Lady Gaga exploded onto the gay scene as a symbol of sexual agency, but her latest music video fails to challenge gender stereotypes.
As someone who picked up on ‘geek chic’ about two years too late, who has only recently discovered the joy of cardigans and fell belatedly into the trend of spiky, shaved haircuts, it’s no surprise that it’s taken me so long to watch the new Lady Gaga and Beyonce video; the much-discussed, supposedly seminal, blockbuster of the year.
Ms. Gaga has been touted as the new Madonna; the provocative, exciting and edgy face of pop. I was promised by many a daring, queered-up feminist riot of a music video, accompanying the new single ‘Telephone’. Imagine my disappointment when, filled with wild expectations of the return of feminism to popular culture, I found nine long minutes of leather bikinis, a barrage of booty-popping and breasts, copious grinding and gyrating and more than one lingering shot of disembodied groins and fishnet-clad legs.
A strange amalgamation of scenes follow Lady Gaga being locked up and then rescued by Beyonce, whereupon they embark on a mass homicide involving maple syrup and rat poison, before eloping into the sunset with the police hot on their tail. Too much is wrong with this video to fit into 800 words, so let’s look at the most controversial clips; Gaga and the penis scandal, the lesbian kiss, and that sandwich.
After Gaga is thrown in jail, we see her vagina exposed as she’s undressed, and again as she rubs herself against her cell bars, prompting a guard to remark “See, I told you she didn’t have a dick”. There’s been a huge furore in the world of showbiz blogging over her purportedly ambigious genitalia, prompting remarks that she is trans, intersex, or a drag queen. Until now, she’s taken this whirlwind of gossip with the characteristic playfulness we’ve come to expect of her; telling reporters that she has a ‘huge donkey dick’, and posing for GQ with a strap-on down her trousers.
This is great: it’s funny, silly and a big “fuck you” to the hounding mobs of gossip weeklies that attempt to devalue her by suggesting she’s not a ‘real woman’. Rubbing your vagina through cell bars for a captive audience, however, is none of those things. It’s a capitulation to that very same pack of papparazi, who can now triumphantly hold up Gaga’s labia minora as their proof that she fits a binary mould of woman/man, and is willing to ‘get it out’ for the cameras along the way. Not exactly a triumph for challenging gender constructions.
When Gaga, bound in chains, is escorted out into the exercise yard, she proclaims her audacity and deviancy by engaging in that great taboo, the lesbian kiss. This has been the subject of much gleeful proclamation, the idea being that Gaga is taking lesbianism into the mainstream and ushering in an age where the gender of two people having a cheeky snog doesn’t matter.
Of course better representation of LGBT people in the media can only be a good thing, but in this context it’s about as liberating as T.a.T.u. dressed up as schoolgirls kissing in the rain: gratuitous shock-value porn that exists to boost video hits and not much more. Not quite a campaigning tool for the local LGBT group.
So far, it’s all been a little bit doom and gloom, so let’s look at the one aspect of the video that merits a bit of praise; Gaga eating a sandwich. Twice. Now, this might not seem like a rallying cry for celebration, but I seriously can’t remember the last time I saw a woman on the screen actually eating a meal that didn’t consist of a lettuce leaf and a couple of ‘naughty’ olives. Of course, in both of these scenes Gaga and Beyonce are either engaging in a little light domination fantasy (Beyonce), or dancing around in see-through vinyl with bondage tape crossed over their nipples (Gaga), implying that it’s only okay to eat if you’re making an effort to look hot at the same time.
Regardless, this is actually an interesting and perhaps even slightly progressive move in an industry that tells you that it’s not okay to eat, ever, full stop; lest you become a morbidly obese armchair-bound slob. Sadly though, this is not enough to save a video steeped in boring misogynistic femininity tropes.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect all pop videos to be genderqueering, femineering, domineering masterpieces. I’ve come to expect that much of the pop industry is happy to churn out the same tired sexist stereotypes day in, day out, and if I complained about every one of them I’d be wasting my time. But when the most liberating thing in a video touted as a feminist masterpiece is someone eating a sandwich (and not even the whole sandwich at that) then we need to seriously re-examine our notions of liberation and emancipation.
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