Lady Gaga’s “Judas”: Scandalizing Catholic Schoolgirls Everywhere

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“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.’”

'Dio' upside down spells 'Gaga'


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.

 

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  4. Promiscuous Boy, Get to the Point
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15 Responses to Lady Gaga’s “Judas”: Scandalizing Catholic Schoolgirls Everywhere

  1. Gaius says:

    eh, I kind of feel that there are plenty of Catholics who’d roll their eyes at this. For me what’s really “weak sauce” is the fact that Lady Gaga entered into the whole Jesus/Mary Magdalene/sexuality “controversy” at all. Because like it or not, at this point that tradition is dominated by Dan Brown. So this video is kind of a footnote to the Da Vinci Code.

  2. mossmanjake says:

    Yeah, it could be that Lady Gaga is working through her own Catholic upbringing, but to me it smacks of a much more mundane quality, and something that I think she shares with a lot of mediocre artists: the reliance on the reference. Lady Gaga is some sort of revolutionary artist because she includes shocking imagery in her videos and performances (or so Lady Gaga keeps insisting), but including references to the disciples and including references to the Illuminati don’t mean a thing if they don’t make some sort of comment on it or say something new about it. It’s meaningfull-ness. It’s artiness, instead of art. What would an artist do? They would create new images, ones that resonate and actually mean something, instead of strip mining references from the past that, as far as I can tell, simply are there to suggest mood. I would put Lady Gaga in a similar pool as the DJ’s and stencil artists who don’t come up with new ideas, but simply reuse old images because of what it says about them.

    • Pastabagel says:

      That’s a very postmodern interpretation, and one that I completely agree with.

    • Fifi says:

      “It’s artiness, instead of art.”
      Good observation – it’s also just a retread of a lot of clubland cliches (particularly House music ones, which quite often have religious references because of the links between Gospel and House music). It’s also a coy pretence of being shocking instead of actually creating something that gets people to stop and think.

      “What would an artist do? They would create new images, ones that resonate and actually mean something, instead of strip mining references from the past that, as far as I can tell, simply are there to suggest mood. I would put Lady Gaga in a similar pool as the DJ’s and stencil artists who don’t come up with new ideas, but simply reuse old images because of what it says about them.”

      Hmmm, I see this opinion bandied about often but it really just reveals a misunderstanding about how art is created – both today and historically. It’s a very Modernist idea, not a post-modern one, because it presents the artist as lone genius creating in a vacuum. It entirely overrates and misunderstands both innovation and originality, and actually has more to do with ideas promoted by advertising/marketing than how artists (who aren’t just salespeople) work. All throughout the history of art artists have made references to and appropriated elements of the work of other artists – this is actually part of creating meaning. Without context, there is no meaning. There were and are crap artists who in all mediums that create work that adds nothing to the conversation or who simply imitate others and produce banalities (without any implicit commentary on banality) – it’s not the medium that counts but the ability of the artist to communicate and relevant idea or experience to an audience. Of course, one of the great myths of our Modernist commodity/consumer driven culture is that everything is shiny and new, like a virgin, seen and sold for the very first time. Lady Gaga fails, despite the massive investment and team working to create shiny new imagery using the latest technology, mainly because she’s being “shocking” in a way that nobody really finds shocking – it’s not like she actually makes a commentary on the sexual abuse of children by the Catholic church or any real world critique of Catholicism, what she does is use it to give her and her video a vague whiff of pseudo naughty sexiness that doesn’t really offend anyone but gets some people kind of excited.

  3. Comus says:

    I see this only as a one more example on the long line of Gaga overly playing the Madonna card. Which is clever and nice and post-modern and all. But maybe not the point? So the wrapping is the Madonna, which has an auxiliary feature of “catholicism annoyance”, which I don’t see as a mean in and of itself but just a level of madonnafication.

    So what is it then. If we remove the religious aspects, it is about a girl clinging on the a nice, responsible bloke, screaming in his ear how he likes the bad irresponsible guy. For what are Jesus and Judas symbols of, rather than polar images of the epithomic “the good guy” and “the bad guy”, respectively?

    So this appears to morph into a regular viewing of an abusive relationship. Gaga is asking for forgiveness for returning to the abusive boyfriend. “Jesus is my virtue / Judas is the demon I cling to”, being prepared to “wash his [Judas´] feet with my hair”. Judas is an authority figure that Gaga does not know how to escape, he is the result of a malformed superego become flesh. Jesus in this portrayl is the “good superego”, that she is wanting to set the limits, to uphold her boundaries. The reasonable adult.

    She can’t let go of Judas, because she has construed that relationship as the one defining herself, and is asking Jesus for permission to let go. “Tell me I don’t deserve this [even though I know I do]“. It is like an open cry for help. And Jesus´response? Nonchalance, forgiving of sins. So she did deserve it after all.

  4. Napsterbater says:

    I would love to be able to do a proper analysis of this video, but I’m woefully uneducated in Christian theology. I’ll make these points.

    Lady Gaga is highly educated and is respectful, if not of canonical, mainstream Christianity, then of Christian values and morals, kind of the converse of a born-again. I’m sure there’s a story and a morality beyond simple shock and awe behind the video. There’s too many elements there for it all to be just theatrics. The scene where she points the pistol at what seems to be Jesus has some kind of meaning.

    I can think of only one reason why Judas betrayed Jesus. He didn’t. Jesus told him to cooperate with the Romans. Judas did so, knowing full well that no future Christians would be naming their babies after him. How many male names in English begin with ‘Jud’? No other force could pull a man away from Jesus. Jesus engineered his crucifixion single-handedly. Judas later killed himself, not out of remorse, but because he had to make himself into a scapegoat to give the early Christians resolve against the Romans. Judas was his most loyal disciple.

    • Napsterbater says:

      Oh, and I loved the dancing in the video. That tutting style is very hard to pull off.

    • xylokopos says:

      “Judas was his most loyal disciple”

      I definitely remember this as being a main point in Kazantzakis’ Last Temptation – I don’t remember if the Scorcese movie drove that point home, it’s been many years. Kazantzakis nicked the idea from St. Francis, on whom he wrote another book. I also recall reading something similar in a Borges story, where a 16th or 17th century German theologian was invoked as a source, but chances are the idea was definitely around even before St. Francis, in a number of medieval sects that were purged in ways that I remember reading about in Eco’s Name of the Rose, where Borges is heavily, if indirectly, referenced and paid tribute to. Eco and Borges could definitely trace this idea back to the first 3 or 4 centuries AD and it’s possible Kazantzakis could too. I reckon an internet search would help with all this, but it is much more fun playing the memory game.

  5. xylokopos says:

    pastabagel,

    Dio – may he rest in peace in a world where rubbish is not peddled as music – was the only kid of italian parents, so the catholic upbringing is probably a certainty, kinda like lady gaga’s, who is also an italian-american. Araya, the lead singer for Slayer, arguably the most influencial and respected of all heavy metal bands with satanic imagery all over album covers and song lyrics, hails from Chile, another country with massive catholic influence. Italian americans are over represented in american heavy metal, if you ever have the time, do a search, it’s good fun.

    Now going back to Dio, he was singing for Black Sabbath before his solo stuff, and BS are definitely pioneers in both metal in general and the type of metal that inspired bands like Venom and Slayer and myriad others in the 80s that had satanic overtones. But unlike the overt sexual component in Madonna’s and Gaga’s songs, heavy metal satanic references, were either anti-authoritarian or mythological in essence.

  6. AnonymousAtLarge says:

    As much as I hate to admit this, I really am not digging lady gaga’s new stuff that much.

    “Born this way”, musically, was kinda “eh” for me, but I was able to overlook that because the outspoken gayness of it made up for it. That was so interesting , it compensated.

    But… it just keeps getting worse! :(

    I mean, this song is so not good at all, and the video, oh my word the video. Where is my gaga with her funky fashion art outfits and killer dance rock pop?
    What is this horrible coked up early 90s depeche-mode-esque sexual/religious trip shes on? What is this mess? Who told gaga she was god, or even that important at all? Someone needs to give her the memo: PS your just a human being, stop buying your press release.

    When madonna did the sexual/religious thing it never felt like she really believed it.
    When gaga does it, one walks away with the unpleasant feelign that she really does believe she’s some kind of messanger of god or something. At least dave gahan could blame the drugs for that, as far as I know gaga is all gaga.

    Also, STOP THE ACCENT.

    I’m going to have to take my gaga fan bumper sticker off of my toyota if this continues.

    I am so depressed. Gaga was like the only thing I liked in modern music, now I have to sit and listen to my grandpa tunes all day.

  7. vprime says:

    Am I the only one who sees this Pope-trolling as a naked appeal to Latino teens? This is a growing demographic in America that still tends to be under heavy Catholic influence. It seems like the smart thing to do from a marketing perspective.

  8. ribbitz says:

    No, the Baudrillard is silly (he hasn’t escaped Descartes), but Gaga is serious. It is impossible to distinguish simulacrum and reality in her music/videos because she means everything — the world presented is a real object to her. But that unsimulated reality is her own flabby Catholic-ish psyche, whose object is just itself. Every other determinant is a mechanical cause, and not part of her meaning.

    Lady Gaga is a very good artist (she shows you what she wants to show you, which is herself) but an incredibly depressed human (and so her successful art is depressing).

  9. JesseDC says:

    Madonna did not call herself “Madonna” to be shocking, she called herself that because that is her actual name, the fact that it created irony given her fashion and video imagery was just icing on the cake.
    No the Judas video and song are not Lady Gaga’s finest work, and it’s not really even about religion, it’s about a woman struggling with personal demons and temptations, but it still offended some people on the Religious right, who of course took it at face value, and that’s good enough for me, because the religous right has been offending me for as long as I can remember.

  10. JesseDC says:

    Also, all of this comparing Gaga to Madonna because they both make pop/dance music smells a bit mysoginistic; no one ever compares male artists that way.

    And finally…to say that we have seen all this before, is to ignore the fact that there is always another generation of young people who have not, because they weren’t alive back then. This sort of thing is like a right of passage for them ( possibly even for Gaga herself). Catholic school girls are people too you know.

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