So, there’s been a huge amount of pixels spilt on Lady Gaga. I don’t want to get into every aspect of the debates, but there’s one aspect which I find strange, and it isn’t just relevant to feminism. To quote one blog in particular, here’s Gender-Agenda:
She is also an innovator. Working with famous fashion designers and her own Haus of Gaga, she has infiltrated the fashion world, disseminating shoulder pads, robot-like body structures, underwear as outerwear and surrealist forms throughout the glossy magazines and high street clothing racks of the land” [which is taken to contribute to] “stretching gendered boundaries, and presenting a form of sexuality which clashes with accepted notions of the feminine.”
One of the strange things about high fashion, like art music, is that once something has been done, it can’t be done again and called innovative: instead, it becomes derivative, retro, vintage, something ‘coming back into fashion.’ But it’s not genuinely innovative, even if it is reflective of the contemporary world. Wearing a lobster on the head is obviously a strong nod to the original Surrealists, and the big shoulder pads are just an 80s throwback. Of course these contain comments on what our world has become, but they don’t make a comment on themselves and the fashion world, or at least nothing beyond Zoolander (and certainly not as insightful as the still-vapid Devil Wears Prada).
All this is simply a hit at the idea of Gaga as a great artist or innovator. But there’s a bigger problem here, which is the ignoring of Gaga’s total objectification of the female body through fashion, and the use of ‘high fashion’ and innovation as an excuse for this. What I think is going on here is a confusion between fashion as fantasy and as reality.
Fashion as fantasy is probably best shown in the film Fifth Element, costumes by Jean Paul Gaultier. The heroine (‘Leeloo’) has an unforgettable bondage outfit; the aliens swan around in huge cloaks with appendages and ribbons; the camp acts at the space-cabaret are unbeatable for expressing the idea that the future is ‘out-there’ in style as well as distance. But all the while, the fashion isn’t meant to be imitated or sold; there is no market which the film kicks off. Arguably the costumes could have sparked off a big artistic shift in the fashion world, but while they’re inspirational, the real hero of the piece – Bruce Willis – is dressed in your standard sci-fi rogue t-shirt, jeans and gun-in-holster number.
Gaga’s fashion, however, is made to be sold, either as the ‘Haus of Gaga’ (an interesting bit of pseudo-European schlock more reminiscent of Häagen-Dazs than Sophia Loren) or as a part of the Gaga-product. While the Fifth Element’s fashion was an expression of fantasy, of a world come and not one in the here-and-now, Gaga is designed as a model of imitation.
Now, while I’m sure an argument could be made that Gaga is so much of a commodity that she’s outside of market forces, I think that would be a load of bull. It’s a product, a theatre piece – and as such, working purely in the realm of spectacle, is not about some free part of desire or liberation, but is just a high expression of the subsumption by capitalism of every part of life. The writhing bodies and sex-slave fashion of Telephone is not only offered up to be imitated and sold, but this is completely emphasized through the rampant product placement. Here, buy your mayonnaise alternative, and while you’re at it, would you like an alternative woman with that?