"[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

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Gaga over Gaga: Lost in the Funhouse of the (Reified) Real

By Virginia Konchan

“The spectacle is capital accumulated to the point where it becomes image.” ―Guy Debord 

 “I'm telling you a lie in a vicious effort that you will repeat my lie over and over until it becomes true.” ― Lady Gaga 

The paroxysm of “authenticity,” since its modernist deconstruction, can’t cure postmodern anomie, at a time when politics, religion, self-esteem, personal expression are entirely bound up with the logics of branding and the blinding halogen lights of commodity culture, manufacturing not just celebrities but the desire to be them (mimesis, or facial reconstructive surgery), as well as dissatisfaction with our own imperfect bodies, financial and existential woes, and (occasionally) humdrum lives. When representation engulfs the real, the compensatory mechanism (inflated valuation of subjectivity, in identity politics) kicks in: can, then, the desire to worship or admire the other (as subject, not purchasable fetish) be the only “authentic” meme, driving the totalized spectacle, left? If surrendering the need for gods is last step on the journey to disillusionment (“You revolutionaries want another master, and you will get one” as Lacan warned in 1968), Gaga lights a path beyond institutionalized dogma, and the image regime, by demonstrating the performance of the real as nothing more than a metastasized staging of the desire for recognition, and (ew) love.

For Gaga, to be seen is to exist. The danger inheres in the absence or deconstruction of the spectacle, or, in psycho-sexual development, the failure of the mirror stage: without the media feed and cameras, how do iconic celebrities, and the rest of us, reify our existence, or ego? The body of an icon, like that of all market subjects, is experienced by spectators as an object designed to scandalize, sell products, and attract. Writers and other creative artists share in this dilemma of self-promotion and marketization: is constant self-and other reification through textual representation (enacting the schism between self and personae, site and parasite) that different, in the history of oral performance and codified text, than the rabbit hole of the entertainment industry?

From Gaga’s “Manifesto of Little Monsters”: “There is something heroic about the way my fans operate their cameras. So precisely, so intricately and so proudly. Like Kings writing the history of their people, is their prolific nature that both creates and procures what will later be perceived as the kingdom. So the real truth about Lady Gaga fans, my little monsters, lies in this sentiment: They are the Kings. They are the Queens . . . It is in theory of perception that we have established our bond, or the lie I should say, for which we kill. We are nothing without our image . . . the spiritual hologram of who we perceive ourselves to be or rather to become . . .”

If celebrities (and the cult of celebrity) are materially invented and produced by man, as archetypes sustaining the human drama, their cracked surfaces and flaws show us that defying natural laws or performing ideality is a paid performance by professional stuntmen and women, assisted by teams of choreographers, make-up artists, clothing designers, and funded by us. “Glamour is what I sell, it's my stock in trade,” as Marlene Dietrich quipped. And glamour, as we know, makes life sexy, but, like hard living, can also kill.

The polarity between life and representations or reproductions of life was cogently articulated at the dawn of industrialism when Walter Benjamin declared, in 1936, all perception of post-auratic art to be perceptual mimesis: we are only shocked, moved, or stunned once, by the original event or form, and all that comes after is (mis)recognition, degrees of familiarity, and habituation to the supplement, dramatizing our alienation from sentience, the other, and ourselves.

In admiring celebrities, historical figures, and artists who seem to transcend biological or class determinisms (embodying the Greco-Roman will-to-form) we run the risk of conflating the spectacle of the medium (the “body wholly body,” to quote Wallace Stevens, “fluttering its empty sleeves”) with the message, or ceasing to believe (the coup of neoliberal aesthetics) in the value or existence of a “message,” obviating the politics of resistance and conscious deliberation, at all.

From the onrush of “open letters” penned by Sufjan Stevens, Sinead O’Connor, and others counseling Miley Cyrus back from the brink after her twerking episode, to celebrity ripostes and biographies exposing the collateral damage of media-fueled celebrity, when not resulting in actual death (i.e. Amy Winehouse and Brittany Murphy), never has the line between art and performance, iconicity and humanity, production model and duplicate, copyright and forgery, been so attenuated (nor our memory of the “authentic,” so atrophied) as today. Our collective amnesia of the real, spurred by celebrity culture, post-Cold War hijinks of technological progress (genetic engineering, robotics) and reality TV, has roots in surrealism, and other revolutionary movements breaking with official, and mass culture. In 1922, André Breton distanced himself from the Dadaist taste for scandal for scandal’s sake, yet Louis Aragon pressed on, writing in the preface to The Libertine, “I’ve never looked for anything but scandal.” As does Gaga: “They can’t scare me if I scare them first.”

The argument, like that of porn as liberation, that celebrities, even if manufactured, produced, and consumed, do so volitionally, retaining, agency, is nothing if not fraught, and often entails a culturally enforced process of teaching a woman to “confess” to enjoying social or actual prostitution, as dramatized in the 2013 biopic Lovelace, about porn star Linda Lovelace’s economic and sexual exploitation by her manager, pimp, and husband, Chuck Traynor, and the porn industry. The star herself can become mesmerized by the mirrors of her overexposed image, and addicted to the biofeedback of fans and paparazzi (not like the saline-drip of social media).

Eddie McCaffray, on Gaga's "Do What U Want (With My Body)": “Gaga’s body is either something valueless, such as garbage or raw meat, or something flagellated, such as that of an abuse victim, that of someone with an eating disorder, that of an addict [ . . . ] If it is valueless muck, it can be refashioned however fame or art (pop) demands. If it is merely a conduit for trauma, it allows that trauma to create a space from which Gaga can emerge as coping-mechanism-cum-messiah.” McCaffray’s presents a view of Gaga as a disembodied other, stripped of subjectivity, and her social function as either stigmatic repository for our shame, sexuality, and violence, or, in her performance of illness and hysteria, a stigmatic fetish, easing our anxiety over lack, and the void (the modernist nausea of non-being; and today, in zombie capitalism, bodies emptied of personalities and selves), to avoid its projection onto men.

We live in an era dominated by the anasemic drive (e.g. Chris Kraus’ Aliens and Anorexia), mourning the inability of the necromantic body to signify, and substituting contingency and flux for meaning, and market transactions, relationships. Our troubled relationship to the stigmatized body is echoed in the enforced discipline and punishment of female reproductive body (fitness industries, post-industrial meat production, fertility politics, abortion debates), and its dangerous affects and outlaw desires. An aesthetics of waste (what writer Joyelle McSweeney calls magpie aesthetics), ecocritical, formalist, historicist, trans, queer, Marxist or feminist, can also been seen as a political refusal of the body-cum-artwork’s capitalist (Stalinist, fascist) utility and form: within the culture and entertainment industries, taboos only need to be broken once for the “norm” to be shattered.

Openly confessing to having struggled with anorexia and bulimia since age fifteen, Gaga’s Body Revolution campaign, launched in 2012, is accompanied by pictures of her in a slim but not anorexic or pre-pubescent state. As Katie J.M. Baker says, “We also know she's still struggling because of how she's trying to cope: by asking for support and validation from her millions of ardent fans. Gaga wants to empower others, clearly, but she's also letting us watch the narrative of her eating disorder play out. Gaga’s Body Revolution campaign . . . is inarguably inspiring — it's heartwarming to see dozens of posts from women and men who are insecure about features ranging from love handles to missing limbs proudly post photos of their half-naked bodies . . . Gaga proves she really is just like her fans by "showing the world that it's not okay to critique her body" instead of suing the publications that called her fat or claiming she's ‘dehydrated’.”

Gaga—not so much as sex symbol but androgene—has come to represent, then, the limits not only of commodified performativity, but its breaking point, within the body: rhetorics not of transcendence or ideality but the politics of self-harm: the occupational hazard, in the entertainment industry, of illness and addiction, at war with the off-stage desire for health and intimacy.

Gaga, Madonna’s closest heir, troubles not just iconic but historic stereotypes of women in power (witch-hunts, libidinal repressions of Victoriania), and yet the revolutionary message is largely that of defiance. Testing the boundaries of mainstream and avant-garde theaters (of the absurd, oppressed and cruel), and the sturm und drang of contemporary performance as “high art” (pageantry, spectacle), Gaga spits at vertiginous imaginaries dependent upon monetized and ideological investments for survival (“Trust is like a mirror, you can fix it if it's broken, but you can still see the crack in that mother fucker's reflection”), reclaiming the right to bleed publically, for cash, not as shock art, but an embodied prolegomena, with witnesses, of her “truth” (what else is real)?

Bio: Virginia Konchan is a writer and critic living in Chicago. Her work has appeared widely in such places as in The New Yorker, The New Republic, Boston Review, and The Believer. Co-founder of Matter, a journal of poetry and political commentary, and regular contributor to The Conversant and Jacket2, she lives in Chicago.


  1. It's quite true that Gaga is not the worst example for youngs. Great job

  2. Church, chaplain, type of playbook format not screenplay format, fantasy movie ideas,

    (ACHILLIES, ATHENA, ALEXIES, ALBA, BOUNCE are talking to the school board about the little guys being slavery driven with school work today. They have just flown in on their quads yes flying quads. The Raptors they just flew in on are to show the little guys “a thing or two about a thing or two.” When they get to the board there is a room full of students wanting the board to do away with their homework assignments. They want the schools to be taught like “Adult School.”)

    (Music ACHILLIES walks in with a radio to play Avril Lavignes “Here’s To Never Growing Up.”)
    ACHILLIES you guys are the board of schools that are responsible for the little guys class parties, homework, class work, projects work oh just the work. We get we might not be the best choice for speaking for the little guys being how in the family we have “Rangers Apprentice” and “Assassins Creed” as our casted characters for future movies in the Heavens sort-a-speak. We are just here to pass the idea to the schools and then to the little guys that it is okay to get fat and not do homework.

    ATHENA little guys should not do any homework or any types of school work along with tests. We get work when we grows up we want to go to the Naval Academy to be a Marines Jetfighter Pilot so we get work. Little guys do not know that they should not have to do any type of work in, out of class or take tests. Tests do not measure what you know. What you know is what you can say not what you can answer on a test. The nerds that get good grades on tests might not know for example how to date for the smaller guys how to be around girls. Maybe the little guys are fat because they do too much nerdy homework.

    ALEXIES classes should be easy, learning should be done easy enough for people to understand and learn. Teachers are busy with a type of confusion, talking over little guys heads or so. Little guys sometimes do not pick up on what is being taught. Maybe teachers need a few classes on how to be around the girls.

    ALBA “when you’re too cool for skool” they say you do not want to go to dates or dances with the ugly girls. Anyways boyz do not realize that on some planets boyz get home from skool and do not have to talk to their sister or girls the whole time while their out of skool playing video games. School is too much for everybody. Teachers are being taught to tell students to cheat and school looks to be the ugly girl present day. In class all the students should have to do is kick back and listen but the skeptics say they should work. We think they should work for a living sucking down sodas and playing on the jungle gyms or so.

    BOUNCE little dudes need to be allowed to play. Right now the little guys have 0 time to play outside with other little dudes or so. The little dudes have been attacked by the bads and the bads have them in “time out” from playing video games and such. Skeptics are telling the schools students need work but students need “time outs” sometimes too. Yo critics, skeptics the little dudes need time to party.

    ACHILLIES schools are run by people saying little guys need more class work, class time, classes. Would a good person be there saying all these things to increase the workloads. Would a good person do any of these things to the school systems. These people have little claim to school but the boards are letting them increase class work and such. The bads are saying dudes are getting smarter but they are just as dumb as they ever were. Had to say it that way for you all to “feel me.” Now while you’re “feeling me” all students should have less class time to go out and play and to not be slaves of school sort-a speak.

    “Heavens Raiders, Heavens Black Knights, Heavens White Knights, Heavens Green Berets”

    # 1 in high school # 1 fighter # 1 genius # 1 comedian

    Achillies Zenith Howe Anonymous
    Geniuses Social Scientist Psychiatrist
    Psychologist Film Military Scientist
    Anthropologist Movies Sarcasm

  3. A clarifying, heart felt point of view should be required reading for legions of Lady Gaga Haters.
    A bit unfortunate article submitted only months before another relevant piece in the WSJ.


  4. From the onrush of “open letters” penned by Sufjan Stevens, Sinead O’Connor, and others counseling Miley Cyrus back from the brink after her twerking episode, to celebrity ripostes and biographies exposing the collateral damage of media-fueled celebrity, when not resulting in actual death (i.e. Amy Winehouse and Brittany Murphy), never has the line between art and performance, iconicity and humanity, production model and duplicate, copyright and forgery, been so attenuated (nor our memory of the “authentic,” so atrophied) as today.
    Lady Gaga

  5. Chaplain’s prayer,

    Evil is making the collar tight on the neck. Evil is messing up orders to be evil. Evil is messing up sox sizes so they don't fit right. Evil is that big in everything. 90/1 odds. It’s nothing to army of 1. In automotive repair each part is 40+ dollars on profits. Web advisers are making up laws in the rules of the web. Web advisors can be caught just by reading the rules of the websites. Computers have few programs working when brand new to be evil. The 90% of people need to be in the wild with nothing to their names like the wild life and yes it happened in time humor. Evil in time homey you don't even know language anymore G-Money. Evil has the microwave too hard to use to be evil. Evil has set the refrigerator boxes at temps for your food too taste bad somewhat. When buying a new computer evil has from the owner to the buyer changed the computers programming for you to have to reprogram your new computer as if you were a computer programmer. At one time evil did not allow {from the owner to the buyer} your cars to last a million miles which was discovered in earth time the 1960’s. Televisions have been set up like computers to have long startups {a computer word when these 2 words are put together}. Back to computers they have been set up to not turn off or on right away to be evil to you somehow. Microwaves, ovens, refrigerators can be user friendly at the first grade level of operation but evil tells you people want a challenge when operating anything and everything. You can hear evil tell you the school system needs to be a challenge to students because they’re getting smarter butt students are not getting smarter. In school it is not humanly possible to pass if not given the work and the grades by way of easy train. You can fall in it all evil. With school I personally know it is not humanly possible to make it through if not given the work and the grades by way of easy money. Somehow the 90-1’s have done this to everything out there. When it comes to the madness we were thinking of the beach metaphor not having our minds baking on how evil we can drive people crazy. They are first {the 90% of people} trying to make evil to every living thing they call it and then trying to drive you crazy. While they’re doing all that they are making themselves go crazy. I’ve only written a few lines but right now I need a beach break to chill out from the madness of what they bake on with every sentence. Dude I’m not going to waste my beach time on all this butt it looks like we can trap them in “Propaganda Government” and as “Wild Life” with no “Foreign Trade” from us and so. If we let them in our society they will metaphor pee and poo in everything all the time and then much more. Whatever they can get they will push like in “Mexico Government” to “make it happen” in their words. Right now throughout the worlds humor we have to leave them out of our society in self-defense of ourselves. We all make mistakes so we shouldn’t through the good people out of our society but the 90% need to be left in a society like the jungle. Out there right now the 90% are trying to make false arrests and unlawful detainments on everyone and everyone to be evil. It is “{Mexico Government With American Power and Money}” out there right now. You have to be very careful not to get arrested because they have the “{Mexico Government With American Power and Money}” to trap you not only in the criminal justice system, prison system and then the school system butt in every design of systems or not systems to trap you in “{Mexico Government With American Power and Money}”.

    Az 'George Howe' 0'Neill Anonymous
    Genius Physiologist Chaplain
    Psychologist Film Military Scientist
    Anthropologist Movie Sarcasm


    Chaplain MCR-JROTC-Young-Marine Messy Religious Spiritual Prayer buy my movies for a total of 55 Million for 3 million per for a 1 page movie,
    Heavens Raiders.
    Start movie making. Making a movie. Stash the Producer because 1st I don’t have that Hollywood pay-check too go round White Hollywood ok.
    Hollywoody Hollywood’s I would like to write 1 page movies for 3 million a movie okay ok. Once you get my movies you just give it to the movie writers from the screenplay writer –“‘Az “George Howe” 0’Neill Anonymous’” for present time. That will also protect real leaks from the Heavens Raiders {no connections to the CIA butt.} movies leaking things. If we good we should still be good and white Hollywood okay ok.
    “He’s crazy I’ll save you from him. Your king is crazy I’ll save you from him”. –No, not my words here guys dudetts broetts.
    Walmart Drug Dealer owner butt not a Franchise owner sort of speak. -Humor.
    1, Movie Star. Retired “Movie Star” sort of speak. I’m the movie star who can do it for real Hollywood.
    2, Entertainer-Comedian. I just wanted this to be one word Hollywood.
    3, Producer. I’m kind of a banker who has what is called a “billionaire mind”. That means if I’m homeless I will find my way back to billionaire ok.
    4, Singer. My # 1 is movie star my # 2 is singer ok. I don’t have enough credits for this one so it’s dormant for this lifetime maybe sort of.
    5, Music Writer butt. I tested this ok “{8th mile or so}” I was in the hospital or so and gave a Rapper my music and he picked it up okay ok.
    6, Screenplay writer. In navy words I would like to respectfully request 3 million per each 1 page movie I can write ok.
    7, Movie writer. No I don’t care about this one present day present time anyway. It’s the Screenplay Writer or so.
    8. Movie maker. Movie director. Clip and cut no butt. Movie star who does it for real maybe in eternity Narnia eternity guys dudetts, broetts.
    1, Poverty. Poverty line to me is 3 million a movie.
    1, Poverty. Poverty line to me is 3 million a song. Yes Simon ok.

    Daddy’s little girlz Hanna and the Hannibal’s. Mommy’s little girlz Hana and the Hannibal’s. I’m over 18 and those might be my little itty bitty guys. Ok okay ok.

    Number # 1 street-fighters in worlds. Am I. maybe not # 1 one baby. We number 1 baby.
    United states navy you don’t know this butt you owe me one here navy. A navy a-school is a four year contract but mine was a 6 years contract reserves. I would like to respectfully request chaplain A-school but navy armies is better send it from the army-navy. I’m also all Special Forces spy so… it’s on you navy.
    Worlds Wide Maybe Just A Novel Writer. Maybe Not A Movie Writer. Maybe Just A Writer.
    Az “George Howe” 0’Neill Anonymous
    Genius Physiologist Chaplain
    Psychologist Film Military Scientist
    Anthropologist Movies Sarcasm
    PS. World war 3 forever unintended hospital baby room, baby rape drugs basic metaphor. C-Ya passing exact there CIA-KGB. Hope we good.


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