Monday, July 12, 2010

Queerness and the Male Gaze in Lady Gaga's Alejandro Video

Yes, folks, it's another Lady Gaga music video. Pointlessly cinematic, rife with meaningless imagery, and inexplicably, excruciatingly slow at the beginning, the video for Alejandro is instantly recognizable as bearing the silly-ass but infuriatingly entertaining mark of Lady Gaga.

When I first saw one of her videos, my beginners’ mistake was assuming that, like a feature film, the imagery in that seems like it must be a metaphor, was. In fact, in the case of Alejandro, it was more like Gaga and Steven Klein (the co-director ) watched a bunch of war movies, and then a bunch of Pedro Almodovar movies, and decided to combine them into a meaningless mashup of machine gun bras and swallowed Rosary beads.

But that's another post. I actually wanted to talk about what I find interesting about the video. First, the bad stuff:

I'd say the worst offense is the song itself. I’m not sure if we have a word like Orientalism that applies specifically to Latino cultures, but if we do (or if it’s acceptable to actually use the word Orientalism here, which I'm told it might be), it’s certainly applicable here. The song is pretty heavy with Mexico-romanticization, most apparent in the cringe-inducing lyric “you know that I love you, boy, hot like Mexico…” (emphasis mine) Eesh. Also questionable are the three Spanish words (“en su bolsillo,” “in her pocket”) thrown in for no discernible reason.

Speaking of things without discernible reasons, why does this song have its Latino theme at all? Apparently the song is about Gaga’s frustration at having unrequited romantic love for her gay male friends. But I find it hard to believe that these friends are ALL Latino men whose names end in “-o.” The “spicy Latino lover” theme feels pretty tacked on for the sake of…spicy Latino lover-ness.

Now the stuff I think is probably pretty good maybe:

Most interestingly, the video is fairly a) not androcentric and b) queer. I would venture to say that it does not use the near-ubiquitous male gaze , instead using a gaze that prioritizes the visual pleasure of straight women and gay men (or really just anyone who likes men sexually). There are far more men than women (of which there is only Gaga) in the video, and they are all highly sexualized, wearing skimpy outfits and thrusting their hips around like there was no gay tomorrow. Obviously, this is hugely different from other mainstream music videos, in which women tend to be much more sexualized than men.

Another interesting note, gaze-wise, is Lady Gaga and her goggle thingies. Gaga wears said thingies while apparently observing the group of men from a separate room-type thing. This decidedly voyeuristic act is an interesting reversal of the far more common man-observing-woman voyeurism in films (I am currently trying to find a nice list of films that feature this, to link here, so please let me know if you find one). In her article Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, film theorist Laura Mulvey argues that the observer’s gaze controls the observed (paraphrased by me). In mainstream film, obviously, the man is far more often the “bearer of the look” than the woman is.

There are also other hints of queer-type stuff throughout the video. A male guard wears fishnet stockings and high heels. The male guards dance with each other in a sexual (if silly) way. Most interestingly, much of the simulated sex in the video does not conform to heterocentric definitions of sex: namely, when Gaga simulates anal sex with one of the guards, and he is on the bottom. That’s pretty drastically different from the ideas of sex that many mainstream music videos adhere to.

The video and the song itself certainly have their share of problems. However, I think it's a good thing that an ultra-famous pop star's music video, seen by zillions, does a fair job of venturing away from conventions like heterocentrism and the male gaze. Popular media plays an important role in what we see as "normal," so I'm glad to see a pop superstar subverting norms that are ingrained in our culture pretty hard.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Braces and Class

Recently, a friend posted on Facebook that she was thinking about getting braces, and was feeling unsure because of the fairly common belief that "adults with braces are creepy."

I think this attitude is classist and unfair. The assumption behind "adult braces are creepy" is "braces are for kids." This is classist because it means "your parents should have been able to afford expensive orthodontics for you." That's pretty harsh- a criticism not of you yourself, but of your family and class. When you were a child, no less. You could not have had less control over those factors.

It's also a double bind because adults with severely crooked teeth who DON'T get braces also become the subjects of ridicule. We even have stereotypes associated with very crooked teeth (think "backwoods hick," etc.). Adults with slightly-to-somewhat crooked teeth may not get mocked, but still don't meet our beauty standard. So really, you'd better get your teeth straightened as a kid-- something you likely have no control over-- or you're doomed to be considered ugly in one way or another.

When I see adults with braces, I think it's likely that their families couldn't afford them when they were kids, and now they're doing well enough that they can afford them themselves. That's a generalization, of course, it's just been true (and I do realize this is very anecdotal, but hear me out) of all the adults with braces I've known, and it'll be the case with me if I eventually get any orthodontic work. I think it's cool when adults have braces because it means that they're probably doing better for themselves than the previous generation of their family was. Something something American dream something something.