Repost: I Don’t Wanna Talk Anymore: An Analysis of Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” Video

I thought my readers might be interested in this post and wanted to share it.  The original can be found here.

I Don’t Wanna Talk Anymore: An Analysis of Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” Video

link to telephone video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQ95z6ywcBY

Lady Gaga has said that the Telephone video is about America. The Director of the video explained that the video is a continuation of the Paparazzi video. In the Paparazzi video Lady Gaga is thrown off her balcony by her boyfriend and is temporarily crippled. She is famous and even in her crippled state she clings to glamour and fame. At the end of the video, after she has recovered from her injury, she poisons her lover and is arrested for murder. The video ends with her mug shots. Interestingly, the lyrics of Paparazzi are the polar opposite of Telephone’s. We move from fervent adoration to cold apathy. “I’m your biggest fan I’ll follow you until you love me” to “Stop calling stop calling I don’t wanna talk anymore.” Together, the songs form a sort of Act One and Act Two of the popularized, modern day romance. It’s not about love or hate, but rather, a life-sucking worship of another person.

At the beginning of Telephone, Gaga is being brought into a women’s prison. Female inmates are behaving in an overtly sexual and violent manner.

While we are watching a sexy brunette stare at Gaga and lick the bars of her cell, we hear another woman say “You’re gonna swim outta here in your own blood bitch.”
Although this is a female prison and not a single male is allowed inside; the scene is a male fantasy through and through. All the women wear heavy makeup and glamorous outfits. It also represents expression. Although they are imprisoned, in a place of repression and powerlessness, they express their power through fashion, violence, and sexuality.

Gaga first makes eye contact with us while she is on the payphone, singing “I have got no service in the club you see.” In the place where she’s at, this place of lower nature and primal instincts, no one can reach her. Her annoyance at the communication attempts stem from a feeling of too-little-too-late. Her patience is gone, her mind is made up, and she’s not open to anyone’s input.

Next, we see her dancing in the aisle of the prison cells wearing only a bra, panties, fishnet hose, and healed ankle boots. Four women clad in the same uniform join her in her dance. Together they make controlled, angry movements toward us with such a stern directness it is the viewer that cowers. Although dressed provocatively, they’re dance closely resembles a march. It is very stiff, precise, and controlled; it brings to mind boot camp, military, armies, etc. She sings “Shoulda made some plans with me you knew that I was free. But now you won’t stop calling me I’m kinda busy.” No one cares until it’s too late. Staying with the militaristic theme, this could mean: the opportunity for diplomacy and peaceful resolutions are over. The signs were there but it’s too late now. The effects of self and passion are in full throttle and there’s no room for reason and virtue.

This scene is spliced with scenes of Gaga posing in a cell, naked except the crime scene tape wrapped around her body. Throughout the world, women’s bodies arouse strong opinions. No one is sure what to do with this issue of women’s bodies. Women are constantly walking the line between respectable and slutty and the qualifications for each are constantly changing. Is the female body a “crime” or is it a “scene”? We can’t decide. In this country, our values flail between fundamentalism and a strip club. A female body wrapped in crime scene tape also implies rape and sexual abuse. The police never wrap crime scene tape around a home in which a girl was sexually abused but in a way the girl herself may remain a crime scene forever; suffering the emotional residue of the crime and continuing to play the roll of a victim throughout her life.

Next, Beyonce bails Gaga out and the two women begin their journey to their crime scene. There’s a strange little scene where Gaga first gets into the truck and Beyonce feeds her a bite of the Honey Bun. This seemingly pointless scene made clear to me the reason for all the product placement in this video. At this point in the video we have already seen 6 product placements and the advertising is hardly over. After Beyonce feeds Gaga she gazes at Beyonce and says “Mm hmm Honey B.” It’s cute and stylistic and fits the southern feel they seem to be going for in this scene but I think the real reason for that is to drive home a major statement of the video. You are what you consume. Beyonce eats Honey Buns, hence she’s a Honey Bun…Honey B for short. Up to now Gaga has already been a Virgin with Virgin Mobile, she’s been all the glamour and envy or Chanel sunglasses, and as skinny as a Diet Coke. One of the prisoners was Beats headphones. The prison guard on Gaga’s exit from the prison was an HP computer and a dating website called Plenty Of Fish. This is a major trademark of American culture. Advertisers encourage us to consider not only the benefits of their products but also what they say about us and about our lifestyles.

They are completely unashamed of what they’re about to do and take Polaroids of themselves on their way. When Beyonce says “Trust is like a mirror, you can fix it if it’s broke” Gaga responds with, “But you can still see the crack in that mother fucker’s reflection.” This reminds us that Gaga just killed her own boyfriend and her own sense of revenge is the fuel behind the next killing. Since her boyfriend pushed her off her balcony and crippled her, we don’t doubt that her revenge was justified. And now, that killing seems to lend credence to the next.

When they come to the diner, Beyonce meets up with her boyfriend while Gaga works with the kitchen crew. The preparation of the poisoned food is somewhere between a game show, a cooking show, and an advertisement. We see text pop up on the screen in pleasant and eye-catching ways. We hear pleasant sounding bells and a crowd clapping and cheering. It’s presented to us like the media that accompanies a war effort. The media presents the war action in a way that is palatable. Using words like Shock and Awe to sell us on the idea of our nation’s aggression. Similarly, the product placement in this scene consists of Wonder Bread and Miracle Whip. These words “wonder” and “miracle” remind me of the terms “Shock and Awe” used to describe the first military strike in Baghdad in 2003. It’s also reminiscent of the grand and noble titles the U.S. government gives to war efforts, i.e. Operation Enduring Freedom.

Gaga delivers the food and the poisoning of the target is a success. The boyfriend’s dead, and we viewers are fine with this since we’ve seen that he was clearly an asshole. However, the military metaphor endures when it immediately becomes obvious that the poison has spread and every patron in the restaurant has become an innocent victim. Gaga covers her mouth as if to say “Whoops.” But after all, war is messy.

Next Gaga and Beyonce, along with the entire staff of the restaurant, are dancing in Patriotic/American flag inspired outfits. The restaurant is now divided into two distinct types of people: the ones who supported the poisoning and the ones who are dead from the poisoning. This makes me think of the years following the 9/11 attack when the term “Un-American” came into existence. There was an attitude of “you’re either with us (supporting the war) or you’re against us (a terrorist). Like this attitude, the Telephone video shows a world of extremes. Throughout the video there are no “people,” only stock characters and stereotypes.

The next bizarre scene shows Gaga dressed in a skin-tight leopard skin costume wearing a general’s hat and dancing aggressively in front of a large pick up truck (the quintessential American vehicle). The animal print compliments her recent animalistic killing. The way in which she is dancing is itself ravenous and unapologetic. The general’s hat she wears is an appropriate accessory as she was the leader of a group who orchestrated an attack. Also, notice that Beyonce wears a stylized colonel’s jacket when she is dancing in the bedroom.

The last scene is strongly reminiscent of the final scene of the movie Thelma and Louise in which the two women commit suicide by driving their car off a cliff. This video uses popular film references in clever ways. This reference implies that Gaga and Beyonce represent a force that will ultimately end in it’s own destruction.

Since the release of the Telephone video, Gaga has garnered a great deal of criticism. Some people have said the video is sexually exploitive, that it’s glorifying murder, and that it’s random, bizarre, and meaningless. Such criticism reflects a clash between “high-brow art” and “low-brow art,” fine art and pop art. As a society, we typically expect music videos (especially pop music videos) to be straight-forward, entertaining, and generally frivolous. If the video was not presented as a music video to accompany a pop song and was instead presented as an art film, it would have been received quite differently.

Gaga has brought about this kind of confusion in many ways. She has stated that it is her intention to be both a commercial pop artist as well as a serious fine artist. Her public appearances are often performance art. Performance Art is a form of Fine Art that most people are either unfamiliar with or have a vague opinion of it. She continuously breaks thru the fog of banality and creates art where people aren’t used to seeing it.

Fans of fine art often view pop music as unintelligent and unsophisticated, while fans of pop music often view fine art as confusing, cold and inaccessible. Gaga has done her part to eat away at this false dichotomy. The clouds of confusion still hover in the air, but in the end both worlds will be better.

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Victor Victoria — Justice & Gender Roles

Victor Victoria Poster

Film:

Victor Victoria, 1982

Starring Julie Andrews, James Garner, Robert Preston, Leslie Ann Warren, Alex Karras, and John Rhys-Davies.

Synopsis (from NetFlix):

Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews) is a struggling soprano who, with help from a fellow performer (Robert Preston), finally finds success by posing as a male female impersonator. But what will happen when a nightclub owner (James Garner) finds himself attracted to Victoria’s cross-dressing male persona and begins to suspect “Victor” is really a woman? This gender-bending musical comedy received seven Oscar nominations and won for Best Score.

My Thoughts:

Firstly, any film which discusses gender roles and sexuality is bound to be controversial, even if it was made over 25 years ago, so before I go any further I would like to preface that whatever your opinion regarding homosexuality is, as well as of people who hold a different view than your own,  please keep this spiritual guidance in mind before commenting:

1“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.3“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  ~ Matthew 7:1-5 (New International Version)

and

O SON OF BEING! How couldst thou forget thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others? Whoso doeth this is accursed of Me.  ~ Bahá’u’lláh, Arabic Hidden Word #26

When I first heard of this musical I thought it would be a mere comedy of mistaken identity and gender swapping, akin to a Shakespearean Comedy, and while it definitely has that feel and element, it also speaks on a deeper level.  In 1982, when this film came out, the United States had just gone through the Civil Rights movement,  Women’s Rights movement, and the Sexual Revolution.  Thoughts about what true justice meant were circulating around public consciousness, and being wrestled and debated with.  This film comes out of that context.

Victoria Grant is an amazing operatic soprano, yet due to the poor economy she is unable to find work in Paris during the 1930s.  She is so down on her luck she even auditions for a burlesque theater, insisting that she has a legitimate voice but the manager replies:

I’m looking for something
a little more illegitimate.

Victoria: I’m sure that with a little practice l…
Manager: Lady. That’s like a nun saying, with practice, she’d be a streetwalker.

However, Victoria is hungry and is about to be evicted so she is willing to compromise her virtue.  Toddy, a Gay nightclub performer, shows her kindness and as a result comes up with the idea that she should pretend to be a drag queen. Victoria is initially skeptical:

Victoria: Toddy, I don’t know how to act like a man.
Toddy: Contrary to the popular conception of how a man acts… there are different men who act in different ways.
Victoria: I mean, as opposed to the way women act.
Toddy: I am personally acquainted with at least a dozen men who act exactly like women…and vice versa.
Victoria: But there are some things that are naturally masculine.
Toddy: Name one.
Victoria: Peeing standing up.

This is interesting to me because it is true that society has carved out roles for men and roles for women and those who do not fit into those roles can feel excluded, or worse yet have assumptions made about them.  We should love all people and should not try to constrain people unnecessarily and unequally (clearly there are some social constraints that are necessary, like punishing theft or murder, but they should be applied across the board, regardless of gender or creed.  The constraints I am talking about here are things like not allowing certain people to pursue a profession based on their gender, class, or creed.)

Apparently there is no market for a woman with amazing musical talent, but there is a market for a man who can impersonate a woman with amazing musical talent.  However there is no man, so now a woman must pretend to be a man, who is pretending to be a woman.

This amuses me.  Truly, it is all about perception.  It should not matter if it is a man or a woman, we are equal in the sight of God, yet for the audience it does.  Perhaps because a man should not naturally be able to sing that high, or perhaps because it forces them to wonder about gender roles.

Victoria ends up being wildly successful but is conflicted when she begins to develop feelings for a man.  If she were to pursue the relationship it would either out her as a woman, or cause people to think that the man was gay.  Eventually they get together clandestinely but it soon becomes a problem:

Victoria: I mean, a woman pretending to be man pretending to be…

King: Well, you can stop pretending.

Victoria: And do what?

King: Be yourself.


Victoria: But, you see, I don’t think I want to. I’m a big star now. I’m a success… And something more. I find it all really fascinating. There are things available to me as a man…that I could never have as a woman. I’m emancipated.

Victoria: Would it be fair for me to ask you to give up your job?

King: lt’d be ridiculous.

Victoria: But you expect me to give up mine.

King: There’s a difference, for Christ’s sake!

Victoria: Right, but there shouldn’t be.

King: Well, look, I’m not the one pretending to be someone else.

I think there are two very different and equally important spiritual truths in this conversation that need to be teased out.  Both Victoria and King have valid points.  Victoria has experienced injustice.  Despite her talent and hard work, as a woman she was not able to find employment.  Also, once she got used to pretending to be a man she realized how much more freedom this lifestyle afforded her (this is the 1930s).  Victoria shouldn’t have to pretend to be a man to get work, she shouldn’t have to pretend to be a man to be respected, yet this was the case.

O SON OF SPIRIT! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes. ~ Bahá’u’lláh, Arabic Hidden Word #2

King is right though about her pretend game.  In the end she is lying, to herself and to the world.  What starts as innocent deception can cause a lot of emotional and social turmoil.  As much as we want to correct injustice we cannot do so by being unjust ourselves.

Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues. Without truthfulness progress and success, in all the worlds of God, are impossible for any soul. ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

The ending of the film was a bit confusing and unsatisfying, personally, because it did not resolve these problems.  Instead it seemed that Victoria chose to be with King and to give up her career, but maybe she will be able to continue singing now that people love her.  After all they clapped before she “revealed” she was a “man” so hopefully they would still enjoy the beautiful music despite the vessel it is in.