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Alejandro: Lady Gaga’s Epic Video Toward Salvation & Social Justice


Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro” premiered this 06-08-2010 and as I type my mind is buzzing with what it means. I have analyzed other Gaga videos before, “Telephone,” and why she is a feminist, part 1 and part 2, and about having to justify her feminism.  This music video is just as complex, provocative, and beautifully executed as the previous ones. Granted, the only person who can really tell us what a video “means” is Gaga herself, but it’s always essential to look at how a video is received and what messages it sends compared/contrasted to what is intended. So, here are some of my thoughts on the visual imagery of “Alejandro” by Lady Gaga.

A general note on German Expressionism/ Film Noir

One immediately notices the dark, sharp cinematography, contrast in light, hints of red, and grim industrial feel to the video. This style has been popular in Film Noir and German Expressionist films.Vice, taboo topics, powerful women, cold calculation, cynical reality, dark human emotions, and simple yet demanding visuals are all prominent. You may get a hint of Nazi Germany in the military attire as well. This style heightens the grave nature of religion, power, and sexuality in this video. The genre in general is about substance, the depth of the topics discussed, while also presenting them in a manner that reflects those topics. “Telephone” and it’s pop culture critique reflected the visuals and the visuals reflected the critique. This is also true with “Alejandro.” The nature of oppression isn’t  a very peppy or happy topic. With that in mind, let’s examine some of the main themes presented in this music video. I am sure there are more than I am covering and I encourage your comments at the bottom!

Gay Community as Warriors

I’ll begin with what Gaga has said about the video. She noted that it is a celebration of her love of the gay community. This can be seen in a number of ways, via the buff and numble dancers in the video. The men are visually represented as strong, sexy, confident, and gender-bending. As the video’s first choreography begins, we are met with miliary imagery, a “gay army” if you will, symbolically reflecting on the determination, strength, and perseverance of the gay community. Also, on another level, you could see this as a slight reference to repealing the DODT. We assume these men are gay due to Gaga’s above statement, and showing them unabashed in military outfits marching makes the gay men (and lesbian women) who serve in reality visible, rather than invisible, worth respect and attention. This is one of the first steps in fighting oppression. First name it, second, if you will, take it out of the closet.

 

Also, the military, as well as, police force has historically and currently denies rights to those who are not hetero, and responsable for horrendous abuses (Stonewall, gender dress code laws, DODT, rape to cure lesbians, ect.) In this video, the power structure is turned on its head, where those who are in power are now those who are oppressed. And what more powerful institution than the military….and later in the video religion to challenge oppression in? Gaga does this by representing her fellow community members in a manner that is not seen in popular culture with seriousness and style. 

Gender Bending & Subverting the Male Gaze

So, we have the sexy gay militia, who also gender bends in the video. I have written about how previous videos have queered the narrative/images, and this video continues that motif.

 

The men not only wear fish net stockings, but also high heels, two things that are strongly associated with femininity, especially heterosexual femininity. This gender-bending does a few things. It challenges gender conformity, and hence sexual orientation conformity to hetero-partrarchal terms.

Further blurring the lines of acceptable sexual pleasure and sexual scripts is the mimicking of sexual intercourse with Gaga via the bed scenes. These are gay men, yet, Gaga has noted her own bisexuality, so what kind of sexual relations are going on? Much like her kiss with the prison inmate in “Telephone,” the assumed subtext to any visual narrative in our culture is heterosexual. Therefore if a woman, Gaga, kissed someone, it is assumed it will be a heterosexual man. Much like the subtext of any romance novel, condom ads, and Valentine’s Day cards are heterosexual (we fancy academics call this idea heteronormativity) Gaga challenges this by visually showing us gender bending gay men, entangled sexually with herself and the other men in bed. Basically this plays with ideas of power, and who’s “on top” so to speak. Normally, its heterosexual men. Here, it is unclear, and that uncertainty drives the status quo crazy. Power controls by having ridged “in and out” rules. The visuals presented break this dichotomy.

 

The light bondage here, also makes reference to a misunderstood and taboo sexual practice, but also to the symbolic “bondage” we are all faced with when it comes to what society tells us is acceptable desire, sexuality and gender performance. Along with the bondage, if we just look at simply the body placement and positions of the men, it is not normally positions that are considered powerful in a male hetero sense. Powerful positions are standing, “erect” if you will, alert and ready, while the men are writhing on bed, legs spread, and well, butts made noticeable. This is something we expect women to do doing on a bed for male pleasure. So here again, “correct” male behavior and positioning is challenged via the queering positioning and actions. Gaga’s own the role in the action balances between a top and bottom, perhaps the balancing act we all play in trying to make sexual relations equitable?

Also, the queering of the video also attempts to subvert the “male gaze” or “patriarchal gaze” of which most popular culture is seen and created through. This is where women are objectified body parts and merely advance the male protagonist’s aspirations and desires. The women have none of her own, and only serve to either prove male heterosexuality, or as an obstacle for which men must overcome to become “real men.” Feminists have pointed this gaze out in a variety of formats, and it can be something very hard to combat. You often must evoke the images of them to challenge them, and Gaga does this in ways that do not further degrade the women, and in this case, gay men in the video.

Gay men and feminized men have often served as “substitute women” when it comes to oppression being enacted upon them. In a culture where straight men are on top, gay men have stereotyped as effeminate, therefore not real men, therefore symbolic women.  In the male gaze, women are not only degraded, but anyone not conforming to prescribed sexual and gender codes.

So, Gaga reverses and subverts this gaze by giving us visuals of powerful sexuality, powerful gay men, and a lone female body that looks back at those watching. She is not being looked at. She is in control. Hence the goggles.

 

Her body is not objectified, but becomes a pallet where objectification is pointed out. The red tape covering her genitals and breasts for example. It serves more as a marker of where the attention is “supposed to be” on women, rather than actually making those areas sexier for the male gaze. It almost obscures it, and makes it not “sexy.” Exactly the point. A side note to that, the shape of the tape on her genitals is rather phallic, hence the challenging of that penis rumor. Or, in some ways, a sign of solidary with the gay male community.

 While there is queering of the narrative, there is also bits of androgyny being employed. Obviously some cross-dressed via the men in heels, and black faux-corsets, and Gaga in a black sleeveless suit, and priest-like robe. Short hair on women has been associated with a lack of femininity, even lesbianism. And Gaga’s flesh-toned bra and undies actually blends her feminines features rather than accentuates them. She becomes genderless/sexless. (The mop-tops on the men are effeminate as well, and also kind monkish.)

 

Finally, the gun-bra. Like the tape and fleshy lingerie, the gun bra has a few meanings. One, it draws attention to an area often objectified area of the female body, and exaggerates it in a way that is not traditionally sexy, if sexy at all. Boom. Subversion of the male gaze. But also, a bit of a tongue in cheek move that hints that breasts are somehow “weapons” and “dangerous.” Breasts are hyerpsexualized in our culture, and often seen as innocent/asexual in religious imagery.  The breast of Mary nourished Jesus for example. Breasts give life.  But also in the male gaze narrative, they can cause men’s downfall. The contrast and contradiction of women’s bodies parts, religion, and power are all wrapped up into a few seconds of dancing. It gives new meaning to the phrase Lethal Weapons!

 Gaga as Symbolic Military/Religious/Oppressor/Liberator

Gaga in the video plays a dual role. She is at once the oppressive authority figure, watching over the gay military, but also a religious figure dressed in a PVC nun habit (nuns are to be pure and chaste) and gothic Queen Elizabeth regalia (Queen Elizabeth I, also known as the Virgin Queen.) Power and authority, religion and morality. It is all there, and not by accident. The link and mixing of  military and religion is nothing new. Rulers who have been appointed by “god” and vise versa have quite a history. Gaga is making clear that intermixing at various points in the music video.

 

So, why the religion/ruler imagery? In the context of the homage to the gay community, it becomes clear. Gaga in her live shows and music videos allows herself to become the object of the evils she sees in society. She becomes a “monster” whither it fame, pop culture, or sexual oppression. In both religion and the military, there is sexual oppression. As the goddess-queen, she demands the loyalty if her militia, her flock, in return for love.  Yet as an authority figure, she is also oppressive. In the same ways that religion can be a liberating force in people’s lives, it can also be degrading. The christian visuals  represented are a critique on Catholicism, and all religions that contradict between loving your followers, and controlling them. That contrast is the tension in the music video.

 

How is this tension resolved? At one point Gaga swallows a rosary, perhaps Catholicism swallowing their pride over persecution of gays/lesbians? Choking on hypocrisy? Eating their faith? Gaga seems to resolve these tensions by sacrificing herself to the gay military in a sequence hat leaves her naked, symbolically implying that those in religious authority give up themselves to their people. The projector in the music video displays various scenes of destruction to which Gaga (the authority) is accountable for. Atonement is needed. Justice is due. In the end, de-robed, and dethroned, Gaga no longer hides behind the cloth.

 

  

Sacred Hearts, Death & Enlightenment

The funeral procession in the beginning doesn’t have much explanation until the ending. Likewise the Sacred Heart imagery is significant. Symbolic of love and devotion to Jesus, the heart in the video is frozen, mutilated, and bearing an “A.” “A” I am guessing for “Alejandro” but perhaps a little bit of “A” for adultery as in the Scarlet Letter. Either way, the meaning of this sequence at the beginning feels like a reference to the deaths of all of those in the gay community from hate crimes, abuse, AIDS,  and general death of identity due to having to conform to heterosexuality in order to survive. The Sacred Heart is something positive in Catholicism, yet seen here as frozen represents the fear, intolerance, and hatred that has come from that religion against those who are different. Where is the love and compassion in that heart for the gay/lesbian community. Alejandro is a symbolic martyr. His death mourned in the black and falling snow (or ash from the furnaces of those who were murdered for being different?)

 

The eulogy begins the film, and it seems a proclamation ends it. Behind Gaga, a cross, and radio gear as she asks her name not be spoken. But perhaps, since she (as authority figure) has been sacrificed to her followers, she is now enlightened and spreading the message to others. But if you look closely, Gaga is talking into a microphone in the same room where the Alejandro character is seen. Look closely for the similar table and chairs. The visuals come full circle.  It appears that Alejandro has died, but could it be NunGaga? If you look closely, the man on the bed with her has a golden gun. Does he kill himself or Gaga? It looks like blood is splattered right at the end, just before Gaga’s face morphs into light. So, has Gaga transformed into liberator, or is this her transformation into dictator? Is it a symbolic of the path of the military/religion/status quo? To what end are we traveling?

 

In the end, it is not her name, but the power in the name of authority that determines the worth of individuals. Individuals always have worth of course, but the power structures in our society only give it to certain groups. Gaga is challenging this authority and power in religion, the military, and in general for the gay community. Watch it again now, and decide for yourself. Alejandro: Gaga’s epic tale toward salvation and social justice.

 

Anything I missed? Let me know what you think.

My previous posts on Why Lady Gaga is a feminist.

  • Lady Gaga is a feminist! Why can’t people just accept it?
  • Why Lady Gaga is a Feminist – Part 3 – Telephone


      

    *** Fair Warning….this is a long post!*** 

     Since my last post, Lady Gaga has come out as a “little bit of a feminist.” Whether she is or isn’t, her visuals, music, persona, and command of culture is feminist. She knows exactly what barriers women in the music industry face, and challenges these head on without apologizing. 

     Lady Gaga has released her new music video for “Telephone” featuring Beyoncé, and as can be expected there is a storm of comments once again on whether or not she is or isn’t a positive role model, what the hell the video means, let alone is or isn’t a feminist. Blah, blah, blah. I am sure Lady Gaga really isn’t losing sleep over those squabbles. But, I do think she and her music is feminist. Here is what I have to say about all of that in my part 3 of why Lady Gaga is a feminist.  10 Reasons why Telephone is a feminist social critique! 

      


     1.) Identity is fluid- This has to do with the postmodern idea that our identities, whatever they are, feminine, masculine, old, young, black, white, ect., are never a constant, fixed thing. Our identities are always in flux, in motion, we are never either/or, as much as everyone else wants to put us in those boxes. They change over time and space and context. With “Telephone,” as well as, most of Lady Gaga’s videos, she is seen in a multitude of outfits, scenes, and behaviors. This is the crux of Lady Gaga’s usage of imagery, that no matter how hard you try, you cannot pin her down. In other words, she will not abide by artificial barriers and boundaries of where we want to place her and expect of her. She will not be either/or. She lives in that grey area that makes most of us uncomfortable. And this is exactly the point.   

      

      

    2.) Queering the Narrative – Out of all the comments I have seen on other blog posts and message boards about “Telephone,” the one that keeps coming up was during the Exercise Yard scene outside of the prison where Lady Gaga and another inmate kissed. What drove people crazy was the fact that they could not pin-point the gender identity (and hence assumed sexual identity) of the other inmate. This points to identity as fluid, but also queering the assumed sexual narrative of visual texts. We assume two people kissing in a heterosexual context, almost always. Yet, this is an all-women’s prison? But the other inmate looks kind of masculine, or at least androgynous. So, is Gaga kissing a woman, or man? Or trans? This drives people nuts is because they need to know the biological, sexual and gender identities of others to therefore know how to judge and treat them. Lady Gaga in this case is throwing that all in your face. Once again, you do not get to box her in, or the visuals she is representing.   

      

     

     3.) Reversing the “Male Gaze” – Called the “male gaze,” “pornographic,” or “patriarchal gaze,” this is a way of understanding and seeing media and stories from a heterosexual, male’s perspective (usually white and middle-class as well.) In this narrative, (which is standard issue in our culture,) sees women as objects, peripheral to the male story line, male progression and ultimate growth. Women in texts are only there as eye candy, to prove male heterosexuality, or as obstacles for men to defeat and dominate by domestication or death. 

     In this entire video, as well as, “Bad Romance” and “Paparazzi,” Gaga reverses this gaze in a variety of ways. She refuses the male heterosexual narrative as the only way to see the world, and presents her views in a decidedly “feminine gaze” or at least a gaze that does not abide by male standards. Women’s bodies are not present in “Telephone” for male pleasure, they do not progress a male storyline, nor are women defeated for male purposes of sex or domestication. Women are not “othered.” In some ways, the bodies seen here are for female pleasure, sexual perhaps, or at least aiding in seeing women in positions of power, both as prisoners and prison guards. Women are in control, even in prison and outside of it. Gaga and Beyoncé’s emotions, ideas, and selves drive the story of the music video, not men’s. Women are central, not peripheral, they are the main autonomous actors in control of their destinies. Even as we see women in traditionally powerless situations, in prison, as diner wage workers, or as objectified bodies for male consumption, these positions are problemitized, and their meanings changed. When we see women in these places, we do not get the impression that they are mere tools of the patriarchy. They have agency, they have will, and they are not the “other.” We get a unique and visually appealing story from women’s perspectives, ideals, and world view that is so lacking in today’s media.   

      

    4.) Transgression, Prison for Bitches, & Lesbians – If you missed it, on screen as Gaga is being taken to prison is the date and name of the place where she is being held called “Prison for Bitches.” This small, but extremely significant part of the video cannot be underestimated. The video itself is a continuation of “Paparazzi” where Gaga murders her abusive boyfriend, and in the end is having her mug shots taken. As “Telephone” opens, we see her in her pinstripe glory being taken into the “Prison for Bitches” by two rather buff, femme-fatale prison guards. 

     Prison is an interesting concept. We assume prison is where we take someone who has done something wrong. People in prison must have done something to deserve their punishment. Yet, in the feminine narrative of the story, we sympathize with Gaga because we understand why she did what she did, and if one could, do the same to those who abuse us. Yet, she is still taken to the “Prison for Bitches.” So, what is a Bitch? We use this term against women who do not know their place. Women who are too loud, too proud, refuse to be controlled and put down are called “Bitches.”  When they do not give into men’s sexual entitlement to their bodies and creativity, we call them “Bitches.” We use this term to police women into place. Women who transgress the gender norms of traditional femininity (being passive, emotional, weak, fuckable, dainty, heterosexual, and baby incubators) are hence “bitches” and must be punished for breaking these rules. Gaga is then imprisoned with other women who we assume have also transgressed gender norms. These women are being punished for “not being real women” in some way or another. Which leads me to the next part of the video narrative, Lesbianism.   

      

    As Gaga passes by the other cells in the prison, us the viewers hear other inmates sneering and calling out to Gaga. We get the sense that they sexually want Gaga, or at least as sexually attracted to women, because why wouldn’t a whole bunch of women, alone together in prison be lesbians right? Patriarchal society fears the idea of women being together, congregating, because they might start talking, and realize how crappy life is for them and revolt. The fear of female rebellion runs deep in our culture. These women in prison, with its lesbian undertones, harken to second wave womyn’s movements of separatism and female solidarity by literally and physically secluding themselves from men. In this prison, women are forcefully segregated over their shared transgressions against femininity. Lesbians fall into this category, because they are not attracted to men, hence break the heteronormativity mandate of our culture. Gaga also breaks femininity mandates by murdering her boyfriend, as well as, rumors of her being intersex. To which, she makes note of via exposing her genitals, albeit blurred, and the prison guards lamenting doesn’t have a “dick.” This small statement is a slap in the face at the pop culture rumor machine, but also at the idea that what makes a woman a woman is her “lack of a dick.” This is what women are in our culture, a sum of “what they lack” in accordance to men, who are considered the norm. Women are women because they are NOT men.   

    Thus, this prison is where women who defy rules of their genders in our culture are taken to be punished. We see in this prison other women who have transgressed in different ways, and even though this prison is a bunch of women, there is a hint of danger about it. Whether it is because a whole bunch of women are together in one place, or the lesbians being powerful, or the role ambiguity, this prison is a place to keep these women from ruining the “lawful” rest of society.    

        

    5.) Poison & Violent Women – As I mentioned above, women murdering their men, and in essence transgressing femininity norms of passivity and weakness to taking control is something that is feared in our culture. Men do this all the time. We see this as a common theme in movies, where the male protagonist is wronged somehow, someone kills their family, steals their money, insults their manhood, and therefore, they take the “law” into their own hands to get justice. We applaud this rebellion as essential to men transcending their “oppression” to gaining back their humanity. Yet, when women do it, we don’t accept that as possible, and even desired. It not only breaks feminine roles, but overturns their roles in the traditional narrative of masculine development. Women who become violent and rebel are unsettling, they are supposed to “follow the law” and “follow the rules.” Yet, when the laws are not made to give justice to women, the only way to get it is to rebel. Gaga does this in “Paparazzi” and in “Telephone.” Beyoncé breaks her out of the prison, and they plan their next attack on “society.” What more iconic of society than the American Diner? In that scene Beyoncé meets, what I am assuming is either her boyfriend, or maybe pimp? Either way, the label isn’t important as what the role symbolized. A figured who is dominating and controlling. You know this by his demeanor toward Beyoncé and others in the diner. He is a complete jerk, to be frank. 

      

    So, Beyoncé and Gaga plan to punish this dominator and purge it from themselves via poison. Gaga used this in “Paparazzi” as well. Poison symbolically in narrative was one of the few ways women could gain control. Traditionally they were not allowed to wield military, political power, or relationship power.  But, the knowledge of herbs, medicine, and beauty tools have been something that has been female knowledge. Therefore, poison represents power and a way to have control when all other avenues you are barred from using. So, by Gaga and Beyoncé using poison, they are once again subverting what “good girls” should be doing, in favor of taking back their agency. Which then, leads to the next point, consuming = death. 

      

    6.) Consuming = Death – The poison in “Telephone” also represents something else vile to women’s agency and autonomy, consumerism. You can see this in the product placement in the video. Whether intentional or not, the product placement is obvious, hence our susceptibility to being “sold” to isn’t separable from any other messages. It is obvious we are being marketed to. Products overtake everything in every part of our lives. It is like an addiction, one that the individual cannot win against.   It is like some unconscious hunger. This is symbolized as the poison which is added to the “honey” or “maple syrup” in the diner. We are nothing but consumers, and the message here is that it will kill you. We see the diners, viciously consuming their “food,” their “products,” and then, poison (relying on products) takes effect (the telephone effect) and kills everyone. Here, the messages is the obsession with consuming will be our death. On another note, when Beyoncé talks about “taking all her honey” this could also reference men who take everything from women, their self-esteem, their power, their humanity in order to consume and control them. Yet, this is a futile way to exist, because as Gaga and Beyoncé enact is how deadly and dangerous this consumption of products, and women is. It will come back to destroy you. The dancing in American flag apparel after the death scene is symbolic of consumerism as an American pastime, even as “patriotic,” the ultimate goal of our society, yet, to the end of death. 

     

    7.) Body as a Crime Scene – This is perhaps my favorite part of the video, Lady Gaga wrapped in crime scene tape. The symbolic messages of that are truly amazing. For one, women’s bodies as crime scenes are frighteningly true in our culture. Women are raped, abused, and sexually assaulted, literally making their bodies “crime scenes.” Their bodies are battlegrounds and this is where power and control are literally enacted upon. Gaga’s body is also a “crime scene” when it comes to crimes of sexual transgression. Her power as a woman has called into question her sexuality and gender identity, making her body and personhood a literal “crime again heteronormativity.” It doesn’t matter if she is bisexual, lesbian, pansexual, or asexual, she refuses to be obviously heterosexual, therefore is committing the aforementioned “crime.” Her body is also a “crime” against norms of dress and appearance because she uses her body to express some of the most horrible and vile ways out culture understands femininity. She refuses to blend in, to disappear in a crowd. She will be seen and heard. Her body is not invisible, but it is visible in the ways Gaga chooses, not the ways the “male gaze” or consumerism chooses. Therefore, once again, she is in control, and that is a “crime” for women. 

      

    8.) Pussy Wagon – If you have seen “Kill Bill Vol. 1,” you know about the “Pussy Wagon.” In the film, Uma Thurman’s character is raped (while she is in a coma) by a hospital employee. She swiftly kills that man, and takes his car keys to escape. She finds the vehicle, a large yellow truck emblazoned with the bright pink letters “Pussy Wagon.” The vehicle in many ways symbolized the misogyny of that hospital employee, basically reducing women down to their sexual uses and abuses for male pleasure. Such derogatory things like this, symbols, words, and actions have been reclaimed by feminist movements/civil rights movements as a way to take the power away from oppressors to define who they are through language and other symbols. For example, the word “Bitch” and “Queer” have been reclaimed by their respective groups to mean something positive, rather than negative, giving those groups the right and power to define who they are, not those who mean to oppress them. Now, that doesn’t mean every time it is used  it is used in this positive light, but attempts have been made to challenge it’s derogatory usage as a means of control. 

    So, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé’s use of the “Pussy Wagon” (a decided masculine and misogynist symbol in the “Kill Bill” movie,) as a means of a getaway car is a revisionist of its sexist meanings. It becomes their means of escape, their vehicle for freedom. Their use of it challenges its meaning and makes it something ironic, funny, and liberating for Gaga and Beyonce rather than oppressive. It becomes obvious how silly the “Pussy Wagon” is via their usage of it. 

      

    9.) Thelma & Louise – Finally, if you didn’t catch it, the movie has many references to the film “Thelma and Louise.” This film was considered the first “female action” flick about two women who run from the law that has wronged them, as well as, a man who attempted to rape Thelma. Louise shoots him to stop him in one scene, and the women then take to the road, on the run, because Louise is convinced they will not get justice for what happened. This is true, even today, where rape victims rarely receive justice. They are demonized as asking to be raped via their past sexual history, their appearance, or their alcohol level. No one ever asks to be sexually assaulted and abused. EVER. Nothing excuses a criminal’s actions against the victim/survivor. But, our culture continues to blame women when crimes are committed against them. It’s the “you made me hit you” argument. This silences women from actually coming forward when they are raped or abused, and even when going to trial, continues to dehumanize and demoralize them. 

    So, by Gaga and Beyonce referencing this film, they are paying homage to the women in the film, but in some ways, to all women who have refused to be victims of a society that despises them. They are standing up, refusing to be used, and will at any cost, remain free from a controlling world.   

     

    10.) Blue Telephone headgear. Ok, it might not be feminist, but it’s cool.

    There is so much in this music video, I could probably write another post on more of the symbolism. We’ll see, so stay tuned!   Feminism Lady Gaga Style!

    Or, I guess this is just some silly pop music video huh? You decide.  

    This is what Gaga has to say about “Telephone” here. 

     

     

    Telephone photos via Vibe and Jezebel. 

    Read some commentary about the “Telephone” video here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

    Why Lady Gaga’s Music is Feminist – Part 1 – The Fame


    Lady Gaga – The Fame (2008) on (Streamline/Konlive/Cherrytree/Interscope)

    Part 1:

    Oh snap. Yes, I just said it. Lady Gaga’s music is feminist. Why do I say such things? Because I can back it up. And because I love her music, videos, and persona. She is the reason I have actually started to listen to pop music again. So, let me tell you about feminist music….

    Why do I say that her music is feminist? Whether or not she herself claims to be a feminist, her work criticizes gender, sexuality, the body, pop culture’s representations of women, and the nature of power. This in itself is a feminist act. Now, feminism, I guess we must define in some form, considering most representations of it are: man hater, bra burner, lesbian, ugly, want power over men, bitchy, hate children…..not true. Feminism is the political and social movement for women’s social, political, and economic equality. In that social part lies music, and Lady Gaga knows exactly what she is up against in the music industry. Feminist Music therefore, can be made by anyone, male/female/trans, as long as it fulfills the goals of fighting for equality and justice based on gender.

    How does she present feminist ideas? I will give you a few examples.

    1. Paper Gangsta

    This song is my favorite from “The Fame.” This song discusses the institution of marriage, or at least, power in relationships. In the first part of the song, Lady Gaga says:

    “Midnight rush with a pen in my hand
    Inkin Lincoln sand-script with a fan
    Remembering me before it began
    Sometimes I felt so def in the jam
    But the ones who loved me told me to stop
    Like home girl can’t catch shit if it drops
    A superwoman chick you know that I am
    Some shit don’t fly by me in a man

    ‘Cuz I do not accept any less than someone
    Just as real, as fabulous”

    These lyrics first speak as an individual as an active subject of their reality. Lady Gaga is not being talked about as an object, through the Patriarchal Gaze, as someone who does not have any ideas, emotions, or power of her own. She is not a tool. Instead she proclaims herself a superwoman, she won’t stop being who she is, and that she knows what she wants in a man. She then states what she wants, not what she thinks she should want to please someone else. She will not accept anyone who is less than “real.”

    The chorus then, I think sums this statement of independence and freedom.

    “Don’t want no paper gangsta
    Won’t sign away my life to
    Someone whose got the flavor
    But don’t have no follow through
    Don’t want no paper gangsta
    Won’t sign no monkey papers
    I don’t do funny business
    Not interested in fakers
    Don’t want no paper gangsta
    Don’t want no paper gangsta”

    Once again, someone here who is real in the sense that they are not your typical dominating player. She will not accept someone who just puts on a show to impress her. She will not “sign her life away.” Basically, she will not commit to a relationship that will just use her. Hence, a “paper gansta” is someone who uses tradition patriarchy to get what they want from her. Criticizing that, and fighting against that IS feminist.

    Finally, the last verse:

    “Got something really shiny to start
    Want me to sign there on your range rover heart
    I’ve heard it before yeah the dinners were nice
    ‘Till you diamond words melted in to some ice
    You should have been rapping to the beat of my song
    Mr. California paper gansta
    I’m looking for love not an empty page
    Full of stuff that means nothing but ‘you’ve been played'”

    Here, her themes of empowerment and independence from power are clear. At first, all the attention from a man seems great. Yet, his intentions were not honest, not “real.” The man in question was not “rapping to the beat of her heart.” He was not looking for love, but it seems a good time. Hence, if she signs (stays) with him, she’s been played. She knows this. She refuses this traditional masculine power structure as defined in relationships. She will not be a tool. She will be herself, and anyone who wants to be fabulous with her, must be true to her heart, to the beat of her song. She knows what she wants. She will not accept anything less. She is smart, confident, and is an active authority in her life. That IS feminist.

     

    2. Her female-form distorting outfits

    If you are just going to continue to judge women’s intentions, ideas, value, and indeed empowerment based on their appearance and how they dress, then that is still SEXISM, no matter if they are wearing a bustier or a habit. Valuing women as “less than” via what they wear is one of the pillars of domination. Most criticism I have seen about Lady Gaga has been on her appearance. Typical. That is first thing anyone goes at when it comes to female musicians. Their value is still based off how they look, not how talented they are, or what statements they are making or what they doing. For women who are musicians, you are in a double bind. If you do what they guys do, you’re a freak. If you do what women are supposed to do, well, that just proves how much you are not as good as the guys. You’re just a girl after all. Know you place, be a little sex kitten, ready and willing, talentless and voiceless. But Lady Gaga defies it all by reversing the Patriarchal Gaze of how we view women in pop culture. Like Madonna before her, it is a fine and hard line to walk. Most people see her half-naked and assume negative from the start. But her image is carefully crafted for a purpose. And that purpose is not objectification.

    For example, her outfits reveal skin, but often distort things that out culture associates with being a feminine woman. Long legs, big breasts, full lips, figure eight body shape, hips ect. This distortion catches you because it is not what you expect or want. We want the pornified female form. The image she presents is not pornified, but an exaggerated caricature of femininity. Thus, she is taking the things pop culture wants women to be, reveal and stretches it so far so that we can see how silly and confining it is. She cinches her waits to the extreme, extreme high heels, overdone makeup to make you see how made-up women are. She wears masks and sunglasses, a symbolic hidding of parts of her herself, so you can’t see….but she can still see you. She is the one doing it; it is not being done to her. She is returning the gaze, looking at you looking at how you look at her, and she is laughing in your face. She is deciding about her, not you. She is not duped by the patriarchy just based upon her looks. Assuming that women have no agency is sexist. She is purposefully throwing back femininity in your face, and it is not the kind you want. That IS feminist.

            

    3. Paparazzi Video

    The Paparazzi video does this extremely well too. Lady Gaga’s form is distorted in her outfits that twist her feminine body in ways that are extreme. She is portayed sexed up, even when in a neck brace and bloody. This video is a criticism the violence against women in pop culture.

    It is extremely fashionable to show women dead, being beater, or assumed violence upon them in popular media. Whether it is to sell vodka, shoes, video games, or security devices, violence against women in advertising is everywhere. It is often sexualized, and combined with objectification. What this means is that often if violence is enacted upon women in ads/videos, it is made to be sexy, appealing, what the women want, and hence deserve. It is sexy to be violent, and women love it. This is the paparazzi video in a nutshell.

    Lady Gaga’s rise to fame in the video coincides with her being abused. She refuses the man’s advances in the video, hence she is called a “c*nt” and tossed of the balcony. If she won’t give into male entitlement to her body, and use of it to take pictures for his gain, she will be punished. Hence she “dies” and comes back her body broken. The sequence continues, showing her with a neck brace and crutches while showing other images of glamorous looking women dead. The images of women being murdered are everywhere in the video and they are everywhere in our pop culture. Just look at the Hitman ads as an example.

    In the video, the female dead bodies are sexed up. But it does not stop there, even when she is alive on the couch, she is being sexed up, and in some cases licked up. Finally, near the end of the video, she is back with her old flame (disguised as the “new” girl toy”), in her yellow outfit. She is the newest disposable female body for this guy. Or is she? She quickly reassumes her agency, poisons her boyfriend’s drink, and acts all feminine and coy. Oops! Even her outfit, a sorta Minnie Mouse hides her revenge. Appearances are deceiving in this video. If may seem in this video that women are helpless, powerless and just tools to be used. But underneath it, lies a women’s refusal to succumb to that end, hence Lady Gaga freeing herself from her boyfriend via poison. The end is also very telling when she is arrested for enacting the same type of malicious violence against her boyfriend. He got away with it, she doesn’t, symbolizing the double standard in so many ways. Lastly, she poses for the camera for her mug shots, does so with exaggerated sexiness, which we see then is being directed at her to do. Finally, the cameraman tells her to walk away.

    This video blatantly reveals violence against women in pop culture. Lady Gaga analyzes it, shows the impact of it, and symbolically comes back from the dead to take justice for it for her and all women. Her arrest in the end reveals the double standard of treatment for not only her actions, but also that when a dead male body shows up in pop culture it is rare, and not sexualized, but a tragic event. Oh no! Can’t have any of that. This type of video-activism, playing with these ideas, yet still remaining artistically valid and not further objectifying women IS feminist.

     

    So, that’s all for this post. I will continue with more on her work from The Fame and The Fame Monster. Thanks!

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