Max's Blog

How Pop Culture Leads and Misleads

Month: July, 2010

The Ladies of Lake Simcoe

Even at the cottage, one should always look one’s best.

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Amsterdam, Interviews and Edith Wharton

At the end of last summer I flew from Dublin to Amsterdam. I met up with university friends and we wandered the canals, visited Anne Frank’s house, ate pancakes, saw Vermeers and drank lots of beer. I was staying in a hostel called The Bulldog which was in the middle of the tacky Red Light District, where prostitutes wave at you through windows. That sounds like it might be kind of fun, but I ended up thinking it was sad. Immediately every morning I escaped downtown and, map constantly in hand (Amsterdam is a complicated city, built in concentric half-circles) searched for small museums, interesting shops and gay bars. Speaking of which, the Dutch speak English well, but are very blunt.

“Everyone rides a bike here!” I told an older gay guy at a bar.

“Yes,” he said. “I ride my bike every day.” Then he squeezed my thigh. “Hmm, you don’t ride your bike every day.”

But that is not the story I intended to recount.

After Jen and Stu flew home, after I received a bad email from UofT at my friend Liam’s house in Leiden informing me that I failed a third French test (bursting into tears due to emails has been a habit of mine again this week), and I tried to cheer myself up by going to see Away We Go with Dutch subtitles at the fabulous ‘Chinese’ art deco Tuschinski theatre, I went to an English bookshop on my last day.

“Would you like something about Amsterdam?” the shop woman asked.

“No, I’m Amsterdamed out.” Eventually, I chose between The Bostonians by Henry James and The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. My only experience with Wharton had been watching the film version of The House of Mirth, with the X-Files’ Gillian Anderson when she was trying for a film career. I began reading it at the airport and felt immediately I had found a kindred spirit.

Published in 1920 but set in the 1870’s, The Age of Innocence is a tragic-comedic satire about Gilded Age New York, when the old Dutch families who represented capital-S Society had to contend with the liberalization of divorce, the changing role of women and the allegedly-classless ‘new’ money of industrialists and foreigners. It is a world where no one says what they mean, a world of “hieroglyphics”, as the narrator observes, but with Wharton you have a perceptive and sardonic guide leading you through.

Back in Dublin, I found the Wharton biography by Hermione Lee at a charity shop, and I collected what other significant books of hers I could find. She also loved fashion and style, detailing what characters wore in the hopes that you’d pick up the same social meanings as she did. The covers of Wharton’s novels often feature elegant turn of the century ladies, either paintings or photographs (sometimes of the author herself), descending stairways, waiting for trains, or ripping up letters to be blown away by the autumn breeze. Sometimes they even feature pictures which are obviously anachronistic (one cover for House of Mirth had a formal woman at an opera house clearly from the 1950’s!) but it was enough for the publishers to just evoke a lost age of elegance, even if it’s the wrong century.

It was this aspect which popped in my mind during my interview at WORN.  Asked for two pitch ideas, a question I had expected but should have been better prepared for, I rambled on about how long trends take to die out (only later did I realize how much the WORN staff reject stories about trends) but then I remembered Edith. I pitched a story about the portrayal of clothing and accessories in Wharton’s novels.

“Edith Wharton!” Assistant Publisher Sara Forsyth said. “I’ve been reading a lot of her!”

‘That was a freebie,’ I thought.

I got the internship.

And a month or so later, my Editor Serah-Marie asked me to grab a book from a pile to review, and the second one down was called Edith Wharton and the Making of Fashion. I couldn’t believe it.

“Serah-Marie! This book is on the exact topic I pitched in my interview!”

“Oh yeah, I guess it is.”

“I have to review it!”

“Umm, I think Anna called it…” My face fell. But then she went online and Anna said I could review the book that I was destined to.

And here it is.

 

Joan and the Colonel

Once you start collecting campy pictures of Joan Crawford, you can’t stop. But this one is outstanding. I found it when searching for information about KFC’s Colonel Sanders and his trademark glasses. I don’t know why the mass-torturer of chickens was chatting with the torturer of Christina Crawford, but it might have something to do with Joan being the spokesperson for Pepsi Cola in the 1960’s. I like her bulbous sci-fi hat, and how their white suits match eachother.

Duplicable Me

I finally went to see Despicable Me last night, arriving just late enough to miss most of the trailer for Disney’s Rapunzel movie (now titled Tangled) which I have become interested in mostly due to the involvement of Miss Kristin Chenoweth and, as a member of the Little Mermaid-generation, a nostalgically emotional investment in the return of Disney’s princess movies.

Despicable Me is a witty, visually splendid escape from the worries of your day. We were chuckling out loud from the very beginning at a surprisingly-politically incorrect intro in which a group of American tourists (fat, t-shirted and camera ready, their bus blaring ‘Sweet Home, Alabama’ into the Egyptian desert) discover one of the great pyramids has been stolen, replaced with a deflating tarp. An over-caffeinated news report about the extent other countries are taking to protect their landmarks follows: the Wall of China is shown surrounded by tanks, which all aim and fire at a passing dove.

The plot concerns the rivalry between high-tech super-villains (who hold countries to ransom but, importantly never appear to kill anyone). Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, is a vaguely-Russian mastermind who works with apparent immunity from his neighbourhood, figuring out grand things to steal with the inventions built by his army of little, yellow, pip-squeak minions. He adopts three little girls from an orphanage who sell cookies in order to break into the lair of his rival Vector (an over-the-top nerd stereotype voiced by Jason Segel). Of course, the girls, through their cuteness and sass, begin to soften Gru’s rough edges and we all know where the story’s going.

The movie is a continuation of the subgenre of computer-animated super hero/villain films, with its high-tech inventions and family values evoking The Incredibles most directly. But Despicable Me borrows a number of motifs from a range of cartoons, television and film of the last fifty years. 

First, there’s the look of Gru himself: with his oval head, deep-set eyes and total absence of neck, he’s a dead-ringer for The Addams Family Uncle Fester, both Christopher Llyod’s movie version and the original New Yorker drawings of Charles Addams. Gomez and Morticia would also feel at home at his house, a hilariously renovated gothic version of the suburban townhouses that surround it.  When the three little girls are picked up by Gru and cautiously step into their child-unfriendly new home, I was reminded of the identical scene in the almost-forgotten Jim Carrey vehicle Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. I couldn’t even find a picture of the little girls online to illustrate this point, which shows you how much they were pushed out of the previews in favour of the more action-packed shenanigans of the two super-villains.

Both in animation and tone, the film resembles Warner Brother’s cartoons, especially those frustrating crusades of Wile E. Coyote. One half expects to see the name ‘Acme’ on Gru’s rickety tools of destruction. Gru’s machines, all metal and bolts and occasionally-exploding, are clearly IBM to his rival Vector’s Mac, whose look is all sleek white plastic. This was the same visual dichotomy of the star-crossed robots Walle and Eve in their post-apocalyptic romance.

Finally, the concept of having an army of cute little workers hidden under one’s house is indebted to Willy Wonka and his Oompa Loompas (while I complained that the appearance of the minions, who are essentially yellow ovals, should have been developed more realistically, I am certainly glad that they don’t look like little people in orange make-up!), but they kept reminding me of the industrious Doozers from Fraggle Rock, continuingly rebuilding their crystal towers which the Fraggles ate casually and compulsively.

All of which is fine. Most movies draw on a myriad of inspirations and, by putting them together, create something new. Nothing despicable about that.

 

Disappointments and Diverges

I didn’t get the writing job I had applied for at an expanding Canadian news and opinion website. I made it to the second round: last week, I wrote a test for them, a five hundred word column in three hours. Having not heard anything back, I wrote them today, and the kind recruiter told me that my application was still under consideration, and that “due to the large quantity of applicants” only those chosen for an interview would be contacted. So I was surprised when I got a second email from him this afternoon saying, sorry, the competition was just too stiff.

I’m disappointed because I would have been perfect for it, because it would have been the first job I had gotten in the field I’d like to be in, and because I’m ready to make a hasty retreat from serving coffee. The bad news capped off a tiring week in which the Gentleman was away in Montreal, I felt like I barely had a moment to stop and breath, and I missed my family, who are up at our cottage, where I would like to be. Perhaps the most pathetic moment came when the last episode of Road to Avonlea made me cry, because my Mom loves Anne of Green Gables and because Mag Ruffman (Aunt Olivia) is who I would get to play her in the Canadian-made movie of my life.

I’m disappointed, yes, but as I grow older I’m recognizing that events which first seem like setbacks can put you on a different track, a track which, like Robert Frost’s road diverged in wood, might make all the difference.

One year ago I received another very disappointing email, this one from the University of Toronto. Tired of waiting for the official letter, I had written asking point-blank if I got into their PhD program. (Evidently, patience is not one of my strengths.) When I read that my bid was “unsuccessful” I broke down. I had made nice with all the profs, had done all the assigned readings, had embodied all the characteristics that had led so far during my successful career in academia. But it was over. Even though it could have easily been something to do with my proposed thesis, or lack of a supervisor, or some other such thing, I couldn’t not feel inadequate and less intelligent then I thought I was.

By the end of that day, I had decided to go to Ireland, to indulge in pints and accented men and reading for fun. Most of all, to get excited about something again and to have an adventure. Only when I was away did I realize how depressed I had been at UofT.

Recognizing that I couldn’t run away from real life forever, I had to hatch a new life plan, so I went back to basics. I asked myself, What is it you love doing and know you are good at?

Since coming home, I have embraced writing and already have two Ryerson courses, an internship and a blog for which I receive compliments almost daily to show for it. Indeed, I barely have time to look back, but when I do, I recognize that these good things in my life happened not despite that earlier disappointment, but because of it.

And so I’m trying to keep this in mind, along with the fact that there are other writing jobs out there. (If you happen to hear of one…?) I get to review a play tomorrow and then it’s up to the cottage where, when I’m not google-image-searching vintage eyeglasses for WORN, I will relax and read Tom Wolfe or David Foster Wallace.

I have been lucky, and years from now I may view this latest setback as a diverging, not a disappointment.

 

Sunday Reflections: The New York Times

The New York Times today has an article in which Jon Caramancia compares the theatrics of Lady Gaga with the sincerity of 1990’s-era Lilith fair songstresses. A few quotes reminded me of another writer’s recent post on Gaga.

“The thing that most separates Lady Gaga from the bubblegum sirens of a decade ago is that her capacity for seduction has been neutered, recontextualized.”

and

“If Lady Gaga has had direct impact on anyone, it’s been, most surprisingly, Beyoncé, who has spent the majority of her career impervious to influence from her peers…It’s as if Lady Gaga swooped in and infected Beyoncé with a bug, a vampiric chain of events.”

Just wanted to humbly share this with you loyal readers.

Hello Sex, Goodbye Gay

Grindr is a free downloadable iPhone app which lets you find “gay, bi, curious guys” in your immediate vicinity. As Polly Vernon writes in The Observer, “It shows you who these men are and what they look like; it’ll tell you how far away from you (in feet, and even more thrillingly, fractions of feet) they are standing; and it will allow you to ‘chat’ them, if they take your fancy.” Gone are the days when one had to waste time surfing profiles on dating websites, spending hours getting to know someone on instant messenger, only to discover, in person, that there’s no chemistry or that the other person is nuts. That past time will soon look as dated as cruising by the steps on Church Street.

Grindr (pronounced ‘grinder’) was launched on March 25th 2009 and witnessed its biggest boost after Stephen Fry, Oscar Wilde incarnate himself, sang the app’s praises on a British talk show. Now, it has more than 700,000 users in 162 countries, and it continues to grow.

“I’ve never, ever had so much sex in my life!” a gay friend informed Vernon. “I’ve probably had as much in the past eight months of Grinding as I have over the 20 years since I came out. Maybe more.” Other interviewees mention hooking up in the subway, staying in and waiting to see who walks down their street, or capping off a nice evening out with friends by checking out who’s at the restaurant to take home.

Basically, sex on demand.

And Grindr’s creators have their eyes set on the straights, with a heterosexual version expected to launch “at latest” by the end of the year. Vernon writes that Grindr “marks a major evolution in how all of us – gay, straight, alive – will meet and interact with each other. Depending on who you talk to, this is either brilliant (liberating, socially enabling – the end, even, of loneliness and boredom); or a potential disaster (signaling the end of monogamy, facilitating sex addiction). Either way, it matters.”

A sex-on-demand-app was one of those ideas, like picture phones, which predated the technology that made it feasible. Around ten years ago I watched a TV program in which they advertised ‘gay-dar’, a little pager-like device which would beep when it sensed another one in the room.

“And what’s to stop gay bashers from using them?” a middle-aged lesbian asked the spokesperson. “Um, that’s something we’re obviously very aware of and concerned about dealing with…” the inadequate answer came. The segment ended with the gay host ‘meeting’ a young man who’s gay-dar had gone off, and if the gizmo’s safety concerns were already causing you doubts, the sheer awkwardness of the televised meeting would have convinced you to stay away.

“Well, that’s the end of a useless invention,” I thought, turning the channel.

Apparently not.

While I’m totally sex-positive and not a prude, I have mixed feelings about the sex-on-demand culture of Grindr, although perhaps it will siphon off the people who are just looking for casual sex, allowing more room on internet dating sites for those looking for ‘something more’. Obviously there’s still the safety concern, but I doubt there’s that many violent homophobes who would want their iPhones notifying them all the time of the queer men around, just in case they wanted to beat them up.

And let’s take a moment here to remember how lucky we are to live in a country in which homosexuality is not illegal, for in many places in the world downloading Grindr would practically be signing one’s own death sentence.

But straight hooking up is another matter entirely. The truth remains that heterosexual women are more apprehensive about sex with strangers than gay men, and I doubt that even women who are very sexually active would like to be signaled out as ready and willing to every straight man in a bar.

But for the moment, let’s focus on its effect on what is quaintly still referred to as the gay ‘community’. Joel Simkhai, the Israeli-American man who founded Grindr, said that he felt isolated as a young gay man.

“I think every gay man starts asking it, from the moment he realizes he’s gay. You are somewhere and it’s: ‘Who else here, right now, is gay? Who?’ You are looking around, you are constantly wondering. Because coming out is a lonely process.” So Grindr is meant to bring queer people together, but in a different fashion than traditional community organizations and hang-outs.

About the title, he explained that “We liked the word. We liked the notion of a coffee grinder, mixing things together… And there’s the term ‘guy finder’ in there, too. We wanted something that was masculine but was not about pride flags. Was not about…”

“A politicized idea of gayness?” Vernon offers.

“Yes! And was fun! And was in a way – not about being gay. I’m gay; I am a proud gay man. It’s not that we have any issues, right? But Grindr’s not about gay rights, or gay anything. It’s about finding guys. Being among your peers. Socializing. Being part of your community. It’s not about: ‘We’re here, we’re queer.'”

So meeting other gay guys is not a gay thing? Grindr is about being part of the community but not about being ‘here and queer’?

There’s nothing new about men who sleep with men who don’t like the names ‘gay’ or ‘queer’, who take no part in the community and live on the ‘down low’. But Grindr could make finding men for sex while completely bypassing gay bars and websites infinitely easier.

Which, of course, is fine, if all you want is sex and don’t feel any connection, socially or politically, to other men who sleep with men.

I spent the better part of last year frustrated at post-structuralists and their obsession with ‘deconstructing’ identities, and queer activists who seemed more concerned with Palestine than gay rights violations around the world. As Nicole LaViolette wrote in The Globe and Mail yesterday, Western world queers are sadly comfortable and complacent when it comes to not reaching out and helping our sisters and brothers in countries where they are constantly under threat.

Maybe I was concerned with the entirely wrong threat to the community. It’s not sexual theories which will unravel the tenuous bonds linking the alphabet soup of GLTTBQQ-etc. It’s sex itself, which, ironically, was what brought us together in the first place.  

Can Jason Segel Save The Muppets?

The GQ magazine that I’ve previously posted about (whose cover with Taylor Lautner cover I rather embarrassingly lusted over) has an interview with Jason Segel of I Love You, Man or Forgetting Sarah Marshall or How I Met Your Mother or Freaks and Geeks-fame. Although perhaps 90% of viewers remember Sarah Marshall for the infamous penis scene, there’s a small cadre who were more impressed by the Dracula puppet show finale. We are Muppet fans, an often difficult dedication over the two decades since Jim Henson’s passing. We have sat through some terrible films and TV shows, and Jason Segel, as a Muppet fan himself, knows our pain. Indeed, he’s our last best hope for reclaiming Kermit and company’s former glory.

In the interview, he recounts a sad scene at the Henson Company, who designed the puppets for the Sarah Marshall vampire show. Segel asked if he could see a Kermit or a Miss Piggy. After a pause, the Henson people admitted “We don’t have Kermits or Piggys. We sold everything to Disney.” Later, when he had a meeting at with Walt’s company during which a bunch of executives pitched him projects, he interrupted and said “Thank you, this is all very flattering, but listen. You guys own the Muppets and you’re just kind of sitting on ‘em. I really love the Muppets, and I think I know how to bring the franchise back.” After some laughter, and his pledge that he wasn’t going to make it ironic or Judd Apatow-esque, Disney relented. Jason Segel is getting to make his Muppet Movie.

Whether he’s able to succeed at taking on where The Muppets Take Manhattan left off will rest on how he balances the trinity of humour, music and heart. Humour for Segel will presumably not be a problem. I have faith that his funniness is not solely of the R-rated, penis-exposing variety. Music has proven an obstacle for post-1990 Muppet vehicles, partly because the scores of the original three movies were so legendary. But they’ve signed on James Bobin, co-creator of Flight of the Conchords, to direct, which is an inspired choice.

Then there’s the question of heart. It’s difficult to strike the right tone and not go schmaltzy. Surprisingly, the original Muppet Show TV show, which made Miss Piggy, Fozzie and Gonzo household names, had very little emotion in it; the show was largely made up of terrible Vaudeville one-liners, covers of classic and contemporary songs during which things would explode, and 1970’s guest stars attempting to achieve rapport with a green felt frog. All the heart came from the films; in The Muppet Movie, Gonzo’s melancholy song in the desert followed by Kermit’s outburst at the gang claiming he didn’t promise them anything; in The Great Muppet Caper, Kermit’s disillusion with Miss Piggy after she lied about being the designer Lady Holiday (Diana Rigg in a drag queen role); and, of course, The Muppets take Manhattan, whose ‘Saying Goodbye’ song and final wedding scene bring a tear to every Muppet-fan’s eye.

Segel had to reference the ‘Saying Goodbye’ song often during pitch meetings. “I kept getting notes from, like, the Muppet brass saying, ‘Muppets are never sad. Muppets never break up.’ And I had to be like, ‘No—they do. And that’s the best part.’”

Suddenly, the last few years of mediocrity are explained: Disney had no idea what they had bought! They thought they had acquired a pantheon of cheery, furry characters to stand alongside mindless Mickey and gang.

 (Mickey Mouse, it must be said, finally and loudly, is the single most uninteresting character in Western culture. His sole characteristic is having satellite-dish shaped ears, which turn his head into three perfect circles, becoming the ideal copyrighted logo, which is all Disney needs of him. Okay, I’m done.)

They completely misunderstood the characters. While the Muppets are zany, neuroses were always just below the fake fur. They’re all a bunch of losers. Fozzie is just a lost little boy, who has mistaken Kermit for his father and uses (bad) jokes to get attention. Ditto with Gonzo, only he likes daredevil stunts (I won’t get into his poultry-philia here).

And how to summarize Miss Piggy? Frank Oz didn’t like doing female characters and I think his being uncomfortable accounts for Piggy’s continual tension between the feminine and the masculine. She tries, desperately, to be glamorous and elegant, but she inevitably fails and when she does, she screams, and threatens, and karate-chops. Camp has been described as the failure of femininity, and Miss Piggy could be the textbook example.

Like all them, she wants Kermit’s love and approval and when it becomes too much for his nonexistent green shoulders he berates them. The fact that Kermit can be earnest and well-meaning but still get frustrated makes him very real.

But these are just my feelings about the Muppets. I’m sure Jason Segel has his own and they come from the same committed place. The Muppet Wikia site, which has literally everything you could ever want to know about the Muppets (and I know that people use that word incorrectly, but it’s an incredibly exhaustive resource) outlined two potential plots for the new movie. The first is classic Muppet and is about getting the whole gang out of retirement to save the Muppet theatre from an evil rich oil man. The second, a meta film called The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever, is based on an idea Henson himself  worked on before his death. In it, the Muppets have to make a film with a budget that keeps getting slashed, while the production values of the film you’re watching get visibly cheaper and cheaper.

The plots ultimately don’t matter much. The Muppet movies of the 1970’s and 1980’s revived the standard stories of classic musicals (“Let’s go to Hollywood/Broadway and become famous and make people happy!”), hopeful plots for a cynical time. What will matter is whether Segel can find a way to expose another organ, his heart, through Jim Henson’s complex creatures. 

Eduardo and Sorcha

Eduardo and Sorcha

Despite being a visual person, I have mostly shunned images on this blog or used them sparingly. This was as aesthetic choice as well as a professional one. I think that if you have a blog primarily to showcase your writing the main thing on the page should be text and not slow-loading pictures. But when this photograph showed up on my facebook, I couldn’t resist sharing it with everyone. I don’t know who took it, but it’s of my friends and Starbucks co-workers from Ireland, Eduardo and Sorcha. Great names, huh? I remember complimenting Sorcha by saying that her name sounded “juicy”, which probably sounded weird.

I love the way they’re posed. I love that the over-exposure of Sorcha’s face reduces it to the features, including shockingly blue eyes. She looks like an angel, while Eduardo is the devil. Eduardo has a habit of going all James Dean in pictures, furrowing his brow and looking disturbed. The contrast it produces here is great. I even like the texture of the background wall. The finishing touch is the green facepaint which links the two faces together. I think it’s from a bar in Dublin where everyone wears ‘tribal’ make-up, a gimmick I doubt you’d ever see in Toronto.  

Going Gaga (or not)

Not that I want to suggest in any way that I saw her before she was cool, but I did see Lady Gaga perform last summer when she didn’t feel as huge as she does now. It was at Oxegen music fest in Ireland, and I went primarily to see her and Katy Perry. I wasn’t fans of either particularly, but I liked their songs and was glad that fun dance-pop had staged a comeback after the last couple of bleak years. Katy Perry was energetic and connected with the crowd, even coming out from under her enclosed stage to get soaked in the rain with the audience.

Gaga, on the other hand, from the odd intro video to her singing voice to her kept-at-a-distance attitude, was pretty darn awkward. It felt like the audience had wandered into a gallery and now were forced to watch performance art. A guy walked around with a poster that said ‘Lady Gaga has a camel toe!’ and, when asked by the next performer “how’d you like Lady Gaga?” one of the boisterous Irish girls I was with screamed “She was CRAAAAAAAAP!”

Some time later, my friend Eduardo sat me down to watch the ‘Bad Romance’ video. “Isn’t it so good?” While I liked the song, the video’s nightmarish mix of murder, vodka and glaring white light kind of terrified me.

And I still feel disconnected from her. The fact that I enjoy her songs like ‘Poker Face’ and ‘Love Game’ (we had a lot of fun singing ‘Paparazzi’ at karaoke the other night) leads me to believe it must be something about her image. It’s funny that Ben Brantley wrote in the New York Times, in an article about how today’s celebrities reveal too much, that Lady Gaga would be wise to keep quiet like the legendary Garbo, because I want her to say more. Despite the fact that she’s been great about gay rights and has talked openly about her life and career, I still do not associate her with any idea or personality.

And all the costumes are exhausting. I read her profile on Wikipedia and learned, along with the alarming discovery that she is a year younger than me, that the blonde wigs came from her not wanting to be confused with Amy Winehouse (presumably, being confused with Christina Aguilera was better) and that the name supposedly derived from a cell phone autocorrecting Queen song ‘Radio Ga Ga’. Lady Gaga reportedly said “don’t ever call me Stefani again” and one wonders what happened to Stefani Germanotta.

The process of putting on an alternative identity, especially a musical, sexually aggressive one incorporating wigs and outlandish fashions, ties Gaga to drag queen culture far more than her support of gay rights and her androgynous look.

Which leads me to my last point, which is in her support, although it won’t sound like it.

I think that Lady Gaga is the first music superstar who uses sexuality without being sexy herself. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not calling her ugly or suggesting there is not a place for non-conventionally attractive women. I am the first to defend actresses and singers when people declare flatly that they are not pretty, as though that was a valid conversational contribution in of itself. I’m not  saying anything about my feelings on her looks.

All I’m saying is, almost every other pop star who has a sexualized image, from Madonna to the Spice Girls to Britney Spears, has been helped by being appealing to the straight male population. While taking agency over their images (especially Madonna), which endeared them to straight women and gay male fans, their conventional attractiveness allowed them to simultaneously be the object of, to use the academic term, the heterosexual gaze.

And I don’t think that’s the case with Lady Gaga. She dresses provocatively (hell, she never wears pants, not even to a baseball game) but, despite her inarguably great body, I can’t really picture a group of straight men standing around a bar lusting after her. I could be forever biased because of the Video on Trial episode in which the entire panel of comedians (male, female, straight, gay) mocked her for being a “but her face” (“Bu-bu-bu-bu-bu-bu-butter face!”), but I think she may have succeeded in titillating the public’s interest without becoming a sexualized object.

This is really apparent in her ‘Telephone’ video with Beyonce, who’s deliberately stilted dialogue annoys the heck out of me (and also, is she obsessed with murder?). Rather than look plain next to the gorgeous Beyonce, Gaga looks the sexiest she ever has, while her campiness rubs off on her, who suffers exaggerated eye make-up, Betty Page bangs and absurd (and frustratingly memorable) editing which turns Ms. Knowles into a gaping fish.

If Gaga’s star continues to climb, and the fact that Christina Aguilera is now stealing her look demonstrates how little competition she has, we’ll see if behind those sunglasses there’s transgressive ideas to match the persona.

And let the hate mail begin!