Apologia For Lady Gaga
A defense against the useless sniping from the new Hitchens, la Paglia, as was published (the sniping, not this response) by the original Times, Sunday edition, on 12th of September , 2010. 9 years 1 day and 1 hour after something that just won’t stop happening for quite a few more.
The summarized original can be read at a true publication for the people, with the complete number right where it belongs, behind a paywall (this isn’t communism, dontchaknow):
Hodge podge and kitsch, camp and pastiche are the favorite jargon of self styled and attributed post modernists (both working and of the welfare laden academy). Terms of regression, celebrated as analytic insight, take us nowhere new and could as easily be seen on reruns of tv shows, classic movies and your grandmother’s old clothes boxes as on MTV (were it still a channel with any pretensions to music or arts entertainment).
The innovations produced today by humanists and students of business who have entered the corporate world and admired as a false idol by the hardest bible thumping, language based puritans who have ever walked the north american continent, right wing conservatives, are the artworks of the true artists today and both art and economy suffer for it.
Algorithms, standardized steps for any calculation one may fancy, are the legalistic product of pure mathematical researches into combinations and dynamic, moving particle clouds. These methods are used to far superior sophistication and utility by pure research scientists and technological innovators but they find a bastardized form of crippled beauty in the service of trading contracts, whether imaginary futures on the market of paper percentages promised or in the accounting and distribution management of industrial sales. Art as industry has been replaced by industry as art, and as ever the artists, both in business offices and in bohemian studios, are the last to know.
This isn’t to say that there is any sincere effort to force utility upon the arts but rather that the path we are on is the one of least resistance. As Fermat might say, the path of least time, where nature expends the least energy to achieve the most efficient ends, so much as is possible and not always clearly from our anthropocentric concerns about “what we want” and the “human customer always right”. Particles are fairly indifferent to how well we would like our burger cooked and very sensitive to their uneven distance from one another.
No, the artist has not transformed himself into a twirler of figures and patentable business methods but has learned to exist within them, to the uncertain gamble of his pocketbook and the universal detriment of his enlightenment. Few are the commercial artists who “make it” and yet none of them seem even vaguely attuned to the artistic instinct and sensitivity to form and line and melody and harmony, of paint, pitch or pelvis.
When the effort to create is moulded into the sublimation of curiosity to make way for production, we have the triumph of academic deconstruction and conservative mercantilism in perfect unity. Art is no longer divine, hence a target for all slings by simpering academics that disdain to pick up a paintbrush and pity the lonely painter. It is also respected as saleable, shippable merchandise by oppressed drones who relieve their sexual urges through honorable and respectable methods like voting for war and identifying with the rich when their own sense of community is torn from them to serve their masters.
It’s a beautiful system that progresses to a limit and then stabilizes: serfdom. We are not there yet, not by any stretch of the imagination short of artistically challenged delusional marxists and hippies who have missed their destiny by decades.
But its beauty is only glamorous from a distance of not only space but time. To live it is to take sides and forget the whole, to miss the forest for the trees, when the wood marches.
There is not an american living in the states who can see their nation clearly, because their perspective can never be even across its length. Each man believes he can move against the whole from within it, that he has no relative position to other men, that bob about like soft billiards. To the challenge that there are other perspectives, he cries “european” or “post structuralist”, effectively creating, out of nothing, the calcified cultural standards and intolerant norms that are the game of his foreign friends and foes. European, Arab, Eastern civilizations have at least a thousand years and often several millenia of development within their borders. America accepted its last lower state, Arizona, into the Union just before the first world war. The United States have barely drawn together all their stitches and have never had any identity beyond the local, except as a matter of diplomatic consideration, branded under the rubric of patriotism.
It is perhaps for this reason that belief (of religious or atheistic bent) is heartfelt enough to consider that an american is born into his own blood. Immigration is rejected in such an open and rich land for the same reason that foreign culture can not find a foothold: uncertain identity breeds fanatical closure.
What could once pass as down home entertainment has now adopted all the methods as only a slight understanding of technology and mass media can. A delight has decided to become an impotent orgy. A skin flaunting lady can no more shock today than a piano could on the gun slinging frontier, presented as sheepishly at the sight of alcohol in a frat house as after the sherrif had walked in on a pistol whipped bar brawl, sasparilla stained wooden chairs with broken backs.
One might ask what has happened and the answer is obviously technology. Comfort and communication have allowed greater exposure and steeper competition than ever, among the unpropertied classes. Throwing your talents up for sale becomes increasingly cynical in a dog eat dog world where the majority have enough education to do but not enough to inspire. The holdouts among conservatives largely aspire to reproduce what they have always known, hence their obsession with history above science and with the accounting simplicities of applied math (arithmetic) above art. Innovation is not their forte and so they surrender it to the left, who strive to see further but have built their lookout of dry sand. So innovations are continually immediate, incremental, irrelevant.
The medical and physicist community, seeming to have no political affiliation or interest, have accomplished such astronomical leaps in flesh engineering and intelligent design largely due to their utilitarian histories: you learn only what you need to know, but you need to know a lot.
Theirs is a specialization of breadth and a breadth of specialization. Such a thing today is far beyond the structural capabilities of either the humanities, more specifically applied sciences or technical colleges with their practical departments.
And so we find ourselves faced with artists who are uniformly democrat liberal yet have little to offer us in this high speed world of knowledge as power.
They are to the left what bumpkin listeners of talk radio are to the right: a good specter with which to scare the enemy.
Lady gaga is but the most recent incarnation of this comedy type. Her predecessors have not held the moralistic fanatics’ hearts since before the sixties hippy age of license, since before the rhythm and blues of hard drinkin’, gal swingin’ hedonists of Falstaffian joy and irresponsibility.
Yet we find the Times of London consider that it is worth appealing to the conservative sense of outrage and wringing the ear of sadean, caligulan misfits, supposedly everywhere in the liberal populace today.
But those Falstaffians have themselves become extinct. What were the spacious expanses of wild land and unrecognized Indians have now become the claustrophobic office spaces and professional networking of contemporary economic urguency and discretion. Too many people in the elevator and you’ll have to get off at somebody else’s floor. No room for brash individualism when you can barely breathe, though the air conditioning whirrs as it begs to differ.
This audience, that inherits the patented jeans of its gritty, fabulous, jewish-production levi-strauss (Loeb StrauSS) wearing mine worker, true american heritage, is prime target for ad men and propagandists who understand its pain.
The ambitious offspring now aims to be as responsible as its parents and just as meaningful. Liberals have adopted all the trappings and repressions of conservatives and their entertainment has compensated them for it, responsively.
As mass media becomes not merely the greatest but the only cultural expression that is commonly available outside of big cities, it becomes the only representation of the culture to which conservatives have access, aside from their own life, which they see, like all americans their own, as outside of the nation objectively looking in. And they don’t like what they see.
For this reason, to gain an audience with their hurt feelings and genuine ignorance, one must praise their every pre formed, uninherited but oft pushed sense of “values” (read: moral superiority) in the service of one-quarter thought out recriminations against the masks and phantasms that slightly charm the castrated urban liberal populations.
Of course Lady Gaga’s act is supposed to be ironic. This is evident to the hipster as to the paleo conservative. But it is of no interest, since everything is ironic in mass media today. The new irony would be no irony, but I’ll bring that along when I’ve cooked it well and it’s ready to serve. Until then, conservatives have decided (rightly) to move on to hysterical emotionalism and schizophrenic identification with the rich (who, whether a Forbes a Buffet a Limbaugh or a Jobs, despise them and their company for the uncouth beer guzzlers that they are).
And So they take gaga as literal psychosis and walking mortuary of pop cliche made real blood and bone. This would be great marketing for Gaga, were any liberals aware of its possibility. But MASS MEDIA is not where you’ll find the community of the right, who morph into screaming but cool clones of their liberal rivals, whether on Fox news (with its garish animation graphics and sound effects worthy of any hollywood produced tv news show) or talk radio, with its pretensions of critique about the liberal world forcing it to temper its rage with bitter amusement in an effort to resemble objectivity.
Apparently, you can’t play in the mass media without being adopted by it. The right wing claim of outsider and maverick every bit as silly a showbiz move as Gaga’s image of “avant gardisme”.
Lady Gaga is the id (that’s in Freud, no initials, not on a government card, “id”, not I.D.) of the clean, proper, liberal class, couched in safe irony. It is everything they have sloughed off to capture the respect that is earned from the right. The respect of, “earning one’s keep” in this world and “holding a position”, the closest thing to title that is available in america, where the only aristocratic rank that has any value is money. The more you have, the nobler you are.
It’s no wonder that the right, who admire and jeal over money until their faces green, is filled with resentment against all that they don’t have. We often turn in our agony of rejection to a kind of superior crystalline smile, a secret evil eye we keep in our heart for the beauty that spurns. Perhaps in the end, we will see that beauty struggling, with a bad lover and a bad job, while we glory in fame and in fortune. Wouldn’t that dollar like to be ours now, if only we hadn’t found another, even better.
But the displaced identity of liberals, projected, guilt free since it’s without any implication or involvement, has had to plaster itself everywhere. This is our new Grapes of Wrath, even more annoying than Henry Fonda: Wherever there’s a repressed liberal rat squirming his way through adult responsiblity and ultimately meaningless personal politics, there’s a tv channel of smut to remind him of the face he denies. Wherever there’s a woman going to her career, there’s a martha stewart magazine to let her indulge her fantasy of domestic sensuality.
“This grisly mix of sex and death is sick, symptomatic of Gaga’s alienation from her own body – another example of which is her promise to reveal the title of her next album tattooed on her body next New Year’s Eve.”
These are pseudo psychoanalytics of the Dr. Laura or Dr. Ruth school: guilt ridden cliches that swing the pendulum back and forth, instead of complexifying our understanding. Tatouage is assuredly the great mark of mental illness in our time, if not outright outrage unto the Abrahamic Lord.
וּכְתֹבֶת קַעֲקַע, לֹא תִתְּנוּ בָּכֶם
(well, it’s beautiful script to make beautiful writing at any rate)
Lady Gaga is “sick”, as Camille Paglia says, though assuredly not for her admixture of morbid violence and sex (an indulgence to man of both his libido and his thanatos, eros and aggression both permitted, if only on a sony memory card or web page, but what a relief even there). The sickness is in our inability to educate ourselves and go beyond moralising art. We find it satisfying to send soldiers to their deaths for nothing gained and legions of sand niggers dismissed from their desert and this life, while we condemn the degenerate immorality of the singing, dancing, money grubbing peon, or perhaps worse, while we find sufficient amusement therein not to search deeper, elsewhere, in greater art and greater world. That impotence too is projected, as we have extirpated it from our earthless bodies, but only as an attempt at safe invisibility.
It’s opposite is still there, if you want it. In the cold blue steel of an automatic barrel loaded… had you fooled there, didn’t I?! We expect all calls to arms to end in imbecile psychotics of loner violence for the same reason that an art critic like Paglia, who should be devoted to art for art’s sake and its further effects beyond art, at all costs, finds the neurotic fear and repression to catch a gaga with the term “sick”. We’ve been taught to fear what is not different but merely unpleasant.
It’s opposite still exists. But you have to want it. And you’ll know you’ve found it when you see sex and death mixed in far greater profundity and horror and salvation than gew gew gaga has ever burbled and bubbled or than readers of the Times of London fear.
There are some of the new generation who stick their neck out for real world ideals (or at least are accused of doing so). But you’ll never hear about them from the guilt denying, war mongering right wing:
I don’t think he was too busy losing the feeling of his body on an ipod or twitter. You know what cd label he allegedly used to conceal the contents he was leaking to help us see the useless mess in AfPak? Lady you know who.
Edit: Gaga disturbs and unsettles not by the over presentation of pain and destruction but by her sentimental absence and detachment. Ease with evil is far more troubling than the evil itself. To her wild, psychopathic self mutilations, she is as placidly entertained as we are. It is the actor unmasked in the heat of the action, our own self aware aimlessness toward the 11:30 curtain.
Bradley Manning may likely go to jail for half a century. Even among those of us that find him pristine, there will be few complaints and no action. That’s what gaga allows us to face, not a pokerface of strategy but true indifference.