The following piece is the fourth in our series on Lady Gaga's video for "Born This Way." Click here for our previous analyses of the video.
Francis Bacon, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, (1944)
Gaga has noted that Francis Bacon was a major inspiration for her new video “Born This Way.” Using Deleuze’s analysis of Bacon’s paintings – particularly the attention given to the head – we may understand the video as proof that when Gaga “becomes monster” she is in fact becoming-animal, and inviting us to do the same.
The video’s first shot is of a unicorn – its head silhouetted by a night-lit cityscape. This scene takes place within an upside down glowing neon pink triangular frame. The unicorn enters and stops, centered within the equilateral sides. It breathes out smoke in the cold. From above, still within the graphic pink lines, another triangle slides downward. Peering from the bottom angle, the point of this new triangle, we see a face. As it continues to slide, to align with the other, to substitute in for it, we see a pair of legs spread pointing upwards in a V.
The face that we see is not a face at all but rather a head – the back of a head wearing a face as a mask. And so immediately we are thrust (pointed) towards a tension between the face and the head. As we fall through the pulsing outlines of the pink triangle (see above image) – not unlike the opening shot in Marcel Duchamp’s “Anemic Cinema” (see below) – we recognize that Gaga is introducing a space, in Deleuzean terms a “zone of indiscernibility,” where she meets/meats herself and invites her fans to do the same. She is convulsing delightfully. She is becoming-animal.
The Opening Shot of Duchamp’s “Anemic Cinema” (1926)
Gaga, like Bacon, “pursues a very particular project: to dismantle the face, to rediscover the head or make it emerge from beneath the face” (20-21).
Francis Bacon, Head VI (1948)
As Deleuze understands it, the face masks the head; the face denies bodily meat; the human becomes animal/meat when the face is removed. The face (falsely) discerns race. It (falsely) discerns sex. It (falsely) discerns species. The face is prejudice: the head, boundless in beef. And over the seven plus minutes of the “Born This Way” video we see Gaga attempts to demolish the face. She does so in order to build an ethics, to push ahead – or rather two heads, or rather an entire race of meaty heads. As Gaga speaks (mouths) the “Manifesto of Mother Monster,” her mirrored vagina is fisted (pawed?) and births an endless chain of monster heads. The camera zooms out and we see a sea of these heads lined up, produced. Manufactured G.O.A.T meat. Grade V.
Her monster ethics calls for social equality and justice in the face of pervasive cultural homophobia and inequality. Mother Meat calls for “the beginning of the new race, a race within the race of humanity, a race which bares no prejudice, no judgment but boundless freedom.”
Throughout the video we experience several incarnations of Gaga as meat: Gaga as meat in her spread legs, the stirrups scoring her body, Gaga as a butterflied steak; Gaga as meat with her bone implants, her bulging cheeks, shoulders and forehead; Gaga as meat with her skeleton marked face. (And we certainly have not forgotten the famous meat dress.)
Gaga as meat becomes the goal, embedded with an ethics of endless substitution, part of meat for hole. As Deleuze might say, Gaga “retains all the suffering and assumes all the colors of living flesh. [She] manifests such convulsive pain and vulnerability, but also such delightful invention, color, and acrobatics”(23). This tense relationship between pain/vulnerability and pleasure is endless mitosis itself. And it is expressed (as per usual) in her spastic yet always controlled and often physically distorting dance moves. We watch her in her underwear as she tenderizes herself repeatedly breaking down her face for consumption. She convulses. She collapses to the floor. She rolls around on the floor. She dances perfectly to the beat. And in a perfect illustration of her meatiness we witness a dance move-cum-jerk-off-gesture-cum-fuck-you-finger.
And she asks us to just put our paws up, to hold our heads up. And then she holds her head up. She puts her paws up in the shape of a V, becoming the V. Becoming vagina. But the V also stands for violence as we see in another scene when she digs a machine gun out from her own vagina. Put your two fingers up and give a piece sign. Finger the air with your V. And be sure to do it on video because we were virtually born this way. Vertigo. The third eye on her chin forms a V which mimics her jaw line, which mimics her cheek and forehead implants. The group dances in a V formation. Giving us the bird, her hand, with the V, we tenderize ourselves. We tuck our stiff cocks between our legs and ben dover loves mike hunt. We scream. After all this is G.O.A.T. and we are all tired of waiting. We too are becoming animal.
The video ends brilliantly with an image of Gaga-cum-Madonna staring into the camera. Her mouth open, her V gapped-teeth hanging off her meaty head. For Deleuze it is the rendering of mouths in Bacon’s portraits that ultimately “turns all meat into a head without a face. It is no longer a particular organ, but the hole through which the entire body escapes, and from which the flesh descends” (26).
Francis Bacon, Head, (1948)
Francis Bacon, Fragment of a Crucifixion (1950)
We stare at Gaga while she breathes heavily. A single tear falls from her right eye. She swallows—clenches her back teeth, raising her lower lip towards the gap. It is almost as if she is mouthing the letter V. The tear screams down her faceless head.
The video ends with the same pink triangle from the opening shots. Only now it is right side up. Gaga rides the unicorn into the night under a rainbow, their bodies meet/meat each other, following and blocking the light. From below another triangle rises. Still within the graphic pink lines this triangle slides upward, to align with the other, to substitute in for it. We see emerging beneath her face a head shot blowing a bubble with pink bubble gum – bazooka perhaps. The bubble never pops. Her breath instead sucks back in an attempt to retain the hole.
Francis Bacon, Self Portrait, (1971).
Jon Rutzmoser (b. 1982) is an artist, writer, and educator living in Los Angeles. He recently received an MFA in Writing and Integrated Media from California Institute of the Arts. His work engages with notions of ethical subjectivity within a world of collapsed metaphor, linguistic slippage, and self-exploitation. His blog is http://hystericallyreal.com.
Click here to follow Gaga Stigmata on Twitter.
Click here to “like” Gaga Stigmata on Facebook.