Lots of girls love Lady Gaga. Her music’s catchy, for one thing. Then there’s all the fashion and theatrics. And the controversy. Her videos have always been ultra-sexy with an undertone of menace, but her latest clip, Telephone, has gone way beyond acceptable for kids. Even for me as an adult, watching the full uncensored version, which is easily accessed by anyone on YouTube, was stomach churning.
For those who haven’t seen it and don’t want to give Lady Gaga any more oxygen by watching it, the idea is: Lady Gaga gets thrown in a sadomasochistic-porn-fantasy version of a women’s prison; there is violence, sexual intimidation, graphic tongue kissing, cigarettes, and barely any clothes. Then her lover Beyonce bails her out so they can go on a killing spree, murdering multiple people, most of them strangers, by poisoning them. They look like they’re having a great time. They drive off into the sunset. Think “Thelma and Louise” but drained of all meaning and instead filled with product placement for mobile phones, sunglasses and other branded gear you may soon be expecting teen girls to start asking for.
What a toxic mess of hypersexuality, consumerism and violence.
Some see Lady Gaga as a talented artist whose work is ironic and leans toward the Quentin Tarantino side of things. But as Jim Schumacher and Debbie Bookchin write in their excellent Huffington Post blog:
What if glitzy Lady Gaga is exactly what she appears to be: The latest manifestation of a culture industry that pushes the boundaries of civility and sexuality to the extreme in order to make a buck? And worse, pushes it on our kids long before they want or need to be presented with some middle-aged ad executive’s personal sadomasochistic sexual fantasies?
Who decreed that the highest bidder (read: the product sponsors who pay for such videos and media moguls who stand to profit) should be allowed to impose violent sexual conditioning on our kids?
Why isn’t anyone debating whether the hyper-sexualization of teenage girls and hyper-materialism that claims to be critiquing fame and consumerism, even while shoving it down our throats, is doing us any good as a society?
I am proud to step forward and do just that. I don’t think this is doing us any good as a society, and I think it’s bad for girls to see this stuff at the time when they are busy forming their own identity and ideas about relationships and sexuality. I hope that you, too, will join me by discussing the images in Lady Gaga’s videos with your daughters and students. We can’t censor what kids watch, but we can help them deconstruct it and consider it from all angles.
The other thing we can do is let marketers know that it’s unacceptable for them to push their products on girls by using hypersexual, violent, adult imagery. Virgin Mobile is the most notable product placement. If you agree with me after watching the Lady Gaga video and would like to let Virgin know how you feel, their email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and their postal address is Locked Bag 17, ROYAL EXCHANGE NSW 1225.
Those who argue that this is a big fuss over nothing and girls aren’t influenced by hypersexual videos clearly haven’t seen this video of an 8-year-old girl on Brazil’s version of “Australia’s Got Talent”. She sings and dances just like Lady Gaga, complete with sexy moves she can’t (or shouldn’t) possibly understand the meaning of at her age:
Lady Gaga is not the only culprit, of course. When I wrote about this in my book, The Butterfly Effect, I noted the misogynistic and violent lyrics of rapper Eminem, and the hypersexual videos of The Pussycat Dolls and The Veronicas. But don’t get me wrong, there are also amazing female singers and girl bands that are all about power and strength. As well as helping our girls make sense of the too-adult, too-sexy images of many music videos, we can offer up examples of women who are producing music and videos that send a much more empowering message. So I want to end on a positive note by sharing with you the wonderful female artist India Arie. Girls at Enlighten Education’s workshops light up when we play her songs, which are not just great music but also the perfect antidote to the messages of so many other video clips. The girls (and I!) love her song Video (“I’m not the average girl from your video; My worth is not determined by the price of my clothes”) and the simply sublime Beautiful Flower, whose lyrics always bring a tear to my eye and make me think of all those beautiful girls Enlighten Education has worked with (“You’re beautiful like a flower, more valuable than a diamond”):