“JUDASVIDEO PREMIERE 5.5.11 on E! 7/6c + 11:30/10c. Motorcycle Fellini PopArt FantasyFilm + Haus Directorial Debut. ” – @ladygaga
When you read something that namechecks Fellini, you expect Fellini. Lady Gaga’s new video “Judas” is weak suace even for her. It’s Gaga without the weird costumes, without the nulled-gender, and without the weirdness. In other words it’s Madonna, with better photography. The only relationship this video has to Fellini are some very superficial costume references to Satyricon and a biker party that I’m sure she thought would conjure up images of the debauchery in La Dolce Vita, but instead conjures up images of Fast Times at Ridgemont High if it was a stage play put on by the cast of Glee.
Forget Fellini. I’ve always thought that Lady Gaga was channeling director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s films El Topo and The Holy Mountain in her videos, so much so that I’m willing to bet that the song “Alejandro” refers to him. But this video doesn’t even approach Jodorowsky.
The video, which you can bore yourself with above, depicts Jesus and his twelve disciples as a biker gang, with Lady Blahblah playing the role of Mary Magdalene. And that’s it. That’s five minutes and thirty five seconds of your life you won’t get back. There’s a lot of baptismal imagery, a lot of covering of one eye that I’m sure is supposed to evoke the Illuminati and make us say “ooooo” but instead makes us say “zzzzzzzz.” But her reference to Fellini is supposed to conjure up the controversy surrounding his films. We are supposed to find the video to be shocking. Mary Magdalene is having a relationship with Jesus?! And she cheats on him with Judas?! But if you aren’t shocked, it’s because Gaga isn’t really talking to you.
She’s talking to Catholics.
The relationship triangle depicted in the video is shocking to no one outside of Catholic schools, and I’m not even sure they would find it shocking. But that seems to be the goal. And relationship’s central role in the video tells me that Lady Gaga herself probably went to Catholic school as a girl. After all, it’s on the back of Catholicism’s adherence to a strict party line about Mary Magdalene and Jesus that Dan Brown built his Da Vinci Code empire around, which is itself the basis of all of the accusations online that Lady Gaga is in the Illuminati because of the odd imagery in the videos. (Yes, people think this. People who vote.)
In fact, Lady Gaga is aware of that sacrosanct imagery and where the Catholic Church has drawn all the bright lines regarding Mary, Jesus and Judas, and she crosses them deliberately and expertly. Judging from comments on Twitter and on her videos, she knows how to push buttons Catholic’s buttons to create controversy in Catholic schools and families, and she knows that doing so makes her content all the more exciting for kids growing up in those environments.
But Gaga isn’t doing anything new. In the 80’s Madonna played exactly the same game to the same effect. For starters, she called herself “Madonna,” and then released videos such as “Like a Prayer,” in which she casts a black actor as Jesus, whom she kisses:
The clever thing about Madonna’s video is that it gave shocked parents explicit imagery of Madonna caressing Jesus that they could complain publicly about, thereby channeling in a “safe” way their true anger over the fact that in video depicts Jesus as black. Yes, this is the kind of thing that upset people in 1989. The Vatican actually condemned the video.
The rest of us read The Last Temptation of Christ and found the whole business a bit…neurotic.
Lady Gaga, and Madonna before her, are simply playing with the symbols of a huge authority in their lives and in the lives of their fans. It appeals to a certain kind of narrow-cast rebellion. It presumes the kid who is watching it is growing up in an environment where the party line on Bible mythology is strictly enforced but where the parents and schools give the kids enough latitude to watch these videos on their TVs/iPhones/computers/telescreens. So strict upbringings, but not overly so.
Heavy metal bands in the 80’s played this game ad nauseum. They all covered their albums in overt satanic imagery, because they knew rebellious kids would buy them just to leave the albums out where their religious parents could find them. I recall one instance in the 80’s when a schoolmate came up to me in hushed whispers, a mischievous smile upon his face, holding a CD emblazoned with the ornate calligraphy of the logo of the band, Dio. “Dude, if you turn it upside down, Dio spells ‘devil.'”
Dude. Dio sucks.
And you go back a little further, and kids are getting high to “Don’t Fear the Reaper” asking “Do you think this is about Satan?” Well, it’s the Blue Oyster Cult, so I’m pretty sure it’s about gay truckers.
The acts that have done this in the past to great fame and success are legion. Marylin Manson put out an album called “Anti-Christ Superstar” and obliterated his gender while Stephanie was still playing Moonlight Sonata on her Steinway in 6th grade. But as each successive pop art returns to the same well-trodden ground, the effect is diminished. Was Manson a satanist? At the time no one cared enough to ask. We were more concerned with mounting tensions between East Coast and West Coast rappers.
Lady Gaga is obviously very creative and very talented (she’s actually an impressive pianist). And her music certainly is danceable, catchy, and dripping with hooks. But unless America’s response to French postmodernism and 9/11 was to double-down on religion, I don’t see how playing with these religious images in her videos is in any way edgy or controversial anymore, except among a narrow audience of Catholic schoolgirls like the one Stephanie Germanotta used to be. “Judas” is Lady Gaga grappling with her own Catholic upbringing. And that has nothing to do with us.