Fame + Foucault = Gaga?
Britney Spears is my secret vice, but I’m proud to blast the Lady. She’s smart, arguably edgy, and at the reins of the beast commonly referred to as fame. Britney is a pawn of a talented army of producers. Gaga does a cappella variants of her self-written hit singles. Britney is the mistress of lip-syncing and these days can barely shimmy. Gaga simultaneously executes extensive choreography and sings live. The synthesizer plays Britney. Gaga plays the piano.
I was hesitant to dignify Gaga’s ‘artsy’ aesthetic until one routine raid of the Official Lady Gaga website’s fan forum ended in a rare find: a theoretical art analysis written by a 17 year old Gaga, or rather, Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, during her freshman year at NYU Tisch. Although the document has yet to be certified by any media heavyweights, the prose reads Gaga. I feel it. It’s gritty, fragmented, and tastefully flawed. In order for the following essay to scream Gaga any louder, she would have to personally deliver it to you in a bejeweled manila folder. Don’t be skeptical. Just let Gaga go.
November 1, 2004
Assignment # 4: Reckoning of Evidence
The terms of the human body, some might say, are determined through a theoretical dissection of both the private environments and public atmospheres in which we live. By terms, the rules and evaluations of bodily condition, I mean to establish a division of perception. The first divide is that of the social body, the perception of our bodies in relation to a larger intellectual and sexual community, one that views each other in groups. The second divide is the condition of our nature, a perception of the body without relation or comparison, a singular entity that is independent, formless, and free. This segregation of seeing is general, yet universal because it capitalizes on our differences.
However, it is in the freeing of both natural and artificial bodies that art is created. Some artists depend on the predisposition of their subjects to provide the work with its primary message and meaning, other artists rely on a temporal and physical freedom, an ability to use objects while also freeing them of their social significance and thus endowing them with endless possibilities of form. Spencer Tunick, an installations artist and photographer, struggled to achieve this freedom as a working artist in New York City. This artist is most famous for his installations, often characterized by masses of naked people arranged together in domestic locations, and in countries from every continent of the world. Removed of sexual implication or intention, the nudes are used primarily and only as intended by the artist, as an exploration of the shape, contour, and texture of the naked body. Spencer is fascinated by the metamorphosis of the human body into a form, and the effect that his chosen locations have on this new shape (and vice versa) . In this way, the naked bodies are Spencer’s clay, and he uses them in the same manner that a painter uses oils or a sculptor uses marble.
This way that the artist looks at the body, is a radical contradiction to Western society’s view of the nakedness. In the eyes of some of his critics, Spencer’s works—showcasing mass nudity— invade social privacy and degrade the sacredness of the body. Tunick challenges traditional ideas of intimacy, and asks us to free the body of sexuality and view it aesthetically for the purpose of his art. The social body cannot exist, most specifically in the nude, as anything other then a sexual thing. This is our naked condition.
The analysis of form, while an engaging arc to follow, can also reveal an inverse exploration of the body. An examination of the deformed. This word, Michel de Montaigne addresses in his essay Of A Monstrous Child, suggesting that the existence of a social body is formless, but far from free. He describes the figure of a boy, below the breast he was fastened and stuck to another child, without a head, and with his spinal canal stopped up, the rest of his body being entire.(Lopate 57). Montaigne paints for us, a portrait of the boy’s physical form, or rather his de-form. With fastened, stuck, and stopped as his verbal interpretation of a Siamese twin, he illustrates how a human body, or form, can be imprisoned by abnormal disabilities. For the deformed, there is an ownership of one’s difference, an ownership that is visible and undisputable. Through a scenic description of a deformed child, Montaigne uses the different shapes and contours of the child’s deformed body in order to create a visual contrast between what is ordinary and what is unordinary.
The perceptions of the nude and the deformed both manifest out of a concept of the social body, and the ideological contrast and visible conflict that is created in their presence. In Of A Monstrous Child, Montaigne asks us to consider the way we look at the body, and at each other. Montaigne suggests:
What we call monsters are not so to God, who sees in the immensity of his work the infinity of forms that he has comprised in it; and it is for us to believe that this figure that astonishes us is related and linked to some other figure of the same kind unknown to man. (58) When we view something contrary to custom we assign them a monstrous quality.
We infer based on something’s lack of ordinariness that it is disgusting or somehow linked to something inhumane, in some cases one might say uncivilized. In light of Montaigne’s theory, that we assign the unordinary with a monstrous condition, we can see the viewpoint from which art critics, the government, and the public, condemn Spencer Tunick’s work with naked bodies. Because it is not socially ordinary; it is irregular to see that many nudes amassed at one time, the art possesses a grotesque quality for the viewer.
This assigned foreignness can be designated as a kind of artistic racism, a public perception that handicaps from seeing and experiencing different forms, whether artistic or natural. There is an error in our perception that our perception of the human body is somehow flawed. We call contrary to nature what we call contrary to custom (Lopate 58). We are trained only to be accepting of the regular, and it is this blindness that prevents us from seeing the prodigy in that which we have never seen before.
It is possible that in our naked form, in our deformed, that we are not only exposing our vulnerability, our skin, our scars, our flaws, and our genitals. But we also are exposing our secrets.
Sexuality manifests most physically in the form in the human body. Kenneth Tynan, author of several sexually thematic plays, including OH! Calcutta, a show done entirely in the nude, has expressed in his published diaries a personal infatuation with sexuality, and an interest in its relationship to society and history. In an October entry during 1972, just a few years after OH! Calcutta closed, he ventures to further his knowledge and fascination through psychoanalysis, and provides us with the perspective of what some might call, an artistic sex-maniac. Unlike Spencer Tunick’s work, Tynan embraces the human body’s sexuality as its primary and most important function: the body cannot be freed of its sexual condition. He criticizes Freud who hypothesized an ideal sexual act, from which all deviations [sexual fetishes] were heresies to be purified by confession and rooted out (Lahr 103). Tynan finds Freud’s interpretation of sexual goodness—an interpretation of intercourse in relationship to society and nature—to lack an understanding of the human relationship with body. He reveals a kind of disgust for the psychoanalytic world in relation to sexual nature, classifying Freud’s writing as scorching fire, a method of analyses that distorts our human nature by searing its purpose and condition in society. This modern sexual relationship is evident most clearly for Tynan in a Euro sexual openness, a perspective that embraces fetish and profane desire as our most fundamental and primitive form of sex, seeing the human body only as a form with sexual signification.
1Gaga is about to break it down Track I style.
2Groups like gay and straight, I assume. Gaga—often accused of being a hermaphrodite—purposefully plays with these sexual boundaries. She gives regular shout outs to the gays in interviews and award acceptance speeches. Gaga does not care if you think she wears a micro-jock strap under her itty-bitty bionic bikinis. She probably wants you to. It’s press; it’s another chance to wear a bikini with gigantic shoulder pads and parade the glamour, and the vice, embedded in our image-hungry culture.
3Free. Perhaps Gaga’s favorite adjective. The diva of discourse frequently proclaims, “I’m a free bitch” in “Bad Romance” and other tracks on her sophomore album, The Fame Monster.
4That’s right, Gaga wants to emancipate us; she will facilitate our transcendence into human art. How can you hate on that? If only the world were sprinkled with Gaga-glitter; we could frolic like Adam and Eve before the whole apple thing.
5Looks like good ol’ Gaga has been packing legitimate ammo to back up her Warhol-inspired manifesto since she was seventeen years old. What now. So the next time she wears sunglasses covered in rhinestones, forget the fact that they likely obstruct her vision, and accept it as art. If we stop being so pessimistic and take Gaga into our hearts, she can actually become the new Warhol: weird, popular, conceptually enlightened, commercial…legit.
6That’s why she opts to be sans bottoms. Gaga must have burned all her designer skinnys after writing this essay. For such an impulsive act, it sure paid off. I’m pretty sure we all want to toss on a scantily clad spacesuit and “walk, walk fashion baby” across a multi-media playground-turned-stage as the mouths of allegiant fans spread wide, consuming our self-referential spectacle. Oh, don’t forget the gold lobster pumps.
7I think Gaga wants us to get naked and free ourselves from the chains of restrictive sexual pedagogy. Wait, that can’t be right—if she gets to wear a polar bear parka then why should I freeze naked on the streets trying to prove an empty point? I’m definitely going to keep my clothes on. I’ll simply snuggle up by the flat screen, select Lady Gaga from MTV On Demand, and fixate on her skin-tight, avant-garde stripper garb, as she goes berserk on a piano that looks like it’s fresh from the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory.
8It looks like we found the inspiration for Gaga’s transformation into a sexy, bionic paraplegic in her eight-minute-long music video for “Paparazzi.”
9Gaga does not simply own her difference; she takes it to the max. She refers to herself as “deformed” and carrying “a monstrous quality,” the beastly fervor she claims propelled her to stardom. Her glossy, yet thrillingly dark Monster Ball Tour showcases Gaga and her zombie crew decked out in glamour-goth garments, vigorously thrashing their paws. She is media’s Frankenstein.
10Gaga knows a thing or two about the grotesque; let us pay homage to her classic bloody mid-air suspension at the 2009 MTV VMAs.
11With each escalating spectacle, Gaga performs and promotes the human capacity to conjure inclusive, yet self-defined, social space where judgmental blindfolds are exchanged for pluralistic diamond-studded Wayfarers. During a November ‘09 interview with Ellen DeGeneres, Gaga—draped in latex—attempted to sum up her heterogeneous aesthetic: “The whole point of the monster mall, the music, and the performance art aspect of it is to create a space for my fans where they can feel free and celebrate because I didn’t fit in during high school and I felt like a freak…so I like to create this atmosphere for my fans where they feel like they have a freak in me to hang out with, and they don’t feel alone.” Gaga, you’re still a freak, but don’t worry, you’ll never feel alone again. Pa-Pa-Paparazzi. As for your fans, at least they get to enjoy the show.
12Wait a second Gaga…have you been hiding something down there all along!?
13Gaga is certainly no stranger to that ideology: “I wanna take a ride on your disco stick.” She is one hell of a quasi-ugly, hypersexual being. She wants sex—or at least her alter-ego does—and she wants us to be comfortable with ourselves, so we can have sex too.