids when they complain to each other at school about their parents.

A pink triangle means nothing to them. They’d need years in that subculture before they could begin to understand the symbolism and the history. She similarly cherry-picks words, not for their real meaning, but what they mean to kids. “Mitosis, temporal, multiverse.” These look out of place until you consider the audience. They let kids engage in the myth making by teasing their intellectualism. Their curiosity. This is why people are calling her a genius, this facility, this plasticity with communication.

It’s the next evolution of symbolism. Before, you could count on a symbol to have a philosophy, a culture, a long history behind it. Now with today’s mashup culture, you can create a language with all these symbols, speaking in a much richer way than we used to, even though the symbols themselves seem to lose meaning. She’s using them phonetically. The time when we needed symbols to serve as the rallying points for human effort are over. We’ve all got a general idea, thanks to the Internet, of where we as a people want to go, now the symbols become mere hints, reminders.

This is how she deals with sexuality. In previous videos, she portrays herself as androgynous, in this one she’s wearing a bikini, definitely female. She’s talking to the girls, giving them a blueprint for dealing with their own sexuality. Media these days is bombarded with sexual images, and grown-ups are unwilling to take up the task of explaining it, so it falls to Lady Gaga to do it for them.

She portrays sexuality by having her “evil” half split into two. Morality becomes a “pendulum of choice.” A pendulum swings back and forth automatically, you don’t choose for it to go back and forth. Evil is a force to protect good.

There’s so much there that the casual observer would miss. The total upending of conservative ideas on good and evil. Pop music is raising our children better than we can ourselves. “It doesn’t matter if you love him, or capital ‘H-I-M’” The demolishing of religion, in one fell swoop.

You’re not paying attention, but your kids are. It’s very easy to miss, and that’s why it’s so powerful. You don’t care, so you’re not going to bother looking up the lyrics and ask yourself what this song’s really about. All you have to go on is the images and the spectacle, which are carefully crafted to hide what’s going on underneath. While the rest of the world screams on about the images, the far more subversive conversation is taking place right under your nose. The mythology she sets up is explained only in the video, something you’re not going to see unless you go looking for it or spot it on TV, where you won’t be paying your full attention.

“Don’t be a drag, just be a queen.” Kids don’t know what drag or a queen is, at least not until their friends tell them. She uses the words intentionally, re-defining them, playing the same game with language gay guys do when they call each other, “fag.” She repeats the phrase many times, offering it up to be used as a catchphrase. She’s taking the fire, the emotion out of them. It helps that “drag” rhymes with “fag.”

The image of her naked with zippers where her breasts are is really striking as well. How’s this going to hit the young mind? A naked body doesn’t elicit the same response in a 12-14 year old, and even 15-17 year olds have become far more comfortable with such images. But they know their parents freak out over this stuff. So there’s that subtext.

But the real message of that image is to not take sex too seriously. Even if you’re naked, your sexuality is still locked up behind the zippers. You don’t have to feel uncomfortable wearing the revealing clothing demanded by today’s youth culture. She’s teaching kids to play with their sexuality the same way she does, light-hearted and fun. The machine gun reports create a phallic imprint on the screen. These are the weapons evil is using to defend good.

She does actually use the words, “gay, straight, bi, lesbian, transgendered,” in the song. But they’re really hard to make out. Much more prominent is the racial angle. Sex she deals with visually.

Notice the guy not doing much, just sitting there looking evil while Lady Gaga swings her pink Rapunzel wig all over the place. Why’s he just sitting there? He’s a representation of boys. That’s how boys act these days, and that can be very confusing to a little girl. She’s telling the girls to not put their identity in these reticent boys, to rock out to their own tune, and deal with the boys when they’re ready. This sort of visual communications can be a lot more effective than spelling it out, and you can fit a lot more of these little messages in a 7 minute video, than in a one page sheet of lyrics.

Identity is the entire point of the song. Mother Monster created all of her evil children to protect that which is good in the world. You were born into this new race of people who do not judge or hate, but are free. It’s a new mythology for a new time. Are there any good people? Not in the video. Everybody’s evil. Good people get stepped on. What keeps evil people from getting stepped on? Their identity, their refusal to sit still and be silent.

Don’t you want to be evil, too? 

Related posts:

  1. Heart in a Headlock
  2. Promiscuous Boy, Get to the Point
  3. Tide Knows Dad Better Than He Knows Himself
  4. WSJ to Women: Only Have Sex With Winners

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71 Responses to Born Which Way?

  1. vv111y says:

    I heard these kinds of analysis before in university and have always been skeptical. How do we know that you are right? How do we know that the video will have this kind of impact and be interpreted this way? Maybe it’s just thrown together BS that will be consumed as such – short shots of stimulation which will be treated as such and soon forgotten by the kids. Junk food.

    • Pastabagel says:

      First, junk food isn’t “just thrown together BS that will be consumed as such.” Junk food is engineered carefully and precisely so that you will respond to it as junk food. For example, Doritos carefully assesses the “crunch” of its chips using exceedingly sensitive equipment to measure the force response of the chip under stress and as a quality control measure ensures that the chips’ crispness conforms to a desired and predetermined force response curve. Junk food companies hire PhD’s scientists and engineers to do this. So if junk food isn’t “just junk food,” let’s dispense with the dismissive analogies.

      Second, there’s a notion in literary theory that what the author intends to say or create is completely irrelevant. What matters is what is created. The author’s statements about the text are not in the text. So who cares what Lady Gaga or Charles Dickens intended to say of mean? Maybe they intended something profound and the execution was lousy .What matters is that what they said conforms to patterns or codes that we respond to. If we didn’t respond to it, it would disappear and be forgotten.

      (But the fact is you can’t randomly throw a music video, or a movie, or a commercial together. It takes an incredible amount of work involving a lot of people focused on the same goal. To say it’s fluff or just trivial is to approach it from the consumer mindset. The whole point of Marx’s commodity fetishism is that because people are alienated from the products they consume and the people who produce them, the products can then take on magical quality that would be impossible if you knew the circumstances of their creation. Why someone says, “don’t overthink it, it’s just fluff” they are reinforcing the fetish-don’t dispell the magic, don’t ruin it for me. )

      Furthermore, because everyone in music videos uses sex, but not everyone is as massively popular as Lady Gaga, it suggests that people aren’t watching it for lingerie clad dancers. So the superficial sexuality can be immediately ignored in favor of looking for the something else that the videos are coding that people in her target demo are picking up on. Maybe she put those semantic signs and images there deliberately to cater to them, or maybe it was coincidence or random dumb luck. That doesn’t matter, what matters is that they are there. They must be there because her stuff is popular and other people’s isn’t, and that isn’t random.

      • MarcusB says:

        No, at some point it doesn’t matter that they’re there.

        Your assertion that children read into the symbols whether they mean to it is part right, but mostly wrong.

        Children may read into it deeply subconsciously, but at some point their brain can only hold so much information that they’re going to cycle it out.

        • MarcusB says:

          All sorts of grammar abortion in my comment.

          • Napsterbater says:

            It’s okay. I scan my articles two or three times for typos before I hit submit, and two or three more inevitably make it in. Now I feel like an idiot for every time I make fun of someone else’s spelling.

        • Napsterbater says:

          The whole point is that children do not read into it. It’s a momentary blip on their consciousnesses, but then it’s on to the next image. That’s why I’m saying Lady Gaga is using the symbols phonetically. If she just threw up a pink triangle, left it there for five seconds, then started talking, that would be use of a symbol, and kids would start to wonder what it’s all about. Then they’d conclude it’s a gay thing. But because she’s shooting them off at an almost subliminal speed, the symbols themselves only carry the barest of meanings.

      • George says:

        “To say it’s fluff or just trivial is to approach it from the consumer mindset. ”

        Lady Gaga is a fourth level Baudrillard Matrix, “The fourth stage is pure simulation, in which the simulacrum has no relationship to any reality whatsoever. Here, signs merely reflect other signs and any claim to reality on the part of images or signs is only of the order of other such claims.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simulacra_and_Simulation

        Lady Gaga is concealing the fact that she’s not actually saying anything related to reality at all.

        But then, this is true of post-modernism in general as the Sokal affair showed us,

        “The Sokal affair (also known as Sokal’s hoax) was a publishing hoax perpetrated by Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York University. In 1996, Sokal submitted an article to Social Text, an academic journal of postmodern cultural studies. The submission was an experiment to test the publication’s intellectual rigor and, specifically, to learn if such a journal would “publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if it (a) sounded good and (b) flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions.”[1]
        The article “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity”, published in the Social Text Spring/Summer 1996 “Science Wars” issue, proposed that quantum gravity is a social and linguistic construct. At that time, the journal did not practice academic peer review and did not submit the article for outside expert review by a physicist.[2][3] The journal’s editorial collective did, however, express concerns to Sokal about the piece, and requested changes, which Sokal refused to make. Wishing to include the work of a physicist, the editors decided to accept the article on the basis of Sokal’s credentials. On its date of publication (May 1996), Sokal revealed in Lingua Franca that the article was a hoax, identifying it as “a pastiche of Left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense . . . structured around the silliest quotations [by postmodernist academics] he could find about mathematics and physics”.[1]
        The resultant academic and public quarrels concerned the scholarly merit, or lack thereof, of humanistic commentary about the physical sciences; the social disciplines influenced by postmodern philosophy, in general; academic ethics—including whether Sokal was wrong to deceive the editors and readers of Social Text; and whether the journal had exercised the appropriate intellectual rigor before publishing the pseudoscientific article.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_affair

        What we need is more mocking like Sokal did until until this world of lies is driven from the mainstream culture.

        When I see the unicorn in the pink triangle, all I can think of is a Holocaust of unicorns. “First they came for the unicorns.”

        • blithelyunaware says:

          Baudrillard would (probably) classify the video as an intentional subversion of the hyperreal, but who takes Baudrillard seriously anyway? The Sokal hoax is old news.

          • claudius says:

            Whether or not people take Baudrillard seriously has nothing to do with the validity of his ideas and arguments.

            The problem isn’t that the Sokal hoax is old news — the problem is that we make it old news, because we say it’s “old news” and that we still haven’t learned from our mistakes. So someone has to do it over again.

            Did I mentioned this has all happened before?

          • blithelyunaware says:

            The problem , like you say,is that this has all happened before and there is no need to rehash tired arguments. It’s a waste of time for everyone. Forget about an event that happened over a decade ago and move forward with life.

        • Pastabagel says:

          First, the sokal affair proved only one thing, and that is that Alan sokal never read and couldn’t understand the theory he was mocking. His criticism of postmodern theory based on it’s use of science is like a criticism of Christianity based on it’s understanding of camels and needles. It completely and utterly misses the point.

          And the proof is that since 1996, postmodern theory has influenced everything–art, music, science, politics– whereas Sokal and his hoax have influenced precisely nothing.

          Oh, and the Matrix films actually had nothing to do with Baudrillard. The Matrix concerned a simulation and an actual reality. The point of Baudrillard is that there is no reality left. The simulation has overcoded everything.

          The video itself is not a simulation of anything, nor is she concealing anything. The simulates are whatever you imagine in your head to represent reality.

          • Fifi says:

            Pastabagel – I tend to see it differently, with technology actually being the catalyst not the theories we construct regarding post-modernism (they are our attempt to make sense of the changes occurring). Modernism was/is part and parcel of the industrial revolution, post-modernism is what we’re living now during the digital revolution (there’d be change with or without theories about how that change is shaping culture). From my perspective, the reaction against post-modernism seems often to be motivated by a denial of a changing social/cultural reality. I actually find it somewhat odd that some people/academics think it’s post-modernism vs science.

            I come from an art background so my understanding of post-modernism isn’t the new age version that seems quite popular (which to me seems to be based more in Eastern religious ideas than actual cultural theory or what many cultural theorists are actually saying). Post-modernism doesn’t posit that the physical world doesn’t exist (in my understanding at least), it just posits that our ideas about the world are constructions (subjective). It’s the tension between the objective and the subjective (very few people are willing to concede that their image/understanding of the world is based in their own subjectivity). This is actually pretty in line with our scientific understanding of cognition at this point in time – we can only experience the world subjectively (much as some people may claim to be purely objective). Science recognizes this – both in letting go of older theories that we now recognize were based in prejudice/ignorance and in the very idea of the scientific method (which is an attempt to mitigate subjectivity so we can get a clearer objective measure/picture of the physical world).

            One thing that’s always puzzled me is why people believe post-modernism is anti-science when, it seems to me at least, that both the scientific method and post-modernism agree about human subjectivity. Sure post-modernism is critical of scientific and social dogmas but surely any truly curious scientist already understands how subjectivity functions? Of course, nothing gets people into a defensive mode faster than questioning the foundations of their subjective world view/belief system and obviously scientists are also human and prone to this kind of reaction. (As are some cultural theorists too, after all it is a human thing and we all seem to be prone to it, myself included of course.)

          • Pastabagel says:

            Fif, you’re exactly right. By reality I did not mean the physical world, I mean our perception of it. And example I like to use is families. The postmodern view would be that people model their families and their role in them off of families they see depicted in media. But those media depictions are not themselves based on any real concept of family, so reality is trying to imitate an imaginary image, obliterating the reality in the process.

            People aren’t concerned with post-modernism being anti-science so much as they are concerned with it being relativistic. Certain people like to believe in absolutes, especially absolute right and wrong, rather than it being a matter of perspective. And postmodern theory, particularly as it address how society and language can be constructed to produce a certain “reality” challenges that.

            For these people, science is not the science you are talking about, which correctly casts what we know as what we perceive. They prefer to think of science as truth, e.g. physics does not present a model of the universe, it provides the definition of it.

            And Alan Sokal is one of these people. If you read his comments in on the hoax in Lingua Franca, you realize how much of what he did was politically motivated. For example, he refers to what he wrote as “Left-wing cant”. Well, what difference does it make if it is left wing or right wing? Why is that important to say? Bad science is bad science, right?

          • Fifi says:

            “For these people, science is not the science you are talking about, which correctly casts what we know as what we perceive. They prefer to think of science as truth, e.g. physics does not present a model of the universe, it provides the definition of it.”

            Exactly, while conveniently ignoring how chaotic and still unexplained the universe actually is. The other reality that many refuse to acknowledge that many of our “breakthroughs” have more to do with technology (that extends our senses) and social changes (feminism and gay rights, and women and openly gay scientists) than the heroic lone human genius. Neurobiology is a great example of this, MRI technology greatly extended our ability to see the brain and blew most of our theories about the brain out of the water. Or going back further, germ theory (which needed the microscope to be accepted, even though it had actually been conceived of earlier on it wasn’t accepted over the more accepted miasma theory, or whatever it was called).

            “And Alan Sokal is one of these people. If you read his comments in on the hoax in Lingua Franca, you realize how much of what he did was politically motivated. For example, he refers to what he wrote as “Left-wing cant”. Well, what difference does it make if it is left wing or right wing? Why is that important to say? Bad science is bad science, right?”

            Exactly, bad science is bad science and if you’re unable to acknowledge that you’re prone to bias like all other humans then you’re setting yourself up to do bad science. Ditto bad cultural theory. Of course, the reality of this kind of reactionism is that it’s often very personal and connected to people’s status as academics (defending the thesis that their career is based upon, as well as a lot of self and public image/ego related issues) even though it’s defended as being about “The Truth”. Science isn’t about “truth” it’s about facts, and facts that may be disproven at that. You have to be open to being wrong and making mistakes if you’re interested in facts and learning new things (or being creative, including in science, for that matter). If you mistake ideas for who you are, then any challenge to an idea becomes intensely personal (and you’re creating fertile ground for personal biases to take hold).

          • Fifi says:

            Part of the problem is that we like to believe that ideas are more powerful than actions, particularly if our stock in trade is ideas. This isn’t to say that ideas can’t be powerful and don’t shape our perspectives and society, it’s to point out that actions are more powerful (ideas realized) than our thoughts. It’s not post-modern ideas (or modern ones for that matter, both were reactions to their times and both are integrally involved with issues of sharing and ownership) that are shaping our world/society at the moment, it’s technology and what it allows us to do and see (or doesn’t allow, it’s why there’s such a big push to make sure the internet is controlled at the moment). To state the obvious, we’re going through a change that’s analogous to the invention of the printing press or industrialization – and who controls the means of production is still relevant).

          • Fifi says:

            “People aren’t concerned with post-modernism being anti-science so much as they are concerned with it being relativistic. Certain people like to believe in absolutes, especially absolute right and wrong, rather than it being a matter of perspective. And postmodern theory, particularly as it address how society and language can be constructed to produce a certain “reality” challenges that.”

            There’s that too, a lot of us humans are uncomfortable with uncertainty and we seem (or at least some of us) to be cognitively prone to black/white thinking because it makes us feel certain (if only about who we are). That said, some highly placed academics in medicine do try to make out that post-modernism is anti-science (probably because they mistake the new agey CAM stuff that calls itself post-modern, when it isn’t actually post-modernism, for post-modernism).

            This discomfort with uncertainty (which makes people feel powerless) is what makes religion/political ideology so appealing to many (religion being a form of collective subjectivity, but you only have to look at how every religion has both a Fundamentalist and esoteric arm to see how even religion adapts itself to remain relevant/appealing to individual subjectivity and different personality types). And, just to be clear, I’m not trying to claim some sort of exceptionalism for myself here – just pointing out what I see from my perspective (which is shaped by my experiences and understanding). I’m as prone to cognitive and personal biases as anyone else and anyone who is willing to admit they have them can work to mitigate them as much as possible. If you’re not willing to be “wrong” or acknowledge the limits of your own understanding, you’ll never really learn anything new. Which sounds pretty boring to me but it’s the old security vs freedom bargain we all make with ourselves. Personally I find it fascinating that we all see the world subjectively but then again I come from an art background and art is all about the subjective perspective – I see art as a conversation we are having with ourselves that’s basically saying “I see/hear/think this, do you too? What do you see?”. (Looking at art from a cultural and not commodity perspective, of course, even though the commodity aspects of art don’t shape it as well.)

            The problem arises when we believe our own subjective perspective is objective, when we mistake our beliefs for who we are. This leads to any discussion of beliefs being experienced as a personal attack. I find that people who are overly emotionally/personally invested in the belief they’re logical (hence superior according to their personal hierarchy of worth), tend to get the most upset about it being pointed out that, as humans, emotion and subjectivity is part of the equation.

    • squid says:

      Junk food will still make you obese if you forget that you have eaten it…

  2. Guy Fox says:

    Not so much. First, let’s look at music history, as you say. The song and video have some striking similarities in terms of chord progressions and imagery as Madonna’s “Express Yourself” of 20 freakin’ years ago. Can anything that derivative be genius? Sure, Everything is a Remix (http://www.everythingisaremix.info/), but reach a little, will ya?

    Okay, so 13 year old girls might not remember Madonna, who’s by now older than many of their mothers. Still, a lot of what you call ‘subtext’ is really just text. The (homo)sexual elements of the song are definitely out in the open. Unless you go to a Catholic school on another planet, every 13 year old girl you can find will know full well what a drag queen is (when did you smoke your first cigarette, have your first kiss, drink your first beer? – I’m betting knowledge of drag queens came around the same time). Everyone with enough money to buy the track, whether from their allowance or selling derivatives or whatever, is going to be conversant in this language. It’s not subtext if she’s bashing you over the head with it.

    Far more doubtful is your claim that tweens will know about pink triangles and teletubbies. That tempest in a teapot happened in 1999, when a girl who’s currently 13 would have been 1 year old. I remember having a conversation with a gay acquaintance of my parents when I was about 11 about what it meant to be gay (I can hear the trolls diving in for the kill there), but my memories of my first year are nonexistent. It’s considerably more likely that they’ve seen the pink triangle on their school’s bulletin board, advertising the student-faculty LGBT club, or from Bill O’Reilly raising hell about a gay pride parade.

    A potentially more interesting question to ask of the song is the overt message and what it means. I.e. you’re perfect just as you were born. This is just like Aguilera’s message in ‘Beautiful’: you’re beautiful by definition and anyone who criticizes you is a mean idiot. This equates virtue with identity: you don’t have to struggle to be good or make mistakes and learn from them (and take responsibility for them), you are endowed with goodness from birth with no effort. You have goodness in you like you have mitochondria. There’s a word for people who believe they can define themselves with words independently of their actions and see the rest of the world only in relation to their pre-ordained goodness, but this probably isn’t the right blog for it.
    The irony of that message is that Lady Gaga wasn’t born this way. She was born Stefani Germanotta, and she was a first class geek (yes, trolls, it takes one to know one). Maintaining her Gaga persona takes a lot of effort. In fact, it’s her whole job. She made herself this way.

    • George says:

      “There’s a word for people who believe they can define themselves with words independently of their actions and see the rest of the world only in relation to their pre-ordained goodness”

      The word you’re looking for is “liberal”. Liberals with the Vision of the Anointed.

      “MR. WATTENBERG: …why don’t you start out and tell us what ‘The Visionof the Anointed’ is about. What is it?

      MR. SOWELL: Well, it’s, one, a vision that the problems that we see in the world are due to the fact that other people are just not as bright or as compassionate as they are, and that there are all these solutions out there waiting to be discovered and they have them, and that these solutions are to be imposed upon the rest of us by the power of government through taxation or in other ways.

      And what’s really crucial about it is that their passion is so much greater than the passion on the other side, largely because what they have involved is more.” http://www.pbs.org/thinktank/transcript229.html

      What they have involved in their identity. What they are is “people who believe they can define themselves with words independently of their actions and see the rest of the world only in relation to their pre-ordained goodness.”

      • philtrum says:

        Yawn. Do we need to run down the list of famous conservative “defenders of family values” who continue to define themselves as such despite multiple divorces, adulteries, and other departures from family values? Again?

        Hypocrisy and narcissism are not partisan vices.

    • Napsterbater says:

      You’re looking at it as “text” now because you’re staring right at it. I struggle with this while I’m writing my articles. I almost didn’t submit it, because I didn’t feel that it said enough. Sure, while you’re looking at it, it’s easy to see. The point is that you weren’t looking at it, until you saw the article and decided to look at it.

      When I was a kid I watched a lot of Nickelodeon. It was on all the time. My first experience with subtext was when I got this book with a bunch of puzzles and stuff based on Nickelodeon shows. One of them suggested I “give this book to my parents and watch them fail.” I was soo excited by the possibility of being smarter in some way than my dad, so after making sure I knew all the answers, I gleefully handed it to my dad, who then proceeded to wreck my youthful ambition by getting them all right too. I wasn’t the only one watching these shows that were on our television 18 hours a day.

      Then we got a Nintendo. Had I gotten a similar quiz about Nintendo games, he would never have been able to answer, “How many normal levels does Solar Jetman have? On which levels can you find warp whistles in Super Mario Brothers?” He didn’t care about Nintendo, he wasn’t forced to sit in front of it all the time.

      What makes it subtext is not so much that it’s hidden from view, unintelligible without secret knowledge. That may have been necessary in the 90s. Now all you need to create one is that the people you’re trying to fool don’t care. Slide it just beneath their radar, and they’ll never see it. There’s nothing particularly hidden about the Manifesto of Mother Monster. That doesn’t mean you’re going to see it coming, and when your daughters talk right under your nose about it, it won’t even register.

      • Guy Fox says:

        “The point is that you weren’t looking at it, until you saw the article and decided to look at it.” No, that was the case with the Imogen Heap piece you did. That was a nifty interpretation and showed me a lot of things I hadn’t yet noticed. I absolutely noticed Gaga pulling a machine gun out of her vadge and had no doubts about its sexual overtones.

        I guess to make my criticism more constructive, I’ll say this: in the Imogen Heap piece you provided an interpretation by attaching meanings to what you saw, and they were insightful. In this piece, it’s mere description. It’s almost like the video is closed captioned, and you’re just reading off the captions. Sure, you draw the connection between “Him” and conservative values, but that’s pretty blatant. Scratch a little deeper.

        Don’t worry, I’ll let my own pants down soon enough, and I’ll welcome your comments, suggestions, rotten fruit.

        • Napsterbater says:

          It’s pop music. You’re not going to find that much beneath the surface. It’s different with indie music like Imogen’s because Imogen’s definitely doing something beneath the surface that you need analysis to tease out.

          Pop music doesn’t hide anything. It’s pure surface. Any deeper analysis is just speculation. There’s no id-ego-superego angle to the Promiscuous video worth exploring. The video is about sex, so I wrote about sex. Headlock is about seeing your super-ego for what it is, so I write about that. Born This Way is about youth and identity. So I write about that.

          If you think it’s boring, then you’re not really appreciating it. I don’t find pop boring, I think the surface ideas are novel and interesting enough to write about and contemplate without reading too deep into it. And enough other people find these ideas interesting enough to make this the most commented on post here.

          If you need help developing an appreciation for popular culture, I would suggest learning about Andy Warhol.

  3. jmavity says:

    ‘Reading’ “Born This Way” without reading “Firework” and “Raise Your Glass” by Pink at the same time misses the mark. http://www.scriptoriumdaily.com/2011/02/17/born-this-way-so-raise-your-glass-all-you-fireworks/

  4. Fifi says:

    People are so funny in how they think the “Sokol affair” proves post-modernism is bullshit. What it really points to are problems within academia that long predate post-modernism, which is people pretending to know what someone is talking about so they themselves don’t “look” stupid and being unwilling to question authority. Non-academics do this too, it’s what people who are more concerned with maintaining image than being effective/curious/engaged/creative do. Andrew Wakefield and the MRR bullshit is a prime example of this in another academic field – incidentally an area much more dangerous (and profitable) to be bullshitting people about than some cultural theorists waffling on about bullshit in deliberately obtuse language.

    Post-modernism exists, not because it’s a theory but because we’re living it. It’s quite amusing how many people think post-modern theories are shaping the world when it’s quite the reverse – post-modern theories (valid or not) are attempts to describe and make sense of our current world. Post-modernism is merely a discussion about what is happening now that modernism is dying – it’s not dying because of some theories being spouted in ivory towers (ah, the arrogance of academics), it’s because modernism is a direct result of industrialisation and certain technological breakthroughs and we’re now living in a post-industrial age. It’s entertaining how many people just reactively hate on post-modernism and cultural theorists though, as if they’re actually so powerful that they’re shaping society (while totally ignoring the massive technological changes, and rules that are made to govern how they’re used and by who, that are actually the game changers). Well, that and access to food and water, of course.

  5. Fifi says:

    Also, while all professions have their own lexicons that can be highly useful for making intricate and precise distinctions – these lexicons can also be used for other purposes (this includes marking one’s status as part of an in group and this comes with the implicit desire to exclude others). It’s quite easy to tell how genuine (and genuinely curious) an academic is by how they respond to questions – is it with disdain and superiority or with excitement and an attempt to explain their idea/discovery in more generally understandable terms? Anyone who goes out of their way to make others feel stupid for asking questions is someone who is afraid to ask questions themselves because they’re more interested in image (being perceived as an expert) than they are in the actual subject (this is a people thing, both modernists and post-modernists do it and the modernist vs post-modernists in US academia who get all worked up about each other seem to be in a reactionary loop to me).

    Incidentally, to be simplistic about it, modernism actually promotes narcissism and the myth of the solitary genius/hero (a founding myth of modernism that’s connected to commodifaction) more than some post-modern theories do (though it seems to me that many academic theorists are actually stuck in a pretty modernism paradigm). Or that’s my take on it anyway, your mileage may vary….

  6. Fifi says:

    Trying to describe and analyse our own culture while it happens is, inevitably, going to be like blind men describing the part of the elephant within their grasp – it doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile trying to do so and to understand ourselves, it’s just acknowledging the nature of the endeavour and how subjectivity gets in the way (something that science tries to do already, in some ways science was the start of post-modernism in that it acknowledges that human subjectivity gets in the way of seeing what is – not that this isn’t also an endeavour that’s also fraught with the pitfalls of being human).

  7. vprime says:

    Napsterbater, you’ve got great points here about how this symbolism is likely to be viewed by the intended audience. However, I’m puzzling over one of the other points you make.

    “You were born into this new race of people who do not judge or hate, but are free. It’s a new mythology for a new time. Are there any good people? Not in the video. Everybody’s evil. Good people get stepped on. What keeps evil people from getting stepped on? Their identity, their refusal to sit still and be silent.”

    I guess I’m just old, but much of Lady Gaga’s music seems to be so much special snowflaking. Everyone is a “superstar” and other such platitudes. If everyone is exceptional, what is the significance of being part of the new race identified here? Again, all I see is a lot of empty self-congratulatory back-patting for being nonjudgemental, and I’m really not sure why that is such a great good. It’s nice to be tolerant, but this video makes it seem positively Wagnerian (the horn music accompanying the “manifesto”) in heroic scope. It’s also interesting to see terms like “good” and “evil” used with no real purpose. According to this video, “evil” is looking cool sexy and awesome in black while “good” is wearing Pope-hat hair. The dualism here seems naive for someone who the media constantly reminds us is so postmodern.

    I also agree with this statement of Guy Fox’s:
    “Maintaining her Gaga persona takes a lot of effort. In fact, it’s her whole job. She made herself this way.”

    There is a real tension in the entire Lady Gaga persona between being awesome and spectacular just the way you are and the anxiety of constantly having to perform your persona. Her constant attempts to construct a bizarre persona clash with the bland, generic pop-dance music. The image matters more than the substance. So I find it a act of total cynicism when a performer who obviously works so hard at constructing her persona sends out a message like “you’re perfect the way you are.” She knows it’s what people want to hear, but she doesn’t embody a word of it.

    • Napsterbater says:

      RE “Special snowflaking”
      I love that term! OK to understand this, you again have to put yourself in the mind of a 13 year old. Their parents are overworked and bombarded with information. Their parents grew up having their parents say “tough shit” to them all the time. So they, lacking the time and inclination to figure out how to parent better, just wash off and reuse their parents’ philosophy.

      But this time, the kids don’t have to listen. They’re more than happy to have their little self-esteems stroked elsewhere. Even the fat, ugly kid can take comfort in the fact that Katy Perry thinks she’s a “firework,” just waiting to blow up. And the use of “good” and “evil” isn’t squandered. The entire thrust is to eliminate morality, to trivialize it.

      RE: Gaga persona
      She didn’t just come out of nowhere. The Gaga persona is the last in a long long line of acting roles, burlesque stars, pop acts. She learned to play the piano at 4, had her first open mike at 14. For her, stepping into the Gaga persona is like putting on a costume. I think you’re seeing a tension because of a personal reaction you’re having to her music. The rest of the music world does not think of Gaga’s music as bland or uninspired. I don’t dislike her music and I’ve danced to “Just Dance” plenty of times at clubs. I think it’s fresh and original.

      • Napsterbater says:

        More important than their parents, though is their peers at school, where cruelty is fast becoming an art form.

      • Fifi says:

        What you’re hearing out at clubs are remixes, for what that’s worth, so the “originality” probably has more to do with the remixers. You’re free to like her but there’s not actually a great deal of originality going on, even if there is a fair amount of creativity.

        Lady Gaga does lean heavily on the Madonna model of pop stardom (for better or worse, that’s for each viewer/listener to decide according to their taste). Like Madonna, she (and her team) are not only targeting teen girls (and gay teen boys) but also the Gay/Fabulous club scene – with this in mind it’s worth considering that it’s not just about the teen girls in her audience (and they may well not actually be who the video is targeted, just as Madonna’s work was often merely overgrounding/mainstreaming aspects of gay and underground culture). Also, like Madonna she also relies very heavily upon the creativity of others to construct her image – it’s not just self creation. In fact, this video leans very heavily on a lot of gay cultural tropes and conventions (much as Madonna’s work often did). Gay culture has always had the enduring theme of “you’re okay as you are” alongside a celebration of role playing. You’re entirely right that it’s not written to be understood by straight parents but, hey, the fact that Freddie Mercury was gay went over a lot of people’s heads too even though he fronted a band called Queen and there were plenty of signifiers.

        It’s a great video though, very post-human with all its Alien inspired imagery (with lots of glitter to make it fabulous, of course).

        • Napsterbater says:

          I tend not to like remixes.

          • Fifi says:

            Napsterbater – Fair enough, but of curiosity, why not? My main point was just that if you were dancing to it out in a club then it was most likely a remix (even if it was Lady Gaga’s longtime producer that remixed it). There’s generally a team of people making an artist like Lady Gaga sound and look how they do, this doesn’t negate the contribution of the person who is the public face of a project, it’s just acknowledging how most pop and dance music that features a diva/singer is constructed (and giving props to the team as well). Meaning I’m not dissing Lady Gaga, originality isn’t everything, masterly execution counts for a lot (and part of that is choosing good co-creators/co-workers).

            When we (and I’m including myself here) deconstruct a cultural object – in this case Lady Gaga’s video – we bring our own symbolic lexicon to the analysis. We’d have to speak to some tween girls if we really wanted to know why they like Lady Gaga – pissing off their parents may be part of it but don’t underestimate the power of sparkles and glamour on young girls!

          • Napsterbater says:

            Most of the time I’ve danced to Lady Gaga, it was the original. I prefer original cuts because they preserve the fidelity of the author. I guess when it comes to art, I’m an authoritarian. The more hands that touch it after it’s been released, the less of the original you can see. Music for me is not purely a sensory experience, it also intimately involves my mind, actively wondering things like, what are the influences, where are these chord phrasings coming from, what are they trying to say. When I listen to a remix, you lose a lot of that information that to me, is essential for getting a read on a piece of music. It’s the difference between having a conversation in email and in person. Not that the ideas of the remixer aren’t important, I want to hear those of the artist.

            I don’t mind, say, a club mix, because it cuts close enough to the original that I can get down. But for all the people who rave about dubstep, I can’t get into it. Too much is lost in translation.

          • Napsterbater says:

            Also it doesn’t matter to me that a pop hit might be touched by dozens of professionals before it hits my stereo. To me pop is, almost by definition these days, a team effort. I read an article about Dr. Dre’s method of writing a song. He assembles like 30 DJs into a room and gives them some instructions, then he walks around and listens to what they’re coming up with. He’ll make another comment or two when he hears something close to what he wants, and just assembles his track out of these thousands of sounds that are being created.

            It doesn’t bother me, I’m not a music snob. I don’t subscribe to any myths concerning music. I’ll listen to indie, I’ll listen to commercial pop. I’ll listen to classical. I’ll listen to country. Some of my best times listening to music were in wondering what creative process produced this piece of music. What came up with this hook? What emotion influenced this drum beat?

          • Fifi says:

            “The more hands that touch it after it’s been released, the less of the original you can see. Music for me is not purely a sensory experience, it also intimately involves my mind, actively wondering things like, what are the influences, where are these chord phrasings coming from, what are they trying to say.”

            Okay, so you like to think about music as well as feel it – lots of people do. However, you don’t seem to actually understand how pop music is made/constructed – which is kind of important if you’re going to try to deconstruct it. You seem to hold some odd belief that the Lady Gaga persona is actually Lady Gaga, not a persona constructed with input from many artists.

            “When I listen to a remix, you lose a lot of that information that to me, is essential for getting a read on a piece of music. It’s the difference between having a conversation in email and in person. Not that the ideas of the remixer aren’t important, I want to hear those of the artist.”

            That really depends on the remix and artists like Lady Gaga specifically seek out certain producers so they can sound a certain way – so you’re actually learning less about an artist like Lady Gaga by not knowing about the creative people around her.

            “I don’t mind, say, a club mix, because it cuts close enough to the original that I can get down. But for all the people who rave about dubstep, I can’t get into it. Too much is lost in translation.”

            Huh, so you don’t like dubstep – not sure what that has to do with remixes or this conversation! Most dubstep is original tracks, it’s not remixes – if you’re unfamiliar with the genre and don’t like bass music (and don’t understand it’s roots), it probably won’t be for you. Nothing wrong with that – not everyone likes everything. Look, there’s nothing wrong with being someone who likes top 40 radio mixes and – it’s your ears and mind – but it will leave you with a pretty shallow knowledge of culture and reference points vis a vis even pop music (simply because pop music that likes to pretend it’s radical and shocking is often just mainstreaming/overgrounds certain sounds or ideas that have reached critical mass outside of the commercial market).

          • Fifi says:

            “Also it doesn’t matter to me that a pop hit might be touched by dozens of professionals before it hits my stereo.”

            You seem to be kind of contradicting yourself – you seem to be saying hate remixes because you value the “original” because you think it reveals the soul/intent of the artist but then you say that you doesn’t matter who touches it because it’s a team effort.

      • Fifi says:

        Napsterbaiter – “The Gaga persona is the last in a long long line of acting roles, burlesque stars, pop acts. She learned to play the piano at 4, had her first open mike at 14. For her, stepping into the Gaga persona is like putting on a costume.”

        You can’t just ignore that she’s wearing a costume that’s been worn before though if you’re doing a cultural analysis (or that she’s wearing a costume). Her persona is full of cultural references, it didn’t just get created out of a vacuum or even purely out of her own imagination. That’s not a dis, it’s just part of the creative process. In some ways the question centres around what does a culture look like when everyone is aware that they’re creating personas that allow them to express other (Other?) aspects of themselves? And does performing a persona negate and replace our more authentic (vulnerable, imperfect) self or enhance it?

        • Napsterbater says:

          There’s only so many elements that can make it into a piece. It’s not that I wanted to ignore the mask she puts on, I just thought that the sexual and moral aspects were more interesting. There’s lots of music that deals directly with the masks we put on and use to interact with the rest, I’ll explore those themes when I find such a video.

    • Fifi says:

      “There is a real tension in the entire Lady Gaga persona between being awesome and spectacular just the way you are and the anxiety of constantly having to perform your persona. Her constant attempts to construct a bizarre persona clash with the bland, generic pop-dance music. The image matters more than the substance. So I find it a act of total cynicism when a performer who obviously works so hard at constructing her persona sends out a message like “you’re perfect the way you are.” She knows it’s what people want to hear, but she doesn’t embody a word of it.”

      I agree with you in some ways but what if who you really are is someone who likes to dress up and role play? This is, for many people, an integral part of being a teenager (testing out different personas to find one that fits) and is, or at least has been historically, a big part of being gay. Who you are at work or in the straight world may be very different than who you are in a safe/gay space where you can express yourself and your desires that have to be hidden to avoid exclusion out in the straight world.

      There’s also another aspect that isn’t being discussed that is hugely relevant to being a teenage girl and a woman – which may be less obvious to a guy but you can be sure tween and teen girls are aware of (if not able to verbalize or analyse). Much of what we consider “feminine” or “womanly” is actually a construct or a form of drag – it’s learned behaviour full of social signifiers. Being a “lady” (or a “bad girl”) requires one behave and dress in a certain way that is not natural. Even having a “natural look” is generally a construct (and one of many makeup and fashion choices that does require work and hiding/concealing the natural). If a women leaves nature to do its thing more often than not she’ll have hairy armpits and legs and be a lot less “feminine” than the ideal (though obviously no less female).

      There are female artists that challenge these notions of appropriate feminine behaviour but Lady Gaga isn’t really one. The things that are still pretty forbidden for women are being hairy and angry – being sexy and entertaining, or being broken and vulnerable, are still very much approved of/accepted/expected. Neither Madonna or Lady Gaga actually break either of these taboos.

      • cat says:

        Fifi wrote:

        This is, for many people, an integral part of being a teenager (testing out different personas to find one that fits) and is, or at least has been historically, a big part of being gay.

        I think this is very true. This music video, the song itself, were created specifically for teenagers. Teenagers think they are special snowflakes, whereas their parents are old, boring maybe even sellouts. Gaga is telling them, you’re different.

        As the OP wrote, it doesn’t matter that Gaga is so influenced by Madonna or whoever – the kids she’s writing the music for don’t know the influences except as cultural tropes that they see repeated everywhere. It’s their parents who are going to criticize Gaga but that just reinforces the idea that the parents “don’t get it”.

        So yes, I agree that the “conversation” the kids have with Gaga goes on under the noses of their parents, it’s not subtext, the parents just don’t see it the same way.

        Dressing up and creating flamboyant personas, dressing in drag, acting out fantasies is as old as pop music — what about Freddie Mercury, what about David Bowie? “Special snowflaking” is also old – remember Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors”? The pop singer tells you you’re special, she’s singing just for you. These tropes are a deep part of our culture.

        Gaga is also operating in a commercial world and she’s trying to position herself in a market niche – she wants to establish herself as a gay icon. She’s playing on the controversy/ debate that she is intersex. She wants to be ambiguous. It’s marketing. So much of her imagery is about being gay, because that’s her target audience.

      • vprime says:

        “I agree with you in some ways but what if who you really are is someone who likes to dress up and role play?”

        I find nothing objectionable in itself about indulging in various forms of drag. I just think Gaga is overrated. Her persona overpromises strangeness that her music cannot deliver. Contrast genuinely weird performers like Klaus Nomi who challenge the structure and content of pop music. I cannot distinguish Gaga’s music sonically from Christina or Britney. Without her overwrought “weird” persona, she’s another pop commodity. Singing about gay-friendly topics is not edgy, it’s positively mainstream. What gets me about the message of this video is how it valorizes being “different” in exactly the way that’s mandatory in our culture. “Be accepting and don’t judge others” is a message that those boring old hippies have been pushing since before most of us were born. What’s edgy about a message you’ve heard since Kindergarten?

        I absolutely do agree with you on this:
        “There are female artists that challenge these notions of appropriate feminine behaviour but Lady Gaga isn’t really one. The things that are still pretty forbidden for women are being hairy and angry – being sexy and entertaining, or being broken and vulnerable, are still very much approved of/accepted/expected. Neither Madonna or Lady Gaga actually break either of these taboos.”

        Really breaking taboos might damage Gaga’s marketability.

        • philtrum says:

          Indeed, I think it’s a good assumption that if Hollywood (or any part of the mainstream entertainment industry) is congratulating itself on breaking a taboo, that taboo hasn’t really been a taboo for a couple of decades.

        • Fifi says:

          “Her persona overpromises strangeness that her music cannot deliver. Contrast genuinely weird performers like Klaus Nomi who challenge the structure and content of pop music. I cannot distinguish Gaga’s music sonically from Christina or Britney. ”

          I totally agree, it’s not actually about genuinely being strange/different/unique per se (or being yourself), it’s about looking weird/sexy/fashionista to get attention despite how normal/average you actually are (so ultimately about pretending to be someone different and more exciting so people will treat you as special and not, you know, normal/average).

  8. AnonymousAtLarge says:

    Lady Gaga’s core audience is 12-18 year old girls? I always assumed gaga was popular among many people, men and women both, in their teens and 20s. Gaga does not equal bieber or jonas brothers.

    Say what you like about gaga… she is doing something brave by so boldly speaking out for gay people. NO one has done that before. Even our cowardly politicians refuse to defend gay people (why should they, they are only 2% of the population and the rest of the world likes picking on them as a social pressure valve… they are like jews in the third reich or something).

    As hugely successful as she is, she doesn’t *need* to stand up for gays just to find a niche. In fact it is hurting her popularity to be so pro-gay, so political. I’ve heard many people express dislike for gaga’s pro-gay views. She doesn’t have to do this, but rather she does it because she believes in it and it is the right thing to do. That takes courage and she should be respected. Madonna never,e ver did that. Madonna used homosexual imagery to tantalize and weird people out and nothing more; madonna did not defend and champion gay rights the way gaga does. Personally I have always been a huge fan of gaga’s danceable pop music but I never thought that much of her as an icon or anything. Now with her recent behaviors, I respect her so much and go out of my way to defend her from criticism whenever I can.

    True, gaga has stated that she is bisexual in the past (so she does have perhaps some personal interest in promoting gay rights), but even if so, gaga lives a heterosexual lifestyle and she has no *reason* to care about gays. No one would have ever denied her rights or treated her like she was doomed to hell simply because of how she was born.

    15 year olds know what gay is, they know what a purple triangle with a glittery unicorn means. Even if we find one of ned flander’s children who has no idea what that means, all human beings instinctually know what homosexuality is. All humans know there are some men who have brains more like women, so they seem attracted to the opposite sex and dress/behave in a feminine way. All humans intuitively know there are some women who are butch and masculine and reject the female role and like women. You don’t have to “teach” kids to mock that lisping boy who tends to befriend other girls to chat and gossip with, instead of boys to rough and tumble with. All kids instinctively KNOW the deal. Even if they are too young to name it (“he’s a homosexual”) they still mock it and regard it as strange.
    When I was 11, a parent of a friend said that a right ear piercing in a boy was code for homosexual. At that age I well knew what homosexual was, and I also knew there were secret” codes” or “identifiers” that made homosexuals different from other people. I didn’t yet year the word gaydar (this was over 15 years ago, I don’t even know if gaydar existed as the term for it?)… but everyone, EVERYONE knew what gay was, what homosexual was, and that homosexuals had subtle differences in behavior which we could “detect” to identify them.

    I dont know what world you are living in where 15 year olds or even 12 year olds are not well versed in slang for homosexuals and indicators of it.

    Oh and gaga is almost always wearing a bikini or at least a sexy getup. Telephone (features scene in underwear with other prisoners dancing in the jail house), alejandro (features scene mock dancing having sex with a man, where she is in her undies yet again). One thing you can’t say about gaga is that she is covered up, she is almost always half naked.

    I just don’t see your point. It’s almost as if you are saying lady gaga is subversively programming children into a homosexual , godless agenda?

    Who says religion is good, anyway? Why is that accepted as default? Why isn’t it okay to be an athiest? This is 2011, can we please get over ignorant myths pretending to be the word of an all knowing all powerful sky daddy? Why should we respect an institution which promotes abuse and murder of people simply because they were born with a neuroanatomical configuration which was incongruent with their genitalia? If a “religion” premoted the killing and ostracism of people with more clear cut biological brain atypicalities (E.g. left handedness, which by the way was also once shamed and abused by catholics)… we would never respect such a practice. But, oh, it’s just fags, so who cares, fags are annoying and butch dykes are gross. It’s no longer acceptable to say k*ke or n*gger or what not, so someone needs to fill that gap, and it is a big gap to fill.

    All I can say is the world needs people like lady gaga. She has single handedly done more to promote acceptance of homosexuality than our own president(s) and leaders. Really, in this day and age, can you imagine that we still live in an ignorant, god fearing populace which mandates that we stigmatize gays? So our elected leaders cow tow as demanded, because ultimately they are puppets and stand for nothing. Oh, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. Look at the fat unkempt fools standing next to you at walmart, as they talk about their horde of kids and their baptisms and how gays are going to hell. Should we be surprised? The rest of the civilized world is up to speed, as usual fat america lags behind giant 44 ounce fountain drink in tow, clinging a bible and turning people into second class citizens simply for how they were born.

    You might expect this from some third world shithole in latin america or the caribean or africa where people are not educated or civilized. It is totally unacceptable that americans, with all our wealth, still think this way.

    • Napsterbater says:

      I like Lady Gaga, I don’t know what gave you the impression that I didn’t.

      • AnonymousAtLarge says:

        I think you like lady gaga the way a lot of people do…

        “I like gaga, her tunes are good, but her pro-gay thing annoys me, so I am going to use every conscious attempt in my brain to deflect attention away from it and pretend it isn’t there”.

        • Napsterbater says:

          Her pro-gay attitude does not annoy me, and I didn’t try to avoid it. I did state that she used “gay, lesbian, transgendered, straight” in the video. My point is that she’s treating each topic differently. There’s a subtle difference I’m trying to outline. Lady Gaga doesn’t portray sex. She portrays sexuality. And that she’s hiding the real conversation about sexuality she’s having with her fans behind the obvious images.

    • Fifi says:

      Just like Madonna did before her! Seriously, Lady Gaga is not the first artist to speak up for Gay rights and it takes much less courage to do so today than it did back during the early days of AIDS. But, good for Lady Gaga that she speaks up for the rights of people who buy her records and the culture she borrows a great deal of her act from, there have certainly been artists who became Gay icons that didn’t do so (or that took a long time to come around).

      • philtrum says:

        Indeed. The first time I heard “Born This Way” I was disappointed that Gaga was going so anodyne. Her previous singles, while they are (in Gaga’s own words) “soulless electronic pop”, have at least had something disturbing or ironic about them.

        But a happy coming-out anthem? Perhaps it depends on where you live, but I remember Geri Halliwell making an overt play for the gay market about 10 years ago with a dreadful cover of “It’s Raining Men”, and it was a clichéd strategy even then. Outside of hardcore religious and conservative circles, gay pride is no longer a new or radical concept. Pride parades in urban centres draw hundreds of thousands of spectators and lots of mainstream sponsorship. Movies and TV shows with gay performers or sympathetic gay characters (Will & Grace, The Ellen Show, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Glee, Modern Family, etc.) are big mainstream hits. You can argue that they’re sanitized, etc. etc., but no more so than “Born This Way”.

        I like Gaga just fine, but I don’t find her pro-gay sympathies surprising or uniquely admirable. In the American entertainment industry, standing up for the mere proposition that it’s okay to be gay is barely braver than denouncing the KKK or the Westboro Baptist Church.

        • vprime says:

          Yes. I’m reminded of an episode of The Simpsons in which a gay pride parade marches down the street chanting: “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” To which Lisa responds: “You do this every year, we are used to it.”

          • AnonymousAtLarge says:

            So I guess that means there is no strong anti-gay bigotry in america, and I guess it means that gays are allowed to have civil partnerships which are equal to marriage , and I guess it means that if you are gay no one is going to reject you or accuse you of going to hell?

            Oh wait.

          • philtrum says:

            No, and we haven’t ended world hunger either, but that doesn’t mean that merely saying you want to end world hunger is a radical act.

          • AnonymousAtLarge says:

            No , but risking your personal success and financial interests so as to further world hunger ending causes is something to respect.

            People are not NOT comfortable with how “GAY” lady gaga is. She would radically improve her popularity if she went back to making sterile mindless dance music with wacky outfits like she did a few years ago.

            But no, gaga is using her newfound popularity for a good purpose, by taking clear and bold stands for gay people…. at a detriment to herself in the eyes of heteros who say (or secretly think) “would she shut up about the fags already??”

          • philtrum says:

            She would “radically improve her popularity”? I quote Wikipedia:

            In the United States, “Born This Way” debuted at the number-one position on the Billboard Hot 100, on the issue dated February 26, 2011. The song became the 1000th number-one single in the chart’s history, and the nineteenth song to debut at number one. “Born This Way” became Lady Gaga’s eighth consecutive top-ten single, first to debut at number one and third number-one single. The song sold 448,000 digital downloads in three days, the most downloads in a first week by a female artist. The record was previously held by Britney Spears’ “Hold It Against Me”. It was also the third-highest debut on the Hot Digital Songs chart of any artist.[40] The single remained at number-one the following week, selling 509,000 copies in its first full week of release, becoming the first song to enter the Hot 100 at number-one and hold that position for a second week since Clay Aiken’s “This Is The Night” in 2003.[41] It simultaneously became the first number-one debuting song on the Hot 100 Digital Songs chart to show an increase in downloads in its second week since Beyoncé Knowles’ 2008 single, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”.[42] Subsequently the song has held the number one spot for six weeks making it the only song to debut at number one and stay there for over a month since Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind 1997″ in 1997.[43] “Born This Way” went onto break the record for fastest selling song in iTunes history, selling 1,000,000 copies worldwide in five days.[4] The song has sold over 1.979 million paid digital downloads in the United States to date according to Nielsen Soundscan. The song’s CD single sold 24,000 copies in its first week of release and 37,000 copies to date.[44][45]

            How much is it possible for her popularity to “improve”?

            Furthermore, this isn’t a new development. She’s been open about her pro-LGBT politics and her bisexuality for nearly as long as she’s been topping the charts.

        • AnonymousAtLarge says:

          Everything you have written sounds like a typical hetero who doesn’t want to hear about gayness, and how it is still a huge problem to be gay in america.

          It’s sort of like white people who don’t want to be reminded that it still does suck to be black in america, and some activists refuse to stop talking about it. Sucking less does not mean equality.
          Good for you that you were born into the majority so you never ever have to worry about these issues. Some people aren’t so lucky and they spend their lives being treated horribly, rejected, abused, and denied rights because they were, as gaga says, born this way.

          I’ve been around long enough to realize the deal is this: People know it isn’t cool to admit they hate gays, find them disgusting and hellbound, so they won’t openly state such feelings…however given the circumstance they will relish in the opportunity to denounce homosexuals. The fact that people have been socialized into suppressing their bigoted views quite as openly does not mean an absence of bigotry.

          The difference between born this way and all those other vaguely gay media elements is that born this way very directly addresses the issue: “It’s okay to be gay, you were born that way.”
          The OT describes the video as ambiguous and weird. No it’s not. It’s not abstract at all, it’s very directly about self acceptance particularly if you are gay. It’s almost as if he *wants* it to be ambiguous so he isn’t forced to confront the strong pro-gay message.

          It doesn’t dance around it or exploit it for novelty/freakishness like madonna or geri hallowell or glee. “What I’ve learned is that being gay is about singing and dancing and being flamboyant and campy”. Okay, now how does that help your average “normal” person understand that some people are born with an innate, unchanging and atypical (but morally neutral) sexuality and/or gendered behavior?

          Born this way gets that point across rather well. Being gay isn’t a lifestyle, and it’s not about what kind of clothes you wear or your predilection for campy musicals. Being gay is the way you are born, and you are not immoral for it.

          • Napsterbater says:

            I did not describe this video as ambiguous or weird.

          • philtrum says:

            Everything you have written sounds like a typical hetero who doesn’t want to hear about gayness, and how it is still a huge problem to be gay in america.

            No, I’m not saying that. What I am saying is that merely stating that it’s okay to be gay, full stop, is not a radical thing to do in the mainstream American entertainment industry.

            The entertainment industry largely wants its gay performers and characters sassy, sidekicky, stereotypical and celibate — but at the same time it will defend their right to exist, and feel very proud of doing so, as some white people do when selectively quoting the “I Have A Dream” speech.

            I think our points are very similar — I am trying to say that you can be a racist even if you are not running around yelling racial slurs and burning crosses on lawns, and you can be a homophobe even if you watch Will & Grace, and what I think Gaga is doing with “Born This Way” is the equivalent of En Vogue exhorting people to “be colourblind, don’t be so shallow”. Feel-good words.

          • AnonymousAtLarge says:

            You didn’t use those words but absolutely your intention was to state this song and video as intentionally undecipherable.

            “With that said, let’s examine the video. It opens with a couple of symbols, the unicorn and a pink triangle. Then Lady Gaga with her hair done like a pope’s hat. There’s no rhyme or reason here, it’s a mashup. ”

            Your whole point was that the gay symbols actually aren’t gay symbols, they are symbols which mean nothing to the target audience, words/images to annoy parents. I assure you every single teen knows exactly what a purple triangle with a glittery unicorn means.

            You seem to have intentionally deflected attention away from lady gaga’s clear unambiguous progay message.

  9. Fifi says:

    Lady Gaga and her work are not actually examples of “mashup culture”, mashups are created using the original source materials that are remixed to create a new work (direct borrowing, not oblique references). It’s a pretty distinct genre that’s all about the remixing. Yes, I am indeed a pedantic music/art nerd (and offer this explanation not to to say “aha, you’re wrong” but because you obviously have an interest in deconstructing contemporary music culture so it might of interest to you to know what the term you’re using actually refers to, you know, to “the kids” and people involved in mashup culture, who are not all kids).

    • Napsterbater says:

      The idea that “everything is a remix” is not a genre, or a movement. It’s an observation. I’m less interested in observing others’ notions of concept fidelity than I am in plain language descriptions of ideas. If they demolish someone’s sand castle, so much the better. What we need is fewer labels and more clarity. Labels do not promote clarity, they obscure it.

      • Fifi says:

        No, the idea “everything is a remix” is not a genre and I never proposed that (nor do I believe that). What I said is that “mashups” are a genre and the term denotes something specific when talking about music (I know, Vanity Fair got that wrong too – you seem to have gotten quite a bit of your info and some terminology from their article on Lady Gaga). Not everything is a remix but obviously everything has context and culture doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it has influences. You’re not creating any clarity by repeating terms being misused in Vanity Fair, it actually makes what you’re writing less clear and makes you look ignorant about something you’re claiming to have special insight into (I’m not saying you are ignorant, I’m saying it makes you look like you don’t know what you’re talking about).
        “Labels” are just words that describe something – words can create clarity or obscure it. You’re the one that used “mashup” to label a culture – not sure how you believe you’re creating clarity by not knowing what it actually is the word describes… If you wanted to actually be clear, why not use an appropriate word or simply explain what you mean instead of, like Vanity Fair, trying to be “hip” by using a terminology you’ve seen around but have made clear you don’t actually understand. Considering you just wrote a blog post about how you know what tween girls think and feel and how Lady Gaga goes over their parents’ heads, you’re coming off a lot like the parent that can’t understand youth culture that you’d painted in your post right now.

        • Napsterbater says:

          Just because I’m using a word doesn’t make it a term. Here’s what I do when I write these things: I watch the video, two or three times. Then I try to figure it out. I ask myself questions, and watch the video again to answer them. I go look at the lyrics for words that I missed. I come up with a game plan for describing the video. I write the article, frequently looking again at specific points to make sure I’m getting things right. At no point do I go and read what other people have said about it. At no point do I introduce genre in anything other than the most general of forms. Pop, rock, rap, those work fine for me. I let the video itself dictate what I write about it. I do this on purpose because I feel that approaching a piece of music from a place of total ignorance produces fresher insights. It also happens to be a hell of a lot easier.

          If you don’t like it, feel free to write an aggregate of what everybody else has already said.

          • Fifi says:

            “At no point do I go and read what other people have said about it.”

            So what if you did read what other people say about it? That makes your own thoughts no less your thoughts if they’re informed by information someone else gathered. If you didn’t read anything about Lady Gaga, how do you know she practiced piano and did an open mike? (Which you seemed to present as a form of proof that she is an “authentic” artist, you may not have intended that but it’s how it read.) And you’re not “approaching music from a place of total ignorance” since you clearly learned about her past and are part of the larger culture and have a shared conceptual framework you’re using for the analysis – nobody approaches anything as a clean slate.

            “If you don’t like it, feel free to write an aggregate of what everybody else has already said.”

            Um, if you don’t want feedback don’t write a public blog! Sorry any discussion that challenges some of what you wrote pisses you of but that’s the nature of of putting ideas out in public – or are you just looking for uncritical agreement of your critical ideas rather than a discussion about contemporary culture? Being uniformed or unaware (or ignorant) doesn’t actually make your (or my) ideas more novel, original or authentic.

            Fair enough if it’s easier and you’re not into putting more effort in but trying to claim that this makes your perspective somehow purer seems like bullshit to me – particularly if you’re doing a cultural analysis and trying to claim you’re a blank slate (not influenced by culture or any outside influence). The irony meter just went to 11.

          • Fifi says:

            “Just because I’m using a word doesn’t make it a term.”

            Of course not but in music and music culture it IS a term that denotes something specific (and using it in the context of describing music/culture makes this relevant). You say you want clarity but then you seem to want to deny that words have meanings other than your personal usage – this seems contradictory to me. It was a term before you used it btw (and has been for quite a while now), which is why using it to mean something different makes your usage idiosyncratic and creates confusion rather than clarity. This isn’t to say words can’t have multiple meanings that are context specific, it’s just being aware of what a word denotes/means in a specific context. Nothing wrong with making up idiosyncratic definitions of a word but, if you’re looking for clarity, then it’s best to describe your personal meaning so other people understand what you actually mean. I can claim “white” really means “black” when I use it but it’s silly to claim that “white” has no common meaning to everyone else and everyone is a poopoo head for not just accepting and knowing “white” means “black” to me when I use shared language.

          • Napsterbater says:

            Me inviting you to do things your way isn’t an attempt to shut you up. I invite you to do so because then all these little decisions that look like they were so haphazardly made when you see them in a finished piece don’t look so callous once you’ve got a blank page staring you in the face.

            You’ve been making comment after long comment, and it seems to me like you have something you’d like to say. So say it! There’s a reason this is a community blog, and that anyone’s free to contribute.

          • Fifi says:

            Napsterbate – But I have been saying what I want to say! I also find value in what others have to say, whether I agree or not. I’d assume that there’s a reason why there is the means to discuss and comment on what others write on a community blog – be it the person who makes the blog post or other commenters. I’d also assumed (ah, the root of all misunderstandings) that you write a public blog on a community site because you’re interested in what others think about what you write and in discussing the topics you bring up. If that’s not the case, let me know that I’m working under a false assumption about why you write blog posts for a community site.

            Just to let you know that I understand what it’s like to try to formulate ideas to put out there (and because it may give you a laugh), I find discussing things I find interesting on blogs a means to both clarify my own ideas and procrastinate about facing down my own blank pages. Yes, my irony meter also goes to 11 and I’m just as human as you. Anyway, thanks for giving me something I find interesting to think about and discuss – and if you found the discussion and comments not to your liking, I apologize for assuming that you were interested in feedback of the kind I gave. I do like my ideas and knowledge to be challenged so I sometimes forget that others are looking for something else or may not like the way I do that (that would be my own subjectivity getting in the way – I now have no idea what you’re actually looking for by writing a blog on a community site obviously!).

          • Napsterbater says:

            I am happy that I was able to give you something to think about. I’m not trying to be perfect, I’m trying to do something that matters. You think I would be better served by gathering all the “relevant” information out there, so that I won’t make any mistakes that will make me look stupid. I don’t care if I look stupid. I’m making you think. That’s good enough for me. That’s what matters. Think about it, how many things do you read these days do that to you? Challenge your assumptions?

            Please don’t think I’m being patronizing and I take no pleasure in your admission that you’re afraid to face that blank page. It’s intimidating. I fight with it all the time. Come to it when you’re ready. But if you’re going to criticize someone’s style or method, you need to understand what it’s like.

            I’m not accepting your criticisms because they’re not informed criticisms. They deny certain basic facts about what I’m trying to do. It’s like telling the ring-leader of your bank robbing crew that they’d make a lot more money in real estate. It’s a criticism that says far more about you than it does about your ring-leader.

            I told you I don’t want to trade in labels, and instead of accepting that and trying to figure out why, you simply deny that labels introduce confusion, and assume I’m just being stupid. At some point I have to decide that you’re just being argumentative to no good end. I just don’t have time to answer all your jabs point-by-point, and my failure to do so doesn’t mean I’m unwilling to engage, it just means I’m busy.

          • Fifi says:

            “You think I would be better served by gathering all the “relevant” information out there, so that I won’t make any mistakes that will make me look stupid. I don’t care if I look stupid. I’m making you think. That’s good enough for me.
            That’s what matters. Think about it, how many things do you read these days do that to you? Challenge your assumptions?”

            Not to dismiss what you’re trying to do but I read lots of things that challenge my assumptions and that I think about critically – I seek out things that do and there’s plenty out there (on all parts of the spectrum from brilliant to dim). Correct me if I’m wrong but you seem somewhat unwilling to have your own assumptions and ideas challenged and to truly believe you’re doing something unique that nobody else does (an easy illusion to sustain if you ignore everyone else!). I didn’t challenge your assumptions in my comments about your post because of image related things (you looking stupid, me looking smart or whatever – I don’t actually think people are stupid because they don’t know something, they just don’t know something, but I do wonder about people who are consciously being willfully ignorant but seem to want others to think they’re insightful and informed).

            The thing is, I already think critically about these things and so it seemed like an opportunity to discuss them with others interested in thinking and sharing their ideas about them. I get it, I was incorrect in that assumption.

            What I find hard to make sense of is that you’ve claimed to be lazy and purposely ignorant – I’m not sure that was defensiveness or if you really believe this – but also claim to have worked hard on tackling the blank page and sorting out your ideas! Not to be partronizing back at ya but I suspect I’ve got more experience with blank pages than you do (though that’s not actually that relevant to me – is it to you? – the content of what you or anyone writes is more interesting to me, whether I think it’s genius or lazy wanking, sometimes something interesting can come out of a good wank even if it’s somewhat rarer).

            I don’t expect perfection out of anyone, that’s not really the point in thinking about or discussing cultural theory for me or pointing things out that you may have been unaware of. Accepting imperfection doesn’t mean one has to just uncritically accept what people write, it’s actually why lots of people discuss their ideas with others and inform themselves – not to be “experts” but because they’re aware of the imperfect nature of cultural analysis and the limitations of our own subjectivity. I get it, not your thing.

            Look, I get it that you find me annoying but you’re under no obligation to respond if you consider discussing your ideas with people who challenge some of them, or anything else, a waste of your time. I, on the other hand, am busy wasting my time between bouts of writing so we’re obviously on different pages here… ;-)

  10. Comus says:

    My instinctive first interpretation of this video was, that it was a (parodical?) tribute to Madonna, and not as such aimed at teens as homosexual enlightenment. It was more like reaching out to the market saying “you want me to be like Madonna? Sure! I can be whatever you want me to be”. Isn’t it a strange world we live in, when a self-aware post-modernist preaches about innate individual self-worth? Paradoxical like the pope behind a bulletproof glass giving sex advice.

    In the ned we see Michael Jackson (king of pop) and Madonna (queen of pop). Isn’t the message here that the pop royalty have created pop-offspring wherein Gaga can as well be positioned? That the culture here isthe Mother monster that has created her, you and everybody who’s watching? To emphasize your role there is a cascade of images with mirrors, especially during birth. So if we venture into analytic freefall we can say that the point is to view you as one of the offspring. But as it is done with a mirror the image is inverted. Herein may lie the true self-aware critique; the image portrayed in pop culture is always a distorted feedback of you, that creates an endless loop.

    As much as I enjoy the phenomenon of Lady Gaga as Dali 2.0, I find this video rather jejune with it’s constant over-emphasized intertextuality and namedropping. Even if it’s point is to clarify that she is construed by culture itself, she could do it with leaving a little more room for the viewer to project.

    Oh, and the sexuality-point, not saying it’s not there, just thinking it as a more of an allusion to Madonna, and signifying more the pop queen than the issue itself.

  11. foxfire says:

    I have a slightly different take on the heavy flashing of symbology. I think you are partly right, but I see it as more of a “No parents allowed” sign on the kid’s clubhouse.

    I think she is intentionally using a lot of symbols that have meanings to adults. If you flash enough of these symbols up, you are bound to irritate or annoy most adults. Throw a catchy tune with some disposable lyrics, and most teenagers would probably like it. The fact that is annoys their parents is just a bonus.

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