So I just read something by someone I really admire and often agree with that made me uncomfortable. I feel weird. Disorganized thoughts about this follow.
Mark Dery (former professor - my professor - at NYU’s Arthur L Carter Journalism Superschool of Real Important People) did this ridiculously long, very smart, very namedroppy piece on why the hype around Lady Gaga (remember it?!) is unjustified, and why she’s “dumb.”
With the full realization that I, too, am absolutely “dumb,” especially compared to Lord Dery, I object.
At the risk of sounding ungrateful - I don’t think rockism is Dery’s problem. It’s not really a problem at all, just another part of the Music Criticism Spectrum that haunts the internet, etc. Maybe just too-old-ism? Rarified-air-ism? OF COURSE Lady Gaga doesn’t stack up to any of the names you drop that I had to Google, but America will NEVER BE READY for something (smart! right?) like this on its TV screens and its mainstream culture blogs. She’s not for you, Professor (er, Mark). She’ll never live up to the lyrical prowess of Freddie Mercury, or, even more dauntingly, you and your performance poetry art-club big-word club Bite the Wax Tadpole, which, LOL.
She’s bigger than Fischerspooner/Alexander McQueen/Marilyn Manson, and so must be more palatable. Do you really want to live in a world crawling with the avant-garde? Where there is no simpleton to satirize? How do we keep épater-ing la bourgeoisie if we decry the things the bourgeoisie is built on?
Is there no room for simple pleasure laced with a little “weird”? I’m comfortable with Lady Gaga. She’s not pretending to be too avant-garde (see: performing on MTV). You do that. Let’s not take this pop star too seriously, then, eh? Sure, Sasha Frere-Jones did, but he also thinks rap is dead or something, so.
The music’s not good. You’re right. And the shock tactics and faux-performance-art aren’t that impressive. But for a top 10 iTunes chart filled with Biebers and Lady Antebellums (Antebella?) and Glee tributes to bad old songs and dear god, TRAINs, Gaga is a fucking oasis. And her songs sound great turned up loud on a rooftop.
Oh - Been-too-long-since-you-danced-ism?
PS, thanks for (jokingly?) scorning those naive little “undergrads who crib their Baudrillard from The Matrix” - which film you assigned for the first class as an entryway to big bad Baudrillard. I read Simulacra before you forced that apparently shameful role on me, so come on. Give your adoring audience some credit.
Wish I had weeks (nay, months) to clear up my thoughts on this.
In conclusion - this. Fun!
You can go back to being the startlingly brilliant cultural critic and profoundly confusing/good-for-you teacher I know you as now. Your class was the best I ever took. (And try watching that Telephone video without thinking too hard. Like a normal. It’s good.)