MTV worries me… Part 1; Glamorous Pain

Some time ago Sociological Images published a brilliant blog (although, when are their blogs anything but?) that pointed out the sexualised violence in Lady Gaga’s Paparazzi video. It should never have been surprising that this video was going to be controversial, since it was directed by Jonas Akerlund of (the incredibly NSFW) Smack My Bitch Up video fame.

There is a brilliant critique of the Paparazzi video over at ‘amplify your voice’ where writer Michelle identifies the 13 (who knew there were so many!) female models posed as murdered/dead through-accident-or-suicide. Michelle rightly questions why they are there, and it seems that it’s the same old story of ‘to look glamorous, sexy and shocking‘.  It’s America’s Next Top Model all over again, where the models were asked to play dead for one of the photoshoot challenges.

Lady Gaga Paparazzi Dead Model

But maybe I’m becoming desensitised to the ’sexy dead woman’ images (oh what a world we live in when I can type that sentence!)  because, even though I found this element of the video deeply problematic, what I found most disturbing whilst watching Paparazzi was the eroticised treatment of the Gaga character’s pain and discomfort…

Lady Gaga Paparazzi Neck Brace

As Gaga lies broken on the floor after her psychedelic fall (an effect which adds yet more glamour to the proceedings) photographer’s crowd around shouting “Right here! Beautiful! Beautiful!” – It’s supposed to be darkly funny, I suppose, because who could imagine the media exploiting the image of a suffering woman for sexual kicks?

Erm… and yet it seems to happen often in this video.

Lady Gaga Paparazzi Crutches

As Gaga makes her recovery from paralysed and wheelchair bound to dancing using crutches she wears only the sexiest of surgical aids; a bejewelled neck-brace, a gold arm cast and a gold helmet to perfectly match her revealing, yet supportive, body armour. She continually, yet seductively, draws her leather gloved hands up to her neck to allude to the fact that her neck was most likely broken during her fall.

Lady Gaga Paparazi Crutches

As Gaga performs her first dance, she lurches awkwardly on her crutches with her legs bent limply beneath her. Each lurch seems to seek only to accentuate the curve of her exposed thighs. Watching this I was taken right back to that episode of A.N.T.M. where the art director was happily cooing “I love it cause her ankle looks broken”,”You look like a corpse” and “That looks gorgeous!” Who can imagine what the choreographer for this video had in mind!?

It has crossed my mind that, as an able bodied woman, perhaps a part of my discomfort at these scenes might be connected to some unconscious squeamish feeling (based in ignorance and privilege) of seeing less-abled bodies presented sexually. I think it’s important to admit to that, even though I am consciously aware that this is purely a performance (an exploitative one at that?) from an able bodied woman. It would be so interesting to find out what wheelchair/crutch users have made of this video.

Another admission; I’m a bit of a fan of Lady Gaga. I love it when she does something ‘right’, and I love to critique when she does something ‘wrong’ (The brilliant BitchBuzz highlighted a while ago an interview in which she uttered both ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ just a few short breaths away from each other).

Watching Paparazzi I find the scenes grotesque, unnerving, disturbing and yet ultimately compelling. For someone who is not OK with the way women are portrayed in this video, I sure have watched it a hell of a lot! Its depiction of pain and discomfort as elegance reminds me of Alexander McQueen’s SS2004 ‘They Shoot Horses Don’t They‘ inspired catwalk show (below) where models fell and fainted as they staged a dance marathon. Both are similar in their attempts to provoke, titillate and disturb… But does calling it Art somehow make it ‘right’?

Edit 22/01/2010;

Sociological Images has tackled Lady Gaga’s portrayal of disability in her latest photo shoot with David La Chapelle here.

Also, through SocImages, I have become aware of this great post by AnnaHam over on Bitch about the portrayal of disability in the Paparazzi video.

And through the post on Bitch, I found my way to Wheelchair Dancer’s post about the appearance of a woman in a wheelchair at Lady Gaga’s VMA performance.

(Still images taken from Lady Gaga’s Paparazzi video)

By: Sarah Barnes, 12.11.2009 | Comments (3)
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  • Dalia
    November 16th, 2009
    1:21 am

    Very well written Sarah!
    I never thought of the video in this way. I just thought it was amazing, and amazingly created. The ideas, the story, the outfits, the edit, the choreography etc… I think Jonas Akerlund did a good job. His music video “smack my bitch up” was really dark, but it showed reality as well. Reality is something we may be scared of, but it has to be shown..Sometimes in a shocking way to make us think, and think again.

  • Sarah Barnes
    November 17th, 2009
    9:17 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Dalia! I actually really admire Jonas Akerlund (although I do think he enjoys shocking people a wee bit more than necessary) and I am especially a fan of his film ‘Spun’.

    I agree with you that it is important to show realities that are sometimes difficult for people to watch and, yes, making these realities more dramatic can act as a great way to confront the viewer. I think ‘Spun’ is a good example of this, as it really drew attention and raised awareness (in a very light, pop culturey type way, granted) to the crack culture that was exploding at the time.

    But even bearing these things in mind, I still find the Paparazzi video problematic. Whose reality is this? Why is it all presented so glamorously/erotically? And what is it raising awareness of?

  • Exchange
    October 28th, 2010
    3:11 am

    I think she did her job well… the video was purposefully intent on doing what it did glamourizing dead women, she said it was a commentary on how media and the paparazzi glamourize the pain and death of the celebrity. It was to show how sometimes there is this exploitation of the celebrity, this in a sense pornographic media , shows things that are to be kept private, and how desisitized we are to it, taking pictures of women, celebrities, artists and exploiting it, selling it, how our culture has a fascination with the death and fall of the artist, Micheal Jackson, Princess Diana, Britney Spears, all proof of how we adore these people, and then want to see them fall and stay down, and when they rise again we praise them until we kick them back down…She really outdid herself here, and I don’t think she got enough credit for what she did…then again who expects this from pop music XD !

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