Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Lady Gaga's Meat Dress Statement, zzzzz....
I'd heard rumbles about the Japanese Vogue with Lady Gag (that last 'a' in her name suddenly and inexplicably stopped working) in a meat bikini and, as I do so often with pop and mainstream culture in our society, I studiously avoided seeing it. The insatiable drilling away on our inner-peace by the media, though, made it virtually impossible for me to completely avoid that magazine cover, but the moment that my eyes caught a glimpse, they ran and hid. I prefer to stay under the radar here in my happy little vegan world: yes, I know fully well that people "out there" eat meat and take their kids to circuses and some even experiment on animals in laboratory cages, but in Vegan Land, where bunnies nibble organic carrots and every baby mammal drinks his own mother's milk without harassment, I'm in a much happier place. I spent quite a few years as someone who was deeply disappointed and angry about innumerable aspects of how our society functions: the violence, injustice, the stupefying normalization of cruelty, just everyday events. As a result of looking at things in this way, unsurprisingly, I only saw violence, injustice and cruelty. My lenses became skewed, unable to see the breathtaking beauty of this place, and I became depressed, imbalanced. It is much better for all parties if I just tune out occasionally. That little bit of air in an otherwise suffocating space allows me to catch my breath before I sink back into it. It helps me not to drown. So the Japanese Vogue came and went, and it made just the barest of ripples on my psyche.
As an activist, I also have a strategic quandary with the meat bikini: what is wrong about wearing meat when people eat animals and wear leather? Doesn't it at least force consumers to face what they try avoid from seeing? Yes and no. On the one hand, it is hard to be in an uproar about something when you support this practice in a less overt, but no less cruel, way. In terms of damage done, there is little difference between eating steak and making an attempt at an avant-garde statement of some sort by wearing an outfit made of it. As a former painting major who even took a performance art class (don't hold it against me: it was fun) what needles me at a deeper level is the notion that someone like Lady Gag can wear such an ensemble, package it as A Provocative Artistic Statement, and then call it a day. With artists, or people who adopt the cultural embellishments we associate with artists, we're supposed to take their word on such matters.
More recently, Gag wore a dress, hat and shoes fashioned out of cuts of meat to MTV's Video Music Awards. The next day, when asked by the popular vegan talk show host Ellen DeGeneres about her outfit, Gag said, "As you know, I am the most judgment-free human being on the earth. [It] has many interpretations, but for me this evening, if we don't stand up for what we believe in, if we don't fight for our rights, pretty soon we'll have as much rights as the meat on our bones." Then she held up a copy of her issue of Japanese Vogue and said with a smile and mock stridency, "And I am not a piece of meat."
Oh really? That's your statement, Gag? That you are not a piece of meat so you are wrapping yourself in it to...to...I nodded off there, sorry, let me open the window, get some fresh air...you are wearing meat to show that you are NOT meat. Right? Right? And this wrapping of yourself in misery and violence and exploitation is a way to show the powers that be that they must not try to suppress Lady Gag's voice, right? That she is not a piece of meat, even though she has associated herself with it without apparently irony. And the animals that became those pieces of meat? Their lives, the horrors they were born into, breathed, saw, suffered under and ultimately fell to, existed to become mere props for a derivative pop singer reformulated as a performance artist. The rest of the animals, the billions that were not to be part of Gag's wardrobe? Those that are neither Art nor Statement? They remain just pieces of meat.
In the end, this woman who presents herself as an iconoclast and an artist is just like anyone else in line at the drive-thru, consuming animals for her reasons, basking in a set of privileges she is not challenging. A blasé sense of elite entitlement is every bit as ordinary and unoriginal and stupefyingly normal as someone in line trying to decide between a cheeseburger and a Big Mac.
You don't have us fooled, Lady Gag. You're just reinforcing the cultural privileges, norms and power structures. In other words, you're just like nearly every other schmuck.
And with that, I'm skipping off back to Vegan Land. La dee da! See you guys there.