LectureHop: The Politics of Lady Gaga

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All photos by CG

On Tuesday night in 569 Lerner Hall, the Columbia Political Union hosted a discussion of the social relevance and political influence of pop icon Lady Gaga. Contessa Gayles, Bwog’s Official Gaga Correspondent, was on hand.

Although the event was off to a late start, the crowd was subdued by pizza and Gaga’s favorite: gummies. Moderator and CPU President Sajaa Ahmed facilitated the discussion between the three panelists–Jason Bell, Lauren Herold and Bryan Lowder–and the diverse group of 70-plus opinionated Gaga fans. Prefaced by a plea to take any pretension with a grain of salt–as intellectual plumage puffing is inevitable at a gathering of Ivy Leaguers attempting to apply political interpretations to seemingly vacuous pop music–the event was finally underway. Each panelist presented their well-researched interpretations of the pop icon’s influence and intended message to the world. Focusing specifically on the artist’s latest music video, “Telephone”, the debate opened with a nod to Gaga’s attempt to rebel against essentialist culture, nationalism, and consumerism while asserting representations of radicalized gender identity.

In Bell’s opinion, the revolution is declawed by Gaga’s participation in the very system of commodification she seeks to rebel against. Her only redeeming contribution is her imagination of violence, exhibited in the video’s prison fights, punching gestures in dance routines, and mass homicide by poison sequence. Bell suggested that we all secretly want to participate in this culture of violence, and that this is the real reason why we cannot look away from her videos. Herold also commented on the use of violence in Gaga’s videos, suggesting that it is a vehicle for her to transgress the objectification of the male gaze. Power comes from the union of violence and sex, although the pop star never mentions her overt incorporation of violence into her videos, nor claims to be an activist speaking out against domestic violence (despite her video, “Paparazzi”, in which she kills her abusive boyfriend). Herold suggests, to her dismay, that Gaga uses violence as a tool to make radical statements about gender stereotypes, rather than pointing out that violence itself is a real problem.

Lowder concentrated on the icon’s role as a self-proclaimed spokesperson for gay rights, calling the gay pop fans’ It Girl “our diva and political advocate.” Acknowledging that the entity that is “Lady Gaga” is in fact Stefani Germanotta’s creative choice, constructed by various symbols, Lowder questioned the star’s true intentions. He worried that she might only be using the gay community as Herold suggested she uses violence, to spark controversy in order to augment her fame and fortune.

After a screening of the “Telephone” video, Bell staunchly stood by his position on the meaninglessness of Gaga’s metaphors, while Lowder and audience members were quick to point out the intelligence behind it all. Insisting that the debate would not even exist if it was all meaningless, one student asserted, “She makes us question what makes pop music.” Questions of femininity arose in response to the video’s masculine female prison guards and campy parody of the housewife in the kitchen. Is the video a mirror of society, alluding to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as Gaga and Beyoncé dance around a diner full of dead bodies while wearing American flags? Is its overt product placement and subsequent poison scene a critique of the toxicity of consumer culture?

The genius of Gaga’s work is the multiplicity of interpretations it elicits. Lowder closed the discussion by suggesting that the majority of Gaga’s fans don’t even pick on most of her references. She is hip enough to sell and intellectual enough to spark political debate.

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  1. Anonymous


  2. Sigmund

    Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar...

  3. gah.

    \The genius of Gaga’s work is the multiplicity of interpretations it elicits\

    Go watch last week's South Park.

    • oh dear  

      Can't believe I'm about to say this kind of thing on Bwog of all places but: I respectfully disagree with the episode's interpretation of pop culture criticism. Where better to find the "genuine article" of cultural zeitgeist than in popular and mass culture? Granted, it's a little hilarious when people try to use pop phenomena to validate their own world view, but as ethnographic data Lady Gaga is fabulously ripe.

  4. In interviews,  

    she is horrendous. Her notions and beliefs come out as superficial regurgitation of other artists in art and music from the 70s and 80s whenever she is put on the spot.

  5. Butthurt

    Who cares if she's exploiting the audience or not? A woman controls her image and writes her own songs and makes bank off stupid men (I hope so, anyway). I personally think there's at least a modicrum of thought put into her work, and if you're comparing it to other pop music, it's not even in the same orbit. WAAAY more intelligent than any shit Ke$ha or Britney Spears or whoever the fuck else put out.

    But I guess the South Park lolbertarians have the correct simple answer to a complex problem once again. Tell me again why they haven't created Utopia yet?

  6. a pretentious asshole  

    Gaga is probably an above-average pop star, but gets way more credit than she deserves for doing things that other, better artists have done before. Yawn.

    Also, the notion (written on the posters promoting this event and expounded by Gaga fans) that pop music was apolitical pre-Gaga is utterly laughable.

  7. Anonymous

    Madonna's work was discussed in the same way in the early 90's. There's a book called the Madonna Connection from 1993, featuring essays by professors, Lady Gaga is like deja vu.

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