Defending Gaga: An Open Letter to Camille Paglia

A friend of mine on Facebook recently posted this article about Lady Gaga from The Sunday Times, written by Camille Paglia last autumn.

Oh, Camille Paglia. Despite being the anti-feminist’s feminist (as feminist essayist and poet Katha Pollitt said about you being part of a “seemingly endless parade of social critics [who] have achieved celebrity by portraying not sexism but feminism as the problem”) I still can’t manage to escape your name in women’s studies classes, feminist forums, and online articles. Perhaps that’s your goal? Do you have Gaga-esque aspirations yourself? Are you merely taking out your frustrations about not being a worldwide mega superstar before the age of 25 on one who did achieve that dream? Your article simply reeks of the lady protesting too much. I would like to address that same article paragraph by paragraph.

Your critique that her statements about music, art, and Gaga are lies not being corroborated: How do you corroborate a statement as objective as “Art is a lie?” It seems to me that such a statement is meant to purposefully obfuscate, a statement to make one think, as opposed to the black and white notion of fact or fiction.

Your implied critique of her two-faced virtue in calling her fans superstars while pocketing their cash: Do you not get paid for spewing your frighteningly sexist views across any magazine that will take you, Ms. Paglia? Do you suggest she should put on concerts gratis? How do you expect her to make a living? She is a musician, she gets paid to perform. Even your much-beloved Madonna does the same thing. That does not mean that she doesn’t truly appreciate and love her fans; quite the contrary, since their cash allows her to live the life that she chooses.

Your criticism of her affluent upbringing not matching her status as queen of the freaks: This just smacks of classicism. So because she wasn’t born in a dumpster she doesn’t have the right to explore other personas? You, Ms. Paglia, remind me very much of a group of boys I knew in high school. When I began wearing more black clothing and exploring Goth style and music, they called me a poseur because I used to wear kitten sweaters in middle school. Because, as we all know, if you aren’t born wearing a black baby bonnet and listening to “Lucretia My Reflection,” then you really aren’t Goth. However, after they actually talked to me and got to know me, they realized, as all intelligent people do, that I am awesome. Perhaps you and Ms. Gaga just need to have a Breakfast Club moment as I did so many years ago. It is common knowledge that during the period in which we are raised by our parents we are usually more in keeping with who they raise us to be, not necessarily who we feel we are or even who we wish to be. Youth is for exploring, and both Gaga and Stefani are still very young. And for the record, you really have no reason to get upset about the disconnect between her upbringing and her celebrity, seeing as she fully warned you that her music, art, and indeed her very persona as Gaga is a lie.

Your objection to Gaga appearing in flamboyant outfits in airports instead of choosing to do the clichéd celebrity-incognito bit: Again, she is striving to be a work of art. And she can do as she chooses. Why does this upset you so much?

Your critique of her homages to other artists and your insinuation that Gaga is not sexy: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, you know. And there is an entire movement of art that is based on the postmodern recycling of known tropes. Plus who says that her goal is to be sexy? Simply because she is a biological woman, that does not imply a need or even desire to be sexy. (You would think that as a “feminist” you would understand that.) The more that I read of your article, Ms. Paglia, the more I get the feeling that you simply don’t understand the concept of art, and you have no desire to try.

Your statement that Gaga has a “trend towards mutilation and death”: Again, I can’t help but see this as part of her exploratory art. Death is regarded as rather taboo in America, something to fear, something to sterilize and think on in no greater way than a tombstone. What is so wrong about questioning and exploring the facets of death and mutilation? And I have to say it yet again: what’s wrong with not being sexual?!? Celebrity is not synonymous with sex. Just ask Mother Teresa.

Your criticism of Gaga trying to “have it both ways” and your offense that her fans might not be familiar with artists of earlier generations: Funny, I think she’s succeeded in being both avant-garde and yet popular. Isn’t that why you chose to write this critique aimed at her? I mean, you aren’t writing it about some unknown NYC street artist, I suspect because you crave a piece of her celebrity pie. As for her fans being unaware of Tina Turner or Janis Joplin, many of them are young themselves. Were you already a fan of Billie Holiday by the time you were 14, Ms. Paglia? As I have stated before, youth is a time for exploration (and hopefully, that can continue into adulthood). I know that there are many wonderful and important musicians I was not exposed to as a child either through household taste or culture, but I sought out many on my own, and I found (and continue to find) those seminal artists via friends, the internet, the classic radio station playing at the coffee shop… To blame a generation for not automatically embracing artists of yesteryear seems very ageist of you, Ms. Paglia. But then, perhaps you are simply out of touch with the times, trying desperately to find a link to the younger generations of today by criticizing one of their idols. Not a very smart move, in my opinion.

In closing, Ms. Paglia, I must agree with cultural writer and literary critic Elaine Showalter when she referred to you as “unique in the hyperbole and virulence of her hostility to virtually all the prominent feminist activists, public figures, writers and scholars of her generation.” I know that all of us who call ourselves feminists aren’t always on the same team, and you have every right to offer your opinion on whatever topic you please. Remember that it is just that, your opinion, and nothing more. Neither your criticism of her fans nor your disgust with Lady Gaga herself will ever make me ashamed to call myself one of the “little monsters.” I think that Lady Gaga is a refreshing breath of air in the stagnant mire of current pop culture, and the fact that she brings so many feminist ideals and human rights issues to light in an easily digestible pop music mix thrills me and gives me hope that things can change for the better, as pop culture is often a reflection of the society that produces it. Speaking of which, it has been all over the news how much Lady Gaga has done for LGBT rights since achieving superstar status. When was the last time you did something so phenomenal for a discriminated group like that, Ms. Paglia? Because this article certainly doesn’t count for much.


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