The Slow Death of Decapitated Gaga Or, Marriage, Neoliberalism and the Potatoesque

by on Dec.20, 2011

A headless Gaga performs her new single

For Lauren Berlant, “slow death” is the “attrition of life or pacing of death” through which neoliberal policies sustain inequality and suffering.  Obesity, in a world of profit over people, is just one example of slow death that maligned populations in the US are made to bear:  Kraft Foods and the medical industrial complex alike make money off the “cruel and usual nourishment” (Berlant’s great phrase) enabled by the stripping of social programs.  In her song “Marry the Night,” Lady Gaga unwittingly cannibalizes her pro-marriage LGBT activism and its neoliberal underpinnings.  What her song spits out is a Potatoesque spin on Berlant’s concept:  the stuttering, slow death of a citizenry at once together and alone in the darkness of our dismemberment.

It’s no coincidence that the video for “Marry the Night” stages scenes of Gaga’s pre-fame hospitalization that usher in a pious organ melody.  To marry within the Christian church, after all, is to devote oneself in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, and take on the burden of one another’s social insurance.  As a form of governance, marriage serves to obscure the neoliberal state’s failure in providing for its populace.  By encouraging marriage as a natural (and heterosexual) expression of human intimacy, the government finds a pretext for displacing its responsibilities on individuals.

In lyrics that recall Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and the ‘disco disease’ of AIDS, “Marry the Night” faces the stakes of falling outside such heteronormative kinship:  as a “warrior queen” who “won’t give up on [her] life,” Gaga is a “winner” and “loser.”  What might seem like the song’s embrace of individual freedom sounds more, in fact, like a total avowal of precarity, in which “love” becomes the “new black” and there are “skeleton, guns or wedding bells in the alley.”  In this sense, the song is a throwback to the necrotic and nocturnal visuals of “Alejandro” in which Gaga also loses her face/head:

If it’s Gaga’s alienation and “emptiness” that invite a death at once social and slow (and thus also material), it’s through debility that her song becomes as convivial as a potato in a pot of goulash.  The Potatoesque’s commingling, as I’ve written before, consists in loss of identity.  Because it absorbs any significant other(s) into itself, our aesthetic and ontological model remains incompatible with marriage:  to become-potato is to mutate and dissolve one’s face through extreme empathy, receptivity, and promiscuity.  Far from ensuring the private and supposedly stable sphere of wedlock, a union with the night would forge alliances as queer as those of pierced youth and retired police Captain Ray Lewis at OWS.  Against the neoliberal rationale of self-sufficiency, such an assemblage of figures in the midst of slow death–among which we include the nocturnal ecosystem of trash, rats, and roaches–enacts an utterly public notion of care.

The Potatoesque root of “Marry the Night” thus emerges in bodies that intensify together just as they are weakening and wearing out.  Ours, in other words, is not the narrative of fame, fortune, and convalescence that Gaga triumphantly accelerates in her music video.  Instead, we potatoans turn to her performance in perforated raccoon face below, as well as the spasmatic coda that eats, repeats and slowly paces its own death:

M-m-m-marry m-m-m-marry m-m-m-marry the night
Oh m-m-marry m-m-m-marry m-m-m-marry the night
Oh m-m-marry m-m-m-marry m-m-m-marry the night

I’m gonna marry
Marry
I’m gonna marry
Marry
C’mon c’mon the night
The night (17x)

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