Recently, cultural critic and provocateur extraordinaire Camille Paglia wrote an article for The Sunday Times entitled ‘Lady Gaga and the death of sex.’ I know, intense. According to Paglia, Gaga isn’t actually killing sex with her own hand, but rather is emblematic of the sad, cold, digital end of the hot and juicy sexual revolution that Paglia, even though she seems to never have participated, romanticizes intensely.
Now, don’t get me wrong–I find Paglia fascinating and her work totally thought-provoking. But it is clear to me that she often chooses provocation above the best and most truthful analysis. Okay, I’ve been provoked. She wins. But I’m going to respond a little to what she says about America’s First Lady of Fame.
When Paglia asserts that Gaga isn’t sexy at all, I kind of have to agree. She goes on to bemoan the loss of sexy pop stars like Madonna, and wonders how our generation could be fooled by such a facsimile of eroticism. This is where I have to disagree. Is it really so bad that our generation is more interested in someone deconstructing that image? Maybe Madonna’s ultra-public sexual image is just less interesting to our generation. Maybe it’s already been done and we want something else. I think we are more interested in finding our own way, given all of the options of expression that are open to us. Plus, we don’t need the TV to tell us how to be sexy or have sex–we have the internet.
Maybe this is another element: Lady Gaga is largely an internet phenomena. Her online videos are the main way she reaches her fans. Her music is bought and consumed onscreen. I would argue that Lady Gaga is a technology, an interface: you feed in fame and art is produced. Lady Gaga is much less of a musician than a performance artist. Perhaps some of you will disagree, but I think it’s clear that her costumes and performances are much more skillful and original than her music.
If we accept fame as the medium, I think it becomes even more clear that Gaga just isn’t about sexual spectacle. Part of the point is that much of what she does is facsimile. Paglia calls it copying, but I can only see it as part parody, part tribute. So she doesn’t achieve Madonna’s raw sexiness. But does she remind us of it? Yes. Does she shed light on the way that sexuality is often more show than substance? I think so.
Basically, what I’m saying is that Gaga might not be sexy, but she does make art about sex. And really, does every female pop star have to be a sex symbol? I hope not. But I do hope that Paglia and Gaga keep provoking us for years to come.