Monday, March 15, 2010

Lady Gaga's "Telephone" Video Controversy

At my book club meeting yesterday some of my friends were discussing Lady Gaga's newest controversial video "Telephone" featuring Beyoncé, which has apparently been banned on MTV and has been widely discussed in the media lately. Check it out (fair warning, it's rather longish):

Yeah, it's somewhat racy and overtly sexual but I honestly can't say that it's all that shocking or even anything I haven't seen many times before in other venues. In fact, in addition to the obvious Tarantino and Ritchie directorial influences it borrows quite heavily from already established pop culture (MTV's site has a handy guide), whilst also including some not too subtle capitalistic product placement. Now I don't claim to be a Lady Gaga expert (truth be told, I might not even know who she was if not for Internet memes) so I honestly don't know if this is typical of her videos or a radical and tangentially newsworthy departure but regardless, anything deemed controversial by those who know better than you what you should be watching/reading/ingesting/inserting must of course be rightfully decried and destroyed for your own good.

One of my favorite (and I'm assuming somewhat typical of many on the political and social right in this country) reactions comes from Sandy Rios, a FOX News contributor and the president of Culture Campaign, an Illinois-based organization whose mission is "to engage Christians in actively living out and declaring biblical truth in a secular, humanistic American culture" commenting on Megyn Kelly's "news" program America Live today (transcribed by me):

It's the kind of thing we shouldn't even be discussing, much less thinking about from my perspective.
Quite right. Who am I as a rational adult to decide for myself what I should be discussing or even thinking when there are religious folks like Sandy Rios around to tell me what to think? And I'm sure you all remember the clause in the First Amendment to the American Constitution that mentions how free speech that anyone else finds objectionable should be censored for everyone's protection by our nanny state government, right? Oh wait, that clause doesn't exist because that line of thought is total bullshit and just this side of fascist totalitarianism.

But Sandy Rios and her conservative Christian ilk think that it definitely should exist (apparently governmental overreach into the lives of American citizens only exists when it comes to taxes and health care). Here's her reaction to Megyn's incredibly obvious and frankly very patriotic statement that this is art and if you don't like it you should just change the channel and not watch it rather than trying to get it banned for everyone:
You know I'll tell you, I'll give a real simple answer to that: you know that our world is filled with sexual predators. You talk about this every day in the news, these girls that are molested and killed and I don't know if you know this or not Megyn but they've done surveys to find out the men who do these kinds of things to these young girls, something like 85% of them, are involved in some sort of porn. So you may not watch it, your kids may not watch it, but I'm telling you the man next door who's a sexual predator probably does watch it and it has an effect on all of us. This should be outlawed, it should be banned.
What is the phrase "involved in some sort of porn" supposed to mean? Since it seems pretty unlikely that 85% of sexual predators have actually appeared in pornos (not a smart move if you're trying not to get arrested for molestation or rape) I'll assume that she means that 85% of those guys have merely used or seen pornography at some point. Now I have neither research nor polling numbers to back this up but I'd be pretty surprised if someone told me that less than 85% of all men had used or seen porn of some sort or another, much less those who are sexual predators. What kind of sheltered, wishful thinking version of reality is this woman living in where she's this ignorant of the fundamental underlying aspects of human nature and sexuality?

And I think I've heard this argument for why adults shouldn't be allowed to participate in adult behaviour and commit victimless "crimes" with other consenting adults somewhere before. Oh, yeah:

Be it tobacco, alcohol, drugs, gambling or sex I'm sick and tired of hearing the excuse that these things must be forever expunged from every facet of our society because someone else can't or won't be a responsible parent and teach their kids the difference between what's appropriate for children and what's appropriate for adults. Say it with me, soccer moms: "That's only for grown ups!" The problem of course is that for people like Sandy Rios that distinction just isn't enough; adults must also be protected from all things adult because we're just bigger children with the same intellectual and moral deficiencies as our smaller versions.

On that note, one of my favorite quotes/rants ever is by Denis Leary's character Edgar Friendly from the movie Demolition Man:
You see, according to Cocteau's plan, I'm the enemy, 'cause I like to think; I like to read. I'm into freedom of speech and freedom of choice. I'm the kind of guy who likes to sit in a greasy spoon and wonder, "Gee, should I have the T-bone steak or the jumbo rack of barbecued ribs with the side order of gravy fries?" I WANT high cholesterol. I wanna eat bacon and butter and BUCKETS of cheese, okay? I want to smoke a Cuban cigar the size of Cincinnati in the non-smoking section. I want to run through the streets naked with green Jell-o all over my body reading Playboy magazine. Why? Because I suddenly might feel the need to, okay, pal? I've SEEN the future. Do you know what it is? It's a 47-year-old virgin sitting around in his beige pajamas, drinking a banana-broccoli shake, singing "I'm an Oscar Meyer Wiener.
Word. Keep your goddamn government hands off my Medicare and just do your job: telling me and other free adults what thoughts we can have in our heads and what substances/objects we can put into our bodies. That's the American way.

[Update: You can watch an edited clip of the FOX News interview here. And it appears that the reports of MTV banning the music video were false. Good on them for supporting free speech rights.]


Unknown said...

Well spoken

Unknown said...

Thank you! I couldn't have put it any better myself. I saw the video with Sandy Rios and I was absolutely disgusted with this woman. To say that this should be banned because our world is filled with sexual predators who are involved with porn is ludicrous! This isn't pronography, it's a music video. Yes, it's racy and sexual, but what isn't these days? If you don't like it, turn it off and don't let your kids watch it. Don't try to decide what I shouldn't watch.

JoeBama "Truth 101" Kelly said...

Our kids have to to learn about nasty shit. They learn from parents through example. If Dad watches porn, at least with the kids around, that's a bad example.

This video is an example of bad taste at most.

JBW said...

Gracias, halnwolf.

Gracias as well, Melissa. Vilifying criminals is one of the best ways to take rights away from law abiding citizens who enjoy things one disagrees with. Don't believe the hype.

Dispute the taste of the video if you will T101 (I'm not defending it, by the way) but your point about kids learning about nasty shit is well taken. Rios and her conservative cohorts long for a time of childhood innocence that is almost entirely fictional in our country's history.

Beaver Cleaver was a fictional character. And I'm not saying that we should constantly expose our kids to porn but we also shouldn't be afraid to explain it to them in an age appropriate way either. That's why the Cons are so scared of sexuality: they have no idea how to discuss it in any language that doesn't also condemn it as well, and kids have excellent bullshit detectors when it comes to that kind of thing.

Anonymous said...

I don't even know where to start with this, so I'll take Rios:

[Full Disclosure: I am relying on your transcript for this. If I wasn't on spring break right now, there's almost no chance I'd have watched made time for the music video itself, much less an interview.]

I don't have a problem with "much less thinking about, from my perspective" because it seems like a personal statement. I don't think she's telling everyone else not to think about it. As for not "discussing" it, I'll give her some leeway there as well. She probably doesn't want to discuss it because she doesn't want to think about it. When Kelly keeps it going, it sounds like Rios is trying to explain one of the reasons why she doesn't like it. I'm thinking her 85% statistic is more along the lines of deeply involved with porn... how you define that, I'm not sure. Whatever.

But with that aside - and I know that last paragraph doesn't mean much - I don't get this video. What's the point?

[2nd Full Disclosure: I own The Fame Monster album and really enjoy the tunes. I've read multiple interviews with, and about, her in the past. I have never seen another video of hers though.]

Gaga generally sees herself as some new-age pariah who is here to bring tolerance and sexual freedom to the world. I think she feels like she has the ability and podium to really produce change, and her performances, lyrics, videos, interviews, etc are all meant to push these boundaries... and who are we to stop her?

But the more I see and hear of her, the more I think she's really just a shock jock. I have ben struggling to come up with the best analogy for this situation and I just can't find it. When I started thinking about it, people like Howard Stern, Bill O'Reilly and others came to mind.

However, I think the best comparison I can make is to the movie Starship Troopers. Given a few different decisions, that movie could have been a legitimate, sincere sci-fi flick. Somewhere along the way, however, somebody decided to cast (studly) Caspar Van Dien and Denise Richards as the leads... then they decided to add boobs, cheesy effects, cheesier dialogue and Doogie Howser for good measure.

These were all intentional decisions with deliberate outcomes. I think Lady Gaga is very much the same. She knows what she's going, but I'm not quite sure if she realizes that she's flirting pretty hard with becoming a caricature of what she'd like to stand for.

That video was not coherent or consistent. I don't really know what story she was trying to tell other than to make all these little gutteral connections with her viewers. Frankly, I think I have a bigger problem with the (semmingly) unnecessary hate sequence in the diner. I think that might have sent a worse message (whatever the message was) to the children than the bikini girls in jail. At least a 12yo knows that the bikini girls are specifically there for his entertainment. What's he supposed to make of the murder though?

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the typo's. I should proof-read.

JBW said...

To be honest one L, I hadn't put much thought into the "message" of the video because it really didn't make much sense. It's a music video. Yes, there have been some over the years that actually had something important to say but for the most part I just relegate them to the category of art and/or fluff and leave it at that. Rios obviously finds them much more critical and pivotal for society (or at least claims to).

I take exception to the "thinking about and discussing" comments not so much because I think that she's trying to tell me what to think (although I obviously framed my criticism as such for dramatic effect) but rather because if she had her way, neither you nor I nor anyone else would be able to watch the video in question and thus think about and discuss it. She's not trying to censor what I think per say, she'd just censor anything she believes might cause me to think thoughts she doesn't find appropriate and I have a big problem with that.

As to Gaga, I pretty much agree with your assessment of her although as I said I'm not much of a fan so I don't really care about most of what she does. Obviously she's marketing herself in a certain way that demands attention and she's pushing certain boundaries of free expression that I feel should be pushed but I don't consider her a person of any great consequence to our society or culture.

Oh, and Doogie's character was one of the best parts of Starship Troopers. Since you're enjoying your spring break I'm not going to berate you about the genius that is NPH, although I will suggest that you should recognize such. NPH!

stardust said...

I just have to say that i LOVE the quote at the top of your page.
Also, love the scarlet A...;) It is good to see a fellow atheist using the symbol!

As far as Lady Gaga goes...whatever the video may or may not mean, people are overreacting when they say that it 'promotes murder'! How silly. I haven't figured out the point of the video yet (if there is one) but I think she is musically talented. She pushes boundaries over and over, especially in her videos, and that is fine with me. These boundaries need to be pushed.
To be honest, the murder scenes in the videos were more of an homage to 'Natural Born Killers' than anything new and shocking.

stardust said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JBW said...

Gracias, stardust. Always good to hear from a fellow non-believer, especially from as far away as Copenhagen. And I think your NBK comment is right on: the entire video is replete with homages and pop cultural references. Anyone who reads too much into that is wasting their time, in my opinion.