Gagaism Heads to the Born This Way Ball Part Three: The Analysis
Born This Way Ball – An Inventory
By Gaga Stigmata
The following is a guest post by writers from the online journal Gaga Stigmata: Critical Writings and Art About Lady Gaga. Established in March 2010 as the first mover in Gaga studies, Gaga Stigmata has published over 180 original pieces of scholarship, creative criticism, poetry, and visual art in response to/around pop cultural phenomenon Lady Gaga. On several occasions our articles have been tweeted by members from Gaga’s Haus, and even by Gaga herself. Please visit us at http://gagajournal.blogspot.com.
“Americano” and Meat Dress
Women as meat: the oldest metaphor. As Carol J. Adams wrote in The Pornography of Meat, it is usually invisible, this practice of “viewing another as consumable – as something,” of presenting the Other packaged and ready for a lustfaced gaze-and-devour. (Or it is visible but ridiculous, laugh track-able: Jessie Spano reminding Slater yet again that she’s not a piece of meat.)
But here Gaga makes it visible, literally, disgustingly (because if she’s making visible a disgusting system, a disgusting [set of] practice[s], shouldn’t she provoke disgust?): Gaga was strung up with the other stripped-and-shined pink meats. But she broke free. She broke free even though she was almost dead. She found other self-freed meatgirls and grabbed guns – giant phallic guns: signifiers of American subjecthood and tools to blow apart the system that slayed and displayed them. These meatgirls didn’t wait to clean themselves. They didn’t put on ugly pantsuits from Express and get stuck on the middle rung of the corporate ladder. They’re about to smash patriarchy still in their meatsuits – still as the meatcreature-monsters the patriarchy has created. They manifest a more literal and pop-spectacular translation of Schneemann’s “Meat Joy.” Joyful-angry Othered meatgirls ready for consumption but redirecting the violence outward toward their perpetrators – viva la revolución!
– Samantha Cohen
Lady Gaga tells NME Magazine that “Bloody Mary” is “a song about Mary being divine and human at the same time.” When she performs “Bloody Mary” at the BTW Ball, it becomes a song about being fully human and fully A.I. A haunting, moaning, part-human-part-machine screeching sound fills the stage, reminiscent of the music that accompanies Kubrick’s monolith – that black pillar/3-D-screen that challenges viewers and ushers forth evolution’s newest stage. When Gaga glides upon the stage and the first chords of “Bloody Mary” sound out, there are really two stages present: the one she glides upon, and the new evolutionary one she embodies. Her white Perry Meek dress and helmet channel Kubrick’s spaceship, positioning her as human-become-spaceship (and spaceship is the body of Kubrick’s computer come into consciousness). As she floats forward, defying gravity, her dress also defies gravity, refusing to trail behind her and instead surging before her – as though both flesh and fashion disregard all known laws of nature, problematizing what forward movement looks like. Gaga is the second coming of Mary as 100% human and 100% HAL 9000. Surrounded by the audience’s little screens – those miniature monoliths – that both capture and create her, the next stage of humanity, Homo A.I.
– Meghan Vicks
The castle in/before which the Born This Way Ball takes place is certainly a surprising choice; after all, isn’t the story of the show one of the future, aliens, and space? But, as Gaga said in her September 2012 Vogue interview, she wanted her tour to break with modern concert conventions – specifically, with the use of screens. So not only did she largely abandon screens, she abandoned modernity itself, in favor of the mythologized settings of the past: the Kingdom of Fame! Two traits are at work here: the encounter between ancient or primordial and futuristic, and the aristocratic ethos. In the first of these two, Lady Gaga employs one of her favorite motifs, the paradox. Her project generally includes transforming the negative component of a dichotomy into the positive – trash into beauty, pop into high culture, image into reality – and here she shows that the struggle for freedom and empowerment is, in one way, that between the ancient primordiality of our bodies and the dual potential for objectification and self-definition our most modern technology and ideology offers. As for the aristocratic ethos, despite the emphasis on freedom and expression that is inherent in Gaga’s project, I think a democratic ethos would not be strictly appropriate. Rather, she leads us to take our individual agency back from those practices and institutions to which it has been delegated, or by which it has been appropriated. As an ideology of radical individualism, her project is in a basic sense non-cooperative; each of us is king or queen, absolutely, of ourselves. Each person’s meat (rather than some bit of property) is his or her castle.
– Eddie McCaffray
What is a disco stick?
She seems to wield it, direct it. But what is its purpose?
Scepters have no purpose, other than to signal the sovereignty of a ruler. Their significance is their significance. I Am That I Am.
This is the concentrated semiotic power that Gaga requires be directed from Stefani’s tiny, mortal body. She sculpts significances for us.
In Tarot, the wand is will – a mysterious force in human life. It swirls, the result of the self-modifying properties of our neural network, and its consequences stretch outward. Without her incredible will, would Gaga even exist?
– Devin O’Neill
“Fashion of His Love”
Fashion, makeup, mirrors, boys, all housed in a fantasy castle – this is the vignette in which Gaga performs her bubblegummy bonus track “Fashion of His Love” at the Born This Way Ball. On the surface, it’s a typical stereotype of female youth – but peel back the layers and discover a sense of subversion, an exploration of memory, truth, and trauma. The piece is a complicated self-portrait: Archival Gaga, Corporeal Gaga, Jo Gaga, and Simulacral Gaga converge…her personality is shattered and left for voyeurism and interpretation. It encapsulates her past, present, and future in disparate parts.
Earnest epistemology concealed by a glittered guise: the quintessential Gaga dialectic.
– Alexander Cavaluzzo
This is what belief looks like: when the image, the mask, the hologram bleeds. Image become flesh – or rather, image reveals its flesh, how it’s always been flesh, just the revelation hadn’t taken place until now. Gaga’s stigmata.
One of the most visceral images in the entire Born This Way Ball is that of Lady Gaga being stuffed into a giant meat grinder. The grinder is a clear visual quote of Larry Flynt’s June 1978 Hustler cover, which featured a woman’s naked butt and legs protruding from the top of just such a grinder, heavy clumps of ground beef piling up beneath. Before being fed into the machine herself, Gaga bellows “In 1978 Larry Flynt declared that women will no longer be treated as meat. On the cover of Hustler magazine or at the Born This Way Ball, meat is precisely how we treat women.” This pairing at first seems strange: isn’t the Ball about empowerment, (self-)acceptance, and liberation? But in fact the use of the meat grinder and the invocation of Hustler reveal one of the central tenets of Gaga’s project/ethics: she liberates not by rejecting or denying or tabling our fleshy, physical natures, but by radicalizing them. Meat is born this way: messy, irreducibly itself, the material out of which we all perform ourselves. Gaga surrenders no ground to the reducing gaze of exploitation; instead she makes meat itself powerful and free.
– Eddie McCaffray
Origami Crane Dress
Gaga’s Christian Dada “Origami Crane Dress” exudes Dadaism: an object (the origami crane) fused with another (Gaga), seemingly incongruous but creating a new spectacle, allowing the spectator to see each in a new (spot)light. This, ultimately, is the function of metaphor – the folding of one object/concept/person against another so that we may recognize the individual pieces, then contemplate their conflation. The dress looks binding but isn’t, just like any paradox. The dress is designed for movement, designed for (just) dancing, though paper cranes are inherently fragile and readily collapse. The cranes are positioned on Gaga’s hips, which, in light of her recent surgery, are suddenly more piercing, poignant – illuminating that, yes, paper (and hips) are delicate, (in)flammable. Though, equally as poignant, reminding us that the origami crane is a symbol of hope, of healing. The staple lyric of the song – “Just dance, gonna be ok, da da doo-doo-mmm” – exhibits this paradox, the promise that if we just dance, there are two (simultaneous) outcomes. (And look: Dada is the hinge here.) On the one side, we have a slide toward doom; on the other, we will be ok.
– Laurence Ross
Space Renegade (“Government Hooker”)
I am dangerous.
I am human and so there are parts of me
whole worlds within me
that are not human.
I am monster.
I wear my bones on the outside.
I do not hide my construction, my metamorphosis.
The world is one massive, monstrous, alien womb
that births me every day.
Don’t get too close to me
or you’ll be monster too.
You’ll become what you are.
I am world.
I am mother.
I am monster.
I am you.
– Peter Kline