Tuesday, 16 March 2010

No dick but plenty of balls

Back in 1983, Michael Jackson single-handedly (along with a troupe of 30-or-so zombified dancers) transformed the fledgeling music video format into a viable art form. Constructing a mini-movie around the concept of a fourth wall-breaking horror film, Thriller engaged the entire world in a discussion about the convergence of pop music and film. And he turned into a cool lynx-cum-werewolf.

Today's pop music landscape is almost unrecognisable when compared with those more innocent times. Back then, when people wanted the latest music they had to sit by the radio with their fingers poised over the record button on a tape recorder. Nowadays, they just head to a bit-torrent site or rapidshare to download it before it's even released.

We don't listen to music, we consume content. And that makes it so much harder for genuine visionaries to find an audience. So Madonna-be-praised for Lady Gaga, standing proud as the last remaining outpost in a pop cultural wasteland, with a giant polystyrene telephone on her head.

Those who don't 'get' Lady Gaga see her as a fame-hungry oddity, strutting through airports dressed as a giant rubber hornet as she attempts to flog her tacky post-modern disco trash. However, those who've 'seen the light' understand that she's an artist in the truest sense of the word. Don't believe me? Just check out her new video for Telephone.

With a convoluted narrative, more costume changes than the Sex and the City movie, and plenty of envelope-pushing raunch, Gaga's new video is certainly hitting the headlines.

Within four days, the video had already been viewed on YouTube 17 million times, breaking all kinds of internetular records. More importantly, it also inspired more interpretive readings than the works of Herman Melville.

For the Daily Mail, it was like Winterval and Richard Littlejohn's birthday all at once. A sleazy, subtext-heavy video full of trouser-twitching imagery that allowed them to transcribe every flick of hair and thrust of boob, accompanied by enough screen-grabs to render the actual video itself redundant. Tired of giving away Bryan Ferry and Simply Red CDs, the Mail has now invented the flip-book pop video. Just cut out and keep the pictures, and away you go.

Reactions on the other side of the pond have also been depressingly predictable. Fox News aired a segment yesterday where two women, who talk as though they haven't had 'marital relations' since Bush Sr was in office, took it in turns to decry Gaga's excesses in a thinly-veiled attack on homosexuality. Speaking to news anchor Megyn Kelly, Culture Campaign President Sandy Rios said "And then we've got Beyonce and Gaga - gay, lesbian lovers? It's disgusting Megyn...This is just poison for the minds for our kids, and for our minds for that matter."

Conservative reactions aside, the video itself is a genuine masterpiece, challenging convention and replaying a ridiculous range of influences in its nine minutes of shiny pop glory. Where else would you find 'Caged Heat' lesbian prison drama, Quentin Tarantino crossed with Fried Green Tomatoes, Thelma and Louise, plus a dance routine about making sandwiches?

But there are some other critical voices adding their disdain to the mix, and they're not doing themselves any favours. The transgender community is up-in-chiffon-encased-arms about Gaga's self-deprecating joke about her rumoured hermaphrodite history. In the video, she thrusts her naked groin against the bars of her jail cell, prompting the cross-dressing prison guard to comment "I told you she didn’t have a dick."

Transgendered blogger gudbuy t'jane believes that Gaga is continuing her "gender essentialism, slipping in a 'no dick = not a tranny' joke at about a minute in, before the song even begins to play. That she’s using trans women and drag queens to exoticize her videos doesn’t defer from the cissupremacist stance that women = vagina, and trans women are therefore not real women. Her anxiety at being seen as trans is clear, and her response is typical of cis privilege and trans marginalization: We’re supposed to wipe our brows and sigh relief that she’s actually a real woman. This is transmisogyny."

Answers on a postcard if anyone can explain what cissupremacy is. Anyone? Perhaps someone should explain to the blogger (non-gender-specific terminology chosen deliberately) that there's a difference between transgenders and hermaphrodites.

Funnily enough, when Michael Jackson made Thriller, his Jehovah's Witness beliefs compelled him to add a disclaimer to the start of the video that read “Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult.” I'd love to see what Gaga might have pre-emptively apologised for.

Anyway, enough talk. Watch and learn:

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