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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Repost: The Book of Eli: A Review and Reflections

I read this review and would like to share it with you guys. Check out the original here.

The Book of Eli: A Review and Reflections

I believe it was the psychologist Heinz Kohut who introduced the world to the concept of “good enough parenting”. The Book of Eli could be considered an example of good enough film-making. It manages to get its various characters from point A to point B, provide some interesting images, execute fight scenes with relative skill and convey it’s underlying message(s) well enough. It’s not a great movie though.

Eli is the name of the film’s protagonist (Denzel Washington), who we first meet as he preys upon an ill-fated feline in a forest as ash drifts down from the sky (a nod to 9/11). The cat in question is later shared with a mouse (talk about a role reversal!) as Eli enjoys some Al Green and a read of the Book from the movie title. It’s 30 years from now and some sort of man-made apocalypse, possibly brought about by religion, has had a really bad effect on personal hygiene, fashion sense, and civility. It has also contributed to a new diet fad (cannibalism). Eli strides through images of hell on earth: miles of rusting vehicles, grinning skeletons and empty dwellings. A voice has told him to head west in order to take his book to a place where it can do great good for the world.

When his Ipod runs out of juice, he heads into a little Wild-West looking town to get a recharge. This town, like most towns in these movies, is run by a strong man named Carnegie (Gary Oldman). Like Eli, Carnegie likes a good book (pun intended) and is looking for a particular title that he believes will increase his powers of social control and facilitate the expansion of his rule to other towns. Wouldn’t you know, the book Carnegie is looking for is the one Eli has. The problem is, Eli has no intention of sharing his book with the likes of Carnegie and has a knack with blades and bullets that makes him tough to persuade through sicking tough guys on him.

Carnegie next tries to seduce Eli through sending him Solara (Mila Kunis) who agrees to be used this way in order to protect her blind mother (Jennifer Biels). Solara is rejected sexually by Eli but does spend the night with him and is introduced to the power of prayer and the book in question. Eli decides to continue his westward journey killing anyone who tries to stop him on his way out of town with Solara tagging along as initially a damsel-in-distress and later a companion and willing student of the book’s content. The movie shifts into full-on Mad Max mode as the two are pursued by Carnegie and his thugs in big vehicles (guess carbon footprints are no longer a concern for people). There’s a humorous scene with a couple of fine old cannibals and a huge shoot-out complete with a giant machine gun and grenade launcher.

To make a long story short, Eli does manage to make it to his destination and delivers the book (though not in the way you’d imagine). Carnegie, at a moment of apparent triumph gets what’s coming to him in a twist that is sure to astonish. Like The Sixth Sense, it’s the kind of twist that makes you want to watch the movie again to see if you can notice any signs that it was coming that you might have missed.

Here’s a few reflections on themes, metaphors, and images that align with aspects of Baha’i teaching.

Religion as a Cause of a global calamity: Religion’s contribution to the end of the world is only hinted at in the film, but given current events it is not so far fetched. The Universal House of Justice acknowledges this:

“With every day that passes, danger grows that the rising fires of religious prejudice will ignite a worldwide conflagration the consequences of which are unthinkable. Such a danger civil government, unaided, cannot overcome. Nor should we delude ourselves that appeals for mutual tolerance can alone hope to extinguish animosities that claim to possess Divine sanction.”
(The Universal House of Justice, 2002 April, To the World’s Religious Leaders, p. 5)

Manipulation of Religion in the Pursuit of Power: Carnegie describes religion as “weapon” as he tries to explain to a henchmen that Eli’s book is more than just a book. Carnegie sees possession of the book as a means of controlling others, reminding us that “it’s happened before. It can happen again”. Baha’u’llah comments on the potential for religion to be manipulated in this way in strong terms:

“Leaders of religion, in every age, have hindered their people from attaining the shores of eternal salvation, inasmuch as they held the reins of authority in their mighty grasp. Some for the lust of leadership, others through want of knowledge and understanding, have been the cause of the deprivation of the people.”
(Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 14)

The Black Madonna/Black Messiah: I’ve discussed this phenomenon exemplified by several recent films in a previous post. Eli’s character definitely fits into this concept, embodying qualities attributed to people of African descent in the Baha’i Writings such as this selection:

“The qualities of heart so richly possessed by [African Americans] are much needed in the world today-their great capacity for faith, their loyalty and devotion to their religion when once they believe, their purity of heart. God has richly endowed them, and their great contribution…is much needed…” (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 532)

Steadfastness in the path of God: Watching Eli’s single-minded and resolute march towards his goal called to mind many selections from the Baha’i Writings. One of them was the following:

“Whoso hath recognized Me, will arise and serve Me with such determination that the powers of earth and heaven shall be unable to defeat his purpose.” (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 137)

The Oneness of Religion: The Book of Eli has been viewed by some as a “Christian” movie. However, there are aspects of the film that suggest it has a more universal message. Eli for instance could be seen as a more complex figure (his kaffiyeh and scimitar-like blade evoke an Islamic image, while his hand to hand combat has a Samurai feel to it). Also, an important scene near the end of the film includes Eli’s book among a diverse selection of books that have similar significance in other faith traditions and cultures. An interview with the directors of the movie on National Public Radio supports the notion of Eli embodying a broader concept of spirituality. In the words of the Universal House of Justice:

“It is evident that growing numbers of people are coming to realize that the truth underlying all religions is in its essence one. This recognition arises not through a resolution of theological disputes, but as an intuitive awareness born from the ever widening experience of others and from a dawning acceptance of the oneness of the human family itself. Out of the welter of religious doctrines, rituals and legal codes inherited from vanished worlds, there is emerging a sense that spiritual life, like the oneness manifest in diverse nationalities, races and cultures, constitutes one unbounded reality equally accessible to everyone” (The Universal House of Justice, 2002 April, To the World’s Religious Leaders, p. 4)

What’s your review and/or reflections on The Book of Eli?