Mark Simpson on the Camille Paglia vs. Lady Gaga Feud
By Mark Simpson
My bitch is better than your bitch! And she wore that dress before yours did! My bitch would kick your bitch's ass!
This is the kind of thing the older generation -- my generation -- has begun to say ever more loudly about the younger generation's first bona fide superstar, Lady Gaga. David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Elton John, Grace Jones, and'crossing ourselves and throwing salt over our shoulders'Madonna all did it years before Gaga, and so much better.
The world's most famous gay Madonna fan, Camille Paglia, was recently given four pages in the U.K.'s The Sunday Times Magazine to say this, 'demolishing' Lady Gaga, aka Stefani Germanotta, as an 'asexual, confected copycat who has seduced the Internet generation.' Paglia is a worthy critic indeed, and her mocking epithet 'the diva of d'j' vu' is bound to stick like chewing gum rubbed in a hated schoolgirl's hair. But after reading her impassioned assault -- which, for all its fascinating history of female Hollywood stars, seemed to boil down to 'she's not Madonna, and I don't fancy holding her meat purse' -- I found myself liking Lady Gaga more rather than less.
Paglia's essay was further proof of Gaga's importance. As I like to say to gay friends of a certain age who rail almost daily against Gaga on Facebook, for someone so shallow, so talentless, and so derivative she certainly seems to hold your attention. The passionate hatred Gaga provokes is all part of her remarkable potency. When was the last time pop music mattered? When was the last time you cared? Until Lady Gaga came along, just a couple years ago, pop seemed thoroughly pooped. Some nice tunes and haircuts here and there and some really excellent financial institution ad soundtracks, but really, who thought pop could ever trouble us again as a total art form?
Gaga has single-handedly resurrected pop. Or at least she's made it seem like it's alive. Maybe it's a kind of galvanic motion -- those pop promos sometimes look like Helmut Newton zombie flicks -- but boy, this is shocking fun. And yes, her persona is something of a pint-size Bride of Frankenstein, assembled out of Photoshopped dead star body parts. But isn't everyone nowadays?
Of course she's not David Bowie or Madonna. It's not 1972 or 1984. Instead, we're a decade into a new, blank, digital century when creativity is curation. The pop past weighs heavily on our shoulders -- but Gaga wears it so lightly and sprightly on her tiny frame it's inspiring. In the flickering, shape-shifting shape of Lady Gaga, tired old postmodernism never looked so frisky. And it turns out to be really good on the dance floor. The 21st century didn't really get going, or have a decent soundtrack, until Ms. Germanotta came along with her Gagacious beats.
But the older generation's resentful backlash against Lady Gaga -- how dare the kids think they have a proper star to speak for them! -- is well and truly underway. Paglia's piece was well-timed and has already prompted a host of copycat columns around the world complaining about Gaga the tiresome copycat. It had to happen, of course. She is now so huge as to be completely unrivaled in pop cultural terms -- the most famous woman on the planet: too big and tasty a target for the press not to chew up.