Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Gnostic Gospel of Gaga

Image via Amelia Adina
by JaneAnn Kenney 

What is the message that Mama Monster is preaching to her little monsters? I present for your consideration the none-too-contrived and barely subtle Gnostic Gospel of Gaga according to her new single (with R. Kelly—didn’t realize he was still a thing) “Do What U [ugh SIC] Want.” Allow me to skip certain portions of the song because—let’s be honest—it’s a bit repetitious. Also, allow me to preface by saying my first thought when I heard the song was, “That’s so Gnostic!” and then it got more complicated, and then I decided I was right the first time. Thus:

I feel good, I walk alone/But then I trip upon myself and I fall/I, I stand up, and then I'm okay/But then you print that shit/That makes me want to scream.

Despite the seemingly simple syntax of this verse, I’m not entirely certain what she means to say. Part of the problem is that she has embraced her inner angsty thirteen year old who doesn’t want to tell her best friend, who we'll call "Casey," that feelings have been hurt outright, and so couches her frustration in “you know who you are” language. It’s like when Irenaeus talks about the “certain men [who] have set the truth aside, and bring in lying words and vain genealogies.” Paul does the same thing with his supposed super-apostle. Can we all agree to stahp it?

Certainly it feels good to walk alone sometimes, but then Gaga falls of her own doing (probably the heels) and doesn’t have a buddy around to help her up. Yet, she staggers haltingly to her feet in those enormous heels (why?) and feels alright. Keeps walking. The real issue here is when she addresses me. What shit did I print? This is the first (and last, most likely) time I ever plan to write about her. What have I printed?! I’m terribly sorry to have forgotten, because it was either so hurtful or so infuriating that she just needs to scream.
Image via Andrea Wilson

Then again, maybe she is not speaking in the second-person singular, but the second-person plural, which might suggest that Gaga is actually referring to a collective entity and not just my mercurial temperament. Certainly her penchant for over-the-top wardrobe and styling has raised eyebrows, ruffled feathers, etc., from her entirely steak-dress to that time she desecrated Minnie Mouse by murdering her boyfriend in the Paparazzi video. (I really didn’t choose balanced examples, huh?) All levels of the press want to know what Gaga is wearing (or not wearing; so much booty!) and then praise or vilify her choices. This, more than my slights, likely makes her want to scream.

So do what you want/What you want with my body/Do what you want/Don't stop, let's party/Do what you want/What you want with my body/Do what you want/What you want with my body.

If the previously-discussed publications from the journalism peanut gallery are what Gaga has in mind, then this might actually be a worthwhile message. Fine, analyze what I’m wearing, she says, tear it apart. Wonder why I insist on these shoes that make mobility seemingly impossible, criticize my make-up for detracting from my natural allure, wonder at my ever-changing hair. Do what you like, because all you are doing is looking at skin, and having chosen to present myself this way, I am willing to allow you to discuss it, ridicule it. Do what you want with my body. Your words do not measure my worth or the worth of any other person.

This, of course, really is good news. Less daring than Gaga, I present myself in ways which hopefully do not invite much comment beyond “Are you allowed to mix metallics?” As an expression of one’s personality and mood, appearance can be liberating, and whatever anyone thinks of that really has no bearing on value. Fun stuff.

Then again, maybe she was talking to me, Second-Person Singular? Despite the outrage of whatever I penned, Gaga is giving me permission to use her body however I want. Although flattered, I think my idea of a party will not be tip-top on her list, seeing as how the highlight of my cosmetic year is wearing false eyelashes on New Year’s Eve. That said, I would give her a nice make-over, maybe dye her hair a dark auburn, some full bangs and a shoulder-length bob. Simple make-up, and some classic red heels.

Image via Stephen Carlile
Write what you want/Say what you want 'bout me/If you wanna know that I'm not sorry.

It’s awfully nice of her to give me permission, but once again, I am confused. Why isn’t she sorry? She did miss my birthday again this year, but so did a coupla other people I’ve spoken to recently, so I can let it slide, I guess. Don’t know why she’s not sorry though. Kinda harsh, actually. I’m going to assume she’s talking about someone else, probably a Tabloid of Ill-Repute.

Ah, here it is again: Do what you want/What you want with my body/What you want with my body.

The cheese doesn’t get really binding (real thing; educate yourself) until we get here: You can't have my heart/And you won't use my mind but/Do what you want (with my body)/Do what you want with my body/You can't stop my voice cause/You don't own my life but/Do what you want (with my body)/Do what you want (with my body).

Is Gaga letting us think and speak however we want about her, or is she letting us do whatever we want to her? The answer, really, may be “yes.” However, let’s consider past lyrics from Lady G. From Lovegame: “I'm on a mission,/And it involves some heavy touchin' yeah./You've indicated your interest,/I'm educated in sex, yes./And now I want it bad,/Want it bad./A love game,/A love game.” From Bad Romance: “I want your drama/The touch of your hand/I want your leather-studded kiss in the sand/I want your love.” Then again, we have Born This Way: “I'm beautiful in my way/'Cause God makes no mistakes/I'm on the right track, baby/I was born this way/Don't hide yourself in regret/Just love yourself and you're set.”

I guess what I’m saying is that Gaga can be overtly sexual, but she’s not worried about it. The music in combination with the videos in combination with her self-presentation is all meant to cause a labyrinth, and I, unwitting fool that I am, have fallen in. On the one hand, this could be quite a reassuring message: against materialism, superficiality, the ideals of beauty for both men and women. Certainly if these are intended, then Gaga is on to something, and with her anti-bullying platform it is certainly possible that she intends these things. However, given her penchant for overtly sexual content, it is at least as likely that Gaga intends for you (me? him? her? I don’t know any more) to gratify sexual desires with her body as much as one pleases and in whatever way that one pleases so long as no one expects her to change on anything other than a physical or chemical level as a result.

Image via Zennie Abraham
Despite all this, there is still an argument to be made for a fully-developed Gnostic gospel at work in Gaga’s body of work, not least in this song. Paul may have been battling proto-Gnosticism in Corinth, but this has developed in 2,000 years into a fully-matured worldview. St. Irenaeus is really my go-to guy here, but first: let’s discuss the heresy. With these lines suggesting physical and sexual permission without intellectual, emotional, or even spiritual repercussions, Gaga promotes the prominent Western heresy of the separation of soul and body. The apparent belief is that it doesn’t matter what happens to her body as long as the one who does it cannot access her heart, her mind, or her voice. In fact, she has made these other components of herself totally off-limits. I may be able to dress down her wardrobe as I see fit, but I’d be forced to leave her mind and heart out of it. The voice, like God’s spirit hovering over the darkness, will not be stilled by mere corporeal injunctions.

The emphasis on the importance of the voice, the mind, and the heart in contrast to the body is the very heresy that St. Irenaeus and others spoke against. The emphasis on the mind of the believer to the detriment of the body led to all sorts of strange activities, from neglect and ascetic abasement of one’s own body to an excessive revelry in activities like—dare I say it?—sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. Though we cannot find the soul in our medical books, what happens to the body does have its effects upon the soul. We need not look very far to find examples of persons who have been abused in one way or another and suffer holistic trauma as a result.

Most of the rest of these lyrics are pretty useless for theology, and I’m willing to blame R. Kelly: Early morning, longer nights/Tom Ford, private flights/Crazy schedule, fast life/I wouldn't trade it in/'Cause it's our life (now let's slow it down...).

I don’t know Tom Ford. I could Google him, but I don’t want to use up all my internet money on senseless crap like that. The gist is R. likes his life.

I could be the drink in your cup/I could be the green in your blunt/Your pusha man, ya I got what you want/You wanna escape all of the crazy shit/You're the Marilyn, I'm the president/And I'd love to hear you sing, girl.

Image via Yne Van De Mergel
R. Kelly continues with his… flow? The problem with this verse is his comfort being the physical drink, the physical green, a pusha, and the president, but I’m not sure how Gaga is going to feel about being told to sing. You can have her body, after all, but not her voice.

Some more chorus, rude words, moving on.

A hook? A bridge? I’m not sure: Sometimes I'm scared I suppose/If you ever let me go/I would fall apart/If you break my heart/So just take my body/And don't stop the party.

This is the heart (get it? get it?) of the matter. This is where it seems most clear that the song is primarily about pure sexual conquest. Gaga professes a belief that I (or is it R. Kelly, or the man represented by R. Kelly? The use of second person is so confusing). can take her body and not stop the party without breaking her heart. Based on other parties (poker parties, love game parties, dancing parties, etc.) I unapologetically assume this party is not a “let’s rat on everything Gaga wears” party but instead a sort of Eddie Izzard “swimmy swimmy, splashy splashy, chasey chasey” party. I’m just sorry to be the one to tell her it’s not true.

The body matters. What happens in the body matters. What happens to a body matters, even after it has died. If this were not so, there would be no point in God becoming incarnate and then allowing himself to be crucified as a human, in the flesh. It is totally senseless. Why not take a mental flogging, or simply send the Holy Spirit into hell for a few hours? Instead, Jesus was born and lived in a body which he still lives in, glorified as it is. This is gospel—there isn’t a single aspect of our created beings which God does not want to redeem. He willingly demonstrated the worth of the body by dwelling among us.

At the end of the day, I have done exactly what Gaga wanted: I have taken her art seriously, in spite of its presentation and apparent blithering idiocy. Agree with me or don’t, but I think I’ve argued the main points to a standstill. Or not. At this point, I’m still debating pronouns. 

You can ask JaneAnn about: Nashville, theology, cats. Baseball. Glacial rivers. Her stance on the color purple, and then again the existence of the word "purple." General frivolity and terrible music (for the DANCING!!). Old Stephen King novels, time zones, and toll roads in Oklahoma. She will not, however, answer any questions about that thing living in her fridge. You can follow her on Twitter @JAKof3Ts. 

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