Dissertation: Acknowledgements

‘You and me could write a bad romance’ : Acknowledgements

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As I sit in bed twelve hours before this project is due to be handed in (wildly sleep deprived and dancing along to ‘Venus’ in celebration of having finally finished) I’m overcome with a sense of gratitude for all the people who have helped me get to this stage. Gratitude and exhaustion, at least.

First of all I’d like to say a big thank you to Dr Jane Goldman, my ever-supportive dissertation supervisor. From the moment I realised I want to do this project on Lady Gaga, I knew there was only one person in the entire university up to the challenge. Despite not being the quintessential Little Monster, Jane has offered advice, encouragement and compelling discussions about the racial implications of Miley Cyrus at every turn.

Further academic thanks go to the university library’s inter-library loan service team, a group that I’ve undoubtedly challenged with the sheer variety and number of requests over the last six months. Two other individuals highly deserving of recognition are Dr Robbie McLaughlan and Joanna Colville, amazing teachers that encouraged me to think outside the box, challenge myself and believe in my ideas. Without them, this dissertation would have been on something far less up-tempo.

The main brunt of my dissertation ideas, stress, panic and frustration has unfortunately been directed at my friends and family, the most amazing bunch of people who have been incredibly supportive throughout it all. First of all, special thanks to my parents for being as involved as possible for two people who initially thought ‘phallocentric photology’ had something to do with ‘light up pictures of willies’. Secondly to Lilith and Rachel, two of the most confident, intelligent and wonderful people in the world who gave me faith in the possibility of pop music to empower people. (They’re very good at dancing too.) A giant thanks for everyone who took the time to look over massive chunks of this and play hunt-for-typos, you guys (John, Martin, Martin, Alex, Christina and especially David) were such a big help. Lastly, all the appreciation I could ever give to Adam for he deserves it. The monkey boy that fell head first into the world of French feminist theory when he met me, no one makes me happier or motivates me to push on like you. I promise the next project will be about something you’re an expert on! (Provided you’re willing to watch Sailor Moon.)

And a thank you to Stefani Germanotta, may you forever dance in the dark.

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Dissertation Conclusion: Chapter 7

‘Up heaven’s stairway to gold /
Mine myself like coal’: Conclusion

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Gaga’s creative intension with ARTPOP was to ‘bring the music industry into a new age; an age where art drives pop and the artist once again is in control of the “icon”.’ (Gaga, 2013e) Through the album’s scope of cultural narratives, from pop icons at the mercy of media discourses to anti-phallogocentric anthems and sexualised space adventures, Gaga not only considers the cultural forces affecting the ‘blonde pop icon’ but lays out a path to cultural emancipation for her and, by connection, all women.

This path to empowerment also further develops Gaga’s explorations of the constraining cultural effects of phallocentric photology and the empowering, radical nature of darkness found throughout her work. Building upon the use of light as a cultural force by patriarchal media to construct ideologically centric media personae, Gaga’s conceptualisation of light as a cultural power that constrains female agency intimately relates phallocentric photology to the objectifying abilities of the male gaze. Whether she is a ‘blonde pop icon’ trapped within the sights of the paparazzi lens or a pop star on stage unable to identify with her personal self due to the cultural complexities of her media ‘aura’, Gaga portrays photological dominance as culturally pernicious to both women and their cultural emancipation.

Thus, the only cultural space available to the ‘blonde pop icon’ in search of her emancipation is the dark. In the darkness, the cultural female body cannot be constrained or objectified because it can no longer be conceived; she is inside herself. Gaga’s music draws upon the imagery of the night, of outer space or the dance floor but these metaphors primarily serve as cultural projections for the empowering darkness that exists within the female self. The very darkness that women have ‘internalized’ (Cixous, 2010; 1944) now signifies their liberation from phallocentric photology as Gaga’s protagonists realise the radical feminine potential within them. Free from the male gaze that is unable to penetrate a cultural rebellion that emanates from within, the ‘blonde pop icon’ is free to challenge and overthrow the phallogocentric rules of society that have constrained her, even the ‘founding metaphor of Western philosophy’ (Goldman, 1998; 14) that ensures the oppositional nature of light and dark. While this ability can be utilised to erase key cultural differences such as race, as Gaga has attempted in the guise of cultural empowerment for minority identities, female emancipation from phallocentric discourses must primarily come from within each individual. Only the ‘blonde pop icon’ can emancipate herself.

Crucially, ARTPOP’s intention as a liberating cultural text for the ‘blonde pop icon’ does not aim to withdraw her from culture but instead empower her to control her own agency within the scope of phallocentric media discourses. Just as any deconstructive analysis of a cultural structure will reveal its intrinsic rules as artificially constructed, the only choice left to the critic is to continue ‘using the system’ while recognising it as ‘unstable’. (Klages, 2006; 60-61) Similarly Gaga’s awareness of the culturally constructed nature of the ‘blonde pop icon’ does not lead her to a rejection of the identity – instead she has been famously quoted as arguing “Gaga is a lie” (Paglia quoting Gaga, 2010) – but instead to a subversive course of action that aims to restore the cultural autonomy of the icon.

Gaga’s empowerment of the ‘blonde pop icon’ as a cultural identity typically manipulated by light is outlined in ‘Artpop’ as Gaga sings, ‘The colour palette you choose could profit you’. (2013d; 1.51-1.59) Although light has been utilised by phallocentric media discourses to construct and manipulate the ‘blonde pop icon’ to function as a patriarchal ideologue, Gaga argues that to liberate herself she must be willing to once again step into the light. No longer restricted by a logocentrist perception of the world, the ‘blonde pop icon’ must now claim light as her own, just as she done with her own darkness, in order to liberate herself from the control of phallocentric photology. Whilst light has ‘traditionally [been] the province of the masculine, never the feminine’, (Goldman, 1998; 15) the ‘blonde pop icon’s newly-realised cultural potential empowers her to challenge the male-ownership of light, radically transforming it through cultural hybridisation into a uniquely feminine ‘perverse hue’. (2013d; 1.39-.143) Anti-phallogocentrism contests the cultural dualities inscribed by patriarchal discourses as the ‘blonde pop icon’ realises she need neither be simply light nor simply darkness; she is inherently both.

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Bibliography

Gaga, Lady (2013d) ‘Artpop’, Track 8 from the album ARTPOP. Written by Stefani Germanotta, Paul Blair, Dino Zisis and Nick Monson. Produced by Stefani Germanotta and Paul Blair, co-produced by Dino Zisis and Nick Monson. (California: Interscope Records.)

Gaga, Lady (2013e) ARTPOP press release statement. Originally posted to facebook.com/ladygaga, 12.07.13. URL: on.fb.me/134jaa5. (Accessed on 13.07.13)

Gaga, Lady (2013i) ‘Dope’, Track 13 from the album ARTPOP. Written by Stefani Germanotta, Paul Blair, Nick Monson and Dino Zisis. Produced by Rick Rubin and Lady Gaga. (California: Interscope Records.)

Goldman, Jane (1998) The Feminist Aesthetics of Virginia Woolf. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.)

Klages, Mary (2006) Literary Theory: A Guide for the Perplexed. (London & New York: Continuum.)

Paglia, Camille (2010) ‘What’s sex go to do with it?’, originally published in The Sunday Times, 12.09.10. Electronic version cited: thetim.es/13dAvKQ. (Accessed on 04.08.13)

Dissertation: Chapter 6

‘No matter black, white or beige’:
The Negation of Race as Cultural Difference

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While Gaga’s conceptualisation of rebellious darkness as emanating from within the female cultural body may seek to emancipate women of all cultures, her portrayal of cultural ‘blackness’ as a radically empowering concept can also be understood to actively negate the racial and ethnic connotations of ‘black’ cultural identity. This negation of race as a point of cultural difference also features within Gaga’s work through her attempts to convey multi-cultural narratives or to empower listeners who may be culturally disenfranchised by overtly white Western privileged discourses. Although these are ambitious goals, Gaga’s work often fails to convincingly erase race as a point of cultural difference, reducing these efforts to examples of cultural appropriation. [For a review of cultural appropriation in recent pop music, see (Lang, 2013).]

The active negation of race as cultural difference is first outlined by Gaga in her 2011 single, ‘Born This Way’. The song aims to inspire the listener by reassuring them that any form of cultural difference, be it disability, religion, sexuality, ethnicity or race, can be transcended through self-acceptance. Gaga argues in the bridge, ‘You’re black, white, beige, Chola-descent, you’re Lebanese, you’re orient […] Rejoice and love yourself today ‘cause baby, you were born this way’. (Gaga, 2011b; 2.49-3.01) Here Gaga’s attempts to empower racial minorities are realised by reducing ethnic identities to a spectrum of colours that are each stripped of their independent cultural significances. However, Gaga’s efforts to engender equality appear to actively downplay the centrality of cultural traditions or racial tension to the construction of racial identity. In ‘Born This Way’, diversity is obviated in order to promote cultural unity but this social equality only appears possible via the reconceptualisation of minority racial identities as aspiring towards privileged whiteness. Similarly, other examples of exploring or inhabiting racial identities within Gaga’s music also typically return to their emulation or influence on dominant cultural identities.

In the ARTPOP track ‘Gypsy’, Gaga appropriates the Romani identity as she considers her life as a globetrotting performer that makes any country her home ‘just for the day’. (Gaga, 2013j; 4.01-4.03) While she sings ‘I don’t wanna be alone forever / But I love gypsy life’, (2013j; 0.36-0.42) ‘Gypsy’ fails to consider the historical persecution or cultural traditions of the gypsy community and instead merely portrays ‘gypsy life’ as an exciting and culturally transgressive concept. Similarly, the narrator of ‘Black Jesus † Amen Fashion’ is inspired to reconsider her life as she watches an African-American male model on the catwalk. According to Gaga, the song directly links the aesthetics of the individual with cultural empowerment as she argues, ‘it’s all about saying a new way of thinking is as easy as putting on an outfit’. (Serpe quoting Gaga, 2011) Just as the ‘blonde pop icon’ can be liberated from traditional media discourses by connecting with the ‘blackness’ that resides within them, the inspiration of ‘Black Jesus’s narrator by the black model can be read as a cultural appropriation of his ‘transgressive’ visual identity.

The narrator’s ‘trying on’ of the black model’s cultural identity as if it were a garment simultaneously erases the model’s personal connection to his ethnicity and reinforces the portrayal of darkness within Gaga’s work as an unsignified cultural concept with no connected heritage or identity. While ‘blackness’ may have previously held racial connotations for the narrator, her cultural epiphany and subsequent reconsideration of the world around leads her to reject these notions as she explains ‘Old symbolism was left behind’. (Gaga, 2011a; 1.43-1.48) Although Gaga’s protagonist may be able to ‘leave behind’ the cultural legacy of African identity, the silent figure of the black model is not given the opportunity to disagree.

This portrayal of alternative ethnic identities as both socially derivative and culturally accessible to white Western discourses comes to the forefront in ARTPOP track ‘Aura’. Immediate criticism following the song’s release accused Gaga of attempting to sexualise the cultural persona of the burqa-wearing woman, the arguments for which are concisely summarised by Mariam Elba. (2013) However, I believe that Gaga in fact employs the metaphor of the burqa to explore her own experiences as a ‘blonde pop icon’, the eponymous ‘aura’ representing the media-constructed identity imposed upon her. While ‘Aura’ may incidentally comment on the cultural difficulties faced by Muslim women, the central focus of the song is clearly Gaga’s own life. Although the song’s opening line, ‘I’m not a wandering slave, I am a woman of choice’, (Gaga, 2013f; 1.11-1.17) can be read as a powerful feminist statement on the cultural perceptions of the burqa, the metaphor destabilises in the chorus as Gaga communicates directly with the phallocentric discourses that seek to control her as she sings, ‘Do you wanna see me naked, lover? / Do you wanna peek underneath the cover?’ (2013f; 1.41-1.50)

Just as media discourses have attempted to utilise Gaga to express their cultural ideologies so too Gaga appropriates the burqa wearing woman identity to express her own narratives. Once again this suggests that the cultural emancipation of the ‘blonde pop icon’ from media discourses is made possible by her ability to utilise them for her own agenda, suggesting that each and every woman must orchestrate her own emancipation from cultural manipulation. Gaga directly addresses her cultural appropriation of the burqa within ‘Aura’ as she explains, ‘Enigma pop star is fun, she wear burqa for fashion / It’s not a statement as much as just a move of passion’. (2013f; 2.18-2.32) Here Gaga attempts to depoliticise her appropriation of the burqa as a transgressive symbol. By arguing that the entire effect lacks a conscious meaning, a ‘move of passion’ without an underlying political agenda, Gaga exemplifies her ability to appropriate any symbolic form of cultural transgression (whether it be darkness, sexuality, ethnicity or even the ‘blonde pop icons’ before her) in order to articulate the nature of her daring lifestyle that rejects any form of social regulation.

In the search for feminist emancipation Gaga’s music implies that any form of cultural darkness can serve as a viable source of radical potential, whether it may be the darkness of the night, the personal self or even the cultural isolation conferred by the burqa. Within Gaga’s work the associated ethnic identities related to the cultural symbols such as the burqa or ‘black’ culture become lost amidst the opportunities for cultural rebellion, their appropriation depicted not as a conscious process but as a by-product of the empowerment of the self. While racial identity is negated as a point of cultural difference, primarily because it is reduced to a raw material that can liberate the privileged ‘blonde pop icon’, Gaga’s music does position racial minorities in empowered or influential roles. However, little consideration is neither given to how these minorities may achieve their own cultural emancipation nor how their specific relationships with cultural darkness may affect it.

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Bibliography

Beusman, Callie (2013) ‘Lady Gaga Has a Burqa Problem’, published on Jezebel, 07.08.13. Electronic version cited: bit.ly/19O3BrA. (Accessed on 20.11.13)

Elba, Mariam (2013) ‘Lady Gaga’s “Burqa” is Supposed to Empower Muslim Women but Does the Opposite’, published on PolicyMic, 08.08.13. Electronic version cited: bit.ly/1bfBAr2. (Accessed on 20.11.13)

Gaga, Lady (2011a) ‘Black Jesus † Amen Fashion’, Track 9 from the special edition of the album Born This Way. Written and produced by Stefani Germanotta and Paul Blair. (California: Interscope Records.)

Gaga, Lady (2011b) ‘Born This Way’, Track 2 from the album Born This Way. Written by Stefani Germanotta and Jeppe Laursen. Produced by Stefani Germanotta, Jeppe Laursen, Fernando Garibay and Paul Blair. (California: Interscope Records.)

Gaga, Lady (2013f) ‘Aura’, Track 1 from the album ARTPOP. Written by Stefani Germanotta, Anton Zaslavski, Amit Duvdevani and Erez Eisen. Produced by Anton Zaslavski, Stefani Germanotta and Infected Mushroom. (California: Interscope Records.)

Gaga, Lady (2013j) ‘Gypsy’, Track 14 from the album ARTPOP. Written by Stefani Germanotta, Nadir Khayat, Hugo Leclercq and Paul Blair. Produced by Hugo Leclercq and Stefani Germanotta. (California: Interscope Records.)

Lang, Nico (2013) ‘Cultural Appropriation is a Bigger Problem Than Miley Cyrus’, published on Thought Catalog, 26.08.13. Electronic version cited: bit.ly/18ogwzp. (Accessed on 20.11.13)

Mahdawi, Arwa (2013) ‘Rihanna, Lady Gaga and what’s really behind burqa swag’, published on The Guardian, 24.10.13. Electronic version cited: bit.ly/1dlflUq. (Accessed on 20.11.13)

Serpe, Gina (2011) ‘Lady Gaga Uncut: “I’m really delusional about my success”’, published on E! Online on 07.05.11. Electronic version cited: eonli.ne/17IYhke. (Accessed on 19.11.13)

Dissertation: Chapter 5

‘My ARTPOP could mean anything’ :
Anti-Phallogocentrism and Radical Feminine Potential

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Cixous’ conceptualisation of écriture féminine as a culturally revolutionary force for women aims to directly challenge the phallogocentric dominance of patriarchal culture; to contest ‘the discourse of man, a signifier that has always referred back to the opposite signifier which annihilates its specific energy and diminishes or stifles its very different sounds’. (2010; 1953) Echoing this sentiment, Gaga’s utilisation of the metaphor of rebellious darkness aims to fulfil this creative legacy by not only depicting female characters as empowered by their freedom from the male gaze but also by exploring narratives that actively critique the oppositional nature of phallogocentric society by developing ‘alternative forms of relation, perception and expression’ (Sellers, 1994; xxix) for women in society.

For example, within ‘Dance in the Dark’ the song’s protagonist is portrayed as a monstrous individual during the second verse as Gaga sings, ‘Run, run, her kiss is a vampire grin / Moon lights her way while she’s howling at him’. (2009c; 2.04-2.20) The protagonist’s cultural emancipation from the control of the male gaze takes on an even more transgressive quality through the physical transformation of the female body, distorting the cultural site of male domination and literally rendering it monstrous. Gaga’s anarchic liberation of the protagonist via the construction of a she-wolf persona (Woolston, 2012; 117) also relates to the symbolic role of the cultural monster in both Cixous’ (2010; 1943) and Donna Haraway’s conceptualisations of radical female potential. As Haraway argued ‘Monsters have always defined the limits of community in Western imagination’ (1998; 461) and so the identification of ‘Baby’ as a shifting, monstrous figure positions her as a manifestation of the very ‘Darkness and chaos’ (Goldman, 1998; 64) that silently resides within both women and our cultural psychology. The protagonist’s hybridity as both a woman and a monster, mirroring her double identity as both a victim of patriarchy and a feminist trailblazer, challenges the male-dominated, binary cultural oppositions of phallogocentric society.

Gaga’s work also challenges phallogocentric social order further by explicitly engaging with the role and effects of cultural dualisms and their prioritisation of light over darkness, male over female and ‘logic and rationality over madness’. (Klages, 2006; 98) In ‘Government Hooker’ Gaga echoes the iconic narrative of Marilyn Monroe’s entanglement with masculine power – ‘put your hands on me / John F. Kennedy’ (Gaga, 2011c; 2:46-2:53) – in order to consider the role of cultural dualisms that aim to perpetuate patriarchal society in phallogocentric terms. The song’s verses are based on an ‘I can be X, unless you want to be Y’ structure, actively destabilising the ‘hooker’ narrator’s identity in order to accommodate and support the aims of patriarchy. [Examples of these include ‘I can be good if you just wanna be bad’ (2011c; 0.48-0.52) and ‘I could be sex unless you want to hold hands’. (2011c; 1.59-2.04) Gaga further highlights the dualistic nature of these scenarios by alternating between high and low vocal registers.] ‘Government Hooker’s favouring of a logocentrist world view via its depiction of only two possible options (with the choice between them dictated by male agency) implies that women in society will only be able to regain their cultural autonomy by rejecting the very notion of cultural dualisms, rather than adhering to them. Similarly the song’s portrayal of female subjugation and sexual availability as mutually available to phallogocentric discourses – ‘I can be anything, I’ll be your everything’ (2011c; 0.57-1.00) – suggests that female compliance with cultural power structures is somehow akin to prostitution, signalling the song’s title.

The cultural lesson for women within ‘Government Hooker’ is unmistakably that of anti-phallogocentrism. Reflecting on the cultural constraint of the song’s protagonist, the rejection of male-centric power and metaphysical dualisms is identified as the only potential path to radical empowerment. Through this, Gaga conceptualises a philosophy similar to that of écriture féminine, encouraging the listener to seek empowerment outwith the phallogocentric system of signification. Cixous’ calls for the creation of an ‘impregnable language that will wreck partitions, classes, and rhetorics, regulations and codes’, (2010; 1952) that ‘does not contain’ but ‘makes possible’, (2010; 1955) can be read as concurrent to this cultural strategy. Gaga and Cixous’ mutual desire for the development of a revolutionary female discourse can be understood as a mission statement for anti-phallogocentrism that reaches its logical conclusion in ‘Artpop’.

Representing the ultimate cultural hybridisation of [high] art and ‘pop’ [culture], ‘Artpop’ characterises the coalescence of Gaga’s cultural identities as ‘both a media product and a media manipulator’. (Halberstam, 2012; xiii) In the song’s opening verse the narrator (implied to be Gaga’s personal self) can be read as actively communicating with Gaga’s iconic self, a manifestation of the ‘blonde pop icon’ identity that also represents the many previous cultural inhabitations of the persona, as she beckons her:

Come to me, in all your glamour and cruelty
Just do that thing that you do and I’ll undress you
Keep it tight, sometimes the simplest move is right
The melody that you choose can rescue you

(Gaga, 2013d; 0.15-0.48)

Gaga, empowered with the radical potential of écriture féminine to ‘un-think’ the ‘unifying, regulating history that homogenizes and channels forces’ (Cixous, 2010; 1949) embraces the ‘blonde pop icon’ and attempts to help her cast off the patriarchally-imposed identity that has consumed her. Accepting her ‘glamour and cruelty’ as phallocentric constructs, ‘Artpop’s narrator encourages the ‘blonde pop icon’ to rediscover her own autonomy as her culturally imposed façade is deconstructed by the power of anti-phallogocentrism. Just as Gaga encouraged the ‘blonde pop icon’ in ‘Dance in the Dark’ to ‘find your freedom in the music’, (2009c; 3.33-3.35) the empowering nature of the feminine ‘song’ (Cixous, 2010; 1948) is once again portrayed as redemptive as the narrator promises the opportunity of ‘rescue’ and cultural liberation through self-realisation.

‘Artpop’ then directly considers the radical potential made available by the femininst rejection of logocentrism as Gaga sings, ‘A hybrid can withstand these things […] My artpop could mean anything’. (2013d; 0.48-1.03) While the ‘blonde pop icons’ before Gaga proved unable to withstand the cultural strain of phallocentric light, Gaga’s acceptance of the rebellious nature of cultural darkness positions her as a ‘hybrid’ identity that is able to resist the constraint of patriarchal media discourses. This adoption of a radical hybridised persona actively rejects the social restrictions placed upon cultural female identity as Gaga’s ‘artpop’ simultaneously represents both the cultural potential of feminine writing and the literal act of the ‘blonde pop icon’ embracing anti-phallogocentrism as a redemptive force.

‘Artpop’s narrative focus then shifts again, this time directly addressing patriarchal power structures, as Gaga aims to counteract inevitable attempts by media discourses to appropriate her newfound emancipation. Highlighting their inability to regain control of her cultural identity, Gaga sings:

Brushes with darkness won’t help
You create your destiny of self
But artpop could mean anything, anything
I try to sell myself but I am really laughing
Because I just love the music, not the bling

(2013d; 2.50-3.15)

Here, Gaga actively highlights the differences between phallogocentric and feminist discourses as she echoes Cixous’ theory that feminine creative identity cannot be ‘theorized, enclosed, coded’. (2010; 1949) While Gaga’s newly discovered radical potential derives from her acceptance of the rebellious darkness that emanates from within her, she makes it clear that its radical nature must be fully embraced to empower the individual. Patriarchal discourses built upon the power of phallocentric photology are thus unable to access this source of empowerment, their inherent dependence upon light preventing them from accessing their own ‘inner’ darkness.

Equally the emancipatory nature of darkness cannot be used to construct subsequent cultural identities – no ‘destiny of self’ can be built upon the manipulation of darkness as with light – because ‘artpop’ symbolises ‘the very possibility of change’. (Cixous, 2010; 1946) Gaga’s attempts to play along with patriarchal discourses following her emancipation prove futile, her attempts to continue proving little more than amusing to her. In contrast to the apparently vulnerability of the ‘blonde pop icon’ to phallocentric discourses, as explored in ‘Applause’, ‘Artpop’ renders the icon invulnerable to the cultural influence of patriarchy once she realises her own potential. Her transcendence of phallocentric photology is also reflected in the final line as she realises that her cultural journey as a ‘blonde pop icon’ has never been an obsession with money, fame or media adulation (represented by the reflective ‘bling’ typically associated with excessive wealth and celebrity) but instead an exploration of the self that has lead her to her own radical feminine self-expression.

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Bibliography

Cixous, Hélène (2010) ‘The Laugh of the Medusa’, from The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, Second Edition, edited by Vincent B. Leitch et al., 2010, Pages 1942-1959. Published in the original French in 1975, translated by Keith Cohen and Paul Cohen. (New York & London: W. W. Norton & Co.)

Gaga, Lady (2009-DARK) ‘Dance in the Dark’, Track 5 from the album The Fame Monster. Written by Stefani Germanotta and Fernando Garibay. Produced by Fernando Garibay, co-produced by Stefani Germanotta. (California: Interscope Records.)

Gaga, Lady (2011-HOOK) ‘Government Hooker’, Track 3 from the album Born This Way. Written by Stefani Germanotta, Fernando Garibay and Paul Blair. Produced by Stefani Germanotta, co-produced by Fernando Garibay and Paul Blair. (California: Interscope Records.)

Gaga, Lady (2013-ARTPOP) ‘Artpop’, Track 8 from the album ARTPOP. Written by Stefani Germanotta, Paul Blair, Dino Zisis and Nick Monson. Produced by Stefani Germanotta and Paul Blair, co-produced by Dino Zisis and Nick Monson. (California: Interscope Records.)

Goldman, Jane (1998) The Feminist Aesthetics of Virginia Woolf. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.)

Haraway, Donna J. (1998) ‘A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century’, originally published in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature by Donna J. Haraway, 1991, republished in Sex/Machine: Readings in Culture, Gender, and Technology, edited by Patrick D. Hopkins, 1998, Pages 434-467. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press.)

Klages, Mary (2006) Literary Theory: A Guide for the Perplexed. (London & New York: Continuum.)

Sellers, Susan (1993) ‘Introduction’, from The Hélène Cixous Reader, edited by Susan Sellers, 1994, Pages xxvi-xxxiv. (London: Routledge.)

Woolston, Jennifer M. (2012) ‘Lady Gaga and the Wolf: “Little Red Riding Hood”, The Fame Monster and Female Sexuality’ in The Performance Identities of Lady Gaga, edited by Richard J. Gray II, 2012, Pages 107-121. (Jefferson: McFarland & Company.)

Dissertation: Chapter 4

‘I’m gonna marry the night / I won’t give up on my life’: Rebellious Darkness and Feminist Empowerment

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As evidenced by the preceding chapters, the gendered utilisation of light as a cultural force has been extensively employed by patriarchal power structures to constrain women in society. However, as Jane Goldman notes, ‘The light of the masculine “I” casts the feminine into its earthly shadow’, (1998; 17) forcing women into a similarly restrictive darkness that aims to deny her cultural agency in just as damaging a fashion as light. The cultural imposition of darkness upon women is also explored within Hélène Cixous’ écriture féminine¬-defining essay, ‘The Laugh of the Medusa’, as she argues that ‘phallocentrism’ has kept womankind ‘in the dark about herself’. (2010; 1943) Chronicling the history of imposed feminine darkness, Cixous argues:

as soon as [girls] begin to speak, at the same time as they’re taught their name, they can be taught that their territory is black: because you are Africa, you are black. Your continent is dark. Dark is dangerous. You can’t see anything in the dark, you’re afraid. Don’t move, you might fall. Most of all, don’t go into the forest. And so we have internalized this horror of the dark.

(2010; 1945)

While this imposition of crippling darkness onto the cultural female is shown to be restrictive to female agency, Cixous’ vision for an emancipatory form of self-expression for women transforms patriarchally imposed darkness into an empowering cultural space of radical potential. Positioning creatively empowered women as cultural ‘sowers of disorder’, (2010; 1951) Cixous visualises a ‘world all her own’ for womankind; a ‘unique empire’ (2010; 1943) that gives women the opportunity to literally ‘write her self’ (2010; 1942) anew in a rejection of patriarchal ‘partitions, classes and rhetorics’. (2010; 1952) Woman is no longer trapped in her isolation by male light or a geographical manifestation of Lacanian ‘Lack’ according to Cixous: ‘Let’s hurry: the continent is not impenetrably dark.’ (2010; 1952, emphasis added)

Cixous’ ambitions for feminist empowerment can be seen to prominently feature in ‘Dance in the Dark’, a daring synthpop track released by Gaga in 2009. The song’s empowerment narrative begins by identifying the challenges faced by women in a society dominated by phallocentric photology, as Gaga sings, ‘She looks good but her boyfriend says she’s a mess […] now the girl is stressed’. (Gaga, 2009c; 1.03-1.12) ‘Dance in the Dark’s third-person protagonist is restricted by phallocentric light and the manipulative male gaze it empowers, her self-worth forcibly limited by patriarchy in order to subjugate her. However, her self-emancipation can be achieved by realising the radical potential of the darkness she has ‘internalized’, as the chorus explains, ‘Baby loves to dance in the dark, ‘cause when he’s looking she falls apart’. (2009c; 1.18-1.26) ‘Dance in the Dark’ positions darkness itself as a redemptive, feminist space for protagonist ‘Baby’, its ability to blind the male gaze and disempower phallocentric discourses allowing the cultural female to ‘dance’ freely as she wishes.

The constraining power of darkness used by phallocentric discourses to restrict women is reconceptualised by Gaga as a liberating ‘unique empire’, the male dependency on cultural photology literally rendering him lost beyond the light. In the dark, the protagonist’s inability to defend her cultural self against the power of patriarchy (mirroring the ‘blonde pop icon’s struggle to retain her cultural agency) no longer matters. This emancipatory potential coalesces with the cultural legacy of the ‘blonde pop icon’ in the song’s bridge, as Gaga declares:

Marilyn, Judy, Sylvia, tell ‘em how you feel girls
Work your blonde [Jon]Benét Ramsey
We’ll haunt like Liberace
Find your freedom in the music
Find your Jesus, find your Kubrick
You will never fall apart, Diana you’re still in our hearts
Never let you fall apart, together we’ll dance in the dark

(2009c; 3.21-3.45)

Within the darkness ‘Baby’ uncovers a legacy of tragic female figures from mainstream culture, the rebellious nature of her environment representing a safe space for the ‘blonde pop icon’ to reside. ‘Dance in the Dark’s canonisation of icons such as Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana inverts their manipulation by phallocentric light, enshrouding them in a rebellious feminist darkness in which they are beyond patriarchal appropriation, and aligns their personal struggles with the challenges faced by women everywhere. By encouraging these women to ‘tell ‘em how you feel girls’, ‘Dance in the Dark’ reconceptualises radical darkness as a space of true female expression where these culturally-constrained women are finally given a voice of their own. The references to these women, as well as JonBenét Ramsey and Liberace, intend to represent the dangers of the spotlight of fame, a theme notably obsessed over by Gaga, (Robinson, 2010; 330) as the protagonist attempts to resurrect these wronged individuals and restore their creative potential within the feminist space of the dark.

Drawing on cultural notions of the night club as a subversive, feminist space, (Pini, 2001) Gaga’s pronouncement to ‘find your freedom in the music’ also develops Cixous’ concept of the female ‘song’, an ‘element which never stops resonating’ with the female self. (2010; 1948) Gaga’s return to Diana in the closing lines represents the full potential of the rebellious darkness constructed within the narrative, informing the ‘blonde pop icon’ that she will be nurtured within the darkness, the damage done to her by patriarchy will be healed (‘Never let you fall apart’) and that the anarchic sisterhood of iconic figures assembled will always stand beside her (‘together, we’ll dance in the dark’) in unity, inviting the listener to join their ranks as a fellow member of the anarchic feminist rebellion against phallocentric photology.

Gaga Applause Dance

Following ‘Dance in the Dark’, Gaga’s subsequent work continued to develop the concept of rebellious darkness as a feminist method of empowerment, mapping cultural ‘darkness’ onto more abstract environments as well as developing romantic and sexual entanglements with it. A clear visual example of this is featured in the music video for ‘Applause’, in which Gaga performs a dance routine against a dark background whilst wearing a black leather bra designed to resemble a pair of hands grasping her breasts. (Gaga, 2013b; 1:26-2:30, above) The visual effect of two hands reaching out from the darkness, wrapping around Gaga, not only the reaffirms the ability of rebellious darkness to negate the male gaze’s objectifying power but also suggests the sexual potential of darkness in relation to the female self. Together, radical darkness and cultural female identity can join forces, as it were, to further empower women, both culturally and sexually and further oppose patriarchy’s attempts to limit female cultural agency.

The union of the female self and radical darkness is also the central focus of ‘Marry the Night’, the opening track from the 2011 album, Born This Way. Singing over electronic church bells, Gaga sings, ‘I’m gonna marry the night / I won’t give up on my life / I’m a warrior queen, live passionately tonight’. (Gaga, 2011e; 0.00-0.15) The song’s narrator discovers a renewed sense of identity through her union with Otherness, her marriage to rebellious darkness not only restoring faith in her life but also empowering her with a ‘warrior’ persona. This rebel self is not only determined to defend her right to control her own feminine destiny, ‘I’m a soldier to my own emptiness, I’m a winner’, (2011e; 0.22-0.30) but identifies herself with rebellious punk subcultures, ‘I’m gonna lace up my boots / Throw on my leather and cruise’, (2011e; 1.12-1.21) doubling her relationship with ‘blackness’ as a cultural signifier.

Sexuality also comes to the fore as the narrator pronounces, ‘I’m gonna marry the dark / Gonna make love to this stark’. (2011e; 0.15-0.23) Not only do we see the radical nature of feminist darkness return once again but also its arousing quality in relation to female sexuality. The protagonist of ‘Marry the Night’ becomes sexually empowered by her access to rebellious cultural spaces and, crucially, embraces her libido within these typically ‘dark’ environments in a feminist conceptualisation of female desire, ‘Won’t poke holes in the seat with my heels / ‘Cause that’s where we make love’. (2011e; 2.36-2.43) The ‘stark’-ness of these cultural spaces is also crucial. Unlike the phallocentric depictions of female sexuality disseminated by media discourses, it is not the proliferation of visual stimuli or physicality that arouses the narrator. Instead, the radically unsignified nature of the ‘stark’ night is not only what makes them accessible for female sexuality but also precisely what makes sexual endeavours within them so arousing.

Gaga further develops the sexualised nature of the dark and other radical cultural spaces in several of the songs featured on ARTPOP. Bringing together elements of science fiction, astronomy and classical mythology, ‘Venus’ also embraces the cultural uncertainty of space and repurposes it as a metaphor for the feminist empowerment offered by darkness’ revolutionary potential. Channelling Venus, the ‘goddess of love’, the song’s narrator aims to explore the sexual potential of her ‘cosmic libido’ (Cixous, 2010; 1955) by propositioning her lover to join her in transcending established forms of sexual identity: ‘Let’s blast off to a new dimension (in your bedroom)’. (Gaga, 2013m; 0.23-0.29)

Following their intergalactic encounter, ‘Venus’s narrator once again utilises interstellar terminology to identify the revolutionary nature of her experience, proclaiming, ‘When you touch me I die / Just a little inside / […] ‘Cause you’re out of this world, galaxy, space and time’. (2013m; 1.11-1.23) The narrator’s transcendence of the established limitations of reality can be understood to represent the liberating potential of cultural darkness, her exploration of the unknown nature of space representing her cultural empowerment through its social transgression. Although the narrator’s male lover is positioned as the stimulus for this reconceptualisation of reality, the song returns to aligning darkness as the domain of the feminine as the protagonist demands, ‘Take me to your planet […] take me to your leader […] take me to your Venus’. (2013m; 0.54-1.10) While men may be fun, only a true goddess is able to rule the galaxy as Venus serves as the pulp fiction idol for a narrator ready to leave her world behind.

Gaga’s conceptualisation of the dark as a transgressive space continues on ARTPOP in the narrative of ‘Sexxx Dreams’, an exploration of the sexual fantasies that proliferate in the narrator’s subconscious as she sleeps. The song’s opening lines, ‘Last night / I was thinking about you / and it was kinda dirty’, (Gaga, 2013l; 0.04-0.21) instantly characterises the hours of darkness as a subversive domain for the narrator and suggests that while she may consider these fantasies as inappropriate she still revels in their salacious, forbidden nature. This confessional tone stems from her conscious violation of a woman’s cultural responsibility to remain innocent and pure, even psychologically. Following the chorus’ bold declaration that ‘Last night, damn you were in my sex dreams / Doing really nasty things’ (2013l; 0.54-1.03) the narrator almost seems to plead for forgiveness for her sexual transgression, as Gaga sings:

We could be caught
(I just want this to be perfect)
We’re both convicted criminals of thought
(Because I’m broken)

(Gaga, 2013l, 1.11-1.28)

In ‘Sexxx Dreams’ the female body is disregarded as a necessary component of feminine sexuality as the protagonist becomes corrupted by thought alone. Female sexuality is portrayed as a post-physical experience; the corruption of the narrator’s imposed innocence is signalled not by a bodily shift but a feminist rejection of cultural codes. Thus despite her masturbation to these fantasies, ‘When I lay in bed / I touch myself and think of you’, (Gaga, 2013l; 0.50-0.54) the narrator’s main sexual fulfilment from this theoretical affair, and its disobedient nature, is psychologically rooted. The transgressive nature of these fantasies is protected from patriarchal manipulation by both their manifestation by twilight, a radical cultural space for women in accordance with ‘Marry the Night’, and their perpetuation within the narrator’s dreams as Cixous argues that the unconscious ‘is a place where the repressed manage to survive: women.’ (2010; 1946)

Gaga’s explorations of fantastical or psychologically ‘dark’ spaces make this method of body-rejection possible for the transgressive woman. Jennifer Santos argues ‘In the darkness, her body no longer matters’ as the ‘male gaze loses the power it so clearly holds over her’, (2012; 56) without light the male gaze is unable to constrain the transgressive female identity because she becomes a thought, a sensation that cannot be appropriated because it is inherently absent. Just as Gaga informs media discourses in ‘Do What U Want’ that ‘You can’t have my heart and you won’t use my mind but / Do what you want with my body’, (Gaga, 2013g; 0.58-1.07) the cultural female is encouraged to reject her physical form in her search for cultural liberation. The female body is not only cited as a vulnerable site through which phallocentric discourses can appropriate and manipulate her, as it is in ‘MANiCURE’, (Gaga, 2013k) but as a key part of the cultural dualisms of male/female and light/dark that underpin phallocentric society. This reconceptualisation of female cultural identity as an intangible idea positions the ‘true’ female self as both anarchically unrestricted by patriarchal power structures and revolutionary by its very nature. Beyond her body, the ‘blonde pop icon’ can transcend these dualisms and begin to challenge and disrupt them, positioning her as ‘the antilogos weapon’. (Cixous, 2010; 1947)

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Bibliography

Cixous, Hélène (2010) ‘The Laugh of the Medusa’, from The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, Second Edition, edited by Vincent B. Leitch et al., 2010, Pages 1942-1959. Published in the original French in 1975, translated by Keith Cohen and Paul Cohen. (New York & London: W. W. Norton & Co.)

Gaga, Lady (2009-DARK) ‘Dance in the Dark’, Track 5 from the album The Fame Monster. Written by Stefani Germanotta and Fernando Garibay. Produced by Fernando Garibay, co-produced by Stefani Germanotta. (California: Interscope Records.)

Gaga, Lady (2011-MARRY) ‘Marry the Night’, Track 1 from the album Born This Way. Written and produced by Stefani Germanotta and Fernando Garibay. (California: Interscope Records.)

Gaga, Lady (2013-APPVID) Music video for the single, ‘Applause’. Directed by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin. Electronic version cited: youtu.be/pco91kroVgQ. (Accessed on 09.10.13)

Gaga, Lady (2013-DWUW) ‘Do What U Want’, Track 7 from the album ARTPOP, featuring R. Kelly. Written by Stefani Germanotta, Paul Blair, Martin Bresso, William Grigahcine and Robert Sylvester Kelly. Produced by Stefani Germanotta and Paul Blair. (California: Interscope Records.)

Gaga, Lady (2013) ‘MANiCURE’, Track 6 from the album ARTPOP. Written by Stefani Germanotta, Paul Blair, Dino Zisis and Nick Monson. Produced by Stefani Germanotta and Paul Blair, co-produced by Dino Zisis and Nick Monson. (California: Interscope Records.)

Gaga, Lady (2013-SEX) ‘Sexxx Dreams’, Track 4 from the album ARTPOP. Written and produced by Stefani Germanotta and Anton Zaslavski. (California: Interscope Records.)

Gaga, Lady (2013-VENUS) ‘Venus’, Track 2 from the album ARTPOP. Written by Stefani Germanotta, Paul Blair, Hugo Leclercq, Dino Zisis, Nick Monson and Sun Ra. Produced by Stefani Germanotta and co-produced by Hugo Leclercq. (California: Interscope Records.)

Goldman, Jane (1998) The Feminist Aesthetics of Virginia Woolf. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.)

Pini, Maria (2001) Club Cultures and Female Subjectivity: The Move from Home to House. (Basingstoke: Palgrave.)

Robinson, Lisa (2010) ‘Lady Gaga’s Cultural Revolution’ in Vanity Fair, Issue 601, September 2010, Pages 280-287; 329-331. (New York: Condé Nast.)

Santos, Jennifer M. (2012) ‘Body Language and “Bad Romance”: The Visual Rhetoric of the Artist’ in The Performance Identities of Lady Gaga, edited by Richard J. Gray II, 2012, Pages 52-73. (Jefferson: McFarland & Company.)

Dissertation: Chapter 3

‘Bleach out all the dark / I’ll swallow each peroxide shot’: Phallocentric Photology and the Constrained Cultural Female

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The cultural construction and manipulation of the ‘blonde pop icon’ as explored within the previous chapter focusses upon photology as a patriarchal force for ideological dissemination. Similarly, Lady Gaga’s explorations of pop stars, cultural icons and famous women in society also extensively utilise light-centric imagery as key cultural methods to constrain female characters. From their cultural value as sexualised objects to their utilisation as ideologues for patriarchal power structures, Gaga portrays light as a pervasive force in the pernicious narratives of the constrained cultural female.

Gaga Bad Romance 1

The depiction of patriarchal photology as a cultural method of constraining female agency can be read as a central aspect in the music video for the 2009 single ‘Bad Romance’. Featuring a narrative in which Gaga is drugged and kidnapped by ‘supermodels’ (Vena quoting Gaga, 2009) and sold to a group of gangsters, the video utilises brightly lit scenes to portray points in the narrative when Gaga is restricted by the actions of others. Key examples of this include scenes featuring Gaga surrounded by men staring at her and she poses in the center of the room in her underwear, surrounded by floating diamonds catching the light, (Gaga, 2009b; 3.03-3.18, above) and others depicting Gaga in statuesque positions wearing an elaborate aluminium costume with surrounding reflective metallic halo. (2009b; 3.20-3.40, below) These scenes not only portray light as phallocentric (and an empowering force for the male gaze) but also indicate that light is a restrictive, constraining force against women in society.

Gaga Bad Romance 2

The only opportunity for Gaga in to regain her personal autonomy within ‘Bad Romance’ is during the video’s climax when her new ‘owner’ invites her to join him in bed and she spontaneously catches fire. (2009b; 4.15-4.32) In these scenes, Gaga’s reappropriation of light is directly linked to her sexuality, her transformation into light precipitated by sexual contact. In the final moments of the video we see Gaga reclining on the incinerated bed next to her lover’s skeleton, nonchalantly smoking a cigarette, as the metallic bra she wears over her underwear spontaneously sparks, giving off flashes of light. (2009b; 4.57-5.08, below) The prop worn by Gaga suggests that the cultural in society can only harness the cultural power of light for themselves by utilising their sexuality, the sparks emitting from her breasts representing the inherent phallocentric nature of cultural photology.

Gaga Bad Romance 3

The prop was also worn by Gaga in the final song of her 2009-2011 Monster Ball Tour, in which during her performance of ‘Paparazzi’ a literalised ‘Fame Monster’ appears on stage, undresses her with its tentacles and then consumes her. (Gaga, 2011f; 1.30-2.27) Gaga’s resurrection from the jaws of the anglerfish inspired creature, a fish that lures its prey into danger by dazzling them via bioluminescence, is facilitated by the rendering of her sexuality as available to the male gaze as she bursts out its body with the help of firework bra and underwear. In the context of the Monster Ball narrative, light is never truly a feminine concept. Instead, it can only be utilised by the cultural female in her rejection of a cultural pressure (in this came the ‘dangers’ of fame) but this invariably results in her further constraint within another as she literally ‘lights up’ her erogenous zones in order to highlight them specifically for the male gaze. (Gaga, 2011f; 2.44-3.15)

The effects of the cultural female reconceptualising her body to appeal to phallocentric discourses is also explored by Gaga in relation to the ‘blonde pop icon’. In ‘Princess Die’, a song written during the ARTPOP era and extensively performed on tour, Gaga considers the psychological effects of phallocentric photology on the ‘blonde pop icon’ as she sings, ‘Leave the coffin open when I go / Leave my pearls and lipstick on, so everybody knows / Pretty will be the photograph I’ll leave’. (Gaga, 2012; 0.27-0.50) Just as figures such as Diana were actively reduced to ‘two-dimensional’ (Ebert, 2010; xiv) pictorial personas by patriarchal media discourses, the protagonist of ‘Princess Die’ is fixated on the visual legacy she will leave behind. Princess Die’s systemic constraint within phallocentric power discourses has lead her to only consider herself from a patriarchal perspective, her extensive exposure to phallocentric light inhibiting her self-identification. Just as Scott Wilson argues that ‘To the end, Diana’s face was covered by the dazzling images that immortalised her’, (1999; 40) Gaga’s homage protagonist understands that her aesthetic memory will be the only reminder of her life and its effect on culture.

The ‘blonde pop icon’s psychological constraint within media discourses is also explored as Gaga sings, ‘Bleach out all the dark / I’ll swallow each peroxide shot’. (2012; 0.58-1.05) Princess Die’s only method of counteracting the isolating ‘darkness’ that plagues her when she steps out the public eye is to reaffirm her connection to her cultural identity as a ‘blonde pop icon’. Her attempts to internalise her innate blondness reflect not only her self-perpetuating ‘complicitious’ constraint but also the pervasive inescapability of phallocentric photology.

The destructive dependency of this photology features within Gaga’s work as early as her 2008 single, ‘Paparazzi’. While ‘Princess Die’ positions the allure of fame as a life force for the ‘blonde pop icon’, ‘Paparazzi’ conceptualises the relationship between the icon and media discourses as a romantic narrative. As Gaga sings, ‘Got my flash on, it’s true / Need that picture of you / It’s so magical; we’d be so fantastico’ (Gaga, 2008; 0.11-0.23) the song implies a union between the two can be forged through the flash of the camera, the resulting photographic proof the cultural evidence of their love for one another. The ‘magical’ quality of this cultural relationship reinforces the power of light to create, manipulate or affect individuals in this fashion. As the photographer is empowered by phallocentric photology to succeed in their attempts to possess the object of their fascination, the ‘blonde pop icon’ begins to desire the camera’s adoration. The cultural outcome of this mutual obsession is represented by Princess Die’s final desire to leave her coffin open, giving one last glance back to her beloved.

Gaga Applause Cage

The personal consequences of being constrained within with phallocentric discourses are also highlighted with the music video for ‘Applause’, ARTPOP’s first single. In one scene, Gaga is portrayed as locked in a cage wearing ghoulish makeup, a canary yellow wig and an outfit designed to emulate a skeleton. (Gaga, 2013b; 0.17-0.28, above) The outfit not only reprises a hairstyle modelled by Gaga during the ‘Telephone’ music video, (Gaga, 2010; 4.23-8.25) but also has been compared to the 1962 Andy Warhol portrait of Marilyn Monroe, (Zafar, 2013) noted by Woodward as keenly insightful in its depiction of Marilyn’s relationship with fame. (2002; 31) [The exaggerated blondeness of the ‘Telephone’ wig was noted by Elizabeth Switaj to draw attention ‘to the artificiality of the hair’s colour’ due to its ‘cartoon’ like yellowness’, (2012; 41) reflecting the constructed nature of the ‘blonde pop icon’.]

The depiction of Gaga as a trapped, zombie-like figure (yet with impossibly vibrant blonde hair) not only aims to explore issues surrounding the manipulation of the ‘blonde pop icon’ by media discourses but also the perpetuation of her cultural iconicity long after she dies. The comparative youthfulness of Gaga’s hair is obviously contrasted by her ghoulish attire, suggesting that while individuals may die the cultural legacy of the ‘blonde pop icon’ will be eternal. The skeletal outfit worn by Gaga also echoes Ebert’s earlier conceptualisation of Monroe’s ‘electric double’ (2010; 61) as ‘split from the bone core of the real Marilyn’, (2010; 65) suggesting that Gaga’s constrained character is a visualisation of the ‘real’ Monroe’s suffering at the hands of patriarchal media.

Similarly, the lyrics of ‘Applause’ can be read as an exploration of the destabilisation of the pop icon’s personal identity as their sense of self becomes blurred with wider cultural symbolism. From the song’s opening line, ‘I stand here waiting for you to bang the gong’ (Gaga, 2013a; 0.13-0.20) ‘Applause’ implies that the song’s narrator has lost control of her personal agency, her personal autonomy constrained by her need for cultural validation. The song’s key refrain, ‘I live for the applause’, (2013a; 0:40-0:47) directly summarises this cultural restriction by phallocentric discourses as the constrained pop icon cannot live without the audience facilitated by patriarchal power structures, an audience who she in turn must actively impose their phallocentric ideology upon.

These issues culminate in the chorus as the narrator speaks directly to her audience: ‘Give me that thing that I love (I’ll turn the lights out) / Put your hands up, make them touch (Make it real loud)’. (2013a; 0.54-1.03) In the first half of each line, the song’s narrator appears to submit to her cultural restraint by media discourses while attempting to subvert their control in the second. Although she may beg for applause in an attempt to perpetuate her place in the spotlight, the echo-like replies to these requests serve to disconnect the narrator from her cultural dependency for adulation. Both her demands for the audience to ‘Make it real loud’ and her threat to ‘turn the lights out’ aim to deprive the audience of the narrator’s ‘star’ quality as she attempts to escape the media ‘glare’ that traps her within a perpetual spotlight.

The constrained pop icon’s cultural rejection of phallocentric light also features within ARTPOP track ‘Aura’, in which the song’s protagonist attempts to reconnect with personal identity through the power of darkness. Focussing on the cultural ‘glare’ of the media spotlight, ‘Aura’ aims to conceptualise the differences between a female pop star’s public and personal identities through the cultural image of the burqa-wearing woman and the related cultural notions of exposure and privacy. The song’s chorus line, ‘Do you want to see the girl behind the aura?’, (Gaga, 2013f; 1:48-1:54) clearly associates the public and private aspects of the pop icon’s identity with the concepts of light and shade, aligning darkness with the pop star’s ‘true’ self and positioning the burqa as a cultural accessory of rebellion. Gaga’s rejection of the ‘aura’ of fame that constantly shines upon her is reflective of her desire to regain her own cultural agency, rejecting the constructed media identity imposed upon her by media discourses. This search for feminist empowerment sees the pop icon ‘behind the aura’ reject the cultural allure of phallocentric light and instead embrace the cultural uncertainties of the dark.

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Bibliography

Ebert, John David (2010c) ‘Andy Warhol’s Cult of the Dead Celebrity’ in Dead Celebrities, Living Icons: Tragedy and Fame in the Age of the Multimedia Superstar, written by John David Ebert, 2010, Pages 83-94. (Santa Barbara: Praeger.)

Gaga, Lady (2009b) Music video for the single ‘Bad Romance’. Directed by Francis Lawrence. Electronic version cited: bit.ly/8EHtZN. (Accessed 02.12.13)

Gaga, Lady (2010) Music video for the single ‘Telephone’. Directed by Jonas Åkerlund. Electronic version cited: bit.ly/cVvABS. (Accessed on 02.12.13)

Gaga, Lady (2011f) ‘Paparazzi’, performed by Lady Gaga on The Monster Ball Tour, second version, in New York, 21.02.11. Electronic version cited: bit.ly/NGmxgz. (Accessed on 02.12.13)

Gaga, Lady (2013a) ‘Applause’, from the album ARTPOP. Written by Stefani Germanotta and Paul Blair. Produced by Stefani Germanotta, Paul Blair, Dino Zisis, Nick Monson and Martin Bresso. (California: Interscope Records.)

Gaga, Lady (2013b) Music video for the single ‘Applause’. Music video directed by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin. Electronic version cited: youtu.be/pco91kroVgQ. (Accessed on 09.10.13)

Gaga, Lady (2013f) ‘Aura’, Track 1 from the album ARTPOP. Written by Stefani Germanotta, Anton Zaslavski, Amit Duvdevani and Erez Eisen. Produced by Anton Zaslavski, Stefani Germanotta and Infected Mushroom. (California: Interscope Records.)

Switaj, Elizabeth Kate (2012) ‘Lady Gaga’s Bodies: Buying and Selling The Fame Monster’ in The Performance Identities of Lady Gaga, edited by Richard J. Gray II, 2012, Pages 33-51. (Jefferson: McFarland & Company.)

Warner, Marina (1994) From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tales. (London: Chatto & Windus.)

Woodward, Richard B. (2002) ‘Iconmania: Sex, Death, Photography and the Myth of Marilyn Monroe’ in All the Available Light: A Marilyn Monroe Reader, edited by Yona Zeldis McDonough, 2002, Pages 10-34. (New York: Simon & Schuster.)

Zafar, Aylin (2013) ‘Every Cultural Reference You Probably Didn’t Catch In Lady Gaga’s New Video’, published on BuzzFeed, 23.08.13. Electronic version cited: bit.ly/1dAZIXh. (Accessed on 02.12.13)

Dissertation: Chapter 2

‘Got my flash on, it’s true / Need that picture of you’: Foucauldian Constructed Identity and the ‘Blonde Pop Icon’

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The opening line of Gaga’s 2011 single ‘Born This Way’ – ‘My Mama told me when I was young / We are all born superstars’ (Gaga, 2011b; 0.27-0.35) – is not only concerned with the listener’s self-acceptance but, more explicitly, the cultural potential for the personal self. While media discourses may attempt to portray icons are normative individuals who are merely one day ‘discovered’, a cultural narrative reflected in the portrayal of iconicity in ‘Born This Way’, critical analysis reveals the ‘blonde pop icon’ as a culturally constructed figure. It is important that any academic consideration of the pop icon not only rejects these naturalised implications but also aims to analyse the true motivations for the cultural development of iconicity.

Critical considerations of iconicity often utilise photological tropes to conceptualise and reflect the development of the ‘blonde pop icon’ persona. Through the elevation of celebrities into ‘stars’ that are ‘produced by the media industries’, (Dyer, 1987; 4) the creation of fame is portrayed as the artificial conversion of a cultural individual into a being of light, the cultural radiance of the ‘blonde pop icon’ becoming a spectacle in its own right. The transformation of women into ‘blonde pop icons’ is typically dependent on an ‘element of masquerade’, (Mulvey, 1996; 48) their iconic personas designed to signify the very light imposed on them. A key example of this process is the very ‘blondness’ of the ‘blonde pop icon’ as Marina Warner argues the hair colour shares an innate symbolic connection with ‘light’ itself. (1994; 366)

This conversion of the physical individual into an identity defined and differentiated by light is also reflected in John David Ebert’s conceptualisation of Marilyn Monroe’s media persona as an ‘electric’ identity (2010; 58) that was ‘split from the bone core of the real Marilyn by the camera eye’. (2010; 65) Here the light of the camera flash is portrayed as a culturally transformative force as the ‘blonde pop icon’ is physically separated from her body, its rejection completing her formation as a media identity of the television and movie screen. In the age of global media and mega fame the camera is reconceptualised as the defining cultural apparatus, its use of light to construct and confer cultural identities mirroring the ability of the ‘blonde pop icon’ to disseminate cultural standards, ideas and desires through media discourses. Discussing cultural resonance in the ‘medium of electric images’, Ebert argues that it is the camera ‘itself that creates the star’, (2010; 84) positioning the transformation of light into a force of cultural agency as a key ability in the construction of iconicity.

This academic utilisation of photology and the cultural centrality of the image to the development of the ‘blonde pop icon’ can also be recognised in critical considerations of the cultural motivations behind iconicity. Considering the theory of cultural icons functioning as ‘postmodern saints’ (Richards et al., 1999) (Gibbs, 1997) Therese Davis argues that ‘Images of saints are not portraits’ but instead ‘emblematic of particular and easily recognisable’ values. (1997; 93) This suggests that not only is the public communication of the individual’s image crucial to their role as cultural icon but that the personal identity of the icon is secondary to their function as ideologue. Diana Taylor’s argument that Princess Diana’s ‘physical existence’ functioned merely to ‘authenticate’ her iconic visual identity that ‘gave a “universal” face to the disembodied globalism (1999; 200) affirms this theory. [Diana’s signification of mainstream media is reflected in the many cultural monikers imposed upon her by critics, including: ‘the Princess of the MTV generation’, (Kitzinger quoting the Guardian, 1999; 68) the ‘Pop Princess’ (Burchill, 1992; 237) and the ‘Queen of low culture’. (Long, 2013)] The reduction of Diana’s public identity to the visual signification of the mass media also emphasises the post-physical nature of iconicity, summarised by Richard Woodward’s theory that ‘any icon’ is ‘as symbol as she is real’. (2002; 19)

This media-centric simplification of identity is, again, conceptualised by Ebert through the use of light as both a medium and a metaphor for media discourses as he notes that iconic identities disseminated through electronic media are ‘ultimately only two dimensional, for at the speed of light, everything collapses into two-dimensionality’. (2010; xiv) This appropriation of icons by media discourses is portrayed as consistent with their virtual simplification into images also indicates that the ‘blonde pop icon’ plays a crucial role in the semiotic system of cultural signification dictated by the mainstream media. Klaus Rieser’s analysis of iconicity in modern American society, which explicitly anchors its exploration of the icon in ‘visuality’, (2013; 5) claims that ‘In contrast to common images, thus, icons are special markers within the cultural matrix of meaning’. (2013; 3) Rieser argues that ‘to become iconic’ the pop icon’s ‘images have to pass gatekeepers (journalists, editors, academics, etc.)’, (2013; 10) suggesting that the pop icon is consciously constructed by the very media discourses that utilise her to then represent them and their agendas. Adrian Kear and Deborah Steinberg consider this process in Foucauldian terms through their assertion that ‘icons are embedded in the dominant ideological framework of a specific culture’. (1999; 7-8)

The construction and utilisation of the ‘blonde pop icon’ as a signifying concept by media discourses can be understood as inherently similar to the methods identified by Michel Foucault through which social minority identities were defined and repurposed by cultural power structures to impose and perpetuate idealised views of personal identity upon wider society. Just as Princess Diana’s life was ‘rewritten’ to conform to ‘well-established cinematic paradigms’ (Richards, 1999; 59) (Wilson, 1999; 40) in a fashion similar to the institutional construction of the homosexual as a cultural identity with its own explicit ‘personage’, ‘case history’ and ‘childhood’, (Foucault, 1976; 43) the ‘blonde pop icon’ has been manipulated by cultural power structures to represent an opulent and desirable yet destructive way of life. Through the euphoria of giddying fame and sexual mystique, the ‘blonde pop icon’ is portrayed as an enviable cultural persona before her inevitable fall through heartbreak, addiction and loneliness, outlining the social dangers risked by deviating from acceptable gender, sexual and class expectations.

Through the recurring construction, dissemination and destruction of the ‘blonde pop icon’ as a cultural ‘fantasy’, media discourses were able to lure mainstream society into internalising their cultural values as the recurring cultural narratives of the female icon continuously cycled through the popular consciousness. Just as Zoë Sofoulis argues that ‘by consuming [Diana’s] image, people perhaps felt they belonged to a larger world’ (1997; 17) so too millions of cultural consumers bought into the mystique of these iconic figures.

Once cultural power structures had successfully constructed the ‘blonde pop icon’ through the manipulation of light into a manifested ideology, it made certain never to allow her to escape the media spotlight. Both her perpetual signification of the very cultural discourses that constructed her identity and the cultural adoration felt towards her ensured that figures such as Marilyn and Diana would never be forgotten by society or the discourses that sought to manipulate them. Even the untimely deaths of Monroe and Diana have been appropriated by media discourses to perpetuate their cultural narratives. As S. Paige Baty argues, ‘Marilyn’s suicides opened up a narrative space through which her story has been continuously retold’, (1995; 24) the tragic death of the icon perpetually conflicting with the eternal youth conferred upon her by the camera as ‘The death sheds light on the life. The life illuminates the death.’ (1995; 35)

Following Foucauldian logic the ‘blonde pop icon’ can never escape her role as cultural signifier, her function as ideologue forever perpetuated by the inescapable ‘reproductions of her image’. (Hamscha, 2013; 119) While she may attempt to reject the cultural symbolism imposed upon her by media discourses her escape appears unlikely as ‘there is no outside’, (Foucault, 1979; 1496) no cultural space in which she can exist beyond the control of media discourses. Efforts by the ‘blonde pop icon’ to cast-off the cultural notions applied to them also typically result in her relinquishing even more of her self-determination to cultural power structures, fulfilling Foucault’s concept of ‘complicitious’ resistance. (Leitch et al., quoting Foucault, 2010; 1473) Ebert also considers the ‘complicitious’ resistance of the pop icon’s public identity in his analysis of Marilyn Monroe. Considering the ideologically-motivated construction of Monroe’s ‘electric double’, Ebert considers the psychological instability of Marilyn Monroe at the end of her life as a ‘plot hatched’ by her media persona, allowing her persona of light ‘free to live its life basking in the admiration of public’. (2010; 61)

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