Gaga Hoo-Haa Defies the Penal System

There seems to be a great deal of controversy of late as to whether or not fashion-horse Lady Gaga does or does not possess a penis, so much so that the clothesplate has taken on the issue most explicitly in her new music video for "Telephone."  When first we meet Ms. Gaga, two rather stern-looking guards are escorting her to a cell in lady jail.  As per protocol in women's prison, they throw her roughly on her bunk and strip off all of her clothes.  Locked-in, a feral Gaga leaps onto the prison bars to reveal 1). a surprisingly tasteful homage to the late Wendy O. Williams as the pioneer of black electrical tape nipplewear, and 2). Lady Gaga's disputed hoo-haa.  As the guards walk away, one is heard to say, "I told you she didn't have a dick," to which the other replies (somewhat inexplicably, as we appear to be on the set of Chained Heat), "too bad!"

Case closed, right?  Well not really.  Said hoo-haa has been digitally scrambled, so who knows what is really going on behind those perplexing pixels.  I don't know if an uncensored version of this video exists, but even if it did, it's not like that would resolve the issue either.  Given current configurations of desire and digitality, no "proof of pussy" is to be trusted.  And really, it's not even a matter of hi-tech digital chicanery.  As any burlesque star knows, a few more inches of electrical tape could sustain this illusion for even the most discerning eye.

On the surface (which in this case appears to be everything), the "Telephone" video certainly seems like an earnest plea to shore up Gaga's biological claims to femaleness. She enlists fellow popster and undisputed uber-femme BeyoncĂ© to co-star, commandeers a pink pick-up truck dubbed "The Pussy Wagon" (courtesy QT), and punctuates the 9-minute opus by emblazoning a Venus symbol over the closing shot.  In this respect, the video appears to be a bid for this generation's "Sisters are Doing It for Themselves," only with higher levels of cleavage, more vacant staring, and a string of gratuitous movie references. 

But the question here is not whether or not Lady Gaga is actually a lady, or a drag queen, or a hermaphrodite, or any of the other memes her corporate enterprise might plant out there for us to think we have discovered, but rather, why are we so easily suckered into playing this game over and over again, as if each one of these new gender panics were somehow spontaneous and "authentic?"  Does Gaga really want us to think--with absolute certainty--that she is in fact a "female?"  Is this really in her best professional interest?  Of course not.  Everyone compares Gaga to Madonna, but the more relevant model here is Marilyn Manson.  And look what happened to his career once Jennifer Tilly broke his heart and revealed him to be no more than a little boy jilted before the junior high school prom.  He was much more fearsome when he wore the white plastic neuter suit and drove putatively straight guys crazy for reasons they probably could not fully articulate even to themselves.  Having any kind of identity nailed down for Lady Gaga only closes down future marketing opportunities.  

This should be obvious in Gaga's use of the women-in-prison film (WIP) as a vehicle for making a faux-definitive statement as to her alleged genital status.  Ever since Ladies They Talk About (1933), wherein a devastating Barbara Stanwyck cruises through prison as both subject and object of desire, smoking cigarettes and beatin' down them bitches that needs beatin', the WIP genre has been one of the precious few popular forms where sex and gender could be so explicitly disarticulated.  The genre's continuing relevance over some 80 odd years now is a testament to just how many sexual imaginaries the premise can accommodate.  So it is a perfect forum for Gaga to continue cultivating her sizable gay constituency while also speaking to whatever remnants of grrrl power still exist out there for any additional mp3 downloads. 

In the old Madonna days, we would have called this "polysemic."  But at this point in pop history, who exactly still finds Gaga and BeyoncĂ©'s unending parade of snatch jokes indecipherable?  The entire thing is "coded" to the point that its only effect is to revel in its state of coded-ness (which of course dissolves any pretense of a code in the first place).  In other words, the video seems to postulate a "naive"/gender-normative viewer who no longer exists, peering-in from an "outside" that long ago collapsed into the vernacular of camp.

Even though Gaga appears somewhat perturbed every time these body rumors are brought up, she couldn't possibly want this speculation to simply vanish.  Her business model is obviously to become the Cher of the millennial generation, a quest that will require a continuing amplification of the too much and an ongoing hesitation as to who she really is.   But, even if Gaga is the least bit "sincere" (whatever that might mean in the context of this video) in this proclamation of "pussy power"--hoping to keep at least one foot in a mythically "straight" teenster pop market somehow untouched by the lexicon of camp and drag--I hope her audience continues to entertain the fantasy that she might have a penis, for no other reason than that would be a more interesting world to live in. Plus, rather than allow pop stars to continue orchestrating their own bids for polysemic proliferation across the marketplace, isn't it about time audiences resisted these campaigns of calculated ambiguity and manufactured controversy by taking back control over this process?  If pop stars don't entertain our fantasy structures, why have them around in the first place?  So, no matter how hard she may grind her cooch against cell bars, or even if she streams her ob/gyn appointments live on-line, I for one will continue disavowing whatever it is I have or haven't seen in order to write my own fictions around her.  Is Lady Gaga a man or a woman?  How boring is that?  From now on, I will maintain against any and all proffered evidence that she is in fact the reincarnation of Lillian Gish and a harbinger of a coming ascendancy for the Mormon faith--and I vow to read all of her videos/songs through this prism for as long as we both shall live. 

(My thanks to Olivia Mascheroni for bringing this masterpiece to my attention). 

Popular Posts