How do you solve a problem like Lady Gaga? Give her a penis, apparently.

Image via Jezebel

I’ve been thinking about Lady Gaga. (But who hasn’t?)

I first became aware of the seemingly unstoppable pop sensation when Gawker sister-site Jezebel began posting paparazzi images of her back in January. (They’ve just published the year-in-Gaga anthology of images; definitely worth a looksie.) She emerged—to me—as a mute, mysterious image; a person fixated on being fixated upon. I didn’t know who she was or what she did, just that she was obviously creating a spectacle that was enticing enough to already leave a gossip trail. And to be honest, I thought the stage name was a little heavy handed.

My first encounter with her music was actually facilitated by Carmine Covelli and Adrienne Truscott during one installment of Kenny Mellman and Neal Medlyn’s outlandish and outstanding Our Hit Parade at Joe’s Pub (the final shows of the year are tonight, and you should try to catch one). Covelli voiced a pre-recorded cover of “Poker Face” while a video of Covelli’s face was projected onto Truscott’s naked torso; her bush serving as occasional soul patch to Covelli’s grinning lower lip. The performance was fun and strangely moving; the song, as rendered by Covelli, had a plaintive, humble urgency. I didn’t know it was Lady Gaga until I heard her version on the radio while driving up 3rd Avenue in Gowanus one weekend with my boyfriend.

Now that we’ve seen Lady Gaga propel herself from fringe pop-star to outright megastar in just under a year—culminating with an interview with Barbara Walters and an introduction to the fucking Queen of England—it might be fun to ruminate some on the artist, her work, why her work works (or doesn’t), and where it comes from.

I will admit that I have resisted Lady Gaga for one reason: The appropriation of queer (specifically gay male) culture that is then recontextualized within a framework of heterosexual theater (regardless of her private sexuality or personal activism,–I know Lady Gaga is an activist for the gay agenda!–the overarching erotic narrative in her music and videos is heterosexual).

Her look draws almost exclusively from drag—whether it’s referencing the freak-drag legacy of Leigh Bowery, the fantasy glam of David Bowie, or literally donning the couture drag of Alexander  McQueen, but her cultural situation is one of either a swollen female object of male desire, or an obsessive addict to the heterosexual male’s cold shoulder. It is possible to perceive Lady Gaga as a stand-in for the homosexual male’s position within the erotics of our society, in that she both sexualizes the heterosexual male (which he is uncomfortable with) and then is abandoned by him and left to suffer the impossibility of long-term attachment (because he is in control…isn’t he?), so she plunges into the role of freak, of outcast, and theatrically manifests her condition through costume, camp, persona, and subjective exaggeration (e.g. the persona of Lady Gaga is superficial, only interested in money/sex/power, etc.). This may over simplify a lot of things, or may not apply at all. But what is true, and what bothers me, is that Lady Gaga’s drag is rewarded culturally because she is a woman. What an artist like, say, Fischerspooner (as only one example) does and has been doing with pop music and concert performance only to remain obscure (or localized, however you want to look at it), Lady Gaga has done to mass audience appeal and mass media attraction. This is by no means Lady Gaga’s fault. It’s just the way things work in a society that still gets mad when boys dress up like girls. Continue reading

SHAMELESS HOLIDAY SELF-PROMOTION: But what’s new around here?

Mx. Justin Bond and the Pixie Harlots, photo by Michael Hart

Sorry that the C.C. vibe has atrophied in recent to a mere drizzle of self-promotion. But I HAVE to! “It’s in my nature.” So without further apology…

First: I’ve had the immense honor (and enormous pleasure) to assemble the opening musical medley for the illustrious, lustrous, and lustful Justin Bond’s “Christmas Spells” opening tomorrow (Wed, Dec 9) at Abrons Arts Center. The show runs through Satruday and features Mx. Bond and the Pixie Harlots in a transtastic rendition of Kate Bornstein’s “Dixie Belle.” Get your tix, go,  and let the pixie dust and ferocious glam cast an Xmas spell that no stupid awful ignorant relatives will be able to undo.

Last: On Thursday, Dec 10 (I know it’s overlapping, but you’ll just have to adjust your schedules, darlings), I will be participating in a short improvisatory performance during a concert at the Mannes College of Music. The recital is the culmination of a classical improvisation class taught by composer Noam Sivan. It’s free and should be lots of fun. It’s fairly unorthodox for a conservatory to push improvisation (I don’t think Mannes offered the class when I was there). So come out and support what amounts to exercising physiological freedom within one of the most physically strict traditions of artmaking.

That’s all, I think. For now, at least. One never knows…

xoxoC.C.

UPDATE

I almost forgot! There’s also a hot new exhibition of photography–“In Conversation: MTA and DNA”–by Mathew Pokiok at Dance New Amsterdam, with an opening reception Thursday evening at 7pm (OMG, triple overlap!!!). The exhibition is of photographs from Mount Tremper Arts‘ most recent summer season, which included a little show called SCARLET FEVER (which you may have heard of). The exhibition opening will be followed by the opening of Aynsley Vandenbroucke Movement Group’s “A Number of Small Black and White Dances” (runs Dec. 10-12). Xmas just came early!

WHO IS SHE?

gina_performa_face_grocery store_photo_by_michael_hart181Click to find out.
Image by Michael Hart.

Don’t Turn Out the Spotlight

Well, well, well…looks like guitar-peddling website jemsite.com found our little blog and was interested in finding out what, exactly, is “a Counter Critic.” Never one to pass up an opportunity to wax narcissistic, we capitulated.

Click here for the full C.C. interview.

After “Aftermath”

This "character" was tortured in Abu Grahib, and members of his family were killed because of the war in Iraq.

This "character" was tortured in Abu Graib, and members of his family were killed because of the U.S. invation of Iraq.

Jessica Blank and Erick Jensen’s “Aftermath” closed this weekend at New York Theater Workshop, and I was able to attend the Sunday matinee.

This work is well-written–or, “well-assembled”, as most of the dialogue is taken from transcriptions of interviews with post-American invasion Iraqi refugees—and the cast is very gifted, each member of the company delivering performances that in turns stirred and disturbed.

I will be honest that I wasn’t sure whether or not I even wanted to see this play. I knew the subject matter would be difficult. My central reservation was tied to a personal (call it a moral) skepticism about making art out of current human atrocities; more specifically, play-acting the lives of people who are currently suffering.

I don’t really have a philosophical place of argument. It’s more a feeling I get. Like when TV shows started incorporating the current Iraq war (still not over, folks) into their plotlines. I find it uncomfortable to watch. By presenting the war as status quo, and by avoiding the war’s political precariousity (that is: a war can only exist as long as it is allowed to exist by a governing body), these shows seemed to offer a tacit endorsement of the war. The war is even necessary in order for these narratives to resonate the way they are intended. It’s topical, and all topical subjects are tied to temporal proximity.

At any rate, my reservations proved both correct and also inept while watching “Aftermath.”

The play presents six stories of real Iraqi refugees; refugees who I assume (perhaps naively, perhaps optimistically) are still alive and living under reprehensible conditions thanks to our country’s war against theirs.

The tactic of the playwrights is fair enough: get the audience to care about the characters (can we call them “characters”?) through humor and amiability, then, once they’re hooked, thread in the conflict, the carnage, the cold hard truths about life, and the reality that our tax dollars were (and still are) at work in ruining the lives of real live people in another country, on another continent, in a place where most of us will never set foot in our entire lives.

And make no mistake: the creators of this show are profiting from its success, and, therefore, these events. It is also sketchy that the dozens of people who were interviewed in order to make this work are not directly credited, nor even thanked in the program, and that Blank and Jensen are given sole credit for “text.” But then, what is it to “thank” someone for a stories such as these? [UPDATE: Please see discussion with Erik Jensen in the comments below, including a clarification of my intentions with this paragraph.]

But I resist faulting “Aftermath” for being manipulative, even though it is that to a degree. There is something in it that goes well beyond the authors’ care to execute their job well; to construct an interesting theatrical structure; to draw in the audience; to tell a story.  But this is also where that crisis comes to a fore, in that really all art must on some level entertain, and in order for performance to survive–to reach people, and therefore, touch them–it must be successful.

But what does it mean for this play to be “successful”? And what does it mean to be entertained by these stories? Continue reading

Possibly the worst music video of all time

The ad across the bottom actually makes it better. Click here for the version without the ad, but I don’t recommend it.

Question: Is this kid performing?

I saw this MGMT video the other day, and I have to say, I thought it was brilliant. But also complicated, and, by my own definitions, unethical. (Skip about 1 minute in for the video proper.)

mgmt-kids

Now, can we, as humans, find pleasure in the unethical? Umm, all the time! But obviously what intrigued me about the video is how much it resonates with the previous post’s discussion about performance, who can be said to be performing, and who/what is capable of participating in performance as art.

You all probably know where I stand in regards to the question Is this kid performing? But I’m curious to know how readers feel.

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