Let's Make a Sandwich

The internet is abuzz, Lady Gaga has a new video out and it is nine minutes long. That's pretty stunning in and of itself. The whole thing takes a few viewings to properly digest because it's incredibly dense for something so seemingly shallow. I want to attack this thing from about a dozen angles, so apologies if it loses coherency for the sake of completeness.

The first and most remarkable thing about the Telephone video is how queer it is. Gaga's talked about being bisexual in the media before but until The Fame Monster, it hadn't even shown itself except subtly in her lyrics. If it wasn't for the Rolling Stone interview, a lot of people including myself wouldn't have figured out that Poker Face is about distracting a guy to get with his girlfriend. By contrast, the only time anything hetero appears in the Telephone video it's Tyrese's cameo and he's really just there to be sacrificed on the altar of Beyonce and Gaga's girl-love.

It's not particularly notable for having girl-on-girl sequences, but it is very notable for how they're portrayed as this run down of Music Videos With Content of a Lesbian Nature by the ladies at Autostraddle makes very clear. Probably the biggest thing to mention is that it's Gaga herself who is making out with the ladies in the prison yard and not a proxy of some kind as is usually the case. The amount of self-possession it takes to break that kind of ground in the mainstreamiest of the mainstream is truly laudable. But it doesn't stop there. The women in the jail sequences of Telephone are not tarted up hetero girls put there to please the boys in the audience, they're a wide range of butch and femme with the butch end of the spectrum getting the most play. One of the most socially marginalized demographics in North America is African-American lesbians. To wit, recent articles have alerted me to the fact that they face wildly disproportionate discharges under the DADT act and African-American women in general (in the US) have reported a median wealth of five dollars. Despite that, it's a black leatherdyke who is given the honour of flashing Lady Gaga's own headphones in the more obvious instances of product placement in the video.

After comments about the appearance of the infamous Pussy Wagon, "Let's Make a Sandwich," and "Told you she doesn't have a dick," the product placement is one of the most discussed things about the video. What a lot of people are missing is- again- the context of that product placement. Yes, someone is on a laptop accessing Plenty of Fish and the screen brightness is magnified so that you can't possibly miss it but who is that at the keyboard but the muscly, masculine in bearing dominatrix prison guard. That's a seriously ballsy way to promote your dating site because after all this is not a Teagan and Sarah video where you could conceivably tailor a spot to appeal to a niche market sight unseen by the mainstream. The Virgin Mobile plug happens right in the middle of what was shaping up to be a jail yard lesbian threesome during which Lady Gaga is wearing sunglasses that are decorated with lit cigarettes. The sheer amount of things that offend contemporary mores and prejudices is mind boggling and any one of them would usually be enough to send any advertiser running for the hills, but Gaga's appeal seems to be making the risks involved for the firms palatable which is why she's so goddamn important.

One of the more tragic reminders of the very narrow appreciation for film- and I suppose culture in general- that my generation has is how often and to what extent Quentin Tarantino is mentioned in reference to Telephone. The reason that an artifact typing itself explicitly to Tarantino was required in order for Ackerland and Gaga to express their love for his work is that his aesthetic is very difficult to invoke without attribution because of how referential it is. The irony of course is that a very large portion of his audience has no direct experience of his influences and thus conflate anything that uses the grindhouse aesthetic with him despite the fact that he is quite vigilant in crediting his influences through his dialogue. What all too frequently gets missed is that Paparazzi of which Telephone is the narrative sequel has the shadow of Frederico Fellini looming over it just as heavily as Tarantino (his contemporaries and influences inclusive) does Telephone. Beyond evoking Fellini's life long fascination with the Italian elite- be it aristocracy or movie stars- the very name has it's genesis in his most famous film (La Dolce Vita) which is a derivation of the Italian word for "sewer rat."

Now begins speculation of which iconic film director Gaga and Ackerland will pattern their next outing after. My money is on David Lynch based on his indelible imprint on pop culture, love of Woman in Trouble narratives, and reputation for being impenetrable and "weird." After Telephone, it's hard not to hunger for their take on Mulholland Drive or Wild At Heart. Another brilliant subversion would be to take on film's most notorious and unapologetic misogynist, Lars Von Trier.

Of course this whole thing ultimately traces it's way back to Michael Jackson who is largely responsible for the music video as an art form and most definitely the progenitor of the long form version of it. Witness the side to side clawing the air look at me I am homaging Thriller dance move that Gaga has been using since Beautiful Dirty Rich or the everything but a crotch grab little dance she does on her release from prison in Telephone. Until her first splashy foray into the long form video, it was a dying art form that had become little more than a plug for the single with rapidly declining time share on the cable channels that were birthed to showcase them. When was the last time people were talking this much about a music video? Probably Marilyn Manson's Coma White video that portrayed him as JFK being shot in the head, literally over ten years ago. Of course Paparazzi- if not so much Telephone- shares a lot of themes and statements about fame and media martyrdom with Coma White and the corresponding Manson album. No wonder Gaga and Manson are BFFs.

Love her or hate her, Lady Gaga is dominating the pop culture discourse and she understands precisely how to weaponize it. She's doing the counter culture's work from within the mainstream. Infiltrate, subvert, destroy.


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