OK guys, so yesterday I was talking with my friend Milo about how he’s writing a thesis on Lady Gaga and Hegel and like the accents his cat has when it’s stoned or something, and then this morning my NYT iphone app delivers this little gem linked above to me before I’d even finished my coffee, and I mean, for fuck’s sake. I thought we were over those half-assed shallow criticism of ‘hookup culture’ and how slutty/antifeminist/depressed/helpless/misguisded todays’ younguns are (the first generation, obviously, to ever have engaged in casual, ill-advised, and desperate sex, since all humanity beforehand was wise, chaste, and prudent.) But no! We hadn’t brought Lady Gaga into it yet! We hadn’t yet used her along with Sarte, Simone de Beauvoir, and Hegel to prove that today’s teenage girls are misguided sluts! GODDAMNIT.
My first and most reasonable reaction to this is that it comes off that this probably nice lady who studies and writes about stuff like porn and my girl Simone is overly concerned about what her 19 year old is doing in college, which she directly says a few times, and worries that Lady Gaga is somehow representative of and/or encouraging her daughter’s potentially bad freshman year decisions. Which is kind of endearing and totally understandable, and I just sort of wish she’d dealt with it differently than publishing it in the New York Times and dismissing it as mass generational/vaginal decline relating to Lady Gaga. Bauer basically discusses the ways in which modern pressures, double standards, and mixed messages in today’s society lead to girls who are both studying for their AP exams and determined to succeed in a career man-free while doling out unreciprocated mindless blowjobs left and right, and how this related to things like Lady Gaga and pop feminism and bad faith. Long story short the point here is a somewhat worthy one that we’ve all talked about before — is that kind of thing feminist or is it just self-objectification and are we only making things worse? Is meaningless sex empowering or problematic? Are today’s 19 year old girls trying to be bros or harlots? Is hugging dangerous?
The main thing about these half-assed analyses of ‘hookup culture’ that makes me want to claw my eyes out is that the ALWAYS seem to only talk about women — since men are, you know, immune to cultural change and also more naturally adjusted to casual sex? What? You know, the usual, ‘these girls think they’re feminists for having sex but look how conflicted and depressed and UNCHASTE/stupid/slutty they are?” As if a.) the human condition doesn’t basically involve feeling conflicted and depressed and making regrettable decisions most of the damn time anyway and as if men don’t feel those things too, and b.) really?? Haven’t we been making that exact argument for the better part of a fucking century, that we’d be more fulfilled keeping quiet and nursing babies? There would be plenty of ways to discuss the conflicting pressures of modern femininity/sexuality/feminism/college campuses/Lady Gaga that don’t also involve a subtle implication warning to young ladies to behave or else and also to turn off MTV because that shit is CORRUPTING you. Once you tell your son to stop putting out because it’s gonna make him unhappy and you know that deep down he’s pining for a wife and must feel stressed out for having to compete with his frat brothers, then we can have a real conversation about this.
My point — one which has also been made many times before, by other people (I suggest reading that for more background) — is that this makes it seem like casual sex and emotional detachment is some sort of disease plaguing young women and ONLY young women today, rather than actually looking at something about our culture and some sort of generation-wide cynicism/depression/existential dismay and the other things that might affect this, like, I don’t know, technology or shifts in the job market or the economy or what it was like to finish puberty both on Facebook and under the Bush regime and fuck knows what else, anything but this “look, I exist in a sociocultural vaccum and LET ME TELL YOU, I know for a fact that feminism or their interpretation of it is ruining these women!!!!!” It’s tired, it’s not very deep, and frankly, it’s annoying. Partially because I think there is something there — it’s obvious to me that any number of social changes over the past 25 years or so have changed the way we relate to and interact with each other, as well as how we conceive of public vs private (see: trend pieces on teenagers’ Facebook settings) and all sorts of other crap, and it’s great, and I think that a lot of that has a lot to do with Lady Gaga’s mass appeal in our current era, and that’s pretty interesting, okay, cool. But every generation is always convinced that this new one lacks all morals and is representative of an epic moral decline, and Bauer toes that line a bit too closely. Everyone also seems to always think that the stupid/regrettable/impulsive/bad behavior of today’s 19 year olds (worth noting that their concept of this usually comes from a few bad trend pieces, again, seeming to speak for a whole ‘generation’) is indicative of an entire culture of enduring stupidity, apparently forgetting the moronic things THEY did at 19 and the fact that, rather than corroding society with our slutty, conflicted ways, in general the large majority of us just sort of learn from our mistakes and carry on with little lasting emotional/physical damage. You know, ‘personal growth,’ not ‘the decline of modern western civilization.’
That out of the way, the other thing here that made me want to throw my laptop out the window was the usual “Lady Gaga is a load of bull because she’s, like, slutty, and also is pretty, thin, and white,” since obviously those are the be-all-end-all of someone’s existence and persona and if she’s got (or is catering to and conforming to and constructing?) those privileges, she should really just shut up since nothing she’s accomplishing or doing is worth anything. Does nobody else find this obnoxious? Doesn’t it sometimes come off as “look here now, pretty white girls, get back in the kitchen and stop making a fuss, if you’re pretty you can’t very well do anything else so PLEASE just leave the rabble-rousing to teh gays and teh blacks and even those tea party libertarians or something or someone else we’re more comfortable with making a fuss and so we can ignore them more easily, just please go fix your makeup and make me a sandwich, little girls should be seen and not heard and you’re embarrassing me right now and I need to get back to my mass-marginalization.” It’s not that there aren’t issues there, I’m not saying that — like, if you want to talk about the racial politics or the queer dynamics of Lady Gaga and how that all might interact with each other or how the history of white people music steals from black people music and how Lady Gaga steals from that or how she can only do that whole distortion thing since she’s white or whether or not it’s okay for her to appropriate and use the imagery of gay BSDM culture or whether or not she’s catering to and helping the ‘other’ or just stealing their imagery to be another succcessful pop artist or WHATEVER, (sorry everyone I just neglected to link to there) okay, cool, that’s great, let’s get a drink and talk about it, PLEASE, there is nothing I would rather do on a Tuesday night than split a bottle of wine and talk about that with you, seriously, especially if you have a roof we can sit on because I really wish I had a roof. But don’t just go, “I think the fact that she basically embodies the norms that she says she’s questioning (even though some of that might be a deliberate part of a constructed image but I mean still she’s white and thin so it’s not ALL a ruse) basically negates and undermines anything positive or creative she’s doing and I don’t like it.” Which is basically, “I think she’s full of shit since after all she’s still just another pretty white girl and I can’t really take her seriously because of that.” Do you not hear yourselves?
Bauer is, I think, getting at some solid points here — issues with feminism and OMG OUR MODERN WORLD and sex and society which I think are great and all. But she dismisses Gaga for her contradictory messages and images, where on the contrary, I think her appeal for many of us — by which I mean my generation, those of us, say, born after 1980, though I guess I’m also probably just speaking for just middle-class-and-higher college-educated probably-white probably-urban-dwelling people — has to do specifically with the juxtaposition of all those contradictions and conflicts. (And furthermore the juxtaposition of those things with inane good pop songs and fun. Am I the only one who has weird guilt/conflict issues about how to integrate being serious/politically and socially sensitive/aware of issues with having a good time once in a while?) Either way, Bauer seems to see Gaga as either a cause or a proponent of the problematic and conflicted sexual ideals, whereas I tend to see her as someone equally immersed in and conflicted by them and working them out in the public eye as some sort of distorted performance which also involves a lot of amazing shoes and haircuts and a good sense of humor. Obviously that’s riddled with problems too, but it’s a different concept — it’s seeing her as a product of the problems which is attempting to engage in (at least sometimes) a dialogue with or about these problems, where Bauer seems to envision her as, somehow, both a pawn of her fucked up society and sort of the root of all evil. For which I am also going to direct you to this, thanks to Caitlin, which is an MP3 of a Baptist church singing about how God isn’t taking Gaga’s call anymore because she’s demon spawn and really loves ‘fuh fuh fornicating’ and ‘taught the girls and the boys to be proud whores,’ and which is officially replacing ‘Telephone’ on every party mix I make for the next year.