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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Rah, Rah, Ah-Ah-Ah (Ro-Ma, Ro-Ma-Ma): Lady Gaga, Hysteria, Commodity Feminism

by Derritt Mason

As “Bad Romance” terminates, a bored-looking and semi-nude Lady Gaga lies, post-coital cigarette in-mouth, next to the charred remains of the man destroyed by the fire omitted from her still-sparking bra.  Minutes earlier, the dead man purchases a diamond-festooned Gaga via auction, a writhing Gaga with grotesquely large and child-like eyes, a Gaga with a lizard’s spine who was birthed, crawling, from a sleek white pod labelled “Monster.”  In this video, Gaga’s body signifies with provocative and confounding multiplicity, resists easy understanding, suddenly transformed with each rapid cut of the camera: she is a doe-eyed innocent, abducted and sold to the highest bidder, for whom she encases herself in jewels and dances seductively; she is faceless, monstrous, and wrapped in rubber; she is naked save for the dead bat she wears on her head; she is a bridal femme fatale at once alluring and repulsive, seductive and terrifying, adorned by the white skins of a polar bear whose head trails on the floor behind her.  Gaga’s body fights us as we struggle to read it, and it fights and ultimately kills the man who purchases her, who tries to fully know and possess her.  And Gaga’s breasts themselves do the dirty work, symbols of a femininity both lethal and erotic, desirable but resistant – even hostile – to desire.  “Bad Romance,” indeed.

"There is a voice crying in the wilderness,” writes Sandra M. Gilbert in her introduction to Hélène Cixous and Catherine Clément’s The Newly Born Woman, “the voice of a body dancing, laughing, shrieking, crying.  Whose is it?” (ix).  The voice is Lady Gaga’s and her unintelligible cry – “Rah Rah Ah-Ah-Ah!  Ro-Ma, Ro-Ma-Ma!” – is one of war and protest, but also a rallying call to all who would hear it, a brash challenge to listen and dare to understand.  Lady Gaga – singer, songwriter, performance artist, superstar, subject of widespread fascination/worship/loathing/critique – has achieved a level of celebrity that grants her the power to incite a response frequently described as hysterical in her fans.  An “increasing hysteria – bordering on ‘Gagamania’ – … was beginning to surround Gaga at the time of The Fame Monster’s issue,” writes David Hall.  What about Gaga invites – no, demands – so much attention from so many of us, aside from her ability to write catchy pop tunes?  Gaga makes us hysterical, I think, because Gaga performs hysterically.  At least, I am interested in reading her performances as such.  And here, I mean hysteria with all of its heavy historical, pathological and theoretical baggage: its spectacularization by Jean-Martin Charcot at the Salpêtrière; its (re)feminization and sexualizing via Sigmund Freud; its reclamation by Cixous, Clément and second-wave feminists; and its contested contemporary manifestations as a diagnostic trope for cultural anxieties, and/or a potentially resistant performative mode.  For Gaga, hysteria is theatre, marketing, critique.  Gaga takes up and performs a version of hysteria embodied in her videos for “Bad Romance” and “Telephone” that I call commodity feminism: her body invites interpretation, desire, purchase, and consumption – inscribing herself in an economy that sees femininity as a purchasable commodity – while simultaneously resisting and destroying those who attempt to consume her.

A caveat: my reading of Gaga as hysterical will not solve the mystery of Gaga, just as Freud’s imposition of oedipal and hysterical narratives onto his patients (like Dora, the one who got away) did not yield tidy and conclusive results.  Instead, I propose hysteria as but one mode of analysis among many for approaching Lady Gaga’s complex work.  Hysteria, itself a deeply ambivalent trope, allows us to see that there is no easy way of reading Gaga – and that, perhaps, is why she fascinates us.  In the spirit of Lady Gaga’s videos, there will be readings and interpretations in excess of this paper, which I hope I will invite. 

“Hysteria has not died,” claims Elaine Showalter in Hystories; “it has simply been relabelled for a new era” (4).  But where was it born?  Appropriately, in the womb: as Mark Micale teaches us, the word “hysteria” itself “derives from the Greek word for uterus, hystera, which derives in turn from the Sanskrit word for stomach or belly” (19).  From its roots in the female body, hysteria grew into a physical illness – or was invented as such, according to Georges Didi-Huberman – by Charcot at the Salpêtrière hospital in late nineteenth-century France (Didi-Huberman 19).  Charcot thought that hysteria was caused by heredity and/or physical trauma, and he believed that both men and women could be hysterical.  Hysteria, for Charcot, manifested itself as “epileptiform attacks”: acrobatic contortions of the body (la grande hystérie), minor twitches, colour-blindness, paralysis (Showalter 30).  Charcot also believed that, sometimes, patients were faking it.  “We all know that the desire to deceive, even without interest, by a kind of disinterested worship of art for its own sake, though sometimes with the idea of making a sensation, to excite pity, &c., is a common enough occurrence, particularly in hysteria,” he writes (14).  Hysteria as artistic practice, as calculated deception.  “What is the biggest misconception people have about you?” John Esther asks Gaga in The Lesbian News.  “They think Lady Gaga is a character, and they prod me endlessly,” she replies.  “It’s kind of like someone you’ve never met asking you if you are full of shit.  I usually say, ‘What you are really asking me, is whether or not I’m full of shit and no, I’m not.  Are you?’” (31).

Performance or malady?  Illusion or truth?  These questions continue to haunt hysteria and contribute to our fascination with Lady Gaga.  In their performances, hysterical bodies tell stories (genre: mystery) that require decoding (or solving).  “Throughout history,” writes Elaine Showalter, “hysteria has served as a form of expression, a body language for people who might not be able to speak or even to admit what they feel … hysteria is a ‘protolanguage’” (7).  After studying under Charcot, Freud began reading and interpreting this bodily protolanguage.  He initially concluded that “hysterical patients suffer from incompletely abreacted physical traumas,” and hysterical symptoms (tics, coughs, paralysis…) were bodily expressions of excess affect (“Mechanism” 38).  Later, however, Freud linked hysteria explicitly with the formation of female sexuality.  “It was the symptom, to put it crudely, of being a woman,” explains Didi-Huberman (68).  Hysterical women were failing to adequately progress through the oedipal phase of sexual development: their very femininity was the trauma that rendered them hysterical.  Under Freud, hysteria became a language that established a connection between gender and the unconscious.  Writes Freud in Dora, his most famous case study of hysteria: “In a whole series of cases the hysterical neurosis is nothing but an excessive overaccentuation of the typical wave of repression through which the masculine type of sexuality is removed and the woman emerges” (124).  The body acts in excess of itself, an excess that the analyst must interpret to the patient to produce a cure, which follows this familiar, familial narrative: a relinquishing of the mother as primary love object, a recognition that the castrated female body is inferior to that of a man’s, a transference of desire for the father (prompted by penis envy) onto another man, and a happy, healthy transition into a reproductive heterosexual adulthood unhindered by the hysterical symptoms of a dangerous, pre-oedipal, bisexual identity (Freud, “Psychical”).

In The Newly Born Woman, Hélène Cixous and Catherine Clément interpret the hysteric’s story differently than Freud.  For these theorists, hysteria is an index of female oppression under patriarchy: its bodily symptoms are manifestations of women’s exclusion from language, from the Symbolic realm.  Words aren’t available so the body speaks, protesting against its own oppression.  “To escape the misfortune of their economic and familial exploitation,” writes Clément, hysterics “chose to suffer spectacularly before an audience of men: it is an attack of spectacle, a crisis of suffering.  And the attack is also a festival, a celebration of their guilt used as a weapon, a story of seduction” (10).  But Cixous and Clément are divided about the overall effectiveness of this corporeal spectacle.  Clément believes that the hysteric’s performance only succeeds in reinscribing her as a victim in a patriarchal family structure that maintains her oppression.  She argues that the role of the hysteric is “antiestablishment and conservative at the same time.  Antiestablishment because the symptoms – the attacks – revolt and shake up [those] to whom they are exhibited. ... [And] conservative because ... every hysteric ends up inuring others to her symptoms, and the family closes around her again, whether she is curable or incurable” (5).  Cixous, conversely, believes that the hysteric is more disruptive, revolutionary even.  Hysteria is “the nuclear example of women’s power to protest,” she writes:

Yes, the hysteric, with her way of questioning others (because if she succeeds in bringing down the men who surround her, it is by questioning them, by ceaselessly reflecting to them the image that truly castrates them, to the extent that the power they have wished to impose is an illegitimate power of rape and violence.) – The hysteric is, to my eyes, the typical woman in all her force (154).

The conclusion, if we can muster one, is that we cannot conclude much.  Hysteria remains an ambiguous condition, located somewhere in-between a series of dichotomies: is hysteria physiological or psychical, genuine pathology or conscious performance, subversive protest or a reinforcement of the status quo?  Jane Gallop argues that Cixous and Clément become “polarized as advocates of either the hysteric as contesting or the hysteric as conserving,” and that a more “reasonable, forceful, [and] clever position” would be “to assume the inevitability of ambiguity” (202).  It is with a profound and unavoidable ambiguity in mind that I approach Lady Gaga, hysteria, and her “Bad Romance” and “Telephone” music videos.

If we believe Showalter’s claim that hysteria is alive and currently represents “a universal human response to emotional conflict,” then we must also ask if it can still function as an index of specifically female oppression, as Cixous and Clément argue (17).  And if we ask the question: “Is Lady Gaga hysterical?” or perhaps: “Does Lady Gaga perform hysterically?” then we can begin to ask another series of questions: If Lady Gaga is hysterical/performing hysterically, then what is the cultural stress or emotional conflict against which she is reacting?  And in her reaction, can we locate an ambiguous resistance to/reinscription in the system against which she protests?  I understand Lady Gaga’s hysteria as a performed reaction to the commodification of femininity; in other words, Lady Gaga performs a type of hysterical commodity feminism.  In claiming that Gaga’s hysteria is a performance, I am not attempting to render superficial the serious mental illnesses with which women struggled in the Salpêtrière and under Freud’s care, many of which persist in different forms today.  Instead, following Christina Wald, I understand hysteria as a “performative malady,” a useful critical trope that represents “the performative quality of gender identity” (5).  In these Butlerian terms, we can see Gaga’s hysterical (embodied, excessive) performance of commodified femininity as constitutive of her identity (Lady Gaga is not a character!) and as a gesture to how femininity (and its incarnations as commodity) are socially constructed through repeated iteration.

Fourteen-year-old Dora found herself treated as an object of exchange, a sexualized commodity traded by her father to his friend, Herr K., in return for K’s complicit silence in Dora’s father’s affair with K’s wife.  Freud protests: “The two men had of course never made a formal agreement in which she was treated as an object for barter; her father in particular would have been horrified at any such suggestion” (Dora 27).  According to Freud, Dora was in love with Herr K., but she didn’t know it: her repressed affection and fantasies about oral sex were the source of her petite hystérie, her nervous cough.  For Cixous and Clément, however, Dora’s commodification is what leads her body to act out.  We hear contemporary echoes of Dora’s case in Mady Schutzman’s The Real Thing: Performance, Hysteria, and Advertising, wherein Schutzman argues that in the commercial mass media, “the female body is represented as the dream image that disguises her own exclusion” (3).  Through constant exposure to and consumption of advertising, she continues, “consumers, particularly women, become hysterical: reality and representation blur, subject and object merge, the symptoms we act out masquerade for the social disease that causes them” (3).  Femininity itself is commodified, and its images are worn “as if they were only clothes, and [lived] as if they were real” (Schutzman 5).  For Schutzman, hysteria manifests itself as a performance of femininity that mimics the representations of femininity we regularly and habitually consume.

It is this commodification of femininity that I argue Lady Gaga embodies and reacts against, hysterically.  Gaga is one among many female stars who circulate in an economy of celebrity accustomed to sexualizing bodies and marketing them to mass audiences: Lady Gaga is a product, her body and voice available for purchase and consumption through a range of media.  On the one hand, and to a certain degree, Gaga controls her performances and self-representations.  On the other, Gaga must perform and represent herself in a manner that will invite purchase.  “Induction into public visibility for women requires that they capture the attitude of ownership while simultaneously conveying their status as sexual and economic property,” writes Schutzman, and it is against precisely this that Gaga’s body seems to struggle (15).  In “Bad Romance,” as I have already described, we see Gaga as a commodity who strikes back at the one who purchases her, and who resists interpretation as the subject of the viewer’s gaze.  As her body presents and re-presents itself as a grotesque spectacle that exceeds simple understanding, Gaga is “coded for strong visual and erotic impact,” connoting what Laura Mulvey describes as “to-be-looked-at-ness,” but she is not readily de-coded (137).  Detailing the strategy that underwrites the hysteric’s “spectacle of symptoms,” Didi-Huberman writes: “she defies the spectator’s desires, she consecrates and defies his mastery.  As if she were aiming a spotlight (projector) on this spectator who, until then, thought he was safe in the velvety darkness of his seat in the orchestra; yet she is only explaining to him, through unwonted gestures, that the quality of her own pain will bend to the pleasure of his own figurative desire” (167).  In other words, the spectacle of hysteria is in excess and defiance of the spectator’s desire, yet ultimately in service of these same desires.  Gaga, through her metamorphoses and killer resistance to commodification, must nonetheless always become the commodity against which she lashes out: like the hysteric contained within a patriarchal family structure, Gaga operates in a system where her femininity is ultimately designed, marketed, and sold as a product.

Lady Gaga and the commodity coalesce most visibly in her recent video, “Telephone,” which also stars successful pop icon Beyoncé, Virgin Mobile, Heartbeats headphones, Diet Coke, Plentyoffish.com, Polaroid, Miracle Whip, Wonder Bread, and the Pussy Wagon from Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies.  In this ten-minute mini-feature, described accurately by Judith Halberstam as “Thelma and Louise meets Marcel DuChamp meets Set It Off,” Lady Gaga is bailed out of a “prison for bitches” by her honey-bee, Beyoncé, after which they proceed to dress with carnivalesque extravagance to poison an entire diner filled with people, dance fiercely amongst their corpses, and drive off into the sunset.  Halberstam argues that, in “Telephone,” “Gaga and Beyoncé chart new territory for femme liberation, female aggression, feminine techno embodiment and instant gratification,” yet Gaga’s particular version of liberation is one that is perpetually and inevitably bound up with commodification.  Beyoncé and Gaga’s bodies are self-consciously positioned as consumable products alongside the impressive array of name-brands that appear in the video as they perform with hysterical excess to simultaneously reinforce and subvert the viewer’s desire to see them as purchasable objects.  Brands and female bodies come to signify according to the ideology of consumerism – as marketed, desirable, consumable products – and subversively – as undesirable, grotesque, and even lethal.

Upon arrival at the prison for bitches, two female prison guards unceremoniously strip and dump a strikingly Madonna-esque Gaga onto the bed in her cell.  Climbing the bars that confine her, Gaga gives us a full-frontal view of her body, putting to rest the rumours that she has male genitals (a Google search for “lady gaga hermaphrodite” yields 260,000 results).[1] “I told you she didn’t have a dick,” one prison guard says to the other, who replies: “Too bad.”  “Is this film about castration?” asks Halberstam; “Oh yeah baby.  Your phone is going to be off the hook, your land line is now cordless, your cordless lost reception, your mobile is turned off, your girlfriend is turned on and she is escaping in a pussy wagon with another woman!” (N.p).  Immediately, Gaga’s visibly female (castrated, ostensibly inferior) body is positioned as the central force in this video: the castrated body will castrate others, and interfere with its own interpellation in popular discourses that attempt to imbue it with meaning.  Gaga then emerges in the prison courtyard in full S&M drag, bound by thick chains and sporting a pair of smoking-cigarette glasses (cigarettes, notably, being widely recognized as a valuable commodity and object of exchange in prisons), and she proceeds to swap saliva for a Virgin Mobile phone with an androgynous fellow inmate, played by body artist Heather Cassils.  Gaga’s body is marked as commodity by the cigarette glasses (as it is by diamonds in “Bad Romance”), and the use of her sexuality is what allows her to surreptitiously pluck the phone from Cassils’ pants.  Her body is of exchange value, desirable yet also repellent to the viewer: the thought of the cigarette glasses’ odour is revolting, the kiss is both sexy and repulsive (thick strands of saliva form between Gaga's and Cassils’ lips), and the entire scene feels troubling. 

The Virgin Mobile phone’s appearance sets the tone for the ample product placement that follows.  We can easily read the presence of brands in this video as straightforward marketing designed to promote consumer interest and product awareness.  Yet, each item appears in an unusual context that causes the brand to signify in excess of its traditional connotations: products generally understood as desirable commodities are somehow rendered unusual, even undesirable.  The Virgin phone is exchanged for a slightly off-putting kiss with an ambiguously gendered prisoner (not the kind of sex typically used to sell this product).[2]

Diet Coke is not useful as a thirst-quenching carbonated beverage, but the cans are quite handy for curling Lady Gaga’s hair as she witnesses a violent brawl in her prison cell.  Plentyoffish.com, a dating website, is used by a butch, leather-wearing, female bodybuilder-cum-prison guard (again, a far cry from the young, Abercrombie-type singles we’ve grown accustomed to seeing).[3] A  Polaroid camera is used to capture images of Beyoncé before she begins a murderous rampage (not your typical family portrait).  And finally, Miracle Whip and Wonder Bread are used to make the poisonous sandwiches that turn an all-American diner into a mass grave. 

We can read Gaga’s and Beyoncé’s bodies as we do the commodities: the video invites us to do so.  On the one hand, we are presented with sexualized female bodies performing as we’ve come to expect in music videos: dancing, scantily clad, behaving in an economy of desire that displays them “for the gaze and enjoyment of men, the active controllers of the look,” as Mulvey argues (139).[4] On the other, you have female bodies signifying excessively, acting in unexpected ways and in unusual contexts; as Cixous suggests the hysteric does to the men who would study and interpret her, Gaga and Beyoncé figuratively castrate their victims in the diner (via poison) and their viewers by defying our interpretive agency.  At one point, Gaga is depicted in her cell, assuming a variety of poses (many of which are reminiscent of Charcot’s attitudes passionnelles – see Didi-Huberman), wrapped in yellow crime scene tape.  The scene is edited with calculated surrealism: Gaga’s head moves rapidly in time with the song’s syncopated rhythm while her body remains static (this same technique is later repeated on Beyoncé in the hotel room scene).  Described appropriately by David Hall as “vocal tics,” and like the hysterical tics of Charcot and Freud’s patients, the song’s various vocal stutters and delays augment this sense of postponed and confused meaning, mirroring the movement of Gaga and Beyoncé’s bodies (here too, we can think of the incoherent chant that opens “Bad Romance”) (N.p).  “Like the clipped conversations that lovers have on phones with reception and messages fading in and out,” writes Halberstam, “the divas strut and twist their bodies into jerking machines” (N.p).  Not only is Gaga’s body rendered strange and illegible through its bizarre and inhuman movements, but it is appropriately marked as a crime scene: a site where an injustice has taken place and a mystery must be solved.  Gaga’s body has been packaged and sold as a commodity (a type of violent crime), but it also invites a decoding and interpretation that it persistently resists.

Gaga’s performative hysteria also manifests itself in the disjunctive relationship between the song’s lyrics and the video.  Other than the many telephones that appear in the video (including those worn by Gaga as headpieces), the film’s narrative has little to do with the song, wherein the narrator expresses her frustration at a lover who persists in trying to call her while she’s on the dancefloor with her girls.  While Halberstam compares the narrator’s refusal to answer her lover’s calls with the figurative castrations that appear in the video, not taking someone’s call because you’re drinking at a club is hardly as radical a gesture as poisoning his coffee and watching him choke to death.  There seems to be a distinct incompatibility between the song’s lyrics and its visual representation, one that demands further interpretive work.  “Hysterics were unable to tell a complete, ‘smooth and exact’ story about themselves,” writes Showalter in her elucidation of Freud’s analysis; “they left out, distorted, and rearranged information because of sexual repression.  And this incapacity to give an ‘ordered history of their life’ was not simply characteristic of hysterics – it was the meaning of hysteria” (84).  In “Telephone,” we get not only a video that relies on a pastiche of styles and genres to tell its story, but also a film that seems to bear a tenuous relationship to the song it would represent.  In other words, there is no “ordered” narrative of “Telephone,” but rather a multiplicity of incongruous stories.  As Franklin Winslow rightly observes, “Gaga sells herself to us as rearranged but apparently complete.  Pieces on pieces pass as unified.  But they are not.  They are incomplete narratives.  Gaga stalls narratives and forces them to co-exist where they normally would not have.”  As a strategy for defamiliarizing ideologies of pop music and its female performers and reacting against her place in a system that sees her as a consumable product, Gaga presents us with hysterical narratives that call attention to the relationships between music and film, femininity, commodity, and performance.

Inside and out of her videos, Lady Gaga fascinates us for many of the same reasons that Dora fascinated Freud.  She is dangerously, desirably bisexual: a pre-oedipal, polymorphously perverse mystery begging to be solved.[5]  Gaga is simultaneously a child (in all her “Bad Romance” digitally-enhanced wide-eyed innocent glory), and a woman (sexy, desiring, lethal): her namesake invokes both adulthood (Lady!) and the cooing noise of an infant (Ga-ga!).  Gaga can be regal, classy, distinguished – and always with a satirical touch (see her performance for the Queen at the Royal Variety Concert)[6] – but she’s also Ga-ga-fucking-crazy, even violently so.  She is simultaneously hyperfeminine, body, breasts, and pussy (wagon) on display (j’appelle un chat un chat!) and resistant to the notion of femininity, so resistant that she might even have a dick – at least, that’s what they say.  Her body and her costumes alternate between bizarrely alluring and grotesque/carnivalesque, and are always marked by excess.  As in “Bad Romance,” hidden under rubber, or in “Telephone,” beneath cigarette glasses, sometimes you can’t even see her eyes.  You can gaze upon her, but she refuses to look back.  Maybe she’s staring back at you.  Maybe she doesn’t give a shit.  Either way, your balls are in her court.  And like Dora, she’ll walk out on you before you really get the chance to know her.

Unlike Dora, Gaga is a savvy businesswoman who operates with great efficacy in the music industry – the same industry that requires her commodification.  In Advertising Age, Andrew Hampp hails Gaga as a marketing genius, claiming that “few artists have had quite the zero awareness-to-ubiquity time-warp of Lady Gaga.  And as far as brands go, few marketers of any kind have leveraged social media the way she has to drive sales of their core product – in her case, albums and digital singles” (N.p).  Hampp further writes that “within a year of her out-of-the-box rise to fame in September 2008, Gaga had already lined up Virgin Mobile as a sponsor of her Monster Ball tour; created her own brand of headphones … and landed her own (cherry pink) lipstick as a spokeswoman for Mac Cosmetics’ Viva Glam” (N.p).  Gaga’s lipstick “outsold any launch in Viva Glam’s 16-year history,” and she was recently appointed the creative director of Polaroid “to create new products and inject life into a brand that hasn’t been hip for years” (Hampp N.p).  Gaga is undeniably successful at branding, marketing and selling herself as a commodity. 

Were Cixous and Clément to rewrite The Newly Born Woman for our contemporary time, they could likely insert “Gaga” in the place of “Dora” and maintain the coherence of their discussion.  For example:

C: Listen, you love [Gaga], but to me she never seemed a revolutionary character.
H: I don’t give a damn about [Gaga]; I don’t fetishize her.  She is the name of a certain force, which makes the little circus not work anymore (157).

Gaga’s circus, which works undeniably well, is a multi-million dollar enterprise that continues to flourish.  Hysteria, alive and well in Gaga’s performances, thus manifests itself as a hysteria of commodity feminism: a performative reaction against the inevitability of self-commodifying and embodying a particular brand of femininity in order to succeed in the popular music industry.  In other words, for Gaga, hysteria is less an index of female oppression under patriarchy, and more indexical of the commercialization and commodification of femininity for the purpose of capital gain.  While defying convention through grotesque excess and by directly calling attention to her self-construction as a gendered commodity, Gaga ultimately reinscribes herself in the system that requires her to be marketed as a consumable product.  The ultimate effect of this resistance/reinscription is, as I said at the outset, ambiguous: Gaga is radical and conservative, truth and illusion, unthreatening and lethal.

Schutzman concludes her text with a hopeful statement about how hysteria can function as a conscious, performative strategy for resistance.  She writes: “What I hope is increasingly evident is how visual intelligence, bodily exclamations, and silent spectacles manage to stage a viable critique of the complex and the corrupt – how silence undoes dominant narratives, how image critiques ideology” (191).  Although she may not revolutionize the system in which she works, Gaga undoubtedly invites critique, discussion, and debate about the roles of femininity and performance in popular culture.  After all, as she teaches us in “Bad Romance,” we can try to buy her, but in the end, we’ll only get burned.  Gaga will smoke us for all we’re worth, and then smoke her post-lethal-coitus cigarette, and then take the money we spent buying her album on iTunes and her lipstick and her Heartbeats headphones and her Polaroid camera and her concert tickets, and find new ways of convincing us that we want to buy her all over again.  Because as long as we can’t fully read Gaga, and as long as Gaga keeps begging to be read through her provocative bodily language, we’ll keep on buying what she sells.

Works Cited
“Bad Romance.” Dir. Francis Lawrence. Perf. Lady Gaga.  Youtube.com.  23 Nov. 2009.  Web. 21 Apr. 2010.

Charcot, Jean-Martin.  Clinical lectures on diseases of the nervous system.  Trans. Thomas Savill. London: The New Sydenham Society, 1889.  Archive.org. Web. 18 Jan. 2010.

Cixous, Hélène, and Catherine Clément. The Newly Born Woman.  Trans. Betsy Wing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991.  Print.

Didi-Huberman, Georges.  Invention of Hysteria.  Trans. Alisa Hartz.  Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003.  Print.

Esther, John.  “The Wild, Beautiful, and Entertaining Life of Lady Gaga.”  Lesbian News 34.8 (2009): 28-31.  Academic Search Complete.  Web.  1 Apr. 2010.

Freud, Sigmund.  Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria.  Ed. Philip Rieff.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997.  Print.

Freud, Sigmund.  “On the Psychical Mechanism of Hysterical Phenomenon.”  The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud Vol III. Ed. James Strachey.  London: Hogarth Press, 1953.  27-39.  Print.

Freud, Sigmund.  “Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction Between the Sexes.  The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud Vol XIX.  Ed. James Strachey.  London: Hogarth Press, 1961.  248-258. Print.

Gallop, Jane.  “Keys to Dora.”  In Dora’s Case.  Eds. Charles Bernheimer and Claire Kahane. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990.  200-220.  Print.

Gilbert, Sandra M.  “Introduction: A Tarantella of Theory.”  The Newly Born Woman.  Trans. Betsy Wing.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991.  Print.

Halberstam, Judith.  “You Cannot Gaga Gaga.”  Gaga Stigmata: Critical Writings and Art about Lady Gaga.  6 Apr. 2010.  Web.  18 Apr. 2010.

Hall, David.  “‘Just Dance’ and ‘Telephone’ as Two Sides of the Same Coin.”  Gaga Stigmata: Critical Writings and Art about Lady Gaga.  12 Apr. 2010.  Web. 18 Apr. 2010.

Hampp, Andrew.  “Gaga, Oooh La La : Why the Lady is the Ultimate Social Climber.” Advertising Age.  22 Mar. 2010.  Academic Search Complete.  Web. 1 Apr 2010.

Hiatt, Brian.  “New York Doll.”  Rolling Stone.  11 Jun. 2009.  Academic Search Complete. Web.  1 Apr 2010.

Micale, Mark S.  “A Short ‘History’ of Hysteria.”  Approaching Hysteria: Disease and Its Interpretations.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995. 19-29. Print.

Mulvey, Laura.  “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.”  The Audience Studies Reader. Eds. Will Brooker and Deborah Jermyn.  London: Routledge, 2003.  133-142.  Print.

Schutzman, Mady.  The Real Thing: Performance, Hysteria, and Advertising.  Hanover: University Press of New England, 1999.  Print.

Showalter, Elaine.  Hystories.  New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.  Print.

Szymanski, Mike. “Lady GaGa admits her hit song 'Poker Face' is about her bisexuality." Examiner.com Calgary.  17 Apr. 2009.  Web.  21 Apr. 2010.

“Telephone.”  Dir. Jonas Akerlund.  Perf. Lady Gaga and Beyoncé.  Ladygaga.com. Web. 21 Apr. 2010.

Wald, Christina.  Hysteria, Trauma, and Melancholia: Performative Maladies in Contemporary Anglophone Drama.  New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Print.

Winslow, Franklin.  “Lady Gaga: In Search of a New Thriller.”  Gaga Stigmata: Critical Writings and Art about Lady Gaga.  10 Apr. 2010.  Web.  28 Apr. 2010.

[3] See, for example, models displayed on popular dating website http://www.lavalife.com/.

[4] Mulvey was of course critiqued for positioning men as the sole controllers of the gaze, and she later revised her claim.  While in “Bad Romance” Gaga is performing for a specifically heterosexual male gaze, with which viewers are asked to identify, her relationship to audience spectatorship is much more complicated (and queer) in “Telephone.”  This discussion, however, lies outside the scope of this paper.

[5] In addition to her rumored hermaphroditism, Gaga’s sexuality has been the subject of widespread media interest.  In piece on Gaga for Rolling Stone, Brian Hiatt writes that “Gaga considers herself bisexual, but her attraction to women is purely physical.”  Gaga further claims that her song “Poker Face” is about “having an unreadable "poker face" so that she can be with a man, but fantasize with a woman” (Szymanski).

[6] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fF9A2OTZr0o 


Writer Bio:
Derritt Mason is a Ph.D. student in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.  His dissertation explores representations of queer youth identity in fictional and theoretical texts, and he's had a thing for Gaga ever since she bled to death while performing "Paparazzi" at the MTV VMAs.


  1. Great article! One correction though, Jonas Akurlund didn't direct Bad Romance. Francis Lawrence did.

  2. Oops -- thanks for pointing that out! It will be corrected soon. Glad you enjoyed the article!

  3. Ah, I too, have had a thing for Gaga ever since she bled to death at the VMAs... Wonderful article, will require a few more reads to get in tune with everything you said.

  4. Very interesting ideas, and well-presented too. But in what sense do you mean that bisexuality is dangerous? I find it very refreshing, actually!

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  7. Fantastic essay! one thing- the vid for telephone was supposed to be a paradox in itself. Gaga said she wanted to take a typical run-of-the-mill pop song and combine it with a video which dared to have some meaning in it. Kinda relates to Gaga's pop-art agenda, where essentially she markets her artistic expression through a pop song, thereby reaching the mainstream!


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