Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Paglia vs. Gaga - Gaga 1

In the Sunday Times, Camille Paglia asks if Lady Gaga is the “end of sex”. Obviously, just no. If details of Bill and Monica’s sexy encounters, if an aging Mick Jagger, if Camille Paglia herself didn’t kill our generation’s collective sex drive, Lady Gaga certainly won’t – and nor is she the harbinger of a slow slump into anti-eroticism. Camille Paglia envisions our generation, enamoured with glowing cell phone screens, with more limber texting thumbs than, well, limbs, so dehumanized that we can no longer read each other’s faces, much less have sex.

Well, Paglia, you aging biddy, you’re wrong. Our generation is having sex, and, as far as I can tell, a lot of it. And while quite a bit is… less than stellar, quite a bit is, well, quite good. The popularity of Lady Gaga does have something to say about our sex lives, but not what Paglia thinks it does.

Sex has been packaged and sold to us our whole lives. Well, not sold – sex has been the plastic package wrapped around other products we’re supposed to buy. As such the sexual images that are everywhere have really very little to do with sex, at least not any sex I’ve ever had. Stiletto heels, lingerie, lips, hair, nails – at least these are things I can somehow associate with sex – but look around, and so much else is really incompatible with the actual experience of having sex. For example, the bodies we see are ludicrous – even with (way more) gym time, surgery, spray tans; even if I had unlimited money and time to spend on making myself look like the person marketed to me as the ideal, I would fail. Most marketing images are retouched beyond any relationship with reality. People with ribs and, you know, elbows (not to mention body fat or pores) cannot look the way women and men in magazines look. I think we know this.

The kinds of sex we see are also ludicrous. Have you ever tried to have sex wearing the kind of shiny apple red lipstick ol’ what’s-her-name sports (ed. note: Leighton Meester) in that (god-awful) music video? Not so hot, 5 minutes in. We don’t have sex in piles of fur, we don’t have sex with pneumatic robots, we don’t have instant orgasms, or fall in love during sex, or fail to sweat (or smile). We don’t have sex on the beach, at least not without a towel (are you fucking kidding me?). Sex doesn’t ruin us, and it doesn’t save us. We aren’t porn stars, we don’t DVDA, we don’t have sex with the pizza delivery guy. That dude smells like pepperoni. Come on.

The sex that is sold to us is beyond ludicrous. Its relationship with actual sex is tenuous, and we know it.

That is the point of Lady Gaga. Her point is not that wearing stilettos and bondage gear to the gym, or a sparkly bra to a baseball game, or ripped fishnets, embellished underwear, and a half-off gold bomber jacket at the airport (the AIRPORT) is sexy. Her point is that it is ludicrous, ridiculous, doesn’t make sense. That it is not sexy. Like, in fact, most of the images of sex we are sold. The outrageous sex we see everywhere has ceased to be titillating, to be sexy, to be, really, anything. Madonna alluding to BJs is not shocking. Nothing is shocking. Lady Gaga is not trying to shock, but to show us how inured to shock we are.

Frankly, Ms. Paglia, you forgot about irony. You dear old thing, you forgot about that now most pedestrian of isms: post-modernism. Gaga may be no Warhol (and, being of Generation Y(awn), I’m bored with both), but she is saying something. And what she is saying is that you have nothing left to say.

Lady Gaga shows us that the public consumption of sex, that sex as commodity, has Escherized itself out of existence. There is no bustier left unturned. She shows us that we’re post-Goatse, post-2G1C, post-Britney and Madonna making out at the VMAs, post-Paglia herself. Gaga shows us that shiny, consumer, packaged sex, that shock sex, that the erotic as product is dead. But isn’t the flip side of that coin that real sex, actual sex, is alive?

Paglia compares Gaga to early Madonna, whom she holds up as an epitome of boundary-pushing sexiness. But Madonna wasn’t really talking about sex – she was talking about our reaction to media portrayals of sex and female sexuality. She was trying to show us how repressed we are. Gaga is showing us how unrepressed we are. How little there is left to say on the subject of public sex. How we have no reaction to commodified, packaged, sex-as-product. Gaga is showing us that the death of sex is dead.

Sex can never die. Like death and taxes, sex is with us. It has to be. Madonna wasn’t sex, just like Britney wasn’t (even post virginity). Sex is between you and me. It is personal. It is real. It is not plastic, it is not packaging, and while it can be sold (we know, Camille, we know), it is not a marketing tool. To use it as such is ludicrous.

Thanks for the lesson, Gaga.

(Photo courtesy of:

1 comment:

  1. Sex is never purely personal - a lot of sexual behaviour has to be learned before it becomes instinctual, automatic, and commonsense. Lady Gaga also taught us that you can be extremely inauthentic (which was true of those who were hyper-sexual, but not ironically) and make piles of money. If you celebrate the fact that sex is so commodified, aren't you in a sense going along with it, no matter how 'disenchanted' you are?