Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about Lady Gaga’s new video for her song Telephone:
What to make of this? There are some who want to put a feminist label on it, due to Girl Power-esque elements of the video, like the truck labelled “Pussy Wagon” and the female symbol at the end. However, I think this is a misreading. She references Thelma and Louise rather obviously at the end, but much of the rest of it is from exploitation movies of the 70’s. My media studies prof gf notes that these existed in dialog with the women’s liberation movement and thus the video is squarely within a post-feminist context.
I have the same problems with this video that I have with Natural Born Killers (which also clearly influenced it) in that it’s really much too violent to be camp. Lesbian serial killers are the stuff of exploitation films. And, of course, that scene of underwear dancing in the prison is just standard male-gaze music video stuff. It is slightly more complex than this, in that there are ‘real’ seeming lesbians in the prison yard scene. The leather clad dyke appeals to actual lesbians and is less easily placed in the male gaze.
There is also a lot of talk about product placement, which I think is also more complex than it initially appears. I’m sure Virgin was happy to be in the video and may even have paid for it, but Polaroid doesn’t even make those cameras or film anymore and I’m sure Wonder Bread and Miracle Whip are not exactly pleased to be linked with poisoning people to death. I think, instead, the products are meant to construct an image of Americana. The tropes of the video: prison, joshua trees, diners, cheap motel rooms, serial killers, pick up trucks, fuzzy dice; are all very american. And Gaga and Beyonce dancing around in pseudo Wonder Woman outfits at the end explicitly reference the flag, as do the placemats in the diner.
Thus we have an image of America made up of incarceration, road trips and violence. And the formation of (national) identity through consumption. Which may be depressing accurate, but at least is heavily satirised in the video. This is the biggest video in, like, forever and it’s been banned form MTV: the final sign of their irrelevance, as it’s easily viewable via YouTube. The major disappointment is the music. What in that song called out for that treatment? The lyrics talk about being too busy dancing ata club to talk on the phone. It’s ironic when paired with a prison fight scene, but, still, wtf? It’s no Thriller. And yet, every time I watch the video, it grows on me a little.