by Johannes Goransson on Sep.06, 2010
I wrote a bunch of stuff about Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” video a while back.
Here’s a link to Heidi Lynn Staples’s critique of Lady Gaga and apologists such as me. In the process of criticizing the “Telephone” video, I think Heidi raises some good points, so that’s why I want to write about it a little.
To begin with, I can’t see Gaga as a powerless figure. Gaga seems incredibly in-control of her image. She is not a stripper exploited to dance naked: she co-directs the video and seems to very imaginatively have directed her own image, something that she calls attention to in pretty much every video or public appearance (that I’ve seen).
But the most important point is that Staples contradicts herself continually when she tries to categorize Gaga’s body. She wants to argue that Gaga’s body is a conventional “fuckable” body. But in the course of her post, Staples seems totally unable to categorize the Gaga-body, proving not that the body is conventional but rather that it seems highly unconventional, because it is too mobile. At one point Heidi calls it pubescent, at another its corpse-like, it’s fuckable, it’s a “goddess” body etc. All of these are very different kinds of body! And this is one part of what makes Lady Gaga interesting. Her body is desireable but in a very mobile way.
This might be why it was recently rumored that Gaga actually had a penis! Something she references in the beginning of the video (the guards joke about it as they put her in her cell/place). This is a wildly, digitally anarchic body! It may have a penis! It may be a corpse! It may be a little girl! It may be a goddess! Etc
Another important point is that Heidi equates wearing a mask with being fucked from behind. First of all: What’s wrong with fucking someone from behind? In Heidi’s analysis, it seems to be that you don’t see the face. Why is the face so important?
Secondly: she equates wearing a mask with being faceless. This seems another odd equation. But it emphasizes the question: What’s o important about the “natural” face?
This makes me think of another very figure in pop culture: Lisbeth Selander from Stieg Larsson’s incredibly popular (and horrible) detective trilogy about “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (Or as in the somewhat less poetic Swedish title, “Men Who Hate Women”). In these books, Selander is a grown woman who appears to be a girl, and who is also incredibly violent and incredibly mobile. Most importantly perhaps is that she’s constantly described as being riddle-like; her eyes are opaque; she appears to have no interiority. In other words, she wears a mask.
She’s also highly sexual. She is described as having sex with both women and men, but the important part is that she is not interested in tender, eye-gazing, lovey-dovey sex; she just wants to fuck. In other words, she exhibits exactly the kind of behavior and indeterminate sexuality/age/body as Heidi picks up on in Lady Gaga.
I also think mobility is a key here. Both Gaga and Selander move a lot. They are constantly moving. Selander is moving through hacking into computers most of all; Gaga seems to be moving in the image itself, spassing the image as I wrote in an earlier post.
I am reminded of Chelsey Minnis’s poem “Primrose” (from her great book Zirconia) where a girl/woman catches violence from her mother’s rape. This is what I wrote about this poem in an article for the journal Calaveras:
“In the work of Chelsea Minnis there is a similarly charged combination of kitsch and violent sexuality. In her first book Zirconia (these are not the refined but natural jewels that Smith calls for, but crass fakes), Minnis create a number of near-narratives that depict extreme acts of violence, but the focus is not – as might be expected from the numerous post-1970s poems written about the deaths of parents – on the psychological effects of these deaths, but on the style, the staging of the events. In “Primrose” the first lines announce “when my mother was raped,” but instead of depicting the trauma of this event, Minnis moves on to a veritable gothic fashion show of the staging:
…a harpsichord began to play… red candles melted… and… spilled down the mantle… there was blood in the courtyard… and blood on the birdbath… and blood drizzled… on brown flagstones… as a red fox bared its teeth…white harts… froze… and snow-hares fled… and left… heartshaped footprints in the snow… (41)
The poem moves quickly away from the initial trauma to a consideration of the event as staged spectacle full of tacky particulars. The dot-dot-dots suggest a savoring of this imagery. Rather than the mantra of American poetry workshops for decades that you have to “earn” your images by making them work towards a psychological epiphany of the speaker, this is imagery that is never earned, always excessive (“forced” rather than natural). Instead of an epiphany, Minnis gives us a description of her speaker’s murder of rapists, as decorative and ornate as the initial murder.”
Ie, we get artifice (masks) instead of heartfelt interiority.
One of the most interesting things about Selander is that when she appears on trial, she appears in full goth outfit because – and this is the interesting part – to not appear in full goth outfit would make the jury think she was trying to fool them into thinking she was normal. So the only way to be honest was to appear in full artifice, full mask.
Of course something annoying (among many things) with Larsson’s books is that in the end Selander has to be controlled, has to be brought into the sentimental ideology of interiority. The book explains that the reason for her mask-ness is of course trauma (see Shutter Island post etc). Trauma excuses her weirdness. In the movie version of the book (which is frankly better, skips a lot of the tiresome stuff), which I watched yesterday, Mikael Blomkvist keeps asking “What have you been through?” when she acts weird. Which is also exactly what he says to the photograph of the murdered woman. Trauma is like murder: it gives you an interiority. Afterall, this is how most murder stories work: they’re as much about finding out the true identity of the victim as finding the killer (one leads to the other).
(This is of course the dynamic which goes so horribly awry in Twin Peaks, with its out of control hidden identity of Laura Palmer and utter proliferation of victims and doubles and double-killers etc.)
Another annoying thing is that in the end she has to fall in love with Blomkvist, to sentimentalize her. So trauma and love is used to control the violent mobility of these figures, to give them interiority.
The girl seems a key part of this mobile figure. This dynamic of the mobile girl is also investigated by Aylin Bloch Boynukisa in her story “I have nothing to do with birds,” in which a kind of unreal girl is equated with the movement of birds (the birds, notably, that catch cinematic violence in Hitchcock’s movie):
“To be a girl or a bird and to be constantly rushing upward, rushing past everything and everyone on the way up. To not have any breasts inside one’s green bird outfit. To be constantly convincing about one’s beak.”
The mask is part of violence, mobility.
A final point I find interesting: Just as Aylin takes the girl (Cathy becomes Kathy and moves to San Francisco) from Hitchcock, so Selander seems to have a life beyond Larsson’s novel. I’ve read several reviews that bemoan how boring the novels are and argue that Selander is a very interesting character, as if she existed beyond the novel. Ie Larsson has not managed to trap her afterall.