Sunday, September 12, 2010

Camille Paglia Does Lady Gaga

Alas... has it come to this? Has the era of the glorious Madonna descended into the day of Lady Gaga? Has a pop star who mined Western religious iconography become transmogrified into a parody, even a farce?

Writing in this morning's London Sunday Times, Camille Paglia lets loose on Lady Gaga, for reasons good and bad. Link here. To Paglia Gaga represents the worst aspects of a tech driven, self-esteem laden cultural moment.

Whatever the cultural moment, and disregarding for the moment whether she represents it better than Katy Perry or Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga has managed to capture it as few other pop stars have.

To say that Gaga is corrupting the youth of America feels like getting the cart before the horse. Artists, even rock stars, feed off the culture; they dramatize its strengths and weaknesses; they transmit or critique its values; they do not create it.

Otherwise, we would be thrown back to an era when Elvis Presley was accused of corrupting America's youth.

Lady Gaga may be a purely manufactured creation; she may be more asexual than Paglia wants; but the only thing that she did, rather cleverly, is to have captured a cultural moment and capitalized on it.

We still live in a free culture, and it is not a crime to make a living as an entertainer. If Paglia is gnashing her teeth while watching the sexual revolution become a parody of itself, that is not Lady Gaga's fault.

Would it not make more sense to place some blame on all of those brilliant thinkers who proselytized for the free and open expression of all things sexual by telling us that it would lead to more and better sex and more and better mental health?

As we all know, Camille Paglia believes that Madonna-- the pop star-- stands at the summit of female eroticism. Of course, there is no arguing with taste, but making Madonna into the new Aphrodite is like making Michael Jackson into an icon of virility.

Anyone who thinks that "Like a Virgin" represents the ultimate form of human sexual vitality has simply lost me. Sorry, Camille.

Let's take a look at Paglia's analysis: "Gaga isn't sexy at all-- she's like a gangly marionette or plasticised android. How could a figure so calculated and artificial, so clinical and strangely antiseptic, so stripped of genuine eroticism have become the icon of her generation?"

And also: "Can it be that Gaga represents the exhausted end of the sexual revolution? In Gaga's manic miming of persona after persona, over-conceptualized and claustrophobic, we may have reached the limit of an era."

I agree with Paglia that we have reached the limit of an era. It should not come as a surprise and it is not the fault of Lady Gaga.

The sexual revolution was fated to become a parody of itself, because we are overexposed to sex. Children today have more access to more hardcore sexual material than anyone at any time and place has ever had.

Paglia notwithstanding, all of these sexual images, this great sexual awakening has not made life more erotic. It has simply desensitized young people to sexual stimuli. When that happens, young people seek out more radical stimuli, more violent depictions of sex, and more bizarre, scripted sexual encounters.

For my part I do not think that Gaga is asexual. She presents a BDSM version of sex for people whose ability to feel attracted to real women under normal circumstances has been circumscribed by an overexposure to sexual imagery.

Let us not overlook the homoeroticism in Gaga's video of  her song: "Telephone."  Paglia may think that Madonna is the truest of pansexual pop stars, perhaps because she thinks that "Telephone" is a Thelma and Louise parody, which it is, but that is not the same as to suggest that it is asexual.

Is this a positive cultural development? No, it is not. Did Lady Gaga cause it? Be serious. Did the sexual revolutionaries have a hand in it? Surely, they did.

You may not want to think of Lady Gaga as a great artist, but still, she is doing a parody, and, as such, she might just be casting a cold, ironic light on certain trends in the culture.

I cannot imagine how Paglia could have missed this. Was she so completely offended at Gaga's celibacy that she missed the irony and the deconstruction in the spectacle?

While I admire Paglia's rhetorical flair when she says that Gaga is "entombed in her own death cult of self," why not say that Gaga is offering a commentary on a culture that, too often, tries to draw children into a death cult of self-esteem?

And before we fall into terminal despair about the nature of adolescent sexuality, let's keep in mind that the waif-like Taylor Swift is still massively successful, and that the most popular song this summer was Katy Perry's "California Gurls."

Katy Perry is obviously more bubble gum and candy canes than BDSM. She also displays her voluptuous sexuality better than Madonna ever did. Take a look at the music video for "California Gurls" and you will see Perry laid out on a cloud, a twitch away from naked.

Maybe some of the adolescent population still has a feel for sensuality.

Paglia, of course, will have none of it. She is out to indict the young generation and the culture that is influencing it.

In her words: "Generation Gaga doesn't identify with powerful vocal styles because their own voices have atrophied: they communicate via a constant stream of atomised, telegraphic text messages. Gaga's flat affect doesn't bother them because they're not attuned to facial expressions...."

This feels a bit over the top, as well it is intended to be. But so is Lady Gaga.

Attacking young people for flocking to Gaga concerts does not feel quite right to me. When you get to a certain age-- I am well beyond it, as is Paglia-- you should make a point of not telling young people what music they should or should not be listening to. After all, it is their music; it speaks to their experience; they dance to it. Why not offer them the minimal courtesy of respecting their choices.


Valueless Culture said...

You might enjoy this 5 video series by an American Poet and Intellectual discussing the current predicament of poetry as a metaphor for our consumerist culture.

Is point about free speech in a shameless culture is well taken:


GaGa Wows Red Carpet said...

Her body guards are military service men and women who went AWOL over DADT policy:

Cane Caldo said...

I can't tolerate Lady Gaga's music, but I do get satisfaction from her existence. For decades now, many Japanese anime films--and in the larger culture--have been predicting pop-idol robots; meticulously scripted figures whose real identities are never known because they're never truly off-stage. Pop-idol love lives are born in the minds of a PR team until--whenever markets predict--the cradle becomes a grave. The music is generated as a pitch-perfect response to the current trends calculated to grab the most people possible.

As I said: they're robots. LG is as close as a facsimile to AI as we're likely to experience in the near future. It's fun to see anime come to life...though giant battle-bots would have been more engaging.

Anonymous said...

Who? I have two daughters, and they don't know or care about these girls who make money for entertainment corporations. They play sports, study hard to get good grades and learn skills that will help them later in life.

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