Monday, June 21, 2010

Things Not to Take Seriously

In the NY Times, philosophy professor Nancy Bauer deploys Hegel, Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir to analyze Lady Gaga videos, hoping thereby to gauge the status of contemporary feminism. Here a sample of the material she is trying to understand:
In her “Telephone” video, which has in its various forms received upwards of 60 million YouTube hits since it was first posted in March, Gaga plays a model-skinny and often skimpily dressed inmate of a highly sexualized women’s prison who, a few minutes into the film, is bailed out by Beyonc√©. The two take off in the same truck Uma Thurman drove in “Kill Bill” — √† la Thelma and Louise by way of Quentin Tarantino — and stop at a diner, where they poison, first, a man who stares lewdly at women and, then, all the other patrons (plus — go figure — a dog). Throughout, Gaga sings to her lover about how she’s too busy dancing in a club and drinking champagne with her girlfriends to talk to or text him on her telephone.

Is this an expression of Lady Gaga’s strength as a woman or an exercise in self-objectification?
Oh, please. Is this an actual attempt at literary criticism or a satire on the academic's habit of taking everything too seriously? Does Bauer really think that the absurd images and bizarre costumes sprinkled through these videos mean anything, or did she decide that bringing together Hegel and Lady Gaga was just the way to get an essay placed in the Times? Bauer's stunning conclusion is that these videos have something to do with sex and power. Deep! And then she finishes with a little sermon on the "bad faith" (in Sartre and de Beauvoir's terms) of sexually pleasing men as a route to freedom and independence:
The goal of The Second Sex is to get women, and men, to crave freedom — social, political and psychological — more than the precarious kind of happiness that an unjust world intermittently begrudges to the people who play by its rules.
Sartre and de Beauvoir were committed revolutionaries, and they believed that "bad faith" was both something very bad and something that could be removed from the world by communism. They were wrong; there is no system that will allow us to escape from the myriad contradictions and paradoxes of human existence. The world will always be unjust, and while it is good to do what we can to make is less so, we should not fool ourselves into thinking that the Just City is on its way. We should, on the contrary, seize all we can of that precarious happiness the world begrudges us.

So, Professor Bauer, if what makes you happy is analyzing pop videos as symptoms of false consciousness, go right head, but please don't be bothered by the amusement of the rest of us. We get the joke.

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