It truly takes a weird world for lesbian feminist cultural critic Camille Paglia to sound a touch on the traditionalist side. Her mockery of 21st Century feminist activists and academics in the sexual realm has been fun to read or listen to online. She can call them out on their laziness or disconnect from reality. There is one thing in recent memory that she whiffed on. Paglia wrote a pretty critical essay on Lady Gaga a few years back. It is quite interesting to read. It also reveals a generational gap of sorts. It is not in attitudes towards sex, but in attitudes of the self. What Paglia does not understand is that the Gaga package is proper for our times. Everyone everywhere is on display for show as part of the act of living a modern life.
Paglia's approach comes from a base where there is the pop musician the person and then pop musician the artist with a clear split. One puts on the clothing and acts the act of pop hotness on stage, but then takes the clothing off to live their normal life. That is gone. Paglia complains, "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". The artist is the product as well as the musician. The symbolism and everything they represent matters more. Paglia has a hard time grasping this greyness because of the former means of delivering pop culture messaging.
A perfect example of this split was Cyndi Lauper. Lauper, and her handlers, realized Lauper was not ta sexy woman. They went the "unusual" route and took advantage of the music video medium to push that image. Quick question: how old was Lauper when she sang "Girls Just Wanna have Fun"? She was thirty. This was a thirty year old woman singing a song geared towards teens and adolescents about being a young girl, living with her parents but wanting to have fun and be independent. In today's Logan's Run pop culture, no way could a thirty year old do that or be selected to release that song. The industry would send it off to Katy Perry in her mid-20s or whatever 16 year old they are pushing now. It was a different game thirty years ago, and Lauper could take the wacky clothes off and go on to win Grammys, Tonys and Emmys. Yes, Cyndi Lauper is an Oscar away from the famous EGOT.
Paglia does not get that Gaga going to a Yankees game in full Gaga bravado and inappropriate costuming is different than Madonna showing up to a baseball game in normal clothing because Madonna was going to have sex with Jose Canseco. Madonna went to the baseball game because as part of her getting into the A League of Their Own marketing, she banged a baseball star. Gaga shows up in costume this because she is Gaga 24/7. The artist is the product and must maintain the facade at all times. Madonna's act in the early '90s hinted at this. In the documentary Truth or Dare, Warren Beatty captures it, "She doesn't want to live off-camera, much less talk. There's nothing to say off-camera. Why would you say something if it's off-camera? What point is there existing?" Paglia even wrote as much how Madonna was used to push sexual boundaries. Product and artist merge, and what was not perfected at Madonna's peak was possible 20 years later.
At the time, America was still socially conservative enough and HIV-AIDS was still a concern that Madonna's Sex book-Erotica album-Truth or Dare Documentary era was a turn off. Madonna had to go on a massive image rehab for her Bedtime Stories album. Gaga plays the part and is absurd because of the growth in people playing the part and being more absurd. The actress or musician moves from just playing the role to becoming a role that others can emulate. If you doubt me, check African and Asian adoptions by 40 something actresses. Jennifer Aniston has played the confused young women who doesn't know what to do with her life but always wants to commit but just quite can't and oh look, it's the same thing in tabloids. What is social media and the crafting of the digital self without subtly changing your real life self to merge with the digital portrayal? Many modern Americans are doing the same just not as flamboyant and as high profile as Gaga.
Lady Gaga is at what, minute 14 in her 15 minutes of fame? For my money, her performance of "Poker Face" on American Idol was the best guest spot they have ever had. She was a smart self-promoter and understood the game very well. She has singing talent, and made Madonna worried enough that the old skank showed up on Saturday Night Live when Gaga was on to appear in a skit with her. Her problems were bad singles, going too weird, going too pro-gay and the increasingly ADD nature of pop music. By being flamboyant, she caused other pop artists to ape her strange costuming and go meta in her joke on being a pop artist. We are talking about an industry that took Jewel and crafted ever faker origin backstories to fit in with the singer songwriter garbage. They published a book of Jewel's poetry to hit you over the head with it. She's a deep singer songwriter people. The industry did this rather than running with a guitar playing cutie with a rocking body. Maybe she can reinvent herself, anything is possible.
Your sister isn't an expert baker, but she says so on Faceborg, so it pressures her into faking baking in real life. Your college friend is pondering divorce, but Instagram is full of kissy face vacation pics, forcing an illusion to become real. Your friend cries in her oversized sunglasses on the weekend at brunch but on social media, she is living a fun life so she has to go out to fulfill that mirage. The lack of privacy that we have chosen to have has left no room for error. People want to keep up, people want status, and people will fulfill the check boxes to get that status. One must always be on, one must always play the part, and it is an elected duty. Just as people choose to engage in these silly displays, Gaga chooses to be Gaga all of the time. It ruins the joy of life, as life is not a play. A play by characteristic being a production and fake reality. Life is real and can have meaning with sincerity. We have just chosen to demean it. "All the world's a stage" wrote Shakespeare. He was right but just several centuries early.