The extent to which Lady Gaga has the media wrapped around her finger is mystifying. Unable to unpack her exact message, critics laud her flashy stage show as avant-garde, dub her the most important innovator in rock music in 20 years, and claim she is presenting us with a kind of cultural meta-critique that must be respected, however much it appears to defy definition.
But what if the emperor has no clothes? What if glitzy Lady Gaga is exactly what she appears to be: The latest manifestation of a culture industry that pushes the boundaries of civility and sexuality to the extreme in order to make a buck? And worse, pushes it on our kids long before they want or need to be presented with some middle-aged ad executive's personal sadomasochistic sexual fantasies?
With all the press it's getting, Lady Gaga's latest video offering ("Telephone") hardly needs elaboration here: Naked girl-on-girl-in-prison soft porn sprinkled with violence, a mass murder fantasy and, of course, ample product placement. Ms. Gaga manages to foist it on our kids in the name of "art" with the tacit approval of culture critics who apparently fear political incorrectness if they go against the trend.
Lady Gaga may be a talented singer and pianist, but when she makes the jump from wild theatrics and sexually-charged lyrics to releasing a video soaked in sexploitation--the complete reification of women as sexual objects in accordance with pornographic stereotypes that the women's movement thought it had put to rest 30 years ago--doesn't someone have to stand up to the Gaga juggernaut and ask if this is really art or rather vulgar media manipulation in the service of selling her product?
Who decreed that the highest bidder (read: the product sponsors who pay for such videos and media moguls who stand to profit) should be allowed to impose violent sexual conditioning on our kids? (To argue that it's intended as adult fare is to ignore that kids are a significant chunk of her audience--and any parent of a 12-17 year old who pretends they can censor what their kids watch on YouTube is living in a dream world.)
Apparently it's not enough that we're leaving the next generation a mountain of national debt, a dangerously-warmed planet, and a moribund democracy in the form of a federal government run by corporations. Now we also have to sacrifice their sexual innocence at the commercial altar. In their quest for an act that is bigger, bolder, more daring (and more profit-worthy) than the last--and as part of the complete colonization of the personal realm by our profit-driven economic system--Lady Gaga and the market forces that control her deem it appropriate to impose their sexual fetishes on our girls and boys before they're even old enough to discover what their own natural sexuality might be.
Is it really too much to ask for a child be allowed to reach adulthood without thinking that watching two women engaged in a jailhouse beating is prerequisite foreplay for a satisfying sexual encounter? Can a kid be permitted to grow up in this society believing, even briefly, in the pure pleasure of touching another human being and experiencing them sexually just for who they are, without the torn fishnet stockings, chains and other S&M motifs that saturate the "Telephone" video? It's too easy to claim that Lady Gaga is indulging in a Tarantino-esque "send-up" or "re-appropriation" of these images; such claims are belied by the millions in profit she makes while employing for her own gain the very genres she pretends to critique.
And where are our social commentators when it comes to imposing this fetishization of domination and voyeurism on our kids? What happened to the culture critics--who surely must understand that a film like Precious offers the real deal when it comes to suffering the powerlessness and degradation that Lady Gaga and her entourage seek to glamorize? Why isn't anyone debating whether the hyper-sexualization of teenage girls and hyper-materialism that claims to be critiquing fame and consumerism, even while shoving it down our throats, is doing us any good as a society? Even if Lady Gaga is just the latest apex of our reality-TV-video-game-shock-and-awe culture, is there a point where we get to say "Enough!"? Or has everyone become so intoxicated by the current cultural Kool-Aid that we have to fear the stigma of being labeled "prudish," or "uncool," if we question whether our girls and boys should grow up thinking that violent sexual exploitation and domination of women is the 21st century norm?
It doesn't matter if it's simply a craven need for attention, something about her upbringing that predisposes her towards sadomasochism (like that of her forerunner Madonna), or even the fact that her unusual recording contract requires her to share every penny she earns from concerts and product promotion with her record label that drives Lady Gaga and her compatriots to continually up the fetish ante. What matters is the continued cowardice of those upon whom we rely for cultural criticism. Why is everyone so afraid to say that when the mass entertainment industry foists violent sexual fantasies and murder on our kids, it's not about art. It's about profit.