"[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

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

“Transforming as Magic”: on Gaga’s GMA appearance and official video release for “Applause” (a partially ekphrastic set of working notes)

By Sarah Cook

1. “I live for making you happy.”

Interview and official video premier on Good Morning America, August 19th, 2013.

The dynamics of fame, of fandom and obsession – an “obsession with transforming” – the expectations of hundreds of thousands of thousands of fans:

“obsessed, obsessed, obsessed about the music.”

When, and where, does failure come in? There will always be failure when so many people are counting on you; that’s fame. But there seems to be another type of failure at play in Gaga’s work: failure as a method; failure as queer – failure as allowing the unsayable to be said. To quote John Pluecker, “I’ve been thinking about how best to fail in this piece. And in failing come to say this thing that I haven’t been able to say.”

That which Gaga communicates by failing, which cannot be expressed any other way.

Failure: a broken body, dancing – writhing – on a mattress because of injury.

It’s a campaign. Of failure. Of interaction: her platform for communication with her little monsters, indicated by the motherboard chair on which she sits during her interview, by the shaking of hands as she walks through a crowd of fans. The hands that reciprocate the music by applauding. More on hands later.

2. A campaign for the Jester.

The wise fool, the entertainer in makeup, the character whose purpose is to make people react: through laughter, through bodily reaction, through an ultimate signal of appreciation via applause. Gaga’s “ode to the jester,” as she called it in her GMA interview, has been discussed thoroughly here.

What will the evolution of the jester look like? There are moments in Shakespeare where we don’t actually know whether the jester is man or woman. I’m thinking specifically of my most recent readings of King Lear and Twelfth Night and the surrounding ambiguity of gender. Readers assume, perhaps, that the jester is a male figure by some sort of ingrained default. But is this character actually a platform for interrogation of the gender binary? Is Gaga, as jester, a man? Or a woman?

What about cyborg jester? Monstrous jester?

How is a female jester supposed to look? Are women still pretty once they are funny?

3. “A musical and visual language”:

“we talk in images.”

Image: plain white signs, boring black text; one word on each: “Applause.” “Gaga.”

Image: some of the signs are upside down.

Image: “Gaga” as word. The language is both visual and musical. “Gaga” as sound.

My kind of music that I make is the kind that you look at.

So she spells the letters our on her hands, a-r-t-p-o-p.

Image: Gaga as Venus. Not coming out of a half shell, but from within hands.

A product of the hands – she embodies the sound they make.

 The intimate relationship between sound and body.

Image: Gaga’s hand bra, accompanied by a hand wrapped around her neck. Image: the failing jester getting pulled off-stage by the handle of a cane slipped around the neck. Image: ghost hands wrapped around Gaga’s body – like hands that want to censor – but they belong to no one but her fashion, which is a part of who she is. The hands on her body are her body. Image: the sound of applause on the body, the kind of sound you look at.

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

No – what is the sound of paws?

Image: Gaga as swan.

Image: Sitting in an upside down magic top hat, standing in for the rabbit.

Image: Stewing in a cauldron. Gesturing toward the image of the female witch, yet she’s an ingredient, a part of the potion itself.

Image: Inside a birdcage, Marilyn-esque, a bit zombie-ish. Apocalyptic? Launch the music…

4. The launch button –

which began the performance: the countdown to the video, which symbolically premiered at the push of a big red button, with none other than Gaga’s own hands.

5. The eye-mirror.

We see this at the end of the video for only a brief second. I had to actually pause the video multiple times to feel like I got the chance to really see this, and for a while I was sure, based on how her lower hand was moving, that something was falling or being dropped in the process.

She’s wearing an eye mask. It’s colorful, even playful. It looks handmade, maybe even designed to look like animal eyes. I was thinking frog. On her left eye: a mirror underneath the eye, which snaps open and shut. She’s holding it open, and right as we see it, she lets go, the mirror snaps shut, leaving only eye.

The implication: beneath the device with which she gazes out at us, her adoring fans, we find a reflective surface; like the surface of the jester, who entertains and acts as wise fool, perhaps suggesting more about the truth of our own daily, social interactions than we readily admit or choose to see. But when it’s a mirror pointing back at you, it’s not a choice of seeing yourself or not: the reflection is just there. Consider Lear’s fool and what he communicates about the scenes in which we find him; consider Feste. In our dismissal of the fool, we are always dismissing a bit of truth, a bit of ourselves.

But this mirror: when we gaze into Gaga’s varying images, we are gazing into our varying selves. The implications, then, on failure. On our dismissal of her as failure and what this says about us. On our tendency to be shocked by what we see. We are, in fact, our own shocking creatures.

Little monsters, looking into the face of mother monster, seeing themselves.


By counting down to the applause, you are not just counting down to something, but to the end of something. Applause doesn’t just signal appreciation. In fact, it can often be obligatory, a part of social etiquette, a way of indexing the audience’s presence and some varying amount of participation/digestion: something has been viewed, consumed, witnessed. That’s the thing: applause signals the end, that something is done, that it’s over…

Image: the new Haus of Gaga video:

She’s over. Lady Gaga is over.”

And we, as the other side of the equation, applaud to confirm this.

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Quotes are taken directly from Gaga’s dialogue on Good Morning America, unless otherwise noted.

Author Bio:
Sarah Cook is an MA candidate at the University of Maine, where she's focusing on poetics, creative writing and gender studies. Recent work can be found in gesture, Phoebe, and Horse Nihilist, and is forthcoming in Vector Press and SWINE. Her newest chapbook, a meadowed king, is out from dancing girl press.

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