Saturday, September 11, 2010

"The Diva of Déjà Vu"

I am a big fan of Camile Paglia.  That may seem strange considering that I am a white, male, fiscal conservative, and uber-social conservative.  If you know Camile Paglia, she is none of those things -- she is far, far from me on just about every issue.

Nevertheless, I have tremendous respect for her and love to read her stuff.  Rather than try to explain why, I'll just mention what Jennifer Rubin said in a recent post in Commentary Contentions:
Liberals continually expect that conservatives will match the cartoonish image that the left has concocted. ...  I think the problem is this: liberals have more friends who are gay than friends who are conservative…  or evangelical… or gun owners.  They often accuse conservatives of living cloistered lives, but it is urban liberals who congregate in homogeneous communities ( e.g., San Francisco, West L.A.) and may live their entire lives without forming a serious relationship with anyone who doesn’t ascribe to their laundry list of inviolate truths (e.g., global warming is real, abortion-on-demand is sacred, government creates jobs).  They don’t much bother to understand conservatives’ rationales for their positions — so much easier to assume they are rooted in ignorance or bigotry.
 So, even though I mostly disagree with Camile, I think she is intelligent, articulate and, therefore, I am interested in her views and what she has to say. 

So, then, to get to the point, here is an excerpt of a tremendous article Camile has in tomorrow's London Sunday Times Magazine on how Lady GaGa represents, not the cutting edge of eroticisized music, but the tired, ersatz imitation of it -- and likely the end of the road for it (and no great loss either).

Lady Gaga and the death of sex
An erotic breaker of taboos or an asexual copycat? Camille Paglia, America's foremost cultural critic, demolishes an icon
Camille Paglia
Published: 12 September 2010

Lady Gaga is the first major star of the digital age.  Since her rise, she has remained almost continually on tour.  Hence, she is a moving target who has escaped serious scrutiny.  She is often pictured tottering down the street in some outlandish get-up and fright wig.  Most of what she has said about herself has not been independently corroborated… “Music is a lie”, “Art is a lie”, “Gaga is a lie”, and “I profusely lie” have been among Gaga’s pronouncements, but her fans swallow her line whole…

She constantly touts her symbiotic bond with her fans, the “little monsters”, who she inspires to “love themselves” as if they are damaged goods in need of her therapeutic repair.  “You’re a superstar, no matter who you are!” She earnestly tells them from the stage, while their cash ends up in her pockets.  She told a magazine with messianic fervour: “I love my fans more than any artist who has ever lived.”  She claims to have changed the lives of the disabled, thrilled by her jewelled parody crutches in the Paparazzi video.

Although she presents herself as the clarion voice of all the freaks and misfits of life, there is little evidence that she ever was one.  Her upbringing was comfortable and eventually affluent, and she attended the same upscale Manhattan private school as Paris and Nicky Hilton.  There is a monumental disconnect between Gaga’s melodramatic self-portrayal as a lonely, rebellious, marginalised artist and the powerful corporate apparatus that bankrolled her makeover and has steamrollered her songs into heavy rotation on radio stations everywhere.

For two years, I have spent an irritating amount of time trying to avoid Gaga’s catchy but depthless hits Lady Gaga is a manufactured personality, and a recent one at that.  Photos of Stefani Germanotta just a few years ago show a bubbly brunette with a glowing complexion.  The Gaga of world fame, however, with her heavy wigs and giant sunglasses (rudely worn during interviews) looks either simperingly doll-like or ghoulish, without a trace of spontaneity.  Every public appearance, even absurdly at airports where most celebrities want to pass incognito, has been lavishly scripted in advance with a flamboyant outfit and bizarre hairdo assembled by an invisible company of elves.

Furthermore, despite showing acres of pallid flesh in the fetish-bondage garb of urban prostitution, 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?  Can it be that Gaga represents the exhausted end of the sexual revolution?  In Gaga’s manic miming of persona after persona, over-conceptualised and claustrophobic, we may have reached the limit of an era…

Gaga has borrowed so heavily from Madonna (as in her latest video-Alejandro) that it must be asked, at what point does homage become theft?  However, the main point is that the young Madonna was on fire.  She was indeed the imperious Marlene Dietrich’s true heir.  For Gaga, sex is mainly decor and surface; she’s like a laminated piece of ersatz rococo furniture.  Alarmingly, Generation Gaga can’t tell the difference.  Is it the death of sex?  Perhaps the symbolic status that sex had for a century has gone kaput; that blazing trajectory is over…

Gaga seems comet-like, a stimulating burst of novelty, even though she is a ruthless recycler of other people’s work.  She is the diva of déjà vu.  Gaga has glibly appropriated from performers like Cher, Jane Fonda as Barbarella, Gwen Stefani and Pink, as well as from fashion muses like Isabella Blow and Daphne Guinness.  Drag queens, whom Gaga professes to admire, are usually far sexier in many of her over-the-top outfits than she is.

Peeping dourly through all that tat is Gaga’s limited range of facial expressions.  Her videos repeatedly thrust that blank, lugubrious face at the camera and us; it’s creepy and coercive.  Marlene and Madonna gave the impression, true or false, of being pansexual.  Gaga, for all her writhing and posturing, is asexual.  Going off to the gym in broad daylight, as Gaga recently did, dressed in a black bustier, fishnet stockings and stiletto heels isn’t sexy – it’s sexually dysfunctional.

Compare Gaga’s insipid songs, with their nursery-rhyme nonsense syllables, to the title and hypnotic refrain of the first Madonna song and video to bring her attention on MTV, Burning Up, with its elemental fire imagery and its then-shocking offer of fellatio.  In place of Madonna’s valiant life force, what we find in Gaga is a disturbing trend towards mutilation and death…

Gaga is in way over her head with her avant-garde pretensions…  She wants to have it both ways – to be hip and avant-garde and yet popular and universal, a practitioner of gung-ho “show biz”.  Most of her worshippers seem to have had little or no contact with such powerful performers as Tina Turner or Janis Joplin, with their huge personalities and deep wells of passion.

Generation Gaga doesn’t identify with powerful vocal styles because their own voices have atrophied: they communicate mutely 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.

Gaga's fans are marooned in a global technocracy of fancy gadgets but emotional poverty.  Borderlines have been blurred between public and private: reality TV shows multiply, cell phone conversations blare everywhere; secrets are heedlessly blabbed on Facebook and Twitter. 

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