Pop Theory: Ethical Conflict in the Gaga Brand

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Pop Theory: Ethical Conflict in the Gaga Brand

[Editor's Note: The below post is the first piece of my Pop Theory column over at AfterEllen. The lovely ladies over there have allowed me to repost these pieces on Vp. This piece was originally posted on 24 Oct 2011.]

"To ‘give style’ to one’s character—a great and rare art!"

In this one line, Nietzsche bespeaks the power of art in life as well as the correlation between aesthetics and ethics. As one of Nietzsche’s most famous readers, Gilles Deleuze, attests, "it’s the styles of life involved in everything that make us this or that."

The mainstream artist who best and most dramatically embodies this philosophy today is, arguably, Lady Gaga.

Stephanie Joanne Angelina Germanotta spent years honing her musical skills and crafting her emergent and ever-changing persona, Lady Gaga. Her "Haus of Gaga," a creative team of stylists, fashion designers, producers and choreogaphers, is dedicated to this continual fashioning and re-fashioning of her person as art. This idea of self-fashioning is both an aesthetics and an ethics: stylized ways of life. She has magnified the power of self-creation in performance and as performance and has communicated this power to self-fashion and to actively choose how one stylizes oneself—how one lives her life—variously to her Little Monsters.

"The challenge is that what others view as artifice—my wigs, my makeup, my clothes, my love for show business and theater — to me, these are the paint in my palette. These things are not artifice. These things are my reality…. People wonder, Is she for real? Is it all an act? But my question is, Since when did the act become a bad thing? Show business has always been about the act. Hasn’t it?" (Popdust)

"I'm like, 100% focus on being innovative, and as original and soulful..." (Noisevox)

"But you know, I can be whoever the fuck I want to be. That’s what artists do. We choose what you see and we tell a story…." (Elle)

"what I'm trying to say is I want to liberate them [her Little Monsters], I want to free them of their fears and make them feel that they can create their own space in the world." (ABC News)

"There's something heroic about the way my fans operate their cameras…. Like Kings writing the history of their people. It's their prolific nature that both creates and procures what will later