Lady Professor Sings the Blues
June 2, 2010
My last post skirted the issue, saying I was “too busy” to perform my professorial labors properly: the hard work of “unpacking” lady Gaga. Ha. I’d actually taught the video to my under-grads, read and responded to helpful blogs by several of my favorite professorial types, and grilled my tween daughter about the prison scene (which looks a lot like her other Mom’s “illicit” HBO film, Stranger Inside, shot on the same location, which looks like the many women in prison exploitation flicks it campily quoted).
Virgina Heffernan’s recent post on the comeback of the music video finally helped me call this spade a spade. I didn’t “read” Gaga cause the work’s already been done: by bloggers, journalists, feminist pop-icons, and music video directors (“the density of its references implies that it contains secrets,” writes Heffernan). While there’s been a lot of tears spilled over the death of journalism, less has been spoken about the preempting of cultural studies/feminist/queer-of-color interpretation by the peeps, not to mention the corps. But it’s true! Some of America’s very top ambiguously-raced models make campy, gender-bending, self-referential, cinema historical homages with a pro-sex feminist flair.
There is something dead on about Heffernan’s assertion that, “they chose the right medium. Online video always seems as if it’s going behind the backs of managers and labels; the story of a video’s creation complements its scrappy aesthetic.” But I’d want to add something to her observation. I’ve written a great deal here about the rise of fake “bad” aesthetics (because of and on YouTube, as well as in indie cinema), and Beyonce’s tip of her hat to Bettie Page’s pulp porno style works in the same way. It’s not that its millions of viewers (like my erudite tween) believe the scrappy looking aesthetic is actually plucky, illicit, or back alley: they know it is faked, which makes it also expensive, legal, and mainstream. It’s also not secret (although it pretends to be), given that millions have seen it, and just as many have tweeted: “a trickle-up aesthetic,” according to Some Came Running.
Heffernan continues: “In short, they’re garish, clumsy, erratic, dirty and densely allusive; they seem to come from the margins, back alleys and black markets of commercial culture.” The feminist/queer-of-color media studies classroom (and its beloved indie films, radical documentaries and art videos) were once those black alleys. But YouTube and blogging and other forms of rapid relay outside and beside and beyond and referring to the Professors have moved (some of) our reads, and references, into the limelight.