Teasing Threads – Lady Gaga’s ‘Telephone’

Chris Palazzolo looks at a quintessential piece of Americana

Image result for lady gaga telephoneBarack Obama has a lot to answer for. The image of disciplined professionalism his administration projected to the world, its cautious multilateralism in foreign affairs and its progressive domestic policies, disarmed Australians to the US culture that fills our media, as if ‘Obamaism’ was somehow a permanent thing. We can thank the election of Donald Trump for reminding us that America is not benign and its cultural products which we consume are not made in our interests, but in America’s interests. I’m not for one minute arguing that we should embargo American cultural production. We should all admire the beauty, energy and humour of American movies, music and literature. I’m just arguing for the need to sharpen our critical faculties in order to put a bit of distance between us and these products. In other words, stop consuming them as if they’re as natural as air and water.

Lady Gaga’s Telephone (both song and video) is a ballet allegorising the phrase “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” from the Preamble of the US Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence is a revolutionary document which means that at the time of its publication its principles were unrealised; only in revolution would they be realised, and revolution, which entails the radical alteration of an existing condition, is unknowable. Lady Gaga is in prison. She is without liberty. Furthermore her air of unflappable coolness indicates that being without liberty is her normal condition. The chains that drape her shoulders and bind her arms look like accoutrements to her costume of stiletto heels, fishnets, black lingerie, and chrome studded wristbands and choker; a fashion-plate harlot of the ancien regime. She is led along the prison gantry by two screws dressed in lesbian-fascist bondage gear; the state is just a big control fetish that derives its pleasure by seizing her body without her consent (an insert shot shows her naked body covered with yellow crime-scene tape). All of the other inmates, in the cells and in the yard are black and Hispanic. Gaga’s whiteness makes her stand out but she quickly proves she’s just like them by her willingness to put out. Everyone is the same. They are young and warrior-strong. No one is sick or depressed. The weak have perished, only the strong and pissed off survive.

Gaga gets a call. This is the song, a gentle anxious rill on a harp which turns into a stomping warlike anthem, in which she tells a clingy lover to stop calling because she’s busy working for a living. The chains of the personal are linked to the sexual-political. She’s not telling her lover the whole truth. She lies about what she’s doing and where she is. The punching moves in her dance leave us in no doubt that she will tell the lover all if they call again.

Gaga is on remand. She leaves the prison dressed like a courtesan in a fashionable arrondissement of Second Empire Paris. She meets Beyoncé and they drive off together in the Kill Bill Pussywagon. (I’m fast forwarding a bit now). She and Beyoncé poison Beyoncé’s boyfriend and all of his buddies (and his dog) in a diner in an allusion to the diner scene in Natural Born Killers, and then dance over the dead bodies. Gaga dances in an American flag bikini. In the final scene, as Gaga and Beyoncé drive off to a Thelma and Louise type Valhalla, Gaga is dressed in leopard skin outfit, big hat, and shawl tied under her chin; a kind of jungle-pilgrim ensemble. The unthinkable in fashion signifies the unknowable of revolution.

Marx said that revolutions tend to clothe themselves in the rhetoric and costume of past Great Events – simulacra to assuage the terror of the absolutely new. Gaga’s American revolution (she’s found her liberty and is now pursuing happiness) is dressed in the rhetoric of prison-break and road movie pastiche and the costume of her private couture. Hers would be a very expensive revolution to be part of.

– Chris Palazzolo

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Teasing Threads is Chris Palazzolo, novelist and poet, editor at Regime Books in Perth, radio host on 6EBA FM North Perth, and was, until recently, manager of one of the last video shops in the world. His novel, Scene and Circles, is available from https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/449419