Worn This Way: Lady Gaga and the Hijackers of Pop Imagery

Introduction

Assault rifles, bold headings, heavy make-up, bare skin, and bare ass, engulf the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine’s July 2010 issue. Pop icon Lady Gaga, in her typical in-your-face style, adorns herself with a “gun bra,” thong underwear, red lipstick, and little else. The layout dresses her image with the usual magazine logo and drapes the
headlines for what to expect inside suggestively over her body. The cover has been one of the most popular and controversial to date for the magazine and leads to a debate over what, if anything, this image says about women, music, and Gaga herself. I argue that a very specific message is being crafted by the magazine using her image as a springboard to sell. In fact, the image by itself, not dressed with the cover layout, says something entirely different than the final cover image. It is my intention, using a feminist critical perspective to address the specific symbolism utilized in the image, to shine a light on what message is being conveyed specifically and how that illuminates a greater understanding of how the feminine image is exploited in the western world.

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Artifact

Lady Gaga is one of the world’s best selling musical artists of all time having sold nearly 65 million records since 2008 (Pomerantz 2011) and her album Born This Way sold 1.1 million copies in its first week alone (Perpetua 2011). The title track from that album also passed 1 million downloads on Apple’s iTunes service in its first five days of availability. She was the first Twitter user to reach 12 million followers and boasts the title of Forbes 2011’s most powerful celebrity as well as a number one ranking in social and web presence (Forbes.com). Needless to say, people are “goo goo” for Gaga. The audience she reaches with her art form is so wide that, love her or hate her, she will have an impact on the lives of almost anyone you meet. The issue of Rolling Stone that used the image in question was one of the best selling in the history of the magazine boasting sales of “nearly 250,000 copies” which is almost “three times the mag’s monthly average (Ngo 2011).” Lady Gaga has used this fame and reach to advocate for LGBT issues appearing at events like the HRC gala dinner with Barack Obama (Zak 2009), address issues with bullying (which she regularly speaks about on television), and work for the advancement of artistic freedom. Through her theatrical and often controversial performances in concert and on television, Lady Gaga has crafted her character in such a way that she has created a new paradigm for postmodern expression. One such performance was given at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. According to an article by Gil Kaufman on MTV.com, Gaga provided a “jaw dropping performance” that ended with her covered in fake blood as she mimed her own death and “hanging listlessly by one hand…rose above her dancers.” The performance drew applause and criticism but didn’t fail to use the stage for a bold statement. As a result of the controversial style she has developed, her every move and image is consumed with a speed and veracity that is rivaled by few performers. Therefore, her potential for social influence exceeds that of most any individual on this planet. Studying the use of her image by a secondary source lends unique insight to the way in which all strong feminine personalities are “sold” back to the consumer public. Comprehending magazine and tabloid covers specifically benefits from such study as it stands as a re-purposing of images to sell an alternate product. How the image of the model is in effect “dressed” by the layout will be shown to be key in deciphering the message of the cover and source material.

The cover of the magazine places Lady Gaga immediately in the center. She stands strong while leaning back slightly as she tilts the guns attached to her brazier skyward holding them in a firing position. She gazes into the distance as if to stare off at the bullets fired and the target she intended to hit. Her body is twisted slightly to reveal as much of her rear end as possible which is only aided by her thong underwear which are fulfilling their usual purpose of “divide and conquer.” The eye makeup is thick and dark playing against porcelain white skin, dark red lipstick and an airbrushed glow on her cheeks (both sets oddly enough.) Her hair is sharp and structured in a straight blonde bob that frames her gaze. Her legs are staggered forming an inverted “v” suggesting what most men are thinking. Just behind her head rests the Rolling Stone logo that seems to be fighting to be noticed in spite of her figure. Above the logo, the words “Summer Double Issue” appear in bold black print indicating that this issue has twice the content as the average issue; two reasons to buy. On each side of her body, the tag-lines dress her curves loosely as substitutes for the clothing that is glaringly absent. The words war, drilling, wet, and hot are scattered between story lines that discuss topics from Obama’s handling of the war in Iraq to the relationship between Elton John and his socially insensitive friend Eminem. The cover is structurally shaped to accentuate very specific parts of Lady Gaga’s body and utilizes no background image to work with her figure. The background is, instead, white and barren leaving only the font and word choice to play against her image. The image is bold and sharp. It is deliberate and confronts the viewer immediately. The cover shouts sex and violence and whispers gender stereotypes. It begs to be heard. But what does it say? To better understand, we will utilize a Feminist critical perspective.

Method

Feminist rhetorical criticism has come in several waves (Foss 2009) since its inception in the middle of the nineteenth century. It has gone from periods of bold refusal of the status quo and the inversion of power roles to pushes for new linguistic devices and gender roles. It has carried onward to the modern day as a greater deconstruction of the patriarchal subjugation of minorities, LGBT individuals, the mentally ill, elderly, and other groups traditionally oppressed by the white, male, Christian, heterosexual hierarchy. Essentially, Feminism has its root in “the effort to change existing power relations between women and men” (Foss 2009) in hopes of creating greater equality and opportunity for all individuals.

Feminism seeks “to transform relationships and the larger culture so that the patriarchal values and traits of alienation, competition, imperialism, elitism, control, and dehumanization that characterize interaction under an ideology of domination are disrupted (Foss pg. 154).” The attempt is essentially one of creating greater quality of life for all human beings starting with the classic engendering of women through societal indoctrination. Choice and self determination empower individuals with the agency to direct the outcomes of their own lives (Foss 2009). Only in creating a truly egalitarian culture can this be fully achieved.

The study of communication first started taking notice of Feminism as its own entity outright shortly after the publication of Karyn Kohrs Campbell’s essay “The Rhetoric of Women’s Liberation” in 1973 in which she suggests the rhetoric be defined as its own genre (Foss 2009). The communication world was further challenged in 1979 by Gearhart’s assertion that rhetoric cannot be defined as persuasion because persuasion is an act of violence and instead proposes that a female model of communication be used (Foss 2009) to resist this violent linguistic tendency. This opened the door for study of gendered speaking styles and of rhetors previously overlooked by scholarship. The focus on rhetoric as a tool for either domination or liberation created opportunities for examining communication in everyday life. All communication could now be viewed through a critical lens that empowered the observer to deconstruct the message in terms of commands it delivered and the reinforcements it made.

Feminist criticism analyzes “rhetoric to discover how the rhetorical construction of gender is used as a means for domination and how that process can be challenged” (Foss pg. 157) so that individuals can more easily be empowered to act for themselves freely and live in the world as they choose with greater dignity. For our purposes, we will examine three key factors of the artifact to achieve this goal. Magazine and tabloid covers are a specific medium that begs specific examination. We will first look at how the artifact constructs gender both for the model/s and in general through its wording and layout. Then, we will examine how the viewer is positioned by the image and what vantage point they are encouraged or expected to assume. Finally, an examination of how the two preceding factors contribute to or challenge the culture of domination will be used to illuminate the place and purpose of the rhetorical artifact.

The construction of gender in rhetoric must be examined to better understand the message. “Feminist criticism begins with an analysis of how women and men, femininity and masculinity, are depicted in an artifact” to help decode or break down “what the artifact presents as standard, normal, desirable, and appropriate behavior” (Foss pg. 158) for each gender role in a society. One must look for context and statements that provide information on what definitions are given to roles of power, sex, education, and access while identifying whether the contributions or roles of all shades of gender are being represented fairly. Isolating the definitions created for the ideal man or woman is key to understanding the construction of gender in an artifact and must be the forefront of this aspect of feminist examination.

The positioning of the audience is often rolled into the examination of the construction of gender as it does often make statements about what is expected of the viewer in terms of gender construction and reinforcement. For our purposes, we separate the two as the audience for a magazine or tabloid adds a second and new dimension to the image constructed and could alter the message intended/created by the image if positioned poorly. Artifacts provide a preferred viewpoint for viewing the world in which they operate (Foss 2009). The role or viewpoint must be assumed to fully participate in the “pleasures and meaning” (Foss 2009) of the rhetorical artifact. Examining this factor includes identifying where a viewer is meant to be “watching from,” what this says about how the viewer should view the material and react, and what those two factors say about the purpose and value of the artifact. In the case of magazine and tabloid covers, one should also examine how this positioning portrays any individuals pictured in the image.

Finally, after examining the construction of gender and the role of viewership, an assessment must be made of how those factors lead to a support or rejection of the ideology of domination. The ideology of domination can best be understood through Foss’s explanation of hegemony. Foss states that it “is the imposition of ideology of one group on other groups – it is the power to describe reality and to have that description accepted (Foss pg. 159).” Hegemony expresses an advantaged opinion. In the case of Feminist criticism, the hegemony comes from white, male, heterosexuals who have gained access to the creation of gender roles and communicative forms through cultural domination over the years. The ideology created by this group becomes one that seeks to dominate and control others in an effort to force conformity and uniformity among members not included in this exclusive group. Therefore, after working through the construction of gender and the positioning of the audience, one should have a greater understanding of how the artifact supports this hegemony or fights against its power structure.

These three components will serve to shed appropriate light upon the artifact as it is a classic example of how the medium of magazine and tabloid cover art is constructed and presented. The use and abuse of celebrity imagery to sell an immediate product that, in effect, “advertises itself” can best be understood through this lens. In our case, we must seek the answers to a specific line of related questioning. How is the feminine celebrity image used to sell magazines and tabloids? How are strong female characters treated? What message and/or truth does this convey about the beliefs of the source and society as a whole? We will find our answers through an examination of gender construction, audience positioning, and the support/rejection of the ideology of domination in the artifact and its rhetoric.

Analysis

Construction of Gender

When observing the Rolling Stone cover image of Lady Gaga, a very apparent construction of gender is taking place. Through the placement and use of her image and the layout of the headlines and logo, the creators of the cover have made a definitive statement on Lady Gaga and all powerful female figures. We will first observe the image of Gaga removed from the headlines. Then, we will examine how the headlines position and “dress” her. Finally, we will examine the impact of the language used in the headlines.

The obvious point to be made is that Lady Gaga is semi-nude in the picture. She wears a bra with assault rifles strapped to them in a symbolic extension of her nipples creating breasts as weapons. Her other undergarment is a pair of lace thong underwear which lie in stark contrast to the very aggressive and masculinized bra. While her bra is tilted to imply having fired her breasts into the sky victoriously, her posterior is turned toward the camera to expose the curves and softer aspects of her backside. The arching of her back only accentuates the curves of her body. Her makeup, heavy around the eyes with dark red lipstick on the lips, harkens to the image of the classic femme fatale who is beautiful, mysterious, and deadly. This type of woman seduces and kills like a black widow spider. It is a classic male sexual fantasy that is only heightened by the use of this imagery on the cover. Even her hair is razor sharp indicating the potential danger of getting too close to her (which is, of course, the goal of the viewer) as she may slice as she kisses. It is an absurdity that is being played out in the use of this imagery. The thrusting forward of her hips indicates a motion all but implying intercourse which plays off her firm grip of the gun handles. These powerful phallic images are often relied on to marry sex and violence in a brutish masculine caricature which paints men as grunting cave creatures just as much as it objectifies women.

Her figure, aside from playing out a fantasy role, is edited for print by cropping and airbrushing. There is a glow applied to all of her “choicest” parts that play up her role as sex object. Lady Gaga’s cheeks, shoulders, hips, buttocks, and inner thigh are all highlighted in this manner. This draws attention, often unconsciously, to these areas traditionally associated with sex and sexual foreplay. It is obvious that the presenters want the view of Lady Gaga to be sexualized. Her image has even been cropped from a still taken from a larger set of photos snapped at a previous shoot for the magazine. Her feet have been removed entirely. Symbolically, she has no ability to move herself away from the situation. The only motion now implied by the picture is hip thrusting and gunfire. Her stance has gone from a powerful march to a static model which is no longer an animated subject but a stationary object. This image chosen, cropped, highlighted, and zoomed, presents Lady Gaga as a thing and not a person. She becomes a commodity that is not desired but lusted. Ownership is implied in this image. No background positions her and no other subjects are present. The image only provides you with Lady Gaga as product. In this way, the otherwise strong, empowered, and confidant image of a woman in command of her sexual agency has been hijacked and re-purposed as the very opposite of her reality and intent. The image engenders strong women as sex fantasy role players and not capable of assuming sexual agency on their own behalf.

The framing of the image takes this preposterous storyline a step further. Lady Gaga’s image is placed on top of the Rolling Stone logo and between the headlines. The logo fights with her to be seen, but in typical magazine fashion, it begrudgingly recedes to symbolize the magazine’s taking a “back seat” to the music. Down the left side of the cover and to Lady Gaga’s front, three headlines in large print draw a line from top to bottom and from largest font size to smallest. The first line is the bold print of her name with “Tells All” jutting out from underneath. The l-shape formation couples with the natural curves of the Y and A that end her two names to form a large half circle curve amplified by the font itself. This, although it may have been consciously unintentional, creates an insinuation of a larger bust that has been deprived by the presence of the guns and Lady Gaga’s proportionate to her frame bust size. In an unconscious way, the magazine provides the image of the usual obsession with large breasts (many of them artificially created) in an attempt to feminize Lady Gaga according to a biased definition. As the words decrease in size they slowly recede as they follow her leg line down the page to accentuate the length. Overall, the left side is utilized to frame an exaggerated female form to further engender Gaga in the suppressed role of sex object.

The right side of the page starts its headlines just at the bottom of Lady Gaga’s elbow and directly behind her rear end. The start of the line is in a small, opaque lettering which draws little attention to the elbow region. Beneath the first line the font jumps dramatically in size and assumes a bold, black print as the words jut out toward the definite crack created by her undergarments. The symbolism is nothing short of pornographic as it has no deeper message but to insinuate a penetration. No tongue in cheek or carnivalesque rhetoric is being used in this case. The formation is purposefully phallic and deliberately draws attention not just to Gaga’s hindquarters but to the unseen region between her legs. The framing may not always be overt in its intention to invite sexual dominance and consumption but it creates the mental construct none-the-less. The remaining lines follow the same suit as the left side as they decrease in size and follow her leg line pointing out that her stance, now cropped from the original where feet would portray a base of power, forms a definite inverted V as they are spread across the page. The format of the headlines are quite obviously meant to be worn as the clothing that Gaga lacks in the image. As she wears the logo and the line “Summer Double Issue” like a hat, the remaining words are draped over her to give form and to construct a more suitable gender role based on hegemonic expectation. They insinuate, not only that she really should be dressed voluptuously, but also make it glaringly apparent that you are getting the chance to see what is underneath the dress. There is no doubt, when dressed this way by the layout, that Lady Gaga is meant to be shown, not as naked, natural, and powerful, but as nude and consumable.

The words used in the lines only serve to illuminate this point even further. The bold heading on the magazine asserts that this issue is the “Summer Double Issue” which plays on the very real set of pairs present (and not present for that matter) in the image. Her two guns, two breasts, two cheeks, and two legs make it obvious that you get to enjoy twice as much in this issue and they are part of the invitation to buy the magazine as they must be what the double is referring to. Lay that against the very real fact that you can not clearly see two eyes, two feet, or two arms in the image and the headline seems far more ominous. The removal of her eyes, feet, and arms is a symbolic removal of vision or comprehension, the ability to move/walk or direct her own action, and her ability to do for herself or show strength through the upper body. Her potential for agency is fully removed.

The words “Tells All” fall directly beneath her name on the left side and appear in an opaque grey font indicating a moment just before the reveal. They tease at the notion that Lady Gaga is going to be giving you her entire self. All will be told inside. The message is clear. Open her up and see her give everything to you. The notion is sexually explicit albeit juvenile. Lady Gaga is presented again as a sex object that you are invited to open up and explore metaphorically in an obscene allusion to sexual dominance. The strong femme fatale is consistently portrayed as weak in actuality. She is a dominant and aggressive woman who can only be put in her proper place by the viewer. This sentiment genders women as improperly performing their roles when in positions of power or threatening physical violence. It is meant to be shown that women who act in the way suggested by Gaga are to be broken into their proper place or must merely be playing a fantasy role for their man.

The themes of violence and death are carried on through the lines following underneath as one headline tells the viewer that Dennis Hopper’s “Final Days” will be explored while the last headline asserts that President Obama is “Losing The War.” Playing off of the gun bra, these headlines are meant to marry the visions of death, violence, and sex the way that most hyper-masculinized rhetoric does all too often. It is seen as the reality of the male psyche to fear and wonder about death, seek out the glory of battle in war as the ultimate survivors, and to reap the rewards of women as the hero should. It is all a little too Conan the Barbarian to be real and it presents another classic male centered viewpoint of the ideology of domination.

The right hand side provides us with the most blatant attempts to sexualize Lady Gaga. The first line, previously stated to be positioned in a penetrative role states in the subtle gray print “Drilling In The Arctic” and follows beneath in bold “BP’s Next Disaster” which draws the crudest of sexual allusions. The imagery of drilling for oil in the ground, essentially ramming through the dirt to strike it rich, creates a metaphor that seeks to join rough sexual intercourse with machine like drilling into filthy places until oil comes bursting out. If this isn’t an outright statement of violent sexual intent toward the objectified image of Lady Gaga then it is the coincidence of a lifetime. The invitation is violent and obscene and not invited by Gaga herself. It is implied by the magazine on her behalf that you associate drilling with her bottom half. The following lines only add to the insinuation. Out of the many words they could have used to describe the Bonnaroo music festival, Rolling Stone chose the words “Wet. Hot. Loud.” All of this appears immediately underneath the headline about drilling. Again, the female figure is portrayed as being a sexual tool for male gratification which she may or may not enjoy but in which she will participate in a wet, hot, and loud fashion.

The final headline addresses male gender playing off of Lady Gaga’s well known fight for LGBT rights. The names “Elton John” and “Eminem” appear in the bottom right hand corner with no other adornment. It is a subtle statement that inside the magazine the issue of Eminem’s use of the term “fag” and his subsequent redemption through friendship with Elton John will be further discussed. Eminem, the new hero for straight men, will be shown to now be sensitive to gay issues while all but totally getting away with frequently calling people “fag” whenever he pleases and making all the hetero men who use the term alright guys by default. This also serves to take strength and credence away from Lady Gaga’s efforts on behalf of the LGBT community which further weakens her powerful position. Though not stated directly, the mentioning of Eminem puts him in the role of the male representative on this issue of gender and sexuality showing that he has the matter under control while Gaga should just worry about being sexy and making money. The fact that the headline is relegated to just names and the corner of the cover also says that gay issues should not take the front seat the way that Gaga would try to promote. They should be relegated to the side in a small intellectual forum where straight “dudes” can deal with the uptight gays by telling them that they “don’t care what they do in their own beds and to stop being such fags about everything bro.” Men are shown to be better off like Eminem in their treatment of sexuality and women are told they should be what they have remixed Lady Gaga into on the cover. The audience has no choice but internalize these messages whether consciously or unconsciously. The magazine has set up its viewer with a specific perspective and hopes to use that perspective to its sales advantage.

Positioning the Viewer

The audience, in the case of the cover image of Lady Gaga, inhabits two possible roles while always being forced to the same conclusions. The audience, at least according to Rolling Stone’s public profession, is intended to be fans of music and pop culture. What becomes apparent after viewing the artifact however is the desire to draw in heterosexual male viewers with a fast and bold display of raw sexual imagery. In their selection, alteration, and placement of the Gaga image, the magazine intends a male viewer to be present first. The magazine then intends secondary viewers to be female and gay male fans of Lady Gaga. Therefore, they use Gaga’s expression of sexuality, which is heavily relied upon in her performances, to appease a male crowd by doctoring the image to fit the conventional sex fantasy role. If they can’t make Lady Gaga into someone you would introduce to your mom then they will simply make her an objectified picture you hide in a box at the back of the closet.

Female and homosexual viewers are appeased when viewing this image in passing due to the clever use of subtle messaging. Through the use of placement, airbrushing, and clever word choice, the magazine delivers no immediate or obvious sexism in a passing glance or upon surface observation. The tactic instead is to plant small constructs within the material that provide the viewer with reinforcements for the skewed paradigms created by the current hegemonic regime. In this way, the secondary audience members get to love what they believe is their typical Lady Gaga while being forced into a distorted male viewership that endorses weak female sex objects. Most readers of the magazine and most of its writers, editors, and publishers would say that they are against prejudice in all forms which may or may not be true. But the fact of the matter is, the artifact still puts the viewer in a male centered position of sexist scrutiny and reinforcement. The intention of the cover does not solely dictate the reception. Unfortunately for Rolling Stone, and the some 250,000 consumers of this issue, the cover positions the audience as complicit in the subjugation of otherwise strong women through their version of Lady Gaga’s image. What the image shows and insinuates constructs the female gender as a sex object and not capable of actual power or sexual agency. Men are reinforced as voyeurs of the female form and encouraged to joke about alternative sexualities in order to get away with their fears and prejudices. This creates a viewership that is male centered, sexist, and passive aggressive in its assertion of dominance. The ideology of domination receives no challenge from this image.

Ideology of Domination

The ideology of domination relies a great deal on its participants and victims for perpetuation. It is a structure that can not propagate itself. It must be taught, fed, reinforced, and sided with to ensure that compliance is created through repetition and belief through ubiquity. Rolling Stone’s July 2010 cover does exactly that. While it may not be an example of a gross and direct display of sexism and ideological domination it performs the task of propagation through repetition. The image is just another in a long line that just goes along with the current definitions of what is acceptable and how gender is meant to be viewed. It is an image that uses the same devices found in most mainstream media and marketing that build up sex and violence and play on the animal impulses of testosterone driven men while ignoring the fact that a great deal of individuals that exist outside that demographic are being targeted as audience members. The artifact assumes, much the same way that the world assumes that everyone is fine doing things right handed, that all viewership starts from a male perspective which is re-categorized as “just how things are” for the sake of intellectual ease. It is a reliance on standard, uniformed, stereotypes for the construction of messages which helps to feed the beast of misogynist ideological domination that leads to the creation of a magazine cover like the one discussed here. Ingrained in our day to day communication are the distorted beliefs and biases of the hegemony which then inform our construction of new communication. Lady Gaga’s July 2010 appearance on Rolling Stone is a shining example of this. This type of communication perpetuates the hegemony through unconscious compliance with norms and stereotypes in its regurgitation of these ideals. What was once Lady Gaga has now become a tool of the patriarchy.

Summary

Lady Gaga has been a major contributor to the advancement of the freedom to expression. Her concerts and performances allow you to think or just dance out your frustrations. Her music has a message and her persona is a medium that she utilizes as a commodity to get the message into ears, hearts, and minds. This fact is wonderfully shown in the original image from the Rolling Stone photo shoot. The original photo taken of Lady Gaga that was then edited and used by the magazine shows a woman standing in a broad stance on gigantic platform shoes that lift her above everyone else. The shoes make her a giant who arches and fires back at the eyes that stare at her breasts. Her sex becomes a powerful weapon. She points the guns outward in full control over her body showing, that while she is exposed, she is in control of her body. She is the one who dictates the viewership in this image. The image is long, tall, strong, and shows an agency that directs her personality and energy outward while the edited image of the magazine cover invites the viewer inward. The cover image tells you that you have the right to consume Lady Gaga. It tells you that you have the power to overcome her aggressive image and make the powerful powerless. By removing her feet, enhancing her sex spots with airbrushing, and dressing her in a suggestive veil of violent and sexually charged headlines, the magazine inverts the role that Lady Gaga so precisely crafts for herself as an artist. They make her cheap; an image that you can buy for $5.99. They undermine the symbolism and purpose of her use of sexual rhetoric to empower and replace it with the status quo. This usurping of agency positions the audience as sexually dominant males or worshipful feminine players who aspire to fulfill the female role as reinforced or at the very least allow it to continue. Ideological domination is given further life support by this material. The rhetoric of the image is clearly one that is blind to its compliance with typical male centered heterosexual definitions of gender and culture. While the piece doesn’t say directly that you should feel free to have your way with Lady Gaga sexually because she invites this behavior, it implies it with its construction. Lady Gaga’s voice is forcefully removed as another rhetor speaks on her behalf offering her as a living blow up doll to purchase rather than an artist to admire.

The ideology of domination has become something that weaves its way into our language and beliefs unconsciously. We have lived with it so long it just seems natural. The whole idea of open prejudice being terrible has been beaten into the ground so much that prejudice now hides itself in clever ways. We view rhetoric like the Lady Gaga cover as innocuous and just a little more amplified than normal. But it is in this view of the rhetoric that we see how our naivety leads to the furthering of the ideology. What once was a direct and culturally obvious subjugation has become a passive aggressive push to maintain that hegemony. We are all guilty of believing the powers that be when they urinate on us and insist that it’s raining. Our roles and values have been soiled in much the same way. Veiled as it may be, the prejudice of our current gender construction is very real. It holds us down and is shown to be a tool of the popular media through our examination of the Lady Gaga cover.

Further exploration of how popular magazines and tabloids edit and re-purpose images of strong female characters warrants our attention. The field of communication holds the key to deconstructing these messages and removing the sway they hold over our society. The current hegemony does not know what to do with women like Lady Gaga. They fear her and what she means for their control over convention. Lady Gaga shows that we all hold the power to create reality and to define the world around us. As long as the ideology of domination has hold over our rhetorical construction, figures like Lady Gaga will be re-branded as hollow stereotypes by marketers and worn this way.

Lady Gaga spoke about her bullying experience and the way that society can oppress your view of the self when she visited the talk show The View saying, “through the show and through the music we find liberation from our challenges and our identity struggles (The View 2011).” Her image, on its own, is a powerful message and she knows this fact. But that image gets redefined by the cover of Rolling Stone as nothing more than a commodity.

In a few choice lyrics to her hit song Bad Romance (2008) Lady Gaga sings, “I want your ugly. I want your disease. I want your everything as long as its free…I want your horror. I want your design. Cause you’re a criminal as long as you’re mine (Germanotta, Khayat 2008).” The song describes a dysfunctional relationship where the lovers can’t seem to rid themselves of the desire to continue being hurt and abused by one another because they know nothing else. It seems as though Lady Gaga may already understand more about the sickness of our relationship with gender and rhetoric than many of the 250,000 patrons that purchased her effigy. We are addicted to the abuse in a bizarre Stockholm Syndrome kind of way. In terms of our rhetorical reliance on the standards of the current hegemony, Lady Gaga is dead on. We are all caught in a bad romance.

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Zak, Dan. “Lady Gaga, Already a Gay Icon, Shows She’s an Activist Too.” The Washington Post: National, World & D.C. Area News and Headlines – The Washington Post. N.p., 12 Aug. 2009. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/11/AR2009101101892.html?sid=ST2009101101924&gt;.

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6 thoughts on “Worn This Way: Lady Gaga and the Hijackers of Pop Imagery

  1. I’ll immediately grab your rss as I can not find your e-mail subscription link or e-newsletter service. Do you’ve any? Kindly let me know in order that I could subscribe. Thanks.

    • Well thanks for the kind words. Things have been slow here lately, but I am sure that I will kick back into high gear at some point once my degree is finalized. Feel free to revisit anytime and leave suggestions on the content if you have them.

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