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I Think I’m Ready To Stop Kidding Myself About Lady Gaga’s “Judas”

I’m going to level with you Beatdown: this piece was almost going to be about how much I still love Lady Gaga, how innovative and interesting and important she still is. This morning I realized that I wasn’t writing objectively about the song, but was instead pushing this really obsequious pro-Gaga agenda. This meant I had to start from scratch. I’m sorry for spending so much time writing a draft intended to pull the wool over your eyes, but this is apparently the year of embracing musical anti-heroes and I feel comfortable with the “douchebag footprint” of my Gaga love. That’s why I wish “Judas” was a lot better than it is.

When I started writing I had this complicated thesis that a part of this video was actually Lady Gaga working through and picking apart the misogyny of the Catholic Church and exploring her relationship with organized religion. She wasn’t just writing racy biblical slash fic, she was creating a space to discuss the way women have traditionally been marginalized and silenced in religious texts and creating a space for her own queer religious identity. Which is probably true to some degree, but my analysis went on for much too long and made some conclusions that I’m sure were motivated by a desire to keep Gaga up on that pedestal she’s occupied in my heart for so long.

But “Judas” is terribly written and the video is boring. It’s like a religious version of “Bad Romance” with more outfits. The only high point comes when you realize that she isn’t ripping off Madonna quite as blatantly anymore, unless you feel the fact that Gaga was raised Catholic and sings songs about religion is de facto musical plagiarism. Setting aside the obvious conclusion that Lady Gaga’s Religious Tableau Extravaganza is shaking out to be The Immaculate Concept Album – it is odd how many people I’ve met that have only one thing to say about the New Gaga. “She’s ripping off Madonna!”

Because, of course, women do not find inspiration in the work of other women. Women steal from each other. Radiohead, Bill Hicks, Jimmy Hendrix, The Beatles, Richard Pryor — men — are innovators. When the next generation contains 100 variations on their sound or their comedy, that is the power of influence and the continuance of tradition. But when two women sound alike, that is coded as cultural theft. Because there is so little real estate afforded to anyone other than men in the realm of Internet music criticism, where dudes compete on Twitter to kiss the asses of other “It” music dudes and pause occasionally to tell ladies the real problem is they just don’t make “GREAT ALBUMS OF GREAT IMPORTANCE” while pointing at the “Auto-tuned Sex Vixen of the Moment” as evidence of this, even if that person is doing interesting, complicated work.

This Dude Music Complex augments the way we look at all music that not made by cis men. And it makes us very quick to hold other music to a much higher standard of originality, so that we know it will be pleasing to the dominant. A lady needs to be without influences to be great, she needs to make no references, pitch no homages; she must work twice as hard for half the attention. There are always going to be the people who want to nail Gaga to The Copycat Cross. But there are also going to always be people rolling around talking about how Laura Nyro really deserves the credit for the best parts of Joni Mitchell’s work, and Kate Bush deserves all the credit for the best parts of Tori Amos because they want to trace a line from Bush to Joanna Newsom, then collapse them into one unit of culture they can carry around in their pocket, like a stick from an Ice Cream Novelty that has a joke printed on it.

However, we do need to talk about the implications of Stephanie Germanotta as Lady Gaga’s various “looks” throughout this video. This is the real critical “gravy” of this particular music video, and we’d be silly not to talk about it.

We open on a highway, where men on motorcycles (and one Lady Gaga!) are riding in a pack. As the bikers pass, we get a shot of what is written on the back of their jackets:

Shot of one of the men on the motorcycles with JUDAS on the back of his leather jacket in white letters with a skull beneath it, both of which are surrounded by a border that looks like metal studs or rhinestones

Shot of one of the men on the motorcycles with JUDAS on the back of his leather jacket in white letters with a skull beneath it, both of which are surrounded by a border that looks like metal studs or rhinestones.

Gaga starts singing about being in love with Judas and we cut to a shot of Gaga and Jesus sitting on a motorcycle, in front of whatever color screen they shoot things against these days to add backdrops in later. Gaga is apparently satisfied with the results:

“Honestly, it came out more incredible than I thought it would. It’s so beautiful. It’s like a fresco come to life. We went on set and we just shot the sh*t out of it.”

Lady Gaga with golden headdress/crown upon her head sits behind a person wearing a golden crown of thorns on a motorcycle in front of a fake shot of other motorcycles behind them. This person is understood to be Jesus.

Lady Gaga with a crown upon her head sits behind a person wearing a golden crown of thorns.

The Apostles and Co. get to the night club and Jesus is doing his messiah thing and Mary Magdalene/Gaga is like “I’m going to have a rave outside, come get me when you get ready to leave.” And then we have more shots of Gaga on the Motorcycle, which, given the Born This Way album cover and it’s creepy Wheeler overtones, is to be expected. She sings about washing his hair with her feet and being betrayed three times – a reference to the three denials made by Simon Peter, the fisherman.

Gaga then makes a quick change into a bikini with crosses on it and a red waist cape.

Lady Gaga wearing a red bikini top with a white crucifix on the center of each cup, and half of a red skirt - dancing with backup dancers in fairly bland modified athletic clothing.

Lady Gaga wearing a red bikini top with a white crucifix on the center of each cup, and half of a red skirt - dancing with backup dancers in fairly bland modified athletic clothing.

Lady Gaga, is also, it should be noted, inside the club with Judas, leading another dance party, in a separate outfit. Judas, played by Norman Reedus, is availing himself of the groupies, getting some of that hot, hot residual Jesus tail, and Jesus is giving him the Eternal Jesus Hate Stare — either because he knows Gaga is hot for him or because he’s jealous himself. Then this outfit happens:

Lady Gaga in a blue leather outift with blue fringe and a sacred heart on her chest; a red paisley bandanna holding back her blonde hair, and long blue nails that come to points.

Lady Gaga in a blue leather outift with a sacred heart on her chest and a red paisley bandanna holding back her blonde hair, and long ass blue Gaga nails.

Fun facts about the Sacred Heart! It is a very old Catholic symbol. Lady Gaga’s went to a Catholic Prvate School called “Convent for the Sacred Heart.” Images of a heart pierced by a sword or covered in thorns have been around for hundreds of years. But this really feels like cultural appropriation to me. It feels like Gaga has modified the trajectory of Madonna with a Nitrous Tank of Gwen Stefani’s “Take From World Cultures All That Suits Me” mentality, and it is exactly he opposite of what anyone likes about Lady Gaga.

I went to the Tiger Beatdown backchannel with this question and the picture, asking

Is this a good criticism? Can I simply look at things and say “This feels like an outfit that takes from so many places in order to look like a new outfit, instead of a quilt of White Neocolonialism?”

And Flavia responded

If you want to contextualize it even more in the Latina appropriation, you can also mention her faux shout outs to Cholas in Born this Way. It looks/ feels to me like the Sacred Heart as an “accessory” is part of a larger narrative where she takes what she sees as “suiting” her aesthetic needs and then cultures, religious symbols, nationalities, gender identities, etc, etc, all become a “fashion accessory” more than entities with distinctive, unique characters. And if it was the only/ first time it happened, sure, I would probably let it slide, but paired with her lyrics about Cholas (and other minorities), then it becomes part of a larger and on going problem.

Sady mentioned that parts of Lady Gaga’s upcoming single “Americano” will be in Spanish. Which means that The Gaga Religious Tableau Extravaganza that started with the Swallowed Rosaries of “Alejandro” might actually be annexed by the Lady Gaga Cultural Insensitivity Project, ramped into high gear by the lyrics of “Born This Way” and leading to the outfits above and below this sentence.

Right after this, we had YET. ANOTHER. OUTFIT.

Lady Gaga with giant red and black orbicular hat, vaguely reminiscent of a harlequin or jester, holding a Golden Gun between Jesus and Judas in a moment of tension.

Lady Gaga with a giant black egg hat and a gold crucifix and a red velvet cape, standing between Jesus and Judas.

where Gaga is transformed into an executioner with a golden gun that is actually a very large, very heavy lipstick, the red tip of which she smears all over Judas’ face.

Lady Gaga smearing the lipstick point of the gun on the face of Judas, both of them looking intense.

Lady Gaga with a golden gun lipstick smearing it on the cheek of Norman Reedus, who has been a very naughty boy.

Which is an image that carries with it a lot of intersecting levels of critical flashpoints, not the least being the larger culture’s comfort with a man dominating a women but never the reverse, but also the feedback loop that occurs when you try to consider the implications of makeup as a signifier of male humiliation. Is this empowerment? Is this art? Is everyone having fun?

Immediately following we have a jumbled mess of a lyric about the difference between Biblical Context and Cultural Context –

In the most Biblical sense
I am beyond repentance
Fame hooker, prostitute wench
vomits her mind
But in the cultural sense
I just speak in future tense
Judas kiss me if offensed
Or wear ear condom next time

She’s acknowledging that she has a stake in these concepts and traditions, even if she isn’t an Orthodox or Traditional adherent to the faith, which goes back to the lines in “Born This Way” about loving “Him or H.I.M” as a way to discuss the lives of queer people and their rightful place in religious communities — but does so in a way that seems like little more than a clever way to open up another part of the market for her music. Her constant references to loving Jesus feel a little like product placement.

Lady Gaga standing in a cave in a dark metallic gold frock, a fuggled chest piece and her hair up in a bun, standing in water.

Lady Gaga in a Metallic Gold Dress and her hair up in an ornate bun atop her head.

The music stops. Gaga is in a tunnel, wearing a metallic gold dress with an ornate ruffled chest piece and her hair up, looking regal. A tide of water rushes toward her. She is thrown off balance. She looks terrified. At the same time she is also in a tub with Jesus and Judas, and Judas is pouring water down her ass crack. I’d like to talk about the flood for a moment, because I think it might be the most important part of the video. I believe, no bullshit, that this scene is saying something about women being swept out of the narrative of biblical history. Men are the most important part of any biblical story. Women can teach Sunday School or wash someone’s feet, or stand by their man or give birth to the Christ Child as long as they never ask to be seen as important to the story. As long as their part of the story is subservient to the workings of Great Men. If they assert themselves sexually, or step too far out of line, or even turn back to look at something, they end up a pile of feet and hands or a pillar of salt.

A scene with Jesus on the left, Lady Gaga in the middle, and Judas on the right of a giant stone tub with a deep bowl.

Lady Gaga in a stand alone tub with Jesus and Judas, pouring from a carafe of water.

Jesus and Judas kiss, but there wasn’t any tongue so I didn’t screencap it. Which is a good guideline for how far Gaga isn’t willing to go with “Judas” and how safe she is playing with this material. Maybe that’s unfair. Maybe I’m so high on special rights and cultural expectation that the sight of two men not tongue-kissing offends me. Maybe Gaga aims to bring a lot more people into her fold by blending sex with religion in a really boring, palatable way, and wanted to make a video that didn’t offend any future consumers.

Finally, Gaga becomes the Virgin Mother SCENE QUEEN

Lady Gaga with black hair with blond stripes, in a wedding dress, possibly pregnant, being stoned by a crowd of angry people.

Lady Gaga with Black Hair dyed with blond stripes, in a wedding dress, possibly with a baby bump.

Which is a comment on the ways the faithful will turn on any woman, even the Virgin herself or her fiercest adherents if she is seen as challenging the Male Hypostatic Union. Or maybe it is a comment on how Gaga sees herself in relation to her critics. It is a depiction of organized violence against women, so it can’t mean nothing, but I also get the feeling that Gaga isn’t making statements to do anything but make statements, and that the only real message of the video is that Lady Gaga can still release interesting music videos, even if she doesn’t have anything interesting to say.

43 Comments

  1. nichole wrote:

    Still digesting this – thank you for the good analysis.

    Two things: I saw the backup dancers as lepers in their tattered bandages. The other bit that jumped out at me was that she pats Peter’s leather-jacketed back on the line “build a house” – pretty sharp reference to Peter as “rock” of the church. It’s stuff like that makes me think Gaga doesn’t do anything by accident, which is why unpacking the steganography is often so dang fun.

    Monday, May 9, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Permalink
  2. Daniel N wrote:

    I thought the narrative of this song was just Bad Romance + Biblical references, but unlike Bad Romance, where she considers herself complicit in the “badness” of the relationship, she spends most of it shaming herself for being in love with a bad man, with the water sequence and subsequent Virgin Mary sequence as her trying to cleanse herself of him. I don’t know, I just thought she was using the Bible allegory because it’s interesting narrative device and because she knew it would be controversial.

    Monday, May 9, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Permalink
  3. Matarij wrote:

    great deconstruction. gaga for me is faux madonna – she seems to be making uninformed statements tat do not have her heart behind them. madonna OWNED her stuff.

    Monday, May 9, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Permalink
  4. loriadorable wrote:

    I feel like the fact that Jesus is of color and Judas is white is worth mentioning. I also feel like 90% of this video is bullshit, so take from that what you will.

    Monday, May 9, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Permalink
  5. For me, the bigger problem with Gaga is that, by now, she bores me.

    Her first album was packed with good/ bouncy dance tunes but then she fancied herself bigger than life and now a pair of McQueen heels and a Latino looking man riding a motorcycle have the same intrinsic narrative value: props for her “arty/ faux edgy” aesthetic. And the excess in appropriation seems to be getting more unrefined with each new video. I really wonder where this will lead in say, five or six singles from now. Because surely getting more over the top with each release cannot be a long term strategy?

    Monday, May 9, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Permalink
  6. MLucky wrote:

    Lady Gaga identifies powerful symbols and plays with them. I haven’t seen evidence of mature insight coming from her her, though.

    Her mashups of symbolism often include an implied sexual violence — against her own body.

    So, how different is she really? Our whole culture is conducting a war against the female body. Adding a twist by wielding the gun oneself shows a genius for marketing, not meaning.

    Lady Gaga has a lot of celebrity influence. To read too much into her artistic output is to give her credit for being older and wiser than she really is.

    She’s surfing on how serious her audience takes her, but she’s not actually creating serious work to warrant it.

    BTW — did you see Rolling Stone’s recent 100-Best issue?

    Check out how many women made the list — then turn to the back and check out how many women were among the judges.

    Monday, May 9, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Permalink
  7. treeofjessie wrote:

    “At the same time she is also in a tub with Jesus and Judas, and Judas is pouring water down her ass crack.”

    just for the record… he’s actually pouring a beer on her ass, not water. i feel like that’s an important fact.

    i mean, what, is this a late 90s nelly video or is it the new lady gaga?

    Monday, May 9, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Permalink
  8. MLucky wrote:

    And she dies at the end.
    Nothing new there in the least for a modern pop star who is female.
    Message — you can make your statement but you must supply us with a dead body on the floor after that.
    She’s like the CSI of pop stars — dead bodies must be on the floor.

    Monday, May 9, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Permalink
  9. Carolyn wrote:

    “Men are the most important part of any biblical story.”

    As a feminist Christian (which I realize some people will never accept exists, but wevs) I have to disagree with this. I’d agree that people have often interpreted the Bible in this fashion, and I’d agree that women definitely have less than 50% of the leading roles, but it is flat-out not true that they never have the key role. First of all, in the context of the New Testament, washing feet as a leading role is kinda the point. The whole thing is about humility. The submissive posture is precisely what makes that woman important. Her caretaking is dismissed by the disciples but praised by Jesus.

    Second, there are many stories in which women are crucial – Ruth and Naomi, Judith and Holofernes (admittedly apocrypha), Esther, and, though you dismiss her – Mary is pretty darn crucial to the whole Jesus-being-born thing. My favorite, however, is that the women are the ones to discover that Jesus has risen and are given the task of first alerting the others.

    Anyway I think part of the problem with Gaga’s and Madonna’s use of Christianity is that it uses popularized Christian tropes and -perhaps because of the nature of the medium – thus further obscures real issues. Their images aren’t taken directly from the Bible, but more from a sort of commodified Christianity (which is its own problem). So when they critique Xtianity from a feminist perspective, people see it as Xtianity-for-real but really it’s Xtianity-through-a-filter.

    Monday, May 9, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Permalink
  10. Gnatalby wrote:

    @Carolyn:

    The thing is, all of those women you mention are important primarily in how they submit to men, seduce them to further their needs, or have their babies.* In life, I hear tell, women do more things than have sex with dudes!

    What I find interesting is that Gagdalene may be in love with Judas, but neither Judas nor Jesus seems to lover her back. They might not tongue kiss, but they are definitely engaging in some homosocial bonding by sharing their woman in the bath and emphasizing her humiliation by pouring a beer all over her while she services them.

    Monday, May 9, 2011 at 8:07 pm | Permalink
  11. Great piece! I’ve been meaning to sit down with at least one of my Catholic friends and beg them to attempt to explain any of this to me.

    Monday, May 9, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Permalink
  12. Athenia wrote:

    I really love the water interlude part of the video. Traditionally, water represents purification…but I believe water can also signify sex to some people. Which is why it’s interesting to see both Jesus and Judas in the tube with her, her pouring water and then Judas pouring beer on her. It’s like the anti-washing of the feet.

    Monday, May 9, 2011 at 9:57 pm | Permalink
  13. Lola wrote:

    Gaga was never innovative. Her music has all been done before, aswell as her supposed “original” styles (gimme a break)… It’s all been a pastiche of the old garde i.e. Elton John, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion etc and Ibiza eurovision music… The videos are pastiches of every corny seen-before video or using all elements that are highly popular at the time (example, Paparazzi – an emo kids sexual cupcake-coloured fantasy)… Gaga is the Queen of the lowest common denominator, her Britney moves – in Couture (how edgy) – looking like a generic, wannabe dress-up party, rather than meaningful “art”

    Since when does one have to put “meaning” into bland, generic shite ?

    Monday, May 9, 2011 at 10:55 pm | Permalink
  14. Lola wrote:

    “There are always going to be the people who want to nail Gaga to The Copycat Cross.”

    You have to do your research. She has ripped off numerous people, it’s stupid to think people just say it because it’s “a thing to do” or something.

    Besides, again, why does her music warrant any deep analysing, when neither her music, nor her videos are deep (or interesting … except for maybe Nick Knights) ?

    Fluffy bull poppycock

    Monday, May 9, 2011 at 11:02 pm | Permalink
  15. JLR wrote:

    I think it’s important to mention that the kiss b/w Judas and Jesus is a replay of how Judas actually betrayed Jesus—by kissing him on the cheek.

    I appreciate this viewpoint; I’m about to write a positive review of the video for my very conservative school’s newspaper (pushing buttons is my favorite hobby).

    It would be interesting to see if anyone has done a frame-by-frame breakdown of whether or not Gaga references any Renaissance paintings or Rembrandts in her choice of staging.

    As a religious person, I see this as a meditation on clinging to evil while desiring good; as such, it is far more successful than the utter drivel the CCM puts out.

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 12:58 am | Permalink
  16. Ms. Rev. wrote:

    Garland I really liked hearing your internal narration about this video, and I’m really glad that you backed away from fawning over it automatically. I love the last half of that last paragraph. I second a lot of what Flavia said. I grew up in a small town that was mostly Mexican and Mexican-American, and I came to faith with nuns in south central LA, and it’s gross to see the highly significant religious and cultural imagery of those communities co-opted in this way. And it’s kind of upsetting to me because she *could* have used these images and this song to be theologically provocative in a super hot way (and despite my irritation at her wasted opportunity I think the Jesus in this video is the fucking best visual depiction of a contemporary Jesus I have ever seen, and I look at a LOT of Jesus-related art. Also, Loriadorable’s comment about a POC Jesus and a white Judas is pertinent here, given the centuries-long tradition of making Jesus and the “good disciples” pale and Judas dark/”Jewish-looking”/ugly in artistic renderings of the Last Supper).

    Also, comparing her with Madonna might be more accurate than we’d like. Madonna also didn’t give a shit about stealing people’s cultures and religions in order to make pretty music videos and bucketloads of cash.

    Finally, Carolyn is right: men are not the center of every biblical story. Women have not been dramatically washed out of the biblical narratives. There are lots of stories in the Bible about women misbehaving and being honored for their misbehavior. Your serious mischaracterization of this does not help your argument; in fact, using giant generalizations about communities you don’t belong to you mimic what Lady Gaga is doing (i.e. “All Muslim women who wear hijab are obvs oppressed!”).

    HOWEVER! BIBLICAL SCHOLARSHIP NERDITY COMING: Ironically, in relationship to Carolyn’s (I think flawed) exegesis above, the anointing woman story is one of the most awesome and horrifying example of patriarchal overlay in biblical narratives. In the earliest canonical Gospel – Mark (composed c. 70 CE) – the woman anoints Jesus’s *head* with oil (and the male disciples are PISSED about it, and Jesus defends her). Within the context of the Israelite tradition, this is really obviously Jesus’s anointing for kingship – this is what happens in the Hebrew Scriptures when there’s a king who’s about to be raised up: a prophet anoints his head with oil. This is the only instance in which this happens to Jesus. Also, the entire word Messiah, in the Greek, means Anointed. Whenever anyone is calling Jesus “Messiah” they are naming him as “the Anointed”. No other anointing of Jesus happens anywhere else in the Gospels. She does it! Only this unnamed prophet woman! And Jesus says, “Wherever my story is told, her story will be told.” This is the only time when Jesus specifically asks for his community to commemorate someone – and he links her action unequivocally to his ministry – and it’s a shameful mark of the whole church that we don’t tell her story whenever we tell Jesus’s. If we were actually to do what he asked, we would talk about her constantly at church. But (big shocker) we don’t.

    In the next Gospel (Matthew, c. 80 CE) he basically tells the story the same way Mark did. No quibbles there. (And I’m using “Mark” and “Matthew” etc. as shorthand for communities who put these texts together, fyi.) But then we get to Luke (c. 90 CE, debated), put together about 20 years after Mark, and he TOTALLY fucks up the story! He removes it from the Passion narrative, he calls the woman a sinner, he has her anoint Jesus’s feet instead of his head, completely removing the prophetic aspect from it, basically destroying whatever is interesting about this story and turning it into a parable about a “sinful” woman’s obedience and submissiveness. VOMIT. This is typical for Luke, who fascinatingly has the most women characters in his Gospel but he totally silences them. They are not allowed to speak and you can just watch the slow erasure of the absolute vibrancy and shockingness of Jesus’s gender politics. The Gospel of John (c. 90-120 CE, debated) does the same – gives the woman a name from another part of the Bible, has her wash his feet, etc. It’s like watching a virus slowly eat away at the radicalism of the Jesus movement, particularly concerning women. So it’s especially intense to see Lady Gaga mess around with it, because she isn’t claiming any of the original power of the story, she’s “updating” it by making it some screwed up fight over her body between Jesus and Judas. Because two men competing for one skinny white cis lady is definitely what’s most radical and provocative in this tradition. *eye roll* *headdesk*

    /longestcommentever

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 2:39 am | Permalink
  17. A Nonny Moose wrote:

    Have you read Gaga Stigmata’s deconstruction of the video? It’s an excellent read, covers some other points regarding the clothing, her jewellery/nails, and most importantly a more indepth analysis of the “incoming tide” sequence.

    Everyone’s take away from the song is different, but if you’re feeling a little jaded about Gaga not following through with bigger/better, more original songs, remember this is pop, and she creates her images/sounds on disposability and the ubiquitousness of pop.

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 2:48 am | Permalink
  18. Jordan Rastrick wrote:

    Garland, Ms Rev, Carolyn – THANK YOU.

    It may as usual just be my mild hypomania talking, but this post strikes me as a tour de force. I don’t know if its right per se – interpreting art “correctly” is always a crapshoot – but its supremely honest, interesting, engaging, and bold.

    As to feminist Christanity, as it happens I recently *converted* from Atheism having being inspired of all things primarily by reading this blog, viewing videos from Jay Smooth’s Ill Doctrine, and thinking about my personal relationship to music.

    Coming to terms with my own racist preconceptions about the relative levels of both sophistication and misogyny, in rock versus hip hop, really opened my (white, male, straight, cis) eyes to a deeper understanding of privilege – as a culturally-inherited refusal to even notice the evils we help perpetrate – in a way that reading theory in feminist blogs never really had before.

    Chuck in a few choice Martin Luther King quotes, and it actually wasn’t much more of a step for me, given my philosophical and moral framework, to finally come up with a coherent personal articulation of Original Sin, Grace, Salvation on the Cross, and the rest.

    I’ll admit its not easy trying to defend the idea that I can believe in what clearly seems to me to be the core message of a religion, while holding that the Scriptures and tradition which convey that message are perfectly fallible and their biases (that largely align against the radical core of the original ideas) must be taken into account. But its nice to know that, if I do view the Gospel differently to most self-identifying Christians I know, at least I’m not alone.

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 9:51 am | Permalink
  19. samanthab wrote:

    Well, regardless of how you view Christianity, Gaga’s line,

    “In the most Biblical sense
    I am beyond repentance
    Fame hooker, prostitute wench”

    is a completely dishonest representation of Christianity. Jesus does in fact explicitly redeem a prostitute in a highly significant moment in the Bible. And he castigates those who judge her and generally those who judge anyone but themselves. Gaga’s profound misrepresentation makes me think she’s more interested in provocation than serious dialogue.

    And, repentance is something that comes from within one’s self. It doesn’t make sense that anyone would be beyond repentance. I suppose she wants the word “redemption,” but, regardless, it’s not an honest argument, in any sense.

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Permalink
  20. Finnegan wrote:

    Wait, I’m confused: how is a person of Roman Catholic background (Irish-Italian, I believe?) making use of Roman Catholic imagery an appropriation of Latino culture? Is any of this uniquely Latin American (because it all seemed quite familiar to my Irish-Scots self)? Am I missing something?

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Permalink
  21. Maria wrote:

    @SamanthaB:

    yup, he thinks that the fact she is a prostitute means she needs to be redeemed. cause she’s a whore, and a whore needs to be fixed. hence the entire point of the story. (‘jesus is so nice! he EVEN loves hookers. yup, even women who sell their body for sex. even those dirty people. WOW, he’s a good guy.’)

    a second point i want to quote you on, but you are by no means the only person espousing this view which is why i want to mention it:

    “Gaga’s profound misrepresentation makes me think she’s more interested in provocation than serious dialogue.”

    people keep saying stuff like this as if provocation and dialogue are mutually exclusive. this video was interesting enough for GG to want to analyse it, even if he came to the conclusion that it was too safe and boring for gaga’s standards. it’s provoking a dialogue about cultural appropriation and religious interpretation. i don’t see how anyone got the impression gaga was trying to start a serious dialogue anyway. her idol is warhol. a man dedicated to painting cans. he might be serious about his art but he wasn’t serious about the criticism it garnered. people assume gaga wants to say something coherent. people will continue to be disappointed. so it goes.

    she’s going for an interesting image, she’s making the art she wants to make. i wish we’d stop holding a pop star (who loves pop, the shallow aesthetics of it and its exaggerated campness) up as some kind of political spokesperson just because she’s a bit more intriguing than the other pop stars dancing around in their underwear.

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 9:42 pm | Permalink
  22. Maria wrote:

    Also.

    “Her constant references to loving Jesus feel a little like product placement.”

    *Judas. She’s in love with Judas. (Ju-da-aas.)

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 10:03 pm | Permalink
  23. aravind wrote:

    “Well, regardless of how you view Christianity, Gaga’s line, [...] is a completely dishonest representation of Christianity.”

    But the crowd the claims to represent a literal interpretation of the Bible does get behind those sorts of anti-feminist narratives. I think it makes more sense to view this video as a response to contemporary Christianity (Phelps’ granddaughters singing parody Gaga songs included) than the Bible and other literary sources of Christianity (and other historical stuff).

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 12:01 am | Permalink
  24. aravind wrote:

    “THAT claims”… I can’t type.

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 12:02 am | Permalink
  25. Mamram wrote:

    “I also get the feeling that Gaga isn’t making statements to do anything but make statements”

    This is how I feel about her in general. There is absolutely nothing wrong with fun, catchy, vapid pop music. But the “‘arty/faux edgy’ aesthetic” (as Flavia put it) of her music videos tries to mask the vapidity by creating the illusion of depth, while still being about as meaningful as a Ke$ha video. And that annoys the heck out of me. That, and reading a few interviews with her pretty much solidified my suspicion that there isn’t much of a grand artistic vision to her work.

    By trying to turn every little thing she does into some kind of deep statement, a lot of her fans only denigrate what she is actually fantastic at: wildly catchy pop music.

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Permalink
  26. Susan wrote:

    “Lady Gaga can still release interesting music videos, even if she doesn’t have anything interesting to say.”

    Pretty much this. It’s an okay music video, but the song is BAD. It’s not even good dance music like her other stuff has been.

    Being completely honest though, I think I’m mostly cranky with this song because a dance club style song about Judas and the complex character he is portrayed as in, say, the Book of Judas and being in love with him is RIGHT UP MY ALLEY. I would listen to that all day long! A well done song about Judas vs. Jesus or Judas and Jesus would be amazing! And this song just isn’t that. There’s nothing *interesting* in the lyrics.

    Except this: “Judas kiss me if offensed/ Or wear an ear condom next time.” Because WTF?

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Permalink
  27. Sara wrote:

    Some of this dialogue has me wondering about this idea of “stealing” a culture. When does assimilation become appropriation? Or is it always the same if that person has privilege?

    Also, I’m not sure how one steals a culture, it’s not like someone is taking away your culture and now you don’t have one anymore.

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Permalink
  28. The problem with cultural appropriation is that it replaces the original with a copy created by the dominant culture. It dilutes the original, removes all symbolic value from it and replaces it with a ready to consume product devoid of context and meaning.

    Cultural appropriation, at its most extreme, is a violent form of colonization because it removes the original group behind the culture and reinforces stereotypes about that group (i.e. ALL First Nation folks are reduced to “war bonnets”, whether their culture uses them or not; all Latin@s are reduced to a stylized version of Catholicism regardless of their spirituality; etc.). The mechanism of commodifying a culture ends up being a tool to re-inforce racism as it reduces the people behind those cultures to a mere cartoon like representation of their realities. It’s a great way to ultimately Other and objectify entire groups of people by taking something that is dynamic and ever evolving and freezing it for a marketing photo opportunity.

    Thursday, May 12, 2011 at 3:51 am | Permalink
  29. Jordan Rastrick wrote:

    Flavia, do you think this is what it is? Or do you think its just one dominant culture trying to incorporate parts of a less dominant culture into itself, and doing a bad job?

    I mean in a way I guess that’s the same thing. To draw the biology analogy, Pseudo-First Nation culture or Pseudo-Latin culture is like mainstream Western culture trying to vaccinate itself against the real content of those traditions by incorporating a dead and powerless copy of them into its own discourse.

    Thursday, May 12, 2011 at 4:52 am | Permalink
  30. Jordan, I think she is bedazzled by her own success and she seems to be surrounded by a chorus of sycophantic voices who do not tell her that she might be on a path that is alienating to a whole bunch of people.

    This debacle started with Born this Way, which honestly? It was TERRIBLE from a cultural appropriation stand point. Her use of the word “Oriental”?! Her lyrical mishmash of cultures, identities, nationalities, etc in an effort to be overly inclusive was not just disingenuous but it ended up being racist in its misuse of words. And you know, if someone right off the street used the word “Oriental” to refer to an Asian person, I would do my proverbial eyebrow raising and not think much of it because I am aware that most people are not exposed to diversity and they have troubles, as it is, keeping up with their lives and the correct definitions we use. That is not to say the ordinary folk should always get a free pass, but context matters. Now, on the other hand, when an artist that has access to a billion dollars marketing machinery, where all the resources are at her disposal and she purposefully exercises her privilege by using a word that has a long history of racism behind, I see no reason to give this person a free pass.

    Now, let me tell you this: I do not ascribe evil motives to her ignorance. I think she is only partly to blame for this. But another part of the responsibility lays with mainstream media that leaves all of these issues unchallenged and use her as a tool to perpetuate the racial status quo (what’s better than a pretty, talented, blond woman to use as a symbolic “Us” to grab around any prop we need to continue the march of colonization undisputed?).

    Also, that’s the reason why I am not entirely comfortable pointing fingers exclusively at her. Sure, she has individual responsibility for her actions, but the collective force that keeps telling her she is without fault should also be held accountable, probably equally so.

    Thursday, May 12, 2011 at 5:14 am | Permalink
  31. Marie wrote:

    @Finnegan: You and me both. I was raised a Catholic in France, and the sacred heart is part of very popular imagery here, too (basilique du Sacré Coeur, anyone?). I could understand the accusation of cultural appropriation if she were not Western, but I would think that anyone of European descent has the right to use the New Testament in their art and that any Catholic can use the sacred heart without being accused of intellectual theft.

    Thursday, May 12, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Permalink
  32. Mazarine wrote:

    I watched this video last night, the first time i watched it, it was so boring that I couldn’t even get through the first motorcycle scene. How, HOW can she spend so much money on costumes, but not pay any composers to make the music more complex, more surprising, more beautiful?

    And that golden gun?

    “Hands up! This is a make-over!”

    Thursday, May 12, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Permalink
  33. Ms. Rev. wrote:

    @Marie, the Sacred Heart is not the only piece of stylized imagery in the video. And I agree with you, I think lots of people can claim ownership of and attachment to that particular symbol – it has a long history. However, she’s using an extensive visual language around Latin@ culture in the U.S. (check Jesus’s braids and bling, her red bandanna) throughout the video, and as Flavia keeps pointing out, there’s no reason to give her a free pass. There is no reason to assume good faith on her part (pun totally intended), and it’s upsetting that there’s a collective apathy about holding anyone accountable for such blatant appropriation.

    Friday, May 13, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Permalink
  34. Emmitt wrote:

    I kind of have to take offense (that’s not the right word, is it? I dunno) at how people keep using “arty” with quotation marks to describe Gaga’s work as if it’s not actually art or something. Like somebody up there said all she does is make pastiches of lowest common denominator work. As if pastiches aren’t inherently meaningful in and of themselves. Or as if something being low-brow excuses it from having to be meaningful. Like when she drops allusions to Hitchcock and his sexually repressed characters in a song called Bad Romance, you’d have to be willfully ignorant to think there’s nothing happening there. I’d hate to bring up the Tarantino comparison because it’s such an obvious one but Gaga’s stuff works in pretty much the same way.

    Friday, May 13, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Permalink
  35. Owl wrote:

    When I first heard this song, particularly the line “I wash his feet with my hair if he needs/Even after three times he betrays me,” I thought Gaga was taking on the identity of Jesus himself, expressing a love (romantic, platonic or otherwise) for someone who routinely betrays her, even at the expense of her own life. It wasn’t until she references Jesus later in the song that I realized she had set up a love triangle of sorts, with her in the center between a “good” and a “bad” man. Frankly, I thought my way was more interesting, and was somewhat disappointed by Gaga’s choice to portray Mary Magdalene. It seemed predictable, and I kind of wish Gaga had just gone for it and been Jesus herself. But I think that since she was dealing with the touchy subject of religion, she played it safe (relatively, of course), and that safety ultimately weakened the song and video.

    As for the video, I found it somewhat dull. Gaga’s videos have lost their freshness, and I feel she’s relying on the same formula time and again. I keep finding myself wishing that her videos were more unified, as so many outfit and scene changes become confusing after a while.

    As for her appropriation, well, I don’t know how I feel about that. The sacred heart image is important in a lot of cultures, not just Latino ones, and is prominent in the Italian tradition as well, and would be something that Gaga grew up seeing, being of Italian descent. While I bristled at her use of the words “Chola” and “Oriental” in “Born This Way” (which I didn’t like), I don’t know if the use of this symbol can be taken the same way. I agree that there is a certain insensitivity to the images and customs of many cultures in the pop scene, but being that Gaga comes from a Roman Catholic background, the sacred heart image is actually part of her own culture. By contrast, the world “Chola” is not. If anything, she appropriated biker culture more.

    My favorite outfit was the black egg-hat one, as it reminded me of the costumes worn by medieval and early modern church officials, and once again puts Gaga in a traditionally masculine role. At the same time, while in that outfit Gaga fell to her knees and begged for forgiveness (I think), and so it at once placed her as a punishing, typically masculine figure of authority, and as an emotional, flawed and typically feminine figure of subservience. I did like the set and costume designs that seemed to draw from the medieval tradition. I thought the stoning scene was interesting, too, though it seemed tacked on and jarred stylistically with the rest of the video. The fact that she routinely shows violence against her own body (it happens in the “Alejandro” video as well) says something to me–about the status of female artists, about the status of artists in general, about being different in some way from the general public, I don’t know–but here it seems to underscore the exploration of the idea of the “either/or” so promoted in many organized religions: You can be good OR bad, saved OR damned, right OR wrong, as well as male OR female, with little gray area to explore.

    One of the things I do like about Gaga’s videos is their ability to create dialogue. So many music videos lack substance, and even if Gaga’s art is flawed or superficial, it still manages to generate cultural conversation.

    Saturday, May 14, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Permalink
  36. Jess wrote:

    Regarding the persona that Gaga is taking on in this song & video, my partner insists that she’s flowing from one viewpoint to another throughout, not just ‘being’ Mary Magdalene or anyone else in particular. Like Owl, I was convinced before seeing the video that she was speaking as Jesus.

    Monday, May 16, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Permalink
  37. Steve wrote:

    How about the fact that if you subtract the costumes, her music is just plain old not terribly interesting?

    Monday, May 16, 2011 at 8:23 pm | Permalink
  38. Emmitt wrote:

    Saying her music is uninteresting is a valid opinion but there’s also like no room for discussion there at all. It’s like the people who comment “I can’t believe you’d waste your time writing about this, of all things” on movie reviews or something.

    Monday, May 16, 2011 at 9:42 pm | Permalink
  39. Sady wrote:

    @Emmitt: I dunno. I think the music is pretty uninteresting! Just as music. “Oh, here’s the Ace of Base track. Here’s the Madonna track. Here’s the Elton John/Queen track.” Or whatever. Back in the early days, her media presence was a great subject for picking apart and analyzing, because there was a lot to find there and it actually required you to think about it, but it also seemed like she was bringing something to the table as a musician, you know? Now, the posturing is boring, and the music is boring-er. She found all of the stuff that people were responding to and started marketing it aggressively, which turned into pandering right quick. It’s a shame, because when she was doing interesting stuff, there wasn’t a lot that was more interesting than Lady Gaga, you know? But I don’t think it’s unfair to say that she’s stopped being interesting. Because she has. Maybe it’s just a sophomore slump and she’ll bring the fun back soon.

    Monday, May 16, 2011 at 10:05 pm | Permalink
  40. Emmitt wrote:

    Oh don’t get me wrong–if you think her music is uninteresting, more power to ya. I just feel like any sort of discussion concerning the interesting-ness of her music is probably going to be limited. I don’t know, maybe I’m looking at this from the wrong angle.

    For what it’s worth, I haven’t been terribly disappointed with what we’ve gotten of Born This Way. Nothing that matches the feeling of first listening to Bad Romance but also nothing really bad. I think I’ll have to see how all the songs fit together on the album. It’s shaping up to be the most ’80s album ever and a cool conversation probably lies somewhere in the ways she’s using those tropes.

    I think another thing is that I just can’t separate the music from the rest of her. Sure, listening to Telephone on its own is great but it’s a much better experience when considered in the context of the music video and the crazy costumes and whatnot.

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 1:04 am | Permalink
  41. Rodrigo! wrote:

    Have to say that I understand the concept of Women Stealing Music and Men Being Inspired By Music, as in, I can see how, to a degree, that happens, but I don’t think Lady Gaga is a great example of this.

    Given that she can make smart commentary on art and appropriation like she did on her V column, it is a bit disappointing that her songs are still about being in love with Bad Boys and Partying In The Club. I think there is an important conflict between her discourse vs her actual product.

    Most of the times, she’s appropriating somebody else’s work but she isn’t re-imagining it in order to create something new, a metaphor or whatever. She takes the exact same thing (like, say, the full body tattoo from that freaky high fashion model of the month) makes an exact carbon copy of it on herself and then changes the meaning of it without any coherent discourse. In the same way she takes religion and makes it a discourse on gay people, she could very well do the same on the possibility of life on other planets. It all seems very “because I want it”.

    I find that I mostly agree with what she says and admire how well read she is on the subjects she speaks out about, aside from the whole ‘persona’ she’s intent on building everyday nonstop. Yet her music is very unimpressive, her lyrics are skin-deep, and any music producer can tell you that songs like Bad Romance are done with some very dated cheap samples from the eurodance scene, not to mention the mixing is usually crap.

    Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 3:43 am | Permalink
  42. Em wrote:

    Just one little note as someone who works in film and has studied film: it’s actually kinda rare for people to tongue kiss on screen and when it does happen, it’s often supposed to be comical or intentionally obscene. Kissing generally looks fucking weird on camera and there are plenty of awkwardly shot kissing scenes throughout history to illustrate that point. To make it look beautiful and romantic, people’s heads have to be at very specific angles, their lips have to connect in certain ways, etc. Kissing on camera literally requires choreography for it to look good. When tongue is added, it usually just looks kinda gross (which is why it’s often used for the comedy or gross-out scenes). I mean really, tongues are kinda gross in general – all pink and squishy and full of saliva. It may be fun to partake in but it looks kinda nasty. Also, I’m sorry if this makes me sound prudish, but I know that I personally feel a little like “whoa, get a room” when I see two people (of any gender) making out with tongue. And I know a lot of other people who feel the same way – passionate makeout sessions should happen privately and not in public. Granted, that might be a US thing, since in what little traveling I’ve done through various parts of Europe, it wasn’t uncommon for people to be making out in the streets.

    Monday, May 23, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Permalink
  43. Owl wrote:

    Agreed, EM. I thought that the “lack of tongue” was perfectly normal in the context of the film and the Biblical story on which it is based. There’s no evidence in the video that the Jesus and Judas characters have any romantic feelings for one another. Just because Gaga is queer and explores (to varying levels of success) queer themes doesn’t mean that everything involved in her work has to be queer-themed. To assume so is shortsighted.

    Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Permalink