Lady Gaga as a Semiotics Lesson

Over on his True/Slant blog, cultural critic Mark Dery spends more time and brain power deconstructing Lady Gaga as signifier than one would think humanly possible.

His verdict:

What’s so non-boring about a dance-pop diva who lifts her platinum hair and dark eyebrows from Who’s That Girl?-era Madonna and her backing tracks from the Human League? About confining your outrageousness to your image while ensuring that your music is safe as milk? About wearing Bauhausian bondage gear that makes you look like Oskar Schlemmer’s idea of Boogie Nights but thinking thoughts that a pickled walnut would think, if it could? “I write about what I know: sex, pornography, art, fame obsession, drugs, and alcohol,” Gaga told an Elle interviewer. Oh, groan. “I never heard so many kids talk about just doing anything to be famous,” lamented Gaga’s household deity, David Bowie, in a 2003 interview. “I mean, yeah, fame is part of the deal when you’re a kid and you think, I wanna go into music, but everybody that I knew was really doing it because of their love for it. I don’t see so much of that anymore; it’s like, ‘What should I say so that I can be famous?’ It’s like the tail wagging the dog, but music’s just so accessible and given to us in such awful ways now. It’s been devalued tremendously.”


If Gaga can wean herself from the “deeply shallow” referentiality of Artistic Statements like the “Telephone” video, which channels Quentin Tarantino channeling Caged Heat, and start to think, really think, about her references, rather than just peeling them loose from their cultural contexts and dropping them, plop!, and watching the semiotic ripples spread out, she’ll be truly non-boring. Reading a Deeply Silly commentary on the “Telephone” video by “Gaga blogger and doctoral student Meghan Vicks,” who wheels out the obligatory reference to Foucault’s Discipline and Punish to Explain It All For Us, I’m reminded of a lazy afternoon in L.A., sometime in the ’80s, listening to a masseuse to the stars telling me she’d seen Madonna carrying a copy of Foucault’s book in her purse to certify her scandalousness. Apparently, my friend chuckled, the poor dear was under the impression–never having read the damned thing–that it was a bondage manual.

If Gaga learns that thinking is the most dangerous act of all, she’ll really be one scary monster.

There’s about 2,000 more words of that. Take a peek. Dery’s sentences are packed like a Mardi Gras parade of French post-Modernists.

Publish date: April 20, 2010 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT