Camille Paglia uses such a stock formula that it’s difficult to tell when it’s her or an unfunny parodist writing: select a target for ire by finding someone with more talent, relevance, success, or decency than Paglia, attack that target with a combination of banal observations and reactionary politics disguised as intellectual musings, and top it off with some nostalgia for a time when Paglia was able to convince large numbers of people she was the first person to notice that Madonna is interesting. She doesn’t veer from this winning formula for a second with her lazy and predictable screed denouncing Lady Gaga. Paglia’s so dedicated to recycling her own work from the past 20 years that she doesn’t even bother to find anyone whose career began after 1981 for a point of negative comparison, even though there are many available candidates .
It’s fun to compare Paglia’s unoriginal bile to Lady Gaga’s touching and humble acceptance speech at the Video Music Awards last night. As you noted, Jessica , Gaga really stole the show by using her time on stage to reach out to fans who find comfort in her work and to push back against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It really must burn Paglia’s ass to know that a bunch of Gaga-worshipping teenagers grasp camp and Postmodernism with an ease that escapes Paglia, the purported expert. It leaves Paglia sputtering about how Gaga is a failure as an artist because she doesn’t turn on Camille Paglia, the arbiter of all things sexy.
But of all the amusing aspects* of Paglia’s reactionary refusal to get the big deal over Lady Gaga, my favorite has to be her stubborn inability to grasp the importance that pop music can have in the lives of fans, even though she’s spent her entire career claiming to be a champion of the value of pop music. Which leads to Paglia contradicting herself within a single paragraph:
Gaga is in way over her head with her avant-garde pretensions. … She wants to have it both ways – to be hip and avant-garde and yet popular and universal, a practitioner of gung-ho “show biz.” Most of her worshippers seem to have had little or no contact with such powerful performers as Tina Turner or Janis Joplin, with their huge personalities and deep wells of passion.
The person here who wants to have it both ways is Paglia. She both wants to claim a contradiction between “hip and avant-garde” and “popular and universal” but also to praise older artists for being able achieve exactly this balance. I humbly submit that the main difference between pop artists who manage to bring genuine insight to large audiences then and now is that the artists that Paglia loves were relevant when she was young, and the ones she hates are the ones that are coming out now, when Paglia is an aging, cranky reactionary. But in true Paglia fashion, she’s going to need 6,000 words and a big check in order to tell Lady Gaga to get off her lawn.
*Including taking a potshot at a megastar for making a lot of money. I breathlessly await Paglia’s next insight, perhaps dramatically announcing that a lot of nerds work in Silicon Valley.