Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lady GaGa: Queer Culture Queen or Queer Culture Vulture?

There is no doubt that Lady GaGa is a queer pop culture Mecca, ripe for analysis. The often controversial pop princess has embraced queer culture just as her fans have embraced their limited edition version of Born This Way, available exclusively at Target. But maybe that is part of the problem, now sure you can’t blame a recording artist for trying and succeeding in selling records, however GaGa is not just selling records; she is fitting directly into a trend of constructing a queer niche market and targeting it as a consumer base. This is problematic as well if you view content as aimed specifically at queer people because it begins to support and reproduce stereotypes. The song “The Fame” is a prime example with lyrics extolling excess and vapid shallow consumerism such as “I can’t help myself I’m addicted to a life of material” and “All we care about it is runway models, Cadillacs, and liquor bottles” as well as “We gotta taste for champagne, and endless fortune”. Now it is easy at this point to denounce the song and its message as intentionally over the top, sarcastic, and ultimately critical of this party oriented lifestyle. In fact much of GaGa’s over the top career could be viewed as a campy and mocking post-modern critique of pop culture, however there are still several issues. First if queer identified fans do not understand the potential satire and hyperbolic approach of Lady GaGa they may take the messages seriously, being shaped into a more homonormative consumer while reproducing negative stereotypes about queer people. The next issues comes with how Lady GaGa herself acts, despite how detrimental the effects may be we can’t really blame her for fans not understanding her intended message. However GaGa’s actions are at times hypocritical, for instance having a deluxe version of her album sell exclusively at Target after Target donated money to conservative politicians whose stated goal was to create a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. This shows that to Lady GaGa queer rights maybe important but not as important as fame, fortune, and success and if that is the case then vapid consumerism is not a satirical critique but rather a value instilled in fans to ensure high album sales.
            Regardless of Lady GaGa’s exact motives or meanings the reality resulting from her work can still be viewed with regard to homonormativity and “The Gay Marketing Moment”. Lady GaGa’s work can be seen as homonormative as she creates a narrative that plays into rather than challenging the heteronormative image of queer people, further she has been a major proponent for the 3 M’s as she has directly advocated for queer equality in both the Military and Marriage, while representing queers (or things believed to be queer values) in the Market (Dodson, Leigh 2/22/12 Lecture). The immediate issue is that the queer values she represents are shallow and stereotypical as well as the fact that marriage and military equality are valuable but not the most dire and important issues for the queer community (as homeless youth being disproportionately queer, queer youth being disproportionately bullied and attacked and other issues are generally more pressing and important). Now while this is all very critical of Lady GaGa I think it is worthwhile to acknowledge some of the ways she has created positive narratives. Despite the obvious marketing to queers as a niche market, Lady GaGa’s song “Born This Way” has a strong message of being proud of your identity regardless of societal expectations of normal, right and wrong. In some senses “Born This Way” has become an anti-bullying queer anthem, inspiring an entire episode of the Fox Television Series Glee, a show generally devoted to stop high school bullying. This is not the first time Lady GaGa has used her music to positively represent traditionally marginalized groups. In her music video for “Paparazzi” Lady GaGa challenges the narrative of ableism where people with disabilities are “seen as childlike and asexual” with media representations being desexualizing, dehumanizing, and demeaning (Clare, 2001). At 3:44 in the “Paparazzi” video GaGa in a wheel chair is stripped down to a skimpy and conventionally sexy outfit as she stands from the wheelchair while being supported by a pair of crutches. Here GaGa represents people with disabilities as sexy and sexual, a media representation that I have never really seen before. So Lady GaGa is a complex figure worthy of if nothing else critical thought, whether she is reproducing stereotypes or destroying them, whether she is wearing a meat dress or crutches Lady GaGa seems to always have a point, and as a queer pop culture icon it is important to understand her work and the impact it has on the queer community.

Clare, Eli. "Stolen Bodies, Reclaimed Bodies: Disability and Queerness" Popular Culture 13(3) 359-365. 2001
Dodson, Leigh. “Queer Rurality, Working Class Queer Cultures, and Queer Anti-Urbanism.” Fem 80. Girvetz, Santa Barbara. 2/22/12. Lecture.
Lady GaGa. “The Fame” Lyrics (
Lady GaGa “Paparazzi” Music Video

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