Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Lady Gaga: music is not enough

When people who know about pop music ask me my opinion of Lady Gaga, I usually get all snarky and say I haven't listened to it. Or I play dumb [not hard in relation to pop music], and ask if she was a a living and heroinized wallpaper in Andy Warhol's factory, or a groupie of the Velvet Underground, or that woman who used to hand out SCUM literature outside CBGB.

Then I tell them she was the child the Pet Shop Boys never had. [All heads bow as the Pet Shop Boys go by.]

A comrade from India recently asked me [via Face book; I have never been west of Alcatraz or east of Suez] whether Lady Gaga is sending-up the anti-woman sexism at the heart of drag queen culture. My reply was that I doubt it, but that this kind of theorizing is something performance artists usually do post facto, when people realize they [the artist] really aren't progressive and start picketing their performances.

Lady Gaga still has all those reversals and political re-equalizations to look forward to.

A most Lady post-Antebellum

"Reinvention: to become a different person requires profound resources. A dentist from Georgia can no longer Go West and get a reputation as being the lost dauphin of France. "

That note came as a response to a recent piece I posted which mentioned Lady Gaga. Now when I say piece, of course I mean a mean-spirited half-paragraph posted on my Face Book page, where good sense and the laws of reasoned discourse are unknown. [Doc Holiday would find fertile prospects for his extraction work on Face Book, and there are quite a few people using it regularly today who would benefit from the ministrations of a tubercular dentist.] The person who sent me the note is correct.

Lady Gaga's dressing-up and permanent fake masquerade [we always know it is She] epitomizes a whole period of post World War II history in the imperialist centers. Young men and women of all races were repelled by the class reality they swam within: lawful capitalist values in action. No ascending working class resistance against the Washington-Wall Street consensus existed as inspiration within the limited political horizon of these young people. After the last great revolutionary year, 1979, they were offered only accomplished facts to worship: austerity, ego, prisons, racism, and union-busting. Who would not crave and extol the retreat represented by masquerade, an ad hoc community of solidarity with underground rebel status?

None died of heartbreak

With the globalization of capitalism after 1991 came the globalization of the Washington-Wall Street consensus. This was summed up in Margaret Thatcher's dictum, "There is no alternative."

Part of this globalization was, after the all-defining export of capital from imperialist center to semi-colonial second- and third-world periphery, the export of culture. For the last two decades there has indeed been no alternative.

When even permissible alternatives are ruled out of order by the market's logic and the state's armed and legal authority in defending the market's judgment; when there are no alternative poles of attraction in the class war with the fecundity to produce our own cultural and aesthetic basis and coterie, what options are left for creative youth? Those fortunate enough not to sink immediately into destitution, but to find their way into employment by the industrial/cultural complex, must negotiate on their own a terrain shaped over decades by the big guns of necessity, profit, and accommodation.

Here resides the permanent pressure toward novelty. At the same time, however, budgetary entrenchment and the weight of a globalized world market cuts against an avant garde definition of the new. In its place, we receive not the new, but the nouvelle. In popular culture, all the acts become Second Acts; despite what Amy Winehouse's mourners might justifiably feel, there are no more initial tragedies, just a parade of secondary farces.

Such desperately close-to-the-bone calculations take their toll. The masquerades of Lady Gaga are on a DeMillean scale compared to this tendency's initiators: David Bowie, Boy George, Michael Jackson, Madonna, and the Pet Shop Boys. Because of this question of scale, of the bottom-line push to achieve the largest gross initially, a permanent inflationary pressure on the spectacle of masquerade is established for each new artist. Mis en scene, costume, persona are all judged by the razor's pitiless edge. Stakes for the individual artist at each stage are also magnified by the preponderant weight of social media as a metabolic regulator of wagers entertainment corporations place on the continued profitability of a given talent.

Listening for the "melancholy long withdrawing roar"

Lady Gaga and Britney Spears on the stage of the 2011 MTV VMAs

For Marxists long waves are retrospective summations. They are conditioned by more than their own internal necessities. Great superstructural conjunctures of war, revolution, and counter-revolution play pivotal roles in determining both modes and relations of production, and the galaxy of actions and reactions they bring forth.

Eventually the consumer market requires its own "shock and awe" campaigns to drive demand even in periods of profound unemployment and immiseration. Aesthetic shock and awe comes in the form of a Michael Jackson or a Madonna or a Lady Gaga, and must also be summarized retrospectively at each conjuncture of industry skin-shedding.
As individual artists the Michael Jacksons and Madonnas and Lady Gagas eventually succumb to unwholesome traits germinating within the bourgeois ego, and their individual collapses become commodities when the artists are incapable themselves of reproducing the reliable cavalcade. Happily for her fans and probably herself, Lady Gaga has not yet reached this "cash for clunkers" end-of-career moraine. From the beginning she has embraced the profoundly accelerated rate the market demands, however. Perhaps best epitomizing this furious rate of development, she appeared at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards as a stereotypical Italian-American man to introduce a "career tribute" to that old trouper, Brittany Spears.

Ms. Spears in 29 years old.

To this, they tell us, there is no alternative.

1 comment:

  1. You identify correctly some characteristics of the culture and their origins, but I hope your 'alternative' is not a po-faced Ministry of Culture turning off 'non-Marxist' radio and TV stations or closing down shows etc.?