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Why Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” is a long advertisement for violence against women.

April 9, 2010

I am aware Lady Gaga is batshit insane. I know that she is purposefully controversial. But unlike those before her who tried to shake the status quo (Madonna and Marilyn Manson come to mind), Lady Gaga comes off looking like a corporate stooge for industries who are giving her appealing demographic exactly what they want. Her video, “Telephone,” a supposed homage to Quentin Tarantino films, miraculously manages to ruin my mood every time I see it for its grotesque amount of advertising and female objectification. It is one long commercial that denounces women and convinces me there is no hope for pop culture. The following entry is everything I find horribly wrong with “Telephone,” an inspired reaction brought about by bjulman.

From a feminist perspective, “Telephone” makes me want to vomit, so I’ll go ahead and describe the events of the video from my perspective. In the first scene, Gaga strolls through her new domain and passes by women staring into the audience with lustful eyes and doing naughty things to their jail bars, because that’s the only barrier stopping them from having their wild, passionate way with you, the easily fooled audience member. Then, the similarly exposed female prison guards shove Gaga into the jail cell, and rape-style rip her clothes off of her while she fights them, then immediately gets up to expose her entirely naked body to the camera minus her head being in the shot. In the next scene, Gaga is in chains. A girl kisses her, then the set changes and two women are fighting. She gets a call from Beyonce, there’s a dance scene with split-second crotch- and boob-shots, and the video changes direction. Beyonce makes Gaga sexually eat a phallic-shaped sandwich. Despite the ensuing plot being boring and stupid, both Gaga and Beyonce appear to have makeup that implies they are dolls. Gaga is seen in the kitchen with a see-through apron and fully-clothed men dance around her. She poisons a bunch of people and they die and so does a dog for no apparent reason. There’s another dance scene and some bad acting takes place and then something miraculous happens: the video ends, and none of us ever have to watch it again.

So, let’s analyze. I’ll start by presenting some theories to you about the objectification of women. To put it simply, you cannot empathize with an object. If you break a pencil, you won’t be too upset. If you break your little brother’s leg, you would probably be upset. This is because you have empathy for your brother and not your pencil. Your brother is a person, your pencil is an object. Rape and violence against women is perpetuated by the constant objectification of women within the media. When a shot of a woman’s breasts or crotch is shown and not her face, it is objectifying her because her mind is no longer connected with her body. Without mind, we become objects. For those of you with a skepticism for feminism and say that you are not so easily convinced of this, I propose that you observe this in the media from now on: how often women’s body parts are shown in pictures without their faces trying to advertise a product. Open a magazine, watch a few commercials, it’s all riddled with this stuff. When a person’s mind is constantly berated with subliminal messages (trust me, they work) that sexy bodies have no minds, those who are capable of rape and violence perform it. “Telephone” is filled with split-second shots of various sexualized body parts of nameless, faceless, mindless women meant for your enjoyment. These women, acting as objects, expose their bodies for the sake of a sexuality meant to advertise the massive sponsorship within the video.

Before I get to my rant on advertising, let me compare “Telephone” to another recent music video, “Window Seat” by Erykah Badu, also presented to me by bjulman. Both videos incorporate nudity, but the message of the nudity in each video differs. Gaga acts like a thing, Badu acts like a person. Gaga is acting like a zoo creature, appeasing the masses by being “unique” because that’s what’s in right now. Badu strips naked publicly to point out that women’s bodies, especially African American women’s bodies, is a downright offense to be exposed in public. No one, of course, has problems with watching naked white girls in a fake jail hump their jail bars and dance around in metal-studded bikinis. Badu owns her body and controls the action of the video. She is not an object, but an artist strongly proclaiming her position on an issue of the oppression of African American women in today’s society.

After watching “Telephone,” I think I want to go buy a Virgin Mobile phone while drinking a Diet Coke, then take pictures of it with a Polaroid and scan them to put them on my PlentyofFish profile. I understand artists need corporate sponsorship to make money, but this wasn’t cleverly or artistically disguised. It was blatant, and it told me as an audience member that I am watching a really horrible 9 and a half minute commercial. To me, this video was no different than those offensive Axe commercials which stated that if you buy Axe, sexy women will not be able to resist how wonderful you smell, because women are weak-willed and sexually impulsive like that. “Telephone” is telling you, while you’re convinced it’s a unique and stylish video the music of which makes you want to dance, that if you buy a Virgin Mobile phone, “bad, bad girls” will come out of their cages to maul you.

I enjoy club music. I have no problems with it. It is a genre that has its good and bad, popular and underground. Lady Gaga has a huge club following, and I understand that. Her music is poptastic and catchy, and definitely worthy of being played at every drunken college party in America. I could not help but find, however, that the events in the video follow the events that happen at your average, massive drunken college party. First, there’s the image of Gaga having her clothes forcefully ripped off of her. As horrible as this is, this kind of thing happens at parties all the time, and I’d say a majority of it goes unreported. Rape or sexual assault usually ensues. I don’t think I have to explain that displaying this in the media as entertainment perpetuates the actions themselves, especially when alcohol is involved. Next, Gaga makes out with another woman. As is popular nowadays, girls get drunk and make out with each other to please and, for some reason, impress the boys. There’s a girlfight in the video, and one calls the other a bitch while attacking. If that’s not your average party catfight, I don’t know what is. What “Telephone” essentially seems like is an instructional video on how to throw a good party (“good” in the perspective of those attending it). When it comes down to it, all Lady Gaga does is advertise alcohol: she is the spokesperson for partying and underage drinking. She glorifies alcohol as a social lubricant and introduces “regret” into the vocabulary of young men and women who make the wrong decisions at the perfectly drunken, (in)opportune moments.

Quentin Tarantino is one of the few feminist directors out there today, making films like Kill Bill, Jackie Brown, Death Proof, and his most recent, Inglourious Basterds, wherein the lead women are active and have strong personalities, perpetually defying common stereotypes presented in the media. I won’t go into all of it now, but believe me when I tell you I have written my fair share of commentary on Tarantino films and the feminism therein. This is why it upsets me so much that “Telephone” dared try to mimic the style and tone of his films when the meaning of the video is offensive to women. “Telephone” is purposefully marketed to men, or women who will see the video through men’s eyes and attempt to emulate the styles and action in the video in order to gain men’s affections. Tarantino films are marketed to either everyone or no one, but his films do not involve what is called the “male gaze” (implied in the previous sentence, but I’m not going to full-out explain this theory in third-wave feminism right now, so just Google it). I’ll go through the references to Tarantino films and why they are a horrible match for this video.

  • The font in the beginning is similar to the font used in Jackie Brown. Jackie Brown is a film about a black woman who carries the action throughout the film with poise and confidence and arrives at the end victorious, having outsmarted all the men. Beyonce and Gaga killed a bunch of people with poison while they danced and showed off their bodies.
  • The Pussy Wagon from Kill Bill is driven by Beyonce and Gaga. This was probably the most offensive to me because the image of a truck called the Pussy Wagon was supposed to be controversial and horribly sexist, but The Bride stole it because she beat the everloving crap out of the guy who drove it with a hospital door. It was ironic, humorous, and appropriate. Beyonce and Gaga defied no stereotypes, and used no outward violence, which is very un-Tarantino. They had a vengeful goal to kill the boyfriend of Honey Bee, but they failed in that they killed everyone else too. Then they danced around the corpses.
  • The female banter in the car was reminiscent of that in Death Proof. Their banter was not well written or acted, and while they spoke, Beyonce stuck a phallic-shaped sandwich seductively into Gaga’s mouth. The point of Death Proof was that women could be women without being sex objects and could still have the capacity for violence, which is so commonly a masculine characteristic.

And, to hammer the final nail in the coffin, the video ends with the symbol of Venus. If you have read this entire entry, I shouldn’t have to explain everything wrong with this.

I request that if you have an idea of something for me to blog about, you tell me in the comments because I’m running out of ideas quickly. Thanks for reading, and if you have any opinions you’d like to express, I would be happy to hear them.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 9, 2010 5:48 am

    Thanks for writing this. A lot of people consider this video art but it’s crap through and through, I don’t understand why people insist on adding meaning to it. I did a search for the sexism in her videos and I found only one post by someone, and another one by an active feminist blogger who actually called her victim of sexism because of the media constantly prodding her about actually being a man. What about the sexism she perpetuates, and what’s with the despicable, repetitive theme of poisoning people? What’s more, she seems completely confused about the feminist movement herself.,,20257096,00.html
    Honestly, I don’t think she knows what she’s doing, or what she’s putting out there.

    • April 9, 2010 11:14 am

      I’m really surprised she didn’t get more flak for this video. And I guess I should have done my research because I am simply horrified by her statements in those two articles. It looks like, beyond making music for girls to get assaulted to, she also is an uneducated buffoon. Thanks for finding these links!

  2. April 9, 2010 12:37 pm

    I HAD to google her from when I saw her very first video and I’m surprised why feminists are not up in arms. I suspect its because she’s supposed to signify some sort of sexual freedom for women or something. As far as her work goes she’s like a bad version of Madonna. I don’t think she should get away with this by virtue of her being female. The people who have protested are stuffy old people like Donny Osmond and Camilla Parker
    So ofcourse, it’s just stuffy old conservatives protesting.

  3. Parker permalink
    April 9, 2010 1:08 pm

    She’s just late 90s rehash junk. Good post.

  4. bjulman permalink
    April 9, 2010 1:25 pm

    As always, I can count on you for a thoughtful, educated opinion. Though I still count myself among the fans of both the artist and this specific video – which I’ll explain in greater detail in a minute – I will admit that you raised some concerns well worth noting & which will certainly give me more to chew on the next time I decide to push “play” on this thing.

    Now: Gaga. As you note, she’s pretty much entirely batshit. But if you’ll notice, this is accepted by the general public less as “wow, we get & appreciate her weirdness” & more as “Jesus this bitch is crazy lolz.” I find that troubling but at the same time it’s also essentially what she is going for and yes, somewhat to a cynical, heavily commercialized degree. I think, despite the waves of revolt she can inspire in anti-pop critics, as well as the masses’ less accepting view of her craziness – some, perhaps rightfully, outright dismiss it as crass, others as too weird for them – that one reason she’s so successful is that she dares to be different. I know you say that’s “what’s in” right now & I’m not entirely sure I agree with that. If you scan the Billboard Top 20, it is loaded with artists who are essentially the latest, safest models of the same old thing: Lady Antebellum, the latest country-pop crossover; Justin Bieber, the latest teeny bop sensation; and absolute travesties like Miley Cyrus, Train (ugh) and OneRepublic (double ugh).

    Arguably, Gaga is just the newest iteration of Madonna. It’s certainly been said enough and, of course, it’s based on some irrefutable evidence. What fascinates me about Gaga & strikes me as unique, though, is that she dares to be so gay-friendly in a culture that’s more divided than ever on the whole “homosexuality issue,” thanks to hideous organizations like NOM & well, the Catholic Church. As well, though a lot of what she does is clearly to get attention, I think you start to see things in a different light when you try to answer these questions: How much do you hear about her personal life? How much do we know about her as a person? Tellingly, almost nothing. Even her interviews are in character, which explains many of the ridiculous things she says & does.

    My take on her is that she is a performance artist, her entire life is a spectacle presented as one big art piece, which is why even her red-carpet fashions are so out there. She isn’t interested in being famous for being her, she’s interested in getting as much attention as possible for her art, for getting as many spectators/viewers as possible for it. And because she doesn’t do it to draw attention to who she, Stefani Germanotta, really is, I think it kind of debunks the cynicism a few of the more harsh critics like to throw her way.

    As for the video which, again, you have given me new perspective on, I still fall on the favorable side. I’m not entirely sure I agree with the “male gaze” angle, though. When she kisses a girl, it’s done in a detached sort of way & with a more butch partner – certainly not a typical male fantasy, at all. As well, this video isn’t really garnering a lot of straight male attention. Many of them wouldn’t be caught dead listening to her music, let alone watching her so openly promote her homosexual agenda. And as much as she exposes herself, it’s never all that sexy, or meant to be. Gaga knows she isn’t classically beautiful & the sexy outfits are less porny than straight-up scary. She is fierce with her ownage of her sexuality & I think she intentionally makes it a little bit terrifying so that it’s not interpreted as “hey, look at me, boys, love me!” but rather, “do not fuck with me unless you can handle this.”

    Yet, that is all I can really muster in defense right now. It basically boils down to interpretation & you certainly make a strong case for yours. Yet I have my own take & though a few of my perceptions may be altered by your great evidence, I remain skeptical that it was created specifically to do harm to women. However, I always enjoy engaging in the challenging of my opinions by way of a good intellectual debate and I am glad that I can always find that with you, my dear friend.

    PS I also found these feminist takes on it:

  5. Amy permalink
    April 14, 2010 12:12 pm

    This has nothing to do with the post b/c I’m in class and haven’t had time to read it (although I’m intrigued by the title). I found this online and thought of your blog.

  6. bjulman permalink
    June 15, 2010 3:53 am

    If you could delete my above comment, it would be greatly appreciated. I sound like an idiot. Blame it on reactionary argumentativeness, lack of sleep & too much caffeine. I like playing the devil’s advocate but she really wasn’t worth the effort extended above.

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