Tuesday, December 6, 2011

For Credit: Tables Turned

You've spent this semester learning how to make sense of C18 Fiction: how to understand its conventions, how to make sense of the social roles and behaviors it depicts, how to understand the cultural streams that feed into it, how to makes sense of its arcane vocabulary and bewildering sentence structure.

Now, how about you take a shot at explaining a work of C21 cultural production to a C18 audience?  

Imagine yourself transported to the drawing room where Frances Burney, Laurence Sterne, William Beckford, Horace Walpole, and the anonymous author of The Female American are gathered on a dull winter's afternoon to hear what a time traveller from the future has to tell them about the literary and cultural forms that are going to evolve.  You open up your laptop computer, only to find that only one of the C21 texts that you had stored there survived your journey through the time/space/reality continuum:

How do you explain this video? What background information do Burney, Sterne, Beckford, et al. need in order to make sense of it? How might you help them connect to its aesthetic values?

Deadline: Saturday (12/10), midnight.


  1. I think the real question is, how do you explain this video to the 21C?

    Maybe that they liked to wear pointed hats akin to "Where the Wild Things Are."

    But, the main themes in the video are the same as any other video or book: lust, love and desire. Lady Gaga just uses wildly futuristic and somewhat freaky costumes and ideas to get this point across.

    These themes become apparent after the supermodels force her to drink vodka and rip her top off. She's seen struggling in what is probably the ugliest jacket I've ever seen. Underneath she sports a diamond-crusted something that needless to say, barely covers everything. From here she dances seductively for a group of men, also all drinking vodka -- hey, alcoholism can be a good theme too, or the fact that drinking vodka is seen as "cool." They had booze back in the day.

    The men who are watching her are betting to win her. The one she gives a lap dance to eventually is the highest bidder. They're probably about to have sex when she walks with her polar bear skin to the bed while he unbuttons his shirt, but it magically combusts and she continues to sing while her unfortunate suitor and bed turn into ash.

    Long story short, this video is about love, lust and desire -- how the things you want might not always be the things you need, and how things aren't always as they seem. Women are materialized into sexual objects for men's "buying," even in the "future," and the only thing you can really take care of and love is yourself as a woman because boys aren't going to treat you right.

    So, very little has actually progressed between the 18C and 21C in regards to women's roles. But, Lady Gaga makes a point to show that the guy who bought her died in the end, so perhaps they've progressed more than we think.

  2. I totally agree with Sam. I am scared to attempt explaining to the 18th Century literary circle what this is about because they'll just think I'm crazy.. but for sure, this video is about lust, lust, lust. She doesn't want romance, but she wants BAD romance. I mean... I really don't know! I feel like... the 18th century literary circle would see this video as immoral. Vathek was probably enough for that century, but THIS! Haha! I don't know, I just can't imagine..

  3. I would explain to them that the 21st century is a time where the bizarre and unique is used in art a lot more as a form of self expression. I would tell them that, no, this is not actually what the 21st century is like visually. Things are not that crazy. However, this particular artist, lady gaga, has used creativity and the unreal to express her inner feelings. 18th century literature, at least when comparing it to the things we read, had a lot of emphasis on the real (despite Vathek and Otranto, but even they told a story of a "real" life. They tried to make it as believable as possible). Nowadays, people try to stand out with creativity and sexuality. People are openly sexual, and they don't need to make sense. The importance is the feeling you get from it.

  4. I think it would be hard for 18th century literary figures to get around how sexual this video is, but I would try to explain to them that the video is supposed to symbolize the dark reality of fame in the 21st century.

    Lady Gaga starts off innocent (the scene where she is wide-eyed in the tub), and is then forced to drink the vodka, which begins the loss of her innocence. It is apparent that she is being bid on as she dances in front of the men as some sort of sex slave. I would explain that this represents being a slave to the media and the industry, always trying to please one or the other in hopes that they will accept you. Later on, there is a metal contraption that seems to orbit around Lady Gaga, which I'd explain represents that she is now the center of attention. Her clothing also changes to gold in the next scenes, which could represent her fame. Later, the man that won her in the bid goes down in flames as Lady Gaga sets the bed on fire, signifying her taking charge of herself and not letting others dictate her every move. The color of her clothes now changes to red, which can symbolize anger, blood, and sacrifice. Lady Gaga has taken a chance and sacrificed the image that the industry wanted her to have in hopes that the one the she wants for herself will work out. The masked figures surrounding Lady Gaga applaud; she has made the right decision to fight back, and she is now in control.

    I would hope that maybe 18th century literary figures would understand just a little. Their lack of knowledge of what the industry can do to people, and the sexual innuendos in the song and video might hinder their understanding.

  5. I agree with Sam and Christina - I'm really not sure how to explain this video to the 21st century; I don't really understand everything that's happening or what kind of commentary Lady Gaga intended to make through the video. It's obviously very sexual and very dark, but there are so many possible meanings (is she condemning this 'bad romance' be it lust or fame?) that I really wouldn't know where to start.

    I guess if I had to explain this to a panel of our 18th century authors I would try to liken it to Pamela, Shamela and Fantomina as much as possible. The same fascination with a young girl attracted to the far from honorable man and thrust into a world of sex and temptation that she never really wanted, still permeates our society nearly 3 centuries later. Lady Gaga starts wide eyed in a tub (I would hesitate to say innocent, but you get the drift); she knows that she wants the attention, and despite the rough treatment, she still pursues the 'bad romance.' She has to degrade herself (which she tries to resist at first) to win the 'affection' of a man, but after she's danced a little, she gets into it - she seems to want it as much as he does. Then she sets the room on fire, or the room spontaneously combusts because she's just so hot or something, and her lover is killed by this 'bad romance.' You could make the argument that this lust for sex and fame and attention is a destructive force, and that's why so many people are captivated by the very idea of it.

    The ending is what really gets me though. Doesn't it seem (when she's on the burned bed next to the scorched skeleton of her winning beau) like she's sort of creepy, faulty, robot? Yeah, I really have no idea what to do with that other than to say that her lover was not the only one to die, lose his soul/humanity; Lady Gaga's pursuit of fame/sex/attention/etc meant that she effectively killed her humanity too. Or something.

  6. I too would stress to them that this video is not an actual depiction of what the 21c is like. Instead, Lady Gaga utilizes such extreme dramatization as a form of expression. Obviously, they would see the intense sexual nature of the video, and in that regard I would explain that sex is no longer something hinted at through word play. In the 21c, for the most part, sex is way out in the open and this video shows it.

  7. I personally think Lady Gaga offers nothing to society in any way, and wouldn't have anything to offer any other time period in history. I can see the connection between the video's idea of a "bad romance" and our readings, but trying to explain this video's significance to our culture to the authors on our syllabus is like trying to explain one of Family Guy's pointless cutaways. Sure it can be entertaining to some, but it offers nothing to the overall story. However, in an attempt to rationalize some meaning out of it - I think that this video points to the acceptability of female sexuality in today's world, and how women can be the catalysts of relationships or sexual activity. As was stated in an earlier post, the absurd is an acceptable method of expression, and is used in this video.

  8. The first thing to talk about would be to explain that music and music videos such as this one have become a popular form of presenting ideas for dissemination by the public. The same way in which novels were becoming a way of entertainment and presenting certain moral ideas, music and music videos have done largely the same thing in culture during the 21c.
    IN terms of the video, it is about how she is robbed of her innocence to rich record labels. The makeup to make her eyes look big and therefore innocent, her white clothing, and the jacket being stripped from her while being presented to a group of men in black. This is to show her innocence and how she is being used by the men who are watching her. Their backs turned is to show the faceless record labels who all want something from her. She finally settles on one and goes to bed with him. the fact that he is dead shows that she gave up her innocence and herself, as shown by the change to red costumes near the end, to have gotten what she needed, with the man as a mere pawn.
    The video is more than just a presentation of her sexuality, and the ability to use it. I think it has almost a pro-feminist spin to it, but I'm not sure whether to interpret she is using her sexuality in order to get fame, or rather that in order to gain fame, you have to "whore" yourself out, or this "Bad Romance". IN the end, for authors of 18c novels, the video is the way women are portrayed in society today, as well as the lengths one must go in order to gain fame. For 18c readers it was high society that made you good, but in a 21c contest, fame and renown are far more important and desired, which also puts you in "high society" or the upper class. Remember, Lady Gaga is selling herself to the rich and ultimately facless elite, the ones who have noticed her rise in sales (as shown by the Dr. Dre, Beats laptops showing her increase in music sales) and have the money to purchase her.

  9. Hah, this is funny. It's really going to test me to respond to this without going on anti-Gaga tangent (I really, with every fiber of my being, cannot stand Lady Gaga), but I'll make an effort.

    In regards to what background info these authors would need to "understand" this video, I don't even know where to begin, really. It's a shame this is the only aspect of technology that made it through my time traveling journey because if that wasn't the case I'd probably just refer them to her Wiki page. I don't think it'd take more than a paragraph of reading to get a pretty firm grasp on what Gaga is all about. But with that unavailable, I supposed I'd have to explain to these folks that 21C media in any sphere (be it literature, music, whatever) has really become more about notoriety than any real substance.

    The irony in this case is that no one, and I mean no one, understands that concept better than Lady Gaga, and she takes full advantage of it. To her credit, she does have a very functional understanding of fame and how to acquire, maintain, and strengthen it. But at the same time, for someone who understands its inner workings so well, you (maybe just I) would think that they'd have more respect either for themselves or for people in general than to just masquerade as (insert any number of provocative costumes here) and call it art. It's not art. Forcing people to talk about your own blatant promiscuity just because you put it out there isn't art. And what frustrates me is she understands that, but does it anyway.

    She's not a role model, she's a fraud. That's what I'd stress most to these authors. And unfortunately I'd have to explain further how Gaga is really the pinnacle of success in modern media, and that most authors, musicians, actors, etc. would all love to have the popularity she does, regardless of the cost.

    I guess my anti-Gaga sentiments ended up making their way in there after all, but I did the best I could. She really just...sucks.

  10. This is so great! I also think I would have a difficult time explaining this to anyone... I actually cannot explain Lady Gaga currently. She's a unique soul. I just think I would try to explain how females have really "evolved". Although women have always enjoyed sex, in 2011 - it is socially acceptable to show it. Sex is totally normal and a song like this doesn't really strike anyone off guard. It's not at all offensive and I feel that our society is used to this kind of stuff by now. It' just "pop" music.