Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Let's Have a Sociological Discussion

So lately I've seen two videos that heavily use very American iconography and they've gotten me thinking about the way we define ourselves as a culture. So I want to talk to you about it.

The first video is one you've all probably seen, or at least heard people talking about, Lady Gaga's "Telephone." Lady Gaga is 24 years old and grew up immersed in music pop culture.

(Click to see embedded video)

The second video is "Hollywood" by Marina Diamandis, aka Marina and the Diamonds, a 25 year old Welsh singer who lives in London, and cites several American musicians as influences.

(Click to see embedded video)

So, boys and girls, riddle me this: What do these two videos say about American culture? about the influence of movies/media? about gender roles and gender relations? What do you think of how the American flag used? Does it make a difference that the second video, stuffed full of American iconography, is made by a UK singer? Would it affect you differently if you thought it was made by an American? Also, how do they buy into and/or manipulate popular images/concepts for their own celebrity?

Feel free to cite sources.

I'll tell you my thoughts in a later post, but for now...


Related posts:
On Running Away from Femininity
Eve, Revisited

Like what you see? Subscribe here


Joe Pontillo said...

These videos are intentional poseur pieces. The people in the videos don't embody a lifestyle or attitude or mentality. They don't live it. They're just trying it on and seeing how it feels. Hyper-stylized, self-conscious, unrealistic. They celebrate the most superficial aspects of iconography. This is the Tarantino mentality. You're not supposed to suspend disbelief and buy into what you're seeing. You're supposed to see it as a work. You remain detached from it, and appreciate it for its studious understanding, reproduction, and implementation of ideas and images.

Contrast this with, for example, filmmaking movements of the past. Sergio Leone was an Italian who wanted to make American movies - his western and gangster films are a unique blend of a desire to BE American, despite the limitation of being culturally Italian. The French New Wave films were an effort to take the best elements of American film conventions and use them as the building blocks for culturally French films. In both cases, a new form was born.

These videos are part of the on-going manifestation of irony in culture. They're not interested in creating something new. They want to evoke and recreate something cool. It's cool for coolness sake.

I mean, the video for "Telephone" has nothing AT ALL to do with the song. The lyrics are about being annoyed about getting phone calls while you're out at a club. The video is Lady Gaga's version of Quentin Tarantino's version of '70s exploitation movies... which were just low budget versions of movies with higher aspirations to begin with.

...But it's great. Lady Gaga is something extremely rare in the music business. She's someone with ideas. She set out to accomplish a vision. She's an artist, and her subject is celebrity. She's accomplished an impressive amount in a very short period of time. I'll be interested to see if she can sustain that over a long career.

Bob said...

I concur heartily with what Joe Pontillo has said--at least about Marina and the Diamonds. The Lady Gaga video first required me to "sign up" or "sign in" before viewing it. I don't like to "sign up" or "sign in" generally, so I skipped that one.

I couldn't help but contrast Marina's performance with those of other singers whom I admire, who sing nakedly from their guts, from their soul. You know they're intensely oriented toward hearing something unique and moving from WITHIN--and only then, as committed artists, do they strive to transmit, to translate, that inner passion outward to a rapt audience.

But here it's all about showing off--kind of smirkily guffawing in complicity with a subversive audience which smirkily guffaws back. What is it they say about Hollywood?--It's just high school, but with better lighting. Does everybody now slaver to be an American Idol, just so they can suck on their 15 minutes of fame?

I know when the Spirit moves me. I know what it feels like when the incandescent arc of inspiration leaps from a performer and sizzles right through my nerve ends, into my bones. That's what I'm after! "Painted cakes do not satisfy hunger."

As to what this says about our pop culture in general? It's all about consuming, isn't it? About buying and selling; about packaging the product seductively or sensationally in an uber- competitive marketplace so you'll stick out from the crowd and score big.

Marina's on the make, yet she's so cool, mocking,ironic and in the know--hey, just like us! In that respect, although she may be British, she's as cynically savvy and postmodernly American as virtual apple pie.

Kim Williams said...

i'll second much of what has been said, although i'm not at all claiming that i could have said it so well.

my contribution is that although i see intense creativity in both of these videos - they just don't convey any message of substance (or at least interest) to me. in short - what's the point? a lot of work for shock that overshadows limited content.

random thought - does this 'art' parallel the same communication form shift we see in the surge of Social Media popularity? lots of noise - benign noise - with limited thought and reflection.

Do you see me? said...

What a great post, May! Real conversation is in such short supply on most KC blogs! I love the lady ga-ga video. I think she is to this generation what Elton John was to mine. Completely over the top, talented, attention whore, but has something to say. I don't see these as vapid shells or benign noise - of course I see social media as relevant as well. Telephone is a statement on the most pervasive modern technology the world has ever seen. Over a 100 years of putting our ear and mouth to a device to communicate electronically. I'm sitting in the MSP airport - the bastion of white, middle class America. Everyone is talking on a phone, but I suspect most have never heard nor seen Lady Ga Ga. I think her video is a lot of eye candy in which to wrap her message. Or maybe not. Maybe the prison setting is the metaphor for contemporary conventionalism of which the phone is the ultimate icon?

Ruth said...

The image of a beautiful woman scantily clad in the American flag - to represent America - is used in both videos, although it seems intentional in the second and merely incidental in the first. Both seem to be poking fun at the image, although Gaga's sense of humor is so wry that I think it gets lost under the snapping teeth and flashing eyes. Marina's tone is more playful, confiding, enough to convince me (an American) that she must be excluding me from her observations. I like watching these together; Marina seems to egg Gaga on.