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Sunday, May 8, 2011

A “Fame Hooker” Speaking in Future Tense: Prophets and Profit in “Judas”

By Keri Ferencz

The following piece is the third in our series on “Judas.” For the first piece, click here; the second, here.


Like “Born This Way” before it, “Judas” finds Lady Gaga caught “between two ultimate forces,” aware of the dangers yet attracted to both. Whereas in “Born This Way” Gaga, “herself split into two,” embodies both creation and destruction, in “Judas” the oppositional forces are externalized and personified, making explicit her attempt at serving both. Given the complexity of Gaga’s project, it is possible to theorize any number of oppositions she might be caught between; of particular interest to this reading of the “Judas” music video are Lady Gaga’s seemingly contradictory desires for fame and transcendence through art, and how “the pendulum of choice” dances between the two.


With its undeniable ties to commerce and capitalism, fame or commercial success is generally positioned as oppositional and base compared to transcendence or religious experience, though today’s practice of deifying celebrities does mark a tenuous connection between the two. Gaga has made no secret of her desire to be famous, and the iconography of earlier videos, most notably “Paparazzi,” firmly positions her as a woman attracted to the spoils of her fame, however destructive that fame might be. Simultaneously, Gaga goes out of her way to assert that her fame is irrelevant without the platform it affords her, telling Anderson Cooper “I don’t want to make money…I want to make a difference.” Ultimately she seems to understand that fame is merely the candy-coated shell of divinity; true icons need more than flashbulbs and fans to mark them as divine, not the least of which is a clear doctrine. Though Gaga alluded to such a manifesto in the Fame Monster era, with “Born This Way,” she presents her doctrine in no uncertain terms: be who you were born to become.

The “infinite birth” of the new race in “Born This Way” strikes to the heart of this doctrine and thus the religious or transcendent element of Lady Gaga’s project. In her Manifesto of Little Monsters, Gaga places special emphasis on the importance of “the spiritual hologram of who we…become,” which serves to remind that living is above all a process of becoming. French theorists Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari echo this notion, and suggest that becoming always begins by making a pact with an exceptional individual[i] – in the case of little monsters, that pact is with Lady Gaga herself. Gaga has, more than any entertainer that has come before, fashioned herself as a gateway to becoming (or self-realization) for her fans, hence her position as Mother Monster leading her children to salvation.

Once Gaga’s faithful have become self-actualized, confident in their individual monstrosities, there is little need for Gaga as guru unless she presents herself as a necessary, the one exceptional product that can offer passage to the plane of transcendence and becoming. In order to continue to make a difference – to “protect something so perfect” as her little monsters – Mother Monster must sell and re-sell herself as such, taking pieces of silver from her public as payment for being the one and only gateway to self-realization. Ultimately, she must therefore remain firmly attached to her fame, and thus her Judas, consumer culture.

Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus for 30 pieces of silver is undoubtedly familiar to most. The Gospel of John imagines Judas as a thief whose weakness was money, providing a scriptural basis for considering him as representative of consumer culture in Lady Gaga’s “Judas” music video. Whereas the video portrays Jesus as stoic, set above the violence and sex of the Electric Chapel, Judas is very much of the people, embracing multiple women (2:08) and gleefully engaging in a bar fight, at one point even disappearing into a group of writhing bodies (2:49), further aligning him with the mass often associated with contemporary consumer culture.



More explicit evidence for reading Lady Gaga’s imagining of Judas as an agent of consumer culture lies in the relationship between the two that is implied in the narrative. The pair’s mutual attraction is palpable, however there are two moments when it is clear that the Judas character sees Gaga/Mary Magdalene as an object to be possessed. First, with a glance, as Gaga and Jesus make their way through the crowd; Judas leers at Gaga with ravenous eyes as though she were a delicacy to be eaten rather than a human subject (2:38). The second instance occurs while Gaga is prostrate at the feet of both Jesus and Judas; Judas empties a can of beer onto her back (4:49) as though to baptise her with the holy water of mass culture.



Both moments serve not only to confirm Judas as the roustabout the song’s lyrics suggest, but also to make explicit that Judas – as an agent of consumer culture – understands Gaga to be a thing. Regardless, Gaga, the self-confessed “fame hooker” is “in love with Judas, baby,” and is thus wilfully complicit with that which objectifies her. She paints the lips that, with a kiss, will symbolize the betrayal of Jesus and a turning away from what is purely sacred. In love with and necessarily clinging to fame and that which is necessary for fame, Gaga cannot do away with her Judas, even if that means her seeming duplicity is revealed for all to see.

Complicit in his betrayal or not, within the narrative of the video Gaga as Mary Magdalene is also fiercely protective of Jesus, who can be read as a personification of all that is deemed pure and sacred in Gaga’s project, including her art, her doctrine, and her little monsters. Gaga leads a Jesus who is very much not of this world through the Electric Chapel as would a bodyguard, and when strife erupts, it is Gaga who protects Jesus and not vice versa (3:19). This is reminiscent of Lady Gaga’s attitude towards her little monsters, specifically the way she has been known to shield her fans from “violent and dangerous” right-wing protesters. Lyrically, Gaga claims “Jesus is my virtue,” (4:26) further suggesting him as representative of the most pure elements of her project.

Although she may play a part his betrayal, there is a sense, as in the Gospels of John and Matthew, that her betrayal is understood and forgiven even before it has occurred. During the second chorus of the song, as Gaga sings “I’m in love with Judas,” the camera finds Jesus watching blankly, seemingly unsurprised by her confession (2:05). Later, when Gaga as Mary Magdalene has the opportunity to prevent Judas’ kiss, Jesus almost imperceptibly shakes his head no (3:27), allowing the betrayal to occur. This moment of self-sacrifice on the part of Jesus causes Gaga to fall to her knees, in both grief and relief. Jesus has turned the other cheek to Lady Gaga’s duplicity, accepting her willingness to sacrifice him and thus the purity of her work as necessary for the greater good, the creation of the new “race within the race of humanity…which bears no prejudice, no judgement, but boundless freedom.”


“I feel that if I can show my demise artistically to the public…I can show you so you’re not looking for it,” Lady Gaga told Elle magazine in January of 2010. Though Gaga was referring to the “Paparazzi” video, the quote is equally applicable to “Judas,” which ends with Gaga stoned to death by a crowd partially comprised of the apostles-cum-gang members. Hyper-aware of the pitfalls of fame, Gaga delivers “Judas” and “Paparazzi” – portrayals of those pitfalls and her downfall – so that we may not seek to destroy her ourselves, as we have done to so many icons before her. More to the point of this analysis, with “Judas,” Lady Gaga is laying herself bare, washing herself clean by admitting her duplicity and necessary attachment to consumer culture and her love of the fame that comes with it.


Far from being a selfish act and yet not entirely selfless, Gaga’s mediation of the oppositional forces of consumer culture and transcendence personified in “Judas” is a task worthy of Atlas. Crafting her art from both while simultaneously working to prevent the destructive collapse of one into the other, in remaining upright under the weight, Lady Gaga holds herself open as a channel towards self-realization for all her little monsters standing in the darkness.



[i] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. (London: Continuum, 1987), 244.

Author Bio:
Keri Ferencz is currently writing a thesis on the religious dimensions of pop music fandom as part of her M.A. in Popular Culture at Brock University in St. Catharines, Canada. Culture junkie, movie maniac, bookworm, and lover of all things Yacht Rock, Keri lives in Toronto where she tries to inhabit a life-size choose your own adventure novel. 
She can be found singing like a bird at http://www.twitter.com/keri_lotion.

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8 comments:

  1. all of these essays basically say the same thing...betrayal, forgiveness, fame, etc etc

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  2. Anonymous,

    This post is about Judas as a representative of consumer culture, and Gaga's necessary utilization of and struggle with consumeristic fame. Neither of our previous articles have addressed this aspect of the video. The piece is also about a great deal more than that.

    I generally don't say this to anybody about their reading, but in this case, you're just wrong.

    -Meghan Vicks

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  3. I wonder how you got so good. Ha-ha! This is really a fascinating blog, lots of stuff that I can get into. One thing I just want to say is that your design is so perfect! You certainly know how to get a girls attention! I’m glad that your here. I feel like I’ve learned something new by being here. .

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  4. this is great! i find it especially interesting when you consider all that was discussed in a piece from this site from about a month ago that discussed judas and government hooker and how gaga herself is a government hooker, using her fame, fans, and body to encourage social justice and to empower disenfranchised communities around the globe. in the born this way video gaga seemed to be representing this very empowerment, the "creation" of her fans and their union, while hinting that with all this good, evil inevitably follows. as that aforementioned essay predicted, the judas video explains more explicitly the "evil" side of gaga's project, aka the evil she must channel in order to change the world, or in other words, the darkness she must face before walking into the light. i also believe that, as the essay predicted, gaga is channeling the "government hooker' in this video, but it is not that simple. instead, i believe this is the "government hooker" gaga vs. the "fame hooker" gaga, the inspiring social activist who is changing the world "one sequin at a time" vs the blonde pop star who is making a bucket loads of money. as described on this site numerous times, gaga is both the antithesis and the absolute embodiment of what it means to be a pop star, and she is embracing so many pop cultural stereotypes (though never completely) in order to secretly demolish them and move culture forward. i guess what im trying to say here is that im extremely excited about gaga and the future of her career, as well as the future of this site. :)

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  5. Beautifully said, Jake! Thank you!

    -Kate Durbin

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  6. There's something wrong with the make-up of Gaga. She came onto the scene as though she was brought to send the message that FAME has a dark side and is destructive (From the very beginning, ex. in LoveGame: do you want love or you want fame?) It's not like she was famous for a very long time and THEN she realized oh fame is bad let me sing about that. She is obviously carrying out someone's message from day 1. As much as we like to believe she is strong, independent, and powerful, I see her as someone who is forced into doing almost everything.
    She is after all, PROSTITUTED by her fame. Fame hooker. She says it herself. She is forced into doing things and selling herself. Hence I cannot see her as someone who controls her fate and her message.

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  7. Is she prostituted by her fame, or does she prostitute herself FOR her fame? It's the latter, I think, which makes her quite in control...

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