Tuesday, December 8, 2009

LADY GAGA: AFFECT, THE MASSES, AND THE MUTATION OF THE PATHOGEN


Jordan Carter



QUESTION:


Are Lady Gaga’s postmodern hyper consumerist lyrics and videos—waxing pastiche and commodity culture—characteristic of Jameson’s pessimistic terminal stage of capitalism? Is artistic expression dead? Or, is Gaga a conductor of the masses? Does her music pack ration intensities of affect that compel free labor? If Gaga’s music is indeed a milieu of the masses, what sort of potential for social mutation lies within the turbulent flows of her media productions?


THESIS:


Although Lady Gaga thrives on consumer culture, commodification, and the surplus of surface, her art’s ability to manipulate the masses and divvy out free labor and ample affect suggests the possibility of a productive flow, and the potential for social mutation, namely through the valorization of the stigmatized homosexual community.


TEXTS TO BE ANALYZED:

Jameson's "Culture Logic of Late Capitalism"

Terranova's Network Culture

Wald's Contagious





“Lady Gaga the lady is as far-ranging as her music. She’s everywhere and always en route. One night at close to 12:30 she calls from somewhere in Europe -- even she doesn’t know where exactly -- and, after a few minutes, apologizes for having to hang up because her tour bus is about to enter a border crossing. She jets from London to Paris to Tokyo so quickly you think there must be more than one of her. There isn’t. And that’s probably a good thing too, for the world can only handle one Gaga at a time. To behold Lady Gaga is to withstand a sensory onslaught. “My whole life is a performance,” she proclaims, “I have to up the ante every day.”” (Excerpt from 2009 Out Magazine article, “The Lady is a Vamp”)

Indeed, Lady Gaga is a walking simulacra, an unending performance, a décollage of images, fashion, and and unabridged 'fame.' To Gaga, to be famous is not to be prestigious or high-class, but rather, to be 'glamorous.' ""I believe in living a glamorous life and I believe in a glamorous lifestyle,” says Gaga. “What that means is not money or fame or prestige. It’s a sense of vanity and glamour and subculture that is rooted in a sense of self. I am completely 100,000% devoted to a life of glamour."" Gaga's life of 'glamor' is characterized by consumption. In accordance with Jameson's postmodern diagnosis, Gaga is obsessed with the material--not in the Kantian sense of formal representation--but in the "schizophrenic dialect" of postmodernism: signifier forever detached from referent. Referent becomes empty. It becomes p[en to any and every interpretation—allowing commodity and art to be synonymous. Gaga has commodified herself, as well as her artistic production. "The Haus of Gaga ensures there are no loose ends to Gaga, just a lot of her. Every appearance and every utterance is a tightly choreographed performance. "I'm a method actress," she says proudly" ("The Lady is a Vamp").

Gaga is an image, and a pervasive one. She represents the "flatness" characteristic of Jameson's postmodern dilemma. Art has become mechanical reproduction, an onslaught of images of our commodity culture. People chase history by consuming its ever-fleeting images and accumulating reproductions and mass-produced mementos at museum gift shops. As Jameson notes, “we are condemned to seek history by way of our own pop images” (Jameson, 23). Not through “a priori” sources. New media such as TV, Radio, and the Internet facilitate this postmodern disavowal of the historical narrative. With the destruction of the narrative comes “the end…of style, in the sense of the unique and the personal, the end of the distinctive individual brushstroke (as symbolized by the emergent primacy of mechanical reproduction)” (Jameson, 15).

But perhaps there is more potential within this “mechanical reproduction” than Jameson cedes. Postmodern artists such as Warhol may mimic automated cameras, relying on the objective, on our collective “pop history” to present the spectator with an image of an image. They may crudely entertain laymen museum patrons with their sensational artwork, allowing them to feel the instant gratification of relating to a piece of art—however superficial that connection may be. Nonetheless, Warhol’s prints are fine art. They are overwhelmingly sensational, and yet, have the potential to incite cognition. Perhaps its because works like Warhol’s Diamond Dust Shoes, Duchamp’s Bottle Rack, and Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi" posit the spectator in a curious, yet familiar, setting. The viewer confronts stereoscopic images of reified culture. He recognizes aesthetic nuances of everyday commodities that he would have overlooked outside the boundaries of museum or online media galleries.

The pervasive shadows of materialism and pop culture “radical[ly] eclipse…Nature” (Jameson, 34). Culture subsumes nature. The two become one, as postmodernism flattens social reality: surface prevails, and various fragmented images of cultures circulate through the Internet and other forms of new media. Consumers are so obsessed and intertwined with the material—and the commodities they consume—that the two become inextricable. Consumer. Culture. Consumer culture. Nature.

Gaga is a freak of nature. She feeds on the masses by harnessing the intensities of pastiche and commercialism. She breaks from the limiting postmodern dialect of Jameson by inciting the affect and 'free labor' characteristic of Terranova's discourse in Network Culture. Indeed, there appears to be a mass “fascination” with Lady Gage—varying from love to hate—everyone feels some intensity towards the media object. People log onto youtube and give their free labor willingly, uploading her videos, commenting on her videos; altering, remixing, or imitating her cultural productions in a ‘performative’ manner that continuously alters her pop narrative by bridging the micro with the macro and contributing to the flow of her sporadic and turbulent image. In this manner, Gaga’s art carries a potential for mutation. "Lady Gaga is more like a collection of quotes than a singular performer,” Los Angeles Times music critic Ann Powers recently wrote. "She’s a human mash-up, a sample bank, recycled and reused.” Gaga boasts: “You’re only as great as your best references,” as her mini-movie video “Paparazzi” conveys, as she satirizes film noir, robots, and sheer opulence. She represents the turbulent flow of collaboration discussed by Terranova, and the connection between micro and macro facilitated by the "affect of the masses."

Gaga represents everyone and noone, everything and nothing. Her image is one of overexposure and hyper-inclusion--reality, or true 'representation' has been sacrificed. Although Gaga prides herself on her eclectic wardrobe, she has been spotted donning costumes made of glass and disco ball shards on numerous occasions. Wearing one such dress on stage at the Glastonbury Festival in England in June, the angular mirrored dress refracted the fervent faces of her fans, happily bouncing up and down. Each one sees in Gaga a reflection of him or herself, picking from her array of looks and melodies and messages those that appeal to them. Gay, straight, misfit, mall rat, teen, tween, or twink, look at Gaga and you’ll see yourself" ("The Lady is a Vamp").

Shot From Gaga's Out Magazine Photoshoot:


The potential within Gaga's network-reliant mass productions are most visible through their valorization of the gay community; through their valorization of the stigmatic, of the abnormal, of the diseased. No longer is the healthy population formed in resistance to the diseased or disease prone, as outlined in Contagious. In the case of Gaga, the abnormal, the anti-mainstream has become essential to the mainstream. Challenging Wald's negative dialectic of contagion, Gaga's music and the digital media that gardens it function as a positive enzyme, fueled by affect--catalyzing the formation of the masses.

"A life of glamour is an ethos to which every gay -- from the 17-year-old Dominican tranny voguing in his bedroom to the tanorexic middle-aged Miami circuit queen -- can relate. It’s one reason we (the gay community) love Gaga. Another, of course, is that Gaga loves us back. Gayness is in Gaga’s DNA...She did Ellen before Leno, performed in gay clubs before straight ones, and plugs the gays constantly in interviews, even those with straight publications" ("The Lady is a Vamp," Out Magazine).