Early last year I wrote in response to ‘Born This Way’, musing that Lady Gaga was “celebrating ‘gay as victim’” in the song and exposing a patronising, privileged view of ‘difference’. It’s safe to say that I don’t think much has improved in that regard over the past year. In fact, with time we’ve come to see that Gaga’s entire identity, entire career even, has come to be based on (and defined by) a false victimhood. At every turn she denies her privilege: she is a wealthy, white, famous pop star from a wealthy background (how we forget that she attended the same school as Paris Hilton). Yet she tells us that she was bullied for being different; that she was a starving artist prior to making it big; that she ‘hates money’; that she is bisexual. Now, in response to a silly, fleeting ‘storm’ over her alleged weight gain, she is the helpless victim of a sexist body fascism – one that is particularly cruel as she also suffered from eating disorders.
As this comment states, taken on their own most of Gaga’s claims to victimhood would be things we would not dare to question. Taken as a whole and in the context of her whole ‘I’m a victim just like you’ schtick, they become dubious.
Add to this her astonishing inconsistency and it’s nigh impossible to take her seriously. This comment lists several of the ways in which her hypocrisy has manifested itself. Her condemnation and subsequent support of fur is only the most recent. Here, I want to focus on the body issue and what it says about our media.
Whether Gaga has suffered from an eating disorder or not, it’s a fact that her fanbase (a significant minority of them, at least) has been notoriously vicious to everyone and anyone who is perceived as a threat. Anyone who has criticised Gaga on Twitter will probably have encountered this. Of specific relevance here is the fact that they have repeatedly attacked other pop stars for their appearance and their weight. Adele is the obvious example here, with Gaga’s ‘Little Monsters’ turning on her when it became clear that ‘21’ was going to eclipse Gaga’s masterpiece album in sales (I won’t link to examples as I don’t want to give them any further attention.) Most shockingly, people in Gaga’s own entourage have joined in the attacks. The crucial thing to note here is that Gaga is certainly aware of this. When Boy George was besieged by Gaga fans calling him ‘faggot’ and such, he frequently copied Gaga into the responses. Countless others have tweeted her about the abuse her fanbase dishes out to others. Someone as adept at social media as Gaga could not possibly claim to be oblivious. Yet despite her apparent devotion to the anti-bullying cause and, indeed, her own eating disorder, Gaga has never once spoken up about this. How could she? How can you claim victimhood and flatter the victimhood of your fans if you acknowledge that they can be oppressors too?
Of course, you don’t have to delve into the depths of Twitter to be sceptical of Gaga’s newfound ‘bravery’ re: body issues. For the past few years she has heavily cultivated an image based in high fashion. This has ranged from the dramatic weight loss she displayed in her semi-naked stint in the ‘Born This Way’ video to her freakishly airbrushed appearance on the cover of the exalted ‘September issue’ of Vogue magazine. How did Gaga react to this transformation of her normal body shape into an impossibly thin caricature? She tweeted it to her fans with praise. Then there was her ‘pop stars don’t eat’ tweet, which the same outlets now praising her jumped on as immensely irresponsible.
Really, Gaga has developed a sudden interest in body fascism because she was ‘accused’ of putting on a few pounds. She has taken this and claimed victimhood. Prior to this, it’s impossible to see how she could be presented as anything other than part of the problem.
This doesn’t mean that the attacks on her weight are fine or that she shouldn’t be allowed to respond to them. Yet the media reportage of this has been highly illuminating. Nowhere have I seen an acknowledgement that her ‘stance’ on this issue is complicated to say the least; nowhere have I seen a serious examination of how body fascism is constructed and the part she may have played in this. No, instead the media has immediately resorted to ‘Gaga is a woman and her weight is being attacked by horrid sexists, oh the humanity!’ It has, to put it bluntly, pushed some buttons which the liberal media absolutely love to have pushed. All context, all examination, all critical thought is lost in the rush to present a woman as a poor victim of patriarchal society. That’s the extent of the story and allows the writers to wag their fingers at society and tell everyone how not on it is. Yet aside from the issues surrounding Gaga’s own history there is so much more that could be said. We could look at how celebrity culture fixates on body issues and how it’s overwhelmingly women who buy magazines which highlight fluctuating weights, for example. We could look at why intrusive paparazzi photos of Kate Middleton have caused weeks of outrage and miles of columns while intrusive paparazzi photos of Prince William and Prince Philip (showing their genitalia) came and went with barely a murmer. We could look at how stories fixating on the fluctuating weight of stars like Robbie Williams, Gary Barlow and Michael Buble arouse no furious columns in response. Undoubtedly, all of these issues could be put under the umbrella of patriarchy, yet the disproportionate efforts to always portray women as victims and men as perpetrators rob people (especially women) of their agency entirely. Gaga’s history, her choices, her statements, are airbrushed from history, at best becoming less a product of her rational mind but instead her helpless responses to patriarchal society. This seems to me to be as patronising and damaging as the ‘sexism’ complained about in the first place.
It increasingly seems that this is where Gaga’s genius lies. She is undoubtedly talented in a traditional sense, yet she also knows exactly how to push the buttons of the media in order that she is always presented as a victim. Whether issues of gender, homophobia, poverty or generic ‘difference’, she manages to insert herself on the side of the victim. As I wrote in my earlier piece, she has a deadening attitude to difference where people become interchangeable in their victimhood and she stands above them. In a sense she (unintentionally) highlights the banal, patronising attitudes many hold towards ‘minority’ groups, not least in the media. This is her real, terrifying genius – the commodification and exploitation of victimhood.