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GUEST BLOG #103: Eric Gould Doesn't Go Gaga Over Latest Lady Gaga Video
July 9, 2010  | By Eric Gould
 

[Bianculli here: Eric Gould, architect by day and new TV WORTH WATCHING contributor by night, has decided to weigh in on the imagery and messages contained within the latest Lady Gaga video. And what a hoot: Who else, I ask you, would look at one of Lady Gaga's costumes and think of -- a building?...]

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Included and examined, in today's column, are all of four-and-a-half minutes of TV Worth Watching -- if not for the cultural temperature they take, but also for the mishmosh of mixed metaphors, missed metaphors, and random inanities they deliver. In the brief time it takes to watch this one, you'll most likely drop your jaw, scratch your head, and then mostly likely just shake it, disappointed and amused, as if your kid has just shown up in an O.J. Simpson mask for Halloween.

I give you the Iconoclast of the Moment: Lady Gaga and her latest music video, "Alejandro," a mash-up of shock-art retreads, including that old favorite triad: a corpse-nun eating her rosary, some simulated sex, and leather-clad storm troopers, shimmying furiously like there was no tomorrow.

Hopefully, in video art, and video music, there will be one. A tomorrow, that is.

But for now, we are stuck with Lady G -- Madonna 2.0 -- at the forefront for the moment. I freely hand it to her: She's got the dance chops, and she certainly has the fashion swagger to feed the media machine that has not tired of her yet. You simply have to admire designs that seem to suggest an apparent collision between her and one of Frank Gehry's buildings.

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And style is the better part of "Alejandro," before it (intentionally) goes off the rails. It begins with Lady Gaga as a corpse-white pixie masked by some sort of binocular apparatus, looking like two soup cans with lace over the lenses. This is after the intro -- a grimy black sky, a back-lit group of men stomping in militaristic time, followed by a funeral led by Lady G with a bloody Sacred Heart on silk pillow, and then a slow zoom to a solemn-looking guy in a Speedo and a spiky Kaiser helmet.

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Fair enough. You have to at least agree that Ms. Gaga and her photographer/videographer Steven Klein (veteran of Calvin Klein, Nike and Madonna shoots) have given us a consistent, dark vision. However, all this is is a visual accompaniment to some sprightly electro-pop (channeling, some say, my beloved ABBA), with lyrics about a woman who seems to not want to be the lover of Alejandro, and then not Fernando, and then not Roberto either, seemingly swearing off all men with names ending in the letter "O."

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Turns out this is a piece about lost love's agony. I think. God knows how awful that is, and I could think of a few dark images for that metaphor...

Then it's on to her wicked-ripped entourage, again backlit on the cold concrete, each dancer with a black, bowl-cut haircut -- seemingly the unfortunate offspring of Michael Phelps' mother and Moe from the Three Stooges. These Gaga disciples seem to like to throw each other down on the aforementioned hard, wet concrete.

Then we're off to a sort of abstract barracks -- steel cots, with the Moe-platoon writhing around, and then all over Lady G, in bra and panties, a la Sally Bowles in Cabaret. I think there was a whip in there, too, somewhere.

Quick cuts to the red vinyl-clad corpse-nun, ruby lips, swallowing the rosary, and then even quicker to back outside (one assumes outside the dampened, concrete bunker), where we again find the furiously shimmying, leather-clad S.S., in formation with Gaga herself, adorned in a machine-gun-tipped brassiere.

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That's the main part of it, but there's also a Joan of Arc cloak with a sword-cross on the sleeve; a bare crucifix-like wood piece (or maybe it was a coat rack); a kind of nighttime Kristallnacht riot with the city burning; lots of Moes running in panic; another grim looking S.S. guy, this time with full leather tie, coat and hat' and finally, Lady Gaga, stripping herself naked out of her holy robe with the bare troops again, throwing her around faux-violently, like a Busby Berkeley show gone horribly, horribly wrong.

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I'm not entirely clear on what was left out. But I'm guessing Jesus should have been in there, and maybe Lot's wife, just for a pinch of salt.

I am sure the Catholics and Jews have their hands full on this one, with perhaps the Catholics edging out the Hebrews by a lash, so to speak. The Catholic League already has come out against Gaga and her director for her use of blasphemy, despite Klein's claim that the scene in question (the swallowing of the rosary beads) was Gaga's "desire to take in the Holy."

Not that I had a lot of questions about the video. It shocked me -- not for the imagery, but for the lazy appropriation of the images.

I did read a little more on it. Gaga maintains it was inspired by her love for her gay friends and admiration of gay love -- "her envy of the courage and bravery they require to be together." And Klein is on record as explaining that "the religious symbolism is not meant to denote anything negative, but represents the character's battle between the dark forces of this world and the spiritual salvation of the soul."

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Artists' points taken -- although someone has to convince us this isn't just a case of pop culture eating itself in a Madonna rehash of her Catholic Blasphemer's Playground in "Like A Prayer." (Come to think of it, Klein and Gaga forgot the burning cross.) Perhaps we're seeing something amounting to fighting anti-gay extremism with similar fire. Fair enough. But why dance about it, then?

The piece is just dripping with irony anyway, intended or not, and it's better to think it was unintentional. James Montgomery from MTV commented, "Gaga has created a world that, while oppressive, also looks great." And Anthony Benigno from the New York Daily News wrote that it is "the softcore answer to The Matrix."

On its website, MTV hosts the video (which you can watch by clicking HERE) with the banner headline, "Has Lady Gaga Gone Too Far With Her 'Alejandro' Video?" Too far off course, maybe. But not too far into the realm of the truly relevant or truly shocking. (For my money, Trent Reznor's 1994 "Closer" video -- now in the Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection -- is the real standard for clear use of nightmare imagery.)

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I don't know. There's no question the gay community should be fighting fiercely for its rights. Always. But wasn't it truly more shocking when Mel Brooks' character of director Roger De Bris, rapt with the prospect of the new play Springtime For Hitler, envisions "gorgeous showgirls in gooey gowns," and stages grinning, S.S. tap dancers, with the showgirls in headdresses of bratwurst and beer elegantly cascading down the white-stepped stage risers?

Here was Brooks, in 1968 -- a Jew, only 25 years out from the Holocaust -- meta-staging a musical comedy within The Producers, with Goebbels, Himmler and Hitler as the leads. It was an outrageous, comic, and heroic risk, an effort to deal with the unspeakable through the Jews' long-wielded secret weapon: humor.

After "Alejandro," I'm not laughing, and I haven't learned anything. But I AM writing about it, aren't I? And, after all is said and done, isn't THAT the point?

 

5 Comments

 

Steve Richter said:

Madonna 2.0? Please. Don't get me wrong, this was a GREAT analysis, informative and very enjoyable. However, comparing this bow-wow to Madonna is ridiculous. Madonna STILL looks great. In 20 years, Lady Gaga still won't. A better comparison might be Grace Jones, from whom Lady Woof-Woof has stolen substantially...

Comment posted on July 10, 2010 2:06 PM


Greg Kibitz said:

Gaga's music isn't SO bad, and she surely has lots of talent and creativity, and I really can't care any less about with what and/or whom she likes to get her fuzzy warbles off on. But so far, at least after the original poker face obsession, I am getting really sick of her ever odder and more radical fashion industry based imagery, videos and outfits.

Like it or not, she is one hundred percent derivative of Madonna (whom in her time was not much derivative of anyone excpet maybe the edgy pin-up starlets of the 30's, 40's and 50's). Gaga simply takes the exact same spirit of what was done in the 80's and 90's to the next more extreme edge of comfort, good taste and utter shock value.

If she really was creating a new type of music, truly cutting edge if you will, unlike any other heretofore unheard, then I guess I could bear her other utterly ridiculous exploits. But really, her music, catchy as it is, is nothing so groundbreaking and so all that truly distinguishes her is all the spectacle, and that sort of spectacle (other than her particular flavor thereof) is nothing new either.

Wouldn't it be nice if she put all that energy and creativity into really making something truly new and different for us to hear and to break all the tired POP Music paradigms of the last 10 - 20 years. I for one am still waiting. How about you?

Comment posted on July 10, 2010 7:12 PM


Greg Kibitz said:

Awesome review!

FYI: I read it after I wrote my last comment because I wanted to say my peace regarding Gaga and did not want to be led astray by anyone's thoughts or ruminations but my own.

I have not yet seen this new Gaga video, but now, after reading your very detailed, lengthy, vivid and truly inspired re-cap, I feel as though I have (the pictures helped too, of course). And if you read my previous comment, you will see I could not agree more.

Now I too want to re-watch The Producers (old and new versions) yet one more time AND go back and watch some old truly dark, twisted, evil, damaged, distrubed, and yet, at once, utterly sublime Nine Inch Nails Videos as well.**

Did not know Reznor's work had achieved a state of actual ART, not that I ever felt they were anything less. Still, that is pretty damn cool! Of course, still wondering why music videos do not qualify for Academy Awards in the short film or animated short film categories. And yet they do give awards for the very bad songs that only appear during the ending credits of films. Go figure.

** Sadly, whenever I tune into my many music video stations (about 8 of them), on my Time Warner Cable system, they hardly ever play any good videos, if they even show any at all. And I don't do videos online/on my PC. I prefer big images and a real sound system that I can crank with a high SNR and low HD and only my home theatre/stereo has that. Sadly, my PC is not YET set up to work with it. I think the best music channel on my cable system if Palladium in HD. A close second is VH1 Classic. Lots of great stuff on both, including very good live concerts (Jeff Beck, Stones, Rush, et. al) as well as really awesome documentary fare (esp. the Classic Albums series). Both channels are definitely TV Worth Watching!

SNR = signal to noise ratio
HD = Harmonic Distortion

Comment posted on July 10, 2010 7:44 PM


Eileen said:

I'm Catholic & Irish, but I don't let much bother me. That being said, this woman is a disgrace.

First of all, she attended Convent of the Sacred Heart in NYC -- former graduates include Caroline Kennedy -- so she wasn't exactly from a deprived background. Depraved -- maybe.

Her recent misbehavior at her sister's graduation from Convent of the Sacred Heart was just egregious. See me -- look at me -- I'm here!! If I were a parent paying $30,000+ per year for tuition, I would have blown a gasket over this trash crashing graduation with her see through pants, etc.

Sure, Catholic school could be tough. But mocking the rosary is really infantile. It's a religious symbol, and should be honored and respected. And, I might add, having been educated all through the Catholic school system, it has boded very well for me all my working years.

We, unfortunately, as a whole, are totally unshockable. Good manners and taste are truly a thing of the past. Just look at who we consider "stars" today.

Audrey Hepburn -- where are you??

Comment posted on July 11, 2010 12:26 PM


Jim said:

Good review. The video was a tiresome collection of cliches. Even the song sounded like a ripoff of the old Abba song, "Fernando." Like you wrote, "Springtime for Hitler" was shocking in 1968; now the use of Nazi iconography is mainstream, as are parodies of Catholic symbolism and ritual, but Gaga's producers can still count on getting denounced by ADL and the Catholic League.

Comment posted on July 11, 2010 7:54 PM
 
 
 
 
 
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