Let there be no doubt: Camille Paglia hates Lady Gaga — and she says so, quite clearly — in a relentless, unbending, 3,200-word, flaying published in The Sunday Times. The article is behind a paywall. I ponied up the $2.00USD access fee for one day access to the website. I was surprised to read not a single kind word was shed in Stefani’s favor:
There are blurred borderlines between the sexes: gender is now alleged to be fabricated rather than biological; so everything is a pose. Thus Gaga welcomed the rumour about her being intersex and converted it into a fashion statement. Casual “hooking up” blends friends and lovers, with sex becoming merely an excuse for filial hugging…. Hence Gaga gratuitously natters on about her vagina. In the sprawling anarchy of the web, the borderline between fact and fiction has melted away.
Paglia loves Madonna and reveres Sarah Palin and she roundly makes several fascinating arguments in her Gaga assassination about technology and imitation and original inspiration in performance — but what I found most compelling about her article was her description of kids today who are disconnected from their bodies because they experience life through blips and Tweets and other, ephemeral, electrical stimulation that suggests activity while actually repressing it:
The web has been a communications revolution, the magnificent fulfilment of Marshall McLuhan’s prophecy of a “global village”. But it has also fragmented and dispersed personal expression, draining energy from the performing arts, with their dynamic physicality.
Paglia connects Gaga’s fame and performance style to that lack of human movement and fallow mocking of universal emotion and she explains why Facial Expression is so important in communication:
Peeping dourly through all that tat is Gaga’s limited range of facial expressions — something she has tried to make a virtue of in her song Poker Face, which perfectly describes her frosty mug, except when she goes weepy-tremulous or flashes a goofy, rabbity grin. Her videos repeatedly thrust that blank, lugubrious face at the camera and us; it’s creepy and coercive.
We read faces and bodies to receive unspoken clues about how people are feeling and what they’re really thinking. The body does not lie — only the mind does — and removing access to our comprehension of the effective warning clues found in the physical realm wounds our ability to be seen, understood, appreciated, protected and preternaturally valued:
Generation Gaga isn’t bothered by Gaga’s flat affect because they’re not attuned to facial expressions Gaga is in way over her head with her avant-garde pretensions.
Here is the true genius of Paglia’s article, and I wish she’s solely written about this instead of trying to tamp down Gaga’s fame that is obliterating Madonna from the face of Hollywood in the only currency of language that matters: Money from record sales.
Generation Gaga doesn’t identify with powerful vocal styles because their own voices have atrophied: they communicate mutely via a constant stream of atomised, telegraphic text messages. Gaga’s flat affect doesn’t bother them because they’re not attuned to facial expressions. They don’t notice her awkwardness because they’ve abandoned body language in daily interactions. They’re not repelled by the choppy cutting of her videos (in febrile one-second bursts) because that’s how they process reality — as a cluttered, de-centred environment of floating bits.
Paglia re-confirms what I have noticed teaching American Sign Language: Students today have dead faces and limp bodies and are unable to even attempt to create an appropriate facial expression. They are also incapable of effectively “reading” the faces of others around them — and I understand that is not an easy task when you have a blank, mouldering, canvas of a face peering back at you across the classroom.
Kids today live internally. The only excitement in their bodies is focused on their fingertips for typing and texting. They experience the world through their hands and eyes while their hearts enlarge and their spirit atrophies.
Gaga’s fans are marooned in a global technocracy of fancy gadgets but emotional poverty. Everything is refracted for them through the media. They have been raised in a relativistic cultural vacuum where chronology and sequence as well as distinctions of value have been lost or jettisoned by politically correct educators.
The lesson in Lady Gaga is that we must all begin to wake up and live — and not be like her, or cursed like her, or dead like her — and we must lift up our eyes from the flickering text screen and stare into the sun so that we may begin to re-integrate with the rest of society and re-learn how to recognize our reflexive, kinetic, reflection in the faces of those surrounding us.