Lady Gaga’s new video: an ironic feminist manifesto

I don’t have time to name all the ways I think Lady Gaga’s new and astonishing (10 minute!) video “Telephone” amounts to a feminist statement. It is full of contradiction and it is complicated, since it is doing many things at once, ranging from crowd-pleasing antics to profound social critique. But I would argue that the video is unapologetically feminist. There are some nonsensical aspects to it, such as her smoking-cigarette glasses and coca-cola hair-dew, which perhaps are not more profound than a kitsch statement and an appropriation of mass culture to produce style-by-novelty. One of the more interesting things about the video though is that it seems to perform a parody of the song. If the song is trivial and topical, the video is deeply provocative and provides such a stark and compelling contrast with the song,  a non sequitur of image to tune, that the two end up interacting in provocative ways, since the video can then be read as a critique of the conventional soft-misogyny and all-around triviality of the song. The song says essentially: oh boyfriend I’m mad at you and pouting for not taking me out so now I’m going to fake-punish you by telling you to stop calling me….Whereas the video says something like: here is a dystopian fantasy that mimes, parodies, and critiques gender stereotypes of all sorts and where patriarchal attitudes are literally put to death by the “poison” of lady gaga’s creation.

Where songs and videos made by women are “supposed” (according to reigning MTV norms) to fabricate only more material for gods of heteronormative male desire (see in contrast (if you can stand it) these vapid videos by Britney Spears or Ke$ha), Lady Gaga’s video both is both a refusal and a parody. There is no apology for not satisfying male desire, as we seen in videos like Beyonce’s recent “Put a ring on it,” where the condition of continuing to serve heteronormative conventions (as a sexual object) is that her sexual other officially recognize the repression. No norms need to change and the woman still exists to serve the sexual fantasies of the heteromale. But in Lady Gaga’s video the sexual fantasies are deliberately perverted, strangled, or contorted. It reminds me of something the great French writer Jean Genet once said: I serve shit to the bourgeois public and make them eat it.

Here are the lyrics.

Here’s the video:

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