I thought the anti-GaGa brigade (as opposed to those of you who just aren't into her) was already juvenile—adult men referring to her as CaCa, shrieking, "Copycat!" like we're in third grade—but now we're moving onward and downward into, "She's not sexy!" territory.
It's worth noting that I have been sent links to Camille Paglia's (I wouldn't) hit (that) piece on Lady GaGa from a dozen Madonna fans wondering what I think. What I think is that Madonna fans have a short memory if they're thrilled with anything Paglia says—this is the woman who's written scathing attacks on Madonna for 15ish years after initially thinking Madonna shat magic sex beans, possibly because she never got over being rebuffed by the object of her intellectualized desire when she tried for a meet-up.
I loved Paglia's Sexual Personae; I loved finding out one could write about history and public figures through the lens of human sexuality because it's always been my belief that just about everything we do—on purpose or against our will—is colored by our sexualities even if that doesn't mean everything has to be about the act. I found her writing was exciting, playful, bold and original.
Then she continued writing and it soon became clear to me that Paglia was a con artist. I felt most of her theories began with a controversial conclusion and were fleshed out in reverse in order to guarantee publication and discussion.
In some ways, it makes sense that Paglia would bristle at GaGa—doesn't GaGa (and didn't Madonna before her) do the same thing? Doesn't she come up with shocking concepts in order to draw attention? Sure, but the difference is that GaGa (as did Madonna before her) does this because as a popstar, it's part of her job to gain and maintain attention, not just for its own sake, but in order to enhance awareness of her music and to control a running narrative on issues (shallow and/or deep) that affect society. For Madonna, she did lots with religion, gender and sexuality—some of it we can all agree was brilliant, some of it would attract cries of B.S. from even ardent fanboys—while GaGa is also very gender-obsessed, but more so than sexuality seems enchanted by fashion in a conceptual way, and by what constitutes outsider status in society.
Those narratives are sometimes supersuccessful—GaGa's monster meme is one for the ages (even if it's really tired by now), Madonna's post-feminist sexuality and especially her earlier provocations using religion are also indelible. Those narratives are sometimes failures. But those narratives are judged separately from their musical and live-performance work. (And in Madonna's case, her acting and directing work.)
The parallel to Madonna and/or GaGa's music is Paglia's writing, and when her writing is—in my opinion anyway—completely constructed for shock value, there's nothing left. When Madonna does something empty but bombastic for attention (and I think she's done this far less than her critics would contend) or GaGa does the same, there is still the music and the performance.
The reason I have to believe Paglia's latest piece on GaGa is worthless is her central premise that GaGa isn't sexy. Well, Paglia's not sexy either...shouldn't we stop reading her? I don't think GaGa's sexiness relative to Madonna's (someone quite a few people have always bitterly, futiley argued is unsexy simply because the mainstream seemed to consider her so) has much to do with whether or not GaGa is a brilliant singer, songwriter, performer, performance artist or advocate. Mae West was plug ugly but she seemed to do just fine, and the main thrust of her work WAS sexuality, whereas I see GaGa using sexual constructs without the same interest in the act. Like Mae West, Madonna, too, has been more interested in sexuality, and I think it's inarguable, as time has marched on, that Madonna really fucking cares whether or not we think she's sexy.
As another writer points out, GaGa is the Bette Davis to Madonna's Joan Crawford. He prefers Bette, but I would say...why choose just one?
But I have to say, I think the weirdest controversy lately on GaGa has been over the meat dress she wore at the VMAs and on the cover of a magazine, or rather some of the reaction to it.
The first thing I noticed was people pointing out it had been done before by an obscure (to the mainstream) artist. This meme of GaGa being unoriginal is absurd. If GaGa is merely reinventing things done before by some people, most pop artists are merely reinventing things done before by MOST people. Don't tell me GaGa's run of the mill. Someone having done something before doesn't matter; overall, for a person in her position, she's clearly quite original and is having quite a broad international impact. As Madonna had to endure, GaGa will have to put up with people trying to argue away her wow factor and her talent and her uniqueness. It won't work, even if GaGa, like Madonna, will undoubtedly have ups and downs as the public's fascination waxes and wanes.
Meat GaGa's inspiration, Canadian artist Jana Sterbak
But back to the substance of the meat dress...
I don't eat red meat or pork anymore and I deplore the way we treat all the animals we intend to eat. However, I truly did not react to GaGa's meat dress. I just thought "huh, very out-there, very funny." I see so much of what GaGa does as intentionally humorous or as humorous in its sheer audacity.
For me, to wear dead animals' flesh can't be considered a great moral failing for lots of reasons. First and foremost, in order for it to be something cruel, the meat would have to have been taken from animals raised specifically for this purpose of a one-night artistic or fashion statement. What a waste that would be.
Second, if in our culture we are willing to accept the fact that animals are tortured, killed and either eaten or worn, I don't think wearing a meat dress is any worse, and in fact I find it quite an arresting statement—intentional or not, which is fair to say of any piece of art—about how we see animals and the preposterous boundaries we impose: It's okay to torture, kill and wear them, it's acceptable but regrettable that scores of them will go to waste on the way to our tables and shops or will be left uneaten if unsold or if oversupplied, it's okay to wear their skin...it's abominable to wear their meat?
Third, I'd have to say I'm more turned off by women (and men) who wear fur than I was by GaGa's OMGarment. I think this is because wearing and using fur encourages an industry that does not need to exist. I accept that people, including myself, are going to eat animals. I accept that fur is also going to be in demand, but I'm less tolerant of it. When I see someone buying and wearing fur, it strikes me as being an act that is encouraging that industry, that fashion. Seeing GaGa wear a bunch of red meat doesn't make me think she is encouraging copycats, unlike seeing a video on YouTube of a girl gleefully killing puppies. No one, or almost no one, would want to wear meat on their bodies! That's the point. There will be no trend of wearing meat—it's gross and it's expensive and it's completely impossible to maintain. It was a one-time (or so!) statement, an act. It wasn't a trend.
Call me when GaGa ventures into crushing videos. Then I'll join you in your outrage.
I know that people who feel even more strongly about animals than I do feel different, and that's fine by me if they feel that way. But I don't agree, and I wouldn't agree even if it were an artist I didn't already like (though I'm really wishing she wouldn't keep touring ad infinitum...give me a break already!). I wonder how many of those who are outraged by what she's wearing would be as outraged if it were an artist they didn't already dislike? It just feels to me like a large number of the people who despise GaGa are people (some gay men, some not; some defensive Madonna fans, some not) who rail against anything popular because they don't want to feel "fooled" or "tricked" into liking anything all the rest of us idiots like. I've felt that way before, but I push against it because I'd rather like and dislike things based on how they actually make me feel as opposed to reacting to some elitist power struggle in my brain: "I can't possibly let myself like something so, so, so COMMON!"
Clearly, there's a lot to either like or dislike about GaGa—for lots, it will just be a matter of not enjoying her music or resenting aspects of her persona. But that's what being a popstar is—the biggest ones have as many lovers as they do haters. It's intensity of reaction that makes icons. You don't get intensity of reaction by simply being sexy, and you'll never get it without figuratively (or literally) wearing a meat dress every now and again.