"[Gaga Stigmata has] very modern, edgy photography to free flowing, urban narratives without censure to analytical essays, et cetera—like Gaga, imagination without ... limits. And the beauty is that anyone can submit work to the site, so artists and writers from all over the [world] have joined this experiment." -The Declaration.org

"Since March 2010, [Gaga Stigmata] has churned out the most intense ongoing critical conversation on [Lady Gaga]."
-Yale's The American Scholar

Friday, June 4, 2010

From Symbol to Style: Lady Gaga's Secret Religion

by Jeremy Biles


Is Lady Gaga—the self-proclaimed “fame monster” so well known for her enticing pop music, outrageous fashion, and elaborately staged spectacles—involved in a pseudo-religious conspiracy of global moment? The answer is “yes”—but not for the reasons that the conspiracy theorists believe.

One main source for theories concerning the prevalence of occult symbols in Lady Gaga’s oeuvre is the intriguing (and highly speculative) set of analyses penned by the anonymous author of the Vigilant Citizen, an enjoyably paranoid e-zine devoted to exposing secret forces at work in mass media and popular culture.

Taking seriously its motto (attributed to Confucius) that “Signs and symbols rule the world, not words nor laws,” the Vigilant Citizen (henceforth VC) seeks “to understand the world we live in,” by “[going] beyond the face value of symbols in pop culture to reveal their esoteric meaning.”

In revealing the esoteric meanings of Lady Gaga’s prodigious and fascinatingly outré productions, VC highlights images and gestures suggesting the artist’s connection with the Illuminati, a term used today to designate a secret group believed by some to shape world affairs through governments and front organizations. Pop stars like Jay-Z and political behemoths, including Barack Obama and members of the Bush family, have been cited in connection with the cult. But it is perhaps Lady Gaga who draws the most attention for her regular and conspicuous displays of symbolism associated with the Illuminati.

For instance, in “Lady Gaga, the Illuminati Puppet,” VC finds in Lady Gaga’s name and wardrobe allusions to MKULTRA, a “covert CIA mind-control and chemical interrogation research program,” that pioneered a “mind-control technique which exposes the subject to a trauma so violent that his/her mind creates a dissociation.” “Gaga” evokes the absentmindedness resulting from the dissociative trauma, a name that says, according to VC: “I’m a lady and I’m empty-headed. This empty head can filled with any crap you want. Imitate me, young people. This state of mind is achieved after successful mind control.” The eventual transformation of the traumatically emptied personality is likened to the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly—hence the use of butterfly patterns in Lady Gaga’s wardrobe.


VC goes on to analyze Lady Gaga’s logo, a headless—and thus mindless—female figure riven by a jagged bolt of lightning. He also notes Lady Gaga’s penchant for hiding one of her eyes, evoking one of the most salient Illuminati symbols, the single “All-Seeing Eye.” Another sinister image portrays Lady Gaga as a mannequin, with arms positioned in a manner clearly resembling that of Baphomet in the form of the Sabbatic Goat (a quintessential Satanic symbol). A protective eye is embedded in Lady Gaga’s palm—the Hand of Fatima?
A conspiratorial reading of such “occult” signs is tempting and, frankly, fun. In the face of so much “evidence,” it is easy to see why so many people find this interpretation engrossing, even if not always convincing.

But I want to propose a different interpretation. Lady Gaga is no puppet for the Illuminati. She is a highly charismatic and multitalented figure whose symbol-laden presentations are evidence not of occult involvements, but of a strategic, effective, and very canny self-display centering obsessively on one concern: fame and the mechanisms that produce and support it.

Sociologist of religion Max Weber defined charisma as “a certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which one is ‘set apart’ from ordinary people and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities.” These qualities, Weber writes, “are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as divine in origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a leader.”

One may argue about whether the charismatic Lady Gaga’s exceptional talent for devising compelling spectacles is divine in origin. What cannot be disputed is the fact that she has captivated the attention of the masses in a most astounding way, setting her on a fame trajectory that may eclipse even that of Michael Jackson. She has done this by fashioning a simultaneously protean and distinctive image of herself.

And in a very real sense, Lada Gaga just is image—she is all persona, all spectacle, all surface. French philosopher Jean Baudrillard might have said that Lady Gaga exemplifies the defining feature of our postmodern era, in which signs and images have taken the place of reality—“hyperreality” is what he calls this phenomenon. “In postmodern hyperreal culture, the simulated image no longer covers over some hidden reality or truth beneath the representation. Rather, it conceals the real secret, which is that there no longer is any reality or truth beneath the simulated image.”

Lady Gaga self-consciously applies an analogous logic to the various facets of her public personae, including her use of occult symbols. Notwithstanding the worries of the conspiracy theorists, Lady Gaga’s symbols do not hide some deeper truth. They are part of the total simulation called “Lady Gaga.” In fact, the occluded eyes, sinister postures and such are no longer symbols at all. They are elements of surface style.

The secret that these “symbols” conceal is that there is no truth behind them. They are strategic components within Lady Gaga’s experiments in fame. They do not evidence involvement with the Illuminati; rather, they betoken an artful and shrewd evacuation of meaning, a conversion of evocative symbols into provocative but empty components of style. This strategic move has been highly effective; “everyone” is talking about Lady Gaga, on television, in blogs, and in articles like this one. Charismatic and ingenious, Lady Gaga is not the puppet of a secret religious order, but the figurehead of her own cult of fame—a fame monster.

Lady Gaga’s (non)religion can thus be summed up in Baudrillard’s words: today, we have moved “from a theology of truth and secrecy… [into] an age of simulacra and simulation, in which there is no longer any God to recognize his own, nor any last judgment to separate true from false, the real from its artificial resurrection.”

Lady Gaga is nothing other than an artificial resurrection. Like the ostensibly esoteric symbols that are so prevalent in her spectacles, she is a sign devoid of deeper meaning. A self-created simulation, Lady Gaga is no puppet, mindlessly executing a secret agendum; she is a self-styled, self-aware, and charismatic mannequin—an artificial person—who knows how to exploit, extend, and exacerbate the contemporary zeitgeist in her exploration and cultivation of fame.


This is all to say that there is no shadowy conspiracy at work here. The conspiracy is already fully exposed; it’s all right there, on the surface, and we are all complicit in it. Within Lady Gaga’s simulated reality, there are no shadows; she exists solely in the spotlight of fame, amidst stylized signs evacuated of hidden content.

Lady Gaga’s secret is hidden in plain sight. She reveals that today it is not signs or symbols that rule the world and control our minds. It is style.

____________ 
 References:

VigilantCitizen, “Lady Gaga, the Illuminati Puppet”:
http://vigilantcitizen.com/?p=1676
“The Hidden Meaning of Lady Gaga’s ‘Telephone’”:
http://vigilantcitizen.com/?p=342

Max Weber, Theory of Social and Economic Organization, 1947.

Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, 1995.


Writer Bio:
Jeremy Biles teaches courses on religion, philosophy, art, and popular culture at various institutions in Chicago. He is the author of the book Ecce Monstrum: Georges Bataille and the Sacrifice of Form (Fordham University Press, 2007).  

A slightly condensed version of this article appeared in the online publication Religion Dispatches on May 21, 2010.

6 comments:

  1. "If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There's nothing behind it."

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  2. Nice bit of circular reasoning. Lady Gaga is surface therefore all she is is surface. But there is ALWAYS something BEHIND the surface- Baudrillard is not even wrong. Nothing is as it appears. The entertainment industry is equivalent to the mob, and the Mob always takes a piece of the action, and now of course, creates the action. Since the Jazz age music has been a tremendous social organizing force. This of course is what the power behind the throne seeks and uses, very effectively. By the MOB, I don't mean the mafia- tho they work within it- I mean secret societies, which of course, being a Baudrillardian you refuse to recognize. GAGA is art by committee- the big entertainment wing of committe number one. Please take a minute and digest this astonishing bit of research by Dave McGowan on the birth of the hippies in Laurel Canyon.
    peace! pygmy

    http://www.davesweb.cnchost.com/nwsltr93.html

    ALSO: Edward Bernays- nephew of Sigmund Freud and father of the American PR machine. Spun the invasion of Guatemala for the CIA. Gaga is directly connected to his legacy!

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  3. Whatever the truth is regarding the Lady Gaga/Mind-Control theory, it reveals something very important about our relationship with the media: http://bit.ly/bLmdim

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  4. I am confused as to how a educated man such as yourself, can possibly give Gaga so much credit for her image, it is painfully obvious that she is not responsible for creating her image or public persona, there is obviously a group of music industry people that are responsible for everything.

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  5. I FUCKING HATE HER CIBAI FUCKER KANINABO CIBAI D

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  6. LADY GAGA IS A MESSENGER OF THE DIVINE ONE, SHES USING SYMBOLS, AND METAPHORS, SO EVERYONE CAN INTREPUT THEIR OWN WAY AND DISCUSS/DEBATE...ITS A MIND CONTROL TO UNBLOCK AND LIBERATE THE MIND, AND THINK FOR YOUR OR DEBATE ON SOCIAL INJUSTICE, RELIGION, ETC.

    WE CANT JUST SEE AS NEGATIVE OR POSITIVE, IT HAS TO BE BOTH BECAUSE EITHER OR CANT EXIST WITHOUT EACH OTHER.

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