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Individuality vs. Indistinguishability

An Active Mind's picture

...Rather than striving for any sense of completion, it’s this act of becoming, this perpetual refashioning of ourselves, that seems to be both my own and Lady Gaga’s focus.         

Gaga seems to refute Woolf’s assertion in her essay “On Being Ill” that we walk through illness (or perhaps merely abjection in the case of race and sexuality) alone.  At the end of her performance at the Grammy awards, Gaga gathers with the other performers on stage, paws in the air, seemingly dissolving into a beige blur of latex.  If we’re all “superstars”, then do we become one massive blob in which no one stands out, no one is marginalized for being different?   According to a recent post on "Gaga Stigmata" entitled "2011: Gagalations", Meghan Blalock suggests that in "Born this Way" Gaga is striving “to create a new race that is entirely free of discrimination.”  If we look closely at the cover album for “Born This Way” we see that Gaga’s own body is altered. Her flesh protrudes outwards in ways that are unrecognizable and we could even say that she looks as if she has some sort of disability.  And for a song that’s asking people to love who they are, to love their differences, the dancers on stage don’t seem very distinct from one another.  Gaga comes to rename the disabled as the “norm”, the disabled blending into one massive blob of indistinguishability.

Gaga's 2011 Grammy Performance of "Born This Way"

Gaga's 2011 Grammy Performance of "Born This Way"

Interestingly, one of the biggest critiques of “Born This Way” is that it isn’t unique enough, that it too closely mirrors Madonna’s “Express Yourself.”  The public is looking for the uniqueness and crazy abstraction that they believe defines Lady Gaga.  But she slyly denies them the freak show that they long to see and instead provides them with something unexpectedly simple--a dozen similarly dressed individuals who robotically dance to the same choreography.  Betancourt suggests that Gaga strives to keep hers song uncanny, both familiar to what we know, but also foreign.  In response, Eddie McCaffray says, “…Gaga’s play with and reappropriation of all manner of cultural symbols, combined with this message of radical (self-acceptance), calls Little Monsters to keep themselves uncanny, to maintain the tight-rope walk of foreign and familiar within their own plastic souls.”  McCaffray statement reminds me of the line in A Mind Apart, where Antonetta’s brother says, “The hardest thing in the world to understand is that other people are just as real as you are” (53).  Gaga wants us to understand the list of labels she mentions—the white, black, orient, lesbian, gay, etc.—but also pushes us away.  Maybe Gaga illuminates how we come to fear the disabled because they’re uncanny. In Lennard Davis’s chapter entitled “Visualizing the Disabled Body: The Classical Nude and the Fragmented Torso” in Enforcing Normalcy, he cites Freud who writes, “the uncanny is in relation nothing new or foreign, but something familiar and old-established in the mind that has been estranged only [in] the process of repression” (141).  Thus the uncanny is much like Kristeva’s notion of the abject; it’s both of the self, but also seemingly separate from it.  Davis also suggests that the uncanny always operates in relation to the normal.  He writes, “The disabled body is seen as unhimlich because it is the familiar gone wrong” (141).  He suggests that the strive for wholeness is the result of the repression of the fragments to which Lacan refers (and can come to represent the very bodily disintegration and decay that come to mark disability) and that perhaps all people come to repress the parts of them that are “disabled”, so that whenthey see someone with a more overt disability, they recognize the disability within themselves, but also distance themselves from it, not wanting to be associated with incapacity and inability.  The latex costumes that Gaga and her fellow dancers wear are seemingly refractory; they ask us to look back at ourselves, to consider our own position in the flux of the margins that Gaga presents.  Gaga’s piano also has a mirror placed above the keyboard that looks back on the audience, asking viewers to confront how they too are disabled and what this disability might mean.

Gaga is a storyteller, but she doesn’t like the stories that have neat endings. She seems to suggest that stories allow us to survive, hence the line in her song: “I was born to survive”, and somehow prompt our own evolution.  She says, “I’m sort of quick and chaotic about the way that I tell stories, but I think that my fans understand those stories because they recognize that own chaos within themselves.”  Gaga revels in the fragmentation to which Davis and Lacan refer, but as we see in the final scene of her Grammy performance, she also incorporates cohesion into her stories too, imaging a world where fragmentation is so prevalent, so fluid that it becomes something that we can universality understand, a fragmentation that doesn’t drive us apart, but instead brings us together.