Did Lady Gaga really kill the sexy time, or is Camille Paglia stuck in another era?


Lady Gaga and her merry band of monster-tots killed the heart and soul of the sexual revolution and brought about the extinction of the great Hollywood sex symbol? Isn’t that giving Gaga and her fans way too much credit? Furthermore, Paglia charges that the kids these days are so clueless and technology-addled that they can’t even process basic emotions or comprehend the greatness of Her Majesty, Madonna. Oh noes! Sound the alarm!

Paglia sounds less like “America’s foremost cultural critic” and more like the crazy aunt who lives by herself, hoards tchotchkes, and screams at neighborhood kids from her decaying porch. “Oh you whippersnappers with your sexting and blinking gadgets! See, back in MY day, we had real sex symbols who meant something. Back then, our hearts beat faster, pounded harder – okay maybe that was the nose candy – but we had super authentic passionate sex to the soundtrack of real revolutionaries like David Bowie and Madonna. But then that cancerous Stefani Germanotta character had to come by and RUIN EVERYTHING. One hundred years of Hollywood sexytime has been extinguished FOREVER! DAMN YOU KIDS AND YOUR FALSE IDOLS!”

Paglia then goes on to ridicule Gaga’s upbringing as too “comfortable” and “affluent,” thereby not allowing her to experience the essential depth and range of emotions as someone who was truly persecuted. “Although she presents herself as the clarion voice of all the freaks and misfits of life, there is little evidence that she ever was one. Her upbringing was comfortable and eventually affluent, and she attended the same upscale Manhattan private school as Paris and Nicky Hilton,” says Paglia. Yup. Having a wad of cash is a magic bullet against bullying, ridicule, and social isolation. Maybe this is a stretch, but even rich people can be a-holes. I guess she doesn’t watch Gossip Girl either.

Paglia reacts with a mix of disdain and disgust to Gaga’s toying with the macabre, both in her live shows and her music videos, labeling Gaga’s “grisly mix of sex and death” as “sick, symptomatic of Gaga’s alienation from her own body.” She continues, “Never has there been a breakthrough mainstream performer like Lady Gaga who obsessively traffics in twisted sexual scenarios and solipsistic psychodramas.” (No? Marilyn Manson ring a bell? How about Nine Inch Nails?)

And this is coming from someone who wrote a 673-page book characterizing sex as a force of nature that is often brutal, visceral, dark, and twisted. Within the first three pages of Sexual Personae, Paglia sings the praises of Marquis de Sade and calls sex “daemonic.” About Emily Dickinson, whom she calls “the greatest of women poets,” Paglia writes, “Voyeurism, vampirism, necrophilia, lesbianism, sadomasochism, sexual surrealism: Amherst’s Madame de Sade still waits for her readers to know her.”

Knowing that a central theme of Paglia’s magnum opus is that sex is an uncontrollable and violent force of nature, it is hard to take her offense at Gaga’s sexually “barbaric” performances seriously, so here’s my suggestion: let’s not.

Paglia doesn’t really have an issue with performances portraying the intersection of sex and violence; she just thinks Gaga sucks and doesn’t get why the kids these days are into her – kind of like how your mother reacted when she first heard “Straight Outta Compton,” and kind of how your mother’s mother reacted when she first saw Elvis’ gyrating torso.

Even as she concedes Lady Gaga’s originality by stating that there has never been an A-list performer that has successfully touted over-the-top sexually twisted scenarios to a mainstream audience, she also dismisses Gaga as a poorly rendered copy of icons that came before her. (Come on, lady – make up your mind!) But worse yet, she isn’t sexy enough:

“Furthermore, despite showing acres of pallid flesh in the fetish-bondage garb of urban prostitution, Gaga isn’t sexy at all – she’s like a gangly marionette or plasticised android. How could a figure so calculated and artificial, so clinical and strangely antiseptic, so stripped of genuine eroticism have become the icon of her generation?”

Say what?

Apparently, one’s worth as an artist hangs on the amount of raw sex she oozes. So if Gaga is just C3PO in a wig and bondage gear, which sexpot should be crowned the next great pop icon? The third incarnation of Britney Spears? Ke$ha? Tila Tequila? What about the most glaring omission of all – did Paglia forget the crotch-grabbing yet desexualized – freakish and quite literally plastic – King of Pop, the late Michael Jackson, who became an icon for not just one – but several generations? He, too, was a fresh faced teenager during his early days as a performer, and transformed into something otherworldly and bizarre, and people all over the world lapped it up.

Or what about the entire decade of the 1980s – a period whose soundtrack was essentially an endless loop of android-like synth music bleeping and blooping in the background while vaguely sexual lyrics were belted out by sexless people with exaggerated hair and funny outfits?

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