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


Paglia takes issue with Gaga’s persona, which she calls “manufactured.” This is about as perceptive as saying that reality shows aren’t “real” at all and are instead edited mercilessly to portray a compelling narrative, even if the subjects of the show actually sit around and pick lint out of their bellybuttons 80% of the time. Well, duh! Every pop star’s image is manufactured to some extent – even that of her idol, Madonna. But hey, I’ll take the manufactured Gaga, who brings gay soldiers personally affected by Don’t Ask Don’t Tell to the white carpet of the VMAs.

Whereas the last major pop star to be a contender for the title of Princess of Pop, Britney Spears, burbled demurely in 2003 that we should “trust our President in every decision,” Gaga swaggered onto the podium at the 2009 National Equity March and challenged the President to take notice of the gay rights movement, howling “Are you listening?” Whoever is behind the Gaga brand, can you make some more?

Even if an artist’s persona is as least partially cobbled together by marketing types, the most diligent of corporate elves still cannot create something out of nothing. You cannot deliver a finished product without the proper set of raw materials, and Gaga the pop star could only be created if Germanotta the person was the right person to pull it off – and she is. Can you imagine Katy Perry emitting a feral shriek to demand that our chief executive honor his promises to defend the rights of gay Americans? What about Britney Spears? Miley Cyrus? Can you imagine Taylor Swift wearing a strap-on on the front cover of a magazine?

Lady Gaga thrives in her outrageous larger-than-life persona, has an endless well of energy and a sense of humor, and she has pipes to boot. She has that special something that has the world watching her, and she uses her powers for good. These are the ingredients of a global pop sensation. What is Paglia’s beef with Gaga anyway?

Here’s the deal. Paglia doesn’t have an issue with Gaga. Much of what she wrote were red herrings to distract us from her real concern: The world is evolving, becoming unfamiliar and foreign, and there isn’t a damn thing she can do about it. Her article isn’t about Lady Gaga – it is about her concern that the world, thanks in part to technology and instant self-publishing tools, is becoming increasingly non-linear, fragmented, decentralized, and dare I say it, post-modern, which could quite possibly be her worst nightmare.

A concept that she’s trashed in the ivory tower for decades has seeped outside and become a reality for the world’s youth. The last page of her article is nothing more than a ridiculous laundry list reflecting her alarmist perception of youth culture and the breakdown of the social fabric in general:

“Generation Gaga doesn’t identify with powerful vocal styles because their own voices have atrophied: they communicate mutely via a constant stream of atomised, telegraphic text messages.”

“Gaga’s flat affect doesn’t bother them because they’re not attuned to facial expressions. They don’t notice her awkwardness because they’ve abandoned body language in daily interactions. They’re not repelled by the choppy cutting of her videos (in febrile one-second bursts) because that’s how they process reality — as a cluttered, de-centred environment of floating bits.”

“Gaga’s fans are marooned in a global technocracy of fancy gadgets but emotional poverty. Everything is refracted for them through the media. They have been raised in a relativistic cultural vacuum where chronology and sequence as well as distinctions of value have been lost or jettisoned by politically correct educators.”

“Old family hierarchies have broken down.”

“There are blurred borderlines between the sexes: gender is now alleged to be fabricated rather than biological; so everything is a pose.”

“Casual ‘hooking up’ blends friends and lovers, with sex becoming merely an excuse for filial hugging.”

“Borderlines have blurred too between public and private: reality-TV shows multiply; cell-phone conversations blare everywhere; secrets are heedlessly blabbed on Facebook and Twitter.”

“In the sprawling anarchy of the web, the borderline between fact and fiction has melted away.”

Was this ripped from a Fox News special characterizing the social and moral condition of America’s youth as hopeless and bleak, or is this an article about Lady Gaga? Right now, I can’t tell.

In the early 1990s, Paglia wrote a couple of essays about Madonna, calling her “the future of feminism” in The New York Times, and criticized “old-guard establishment feminists” for loathing her in The Independent Sunday Review. Although possibly written as an excuse to aim more jabs at second wave feminists, (her favorite punching bags) both articles were fresh and cutting edge. Now alternating between nostalgia and alarmism in her recent Sunday Times’ Lady Gaga article, Paglia comes across as one of the dowdy, finger-wagging and unfun relics she criticized in her Madonna essays.

‘Tis a shame. So while sex may be dead for Paglia, the rest of the world will continue to feel, we will continue to f-ck, we will continue to sing, we will continue to screw, we will continue to laugh, we will continue to live, and we will continue dancing to the beats at the Monster’s Ball.

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