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