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Monday, 16 November 2009

In the Future Everyone Will Have Their 12 Seconds of Fame


Watching a video debate about whether President Obama should shame unprincipled detractors by identifying them, I came across a video that asks “Is Lady Gaga Sexy Or Just Crazy?” The moment I saw this picture

Lady GaGa in Full Hood

Lady GaGa in hood

I started googling. Eight minutes later, I purchased Just Dance (featuring Colby O’Donis). Here’s how my 9/11 shopping spree went down:

Buying GaGa

Duration: 17s

Clicking downloads a 2.8MB file.

Please be patient while the file loads

Ctrl/Right-click here to “Save File As . . .”

Just Dance was clever and slick enough I added it to my shuffle corpus, but just that. Two days later, Jem made Paparazzi his Song of the Week, and I responded to his commendation by purchasing Paparazzi, regular and remix.1

Two months later, it’s Halloween and I’m three days deep into a flu. Sick, I’m surfing the blue and watching Christopher Walken read the lyrics to Lady GaGa’s Poker Face. Walken’s flat affect, his studied clumsiness and unapologetic regurgitation/recitation of GaGa’s lyrics is, of course, what makes his genius comic.2 Walken sticks so doggedly to the words on the page the impression is that he, like me, had never encountered the lyrics before.

Though synergistic media interconnection moved me to sample Poker Face, The Fame, Beautiful, Dirty Rich, and Boys Boys Boys, I didn’t “Complete My Album” because I was still smarting over The Black Eyed Peas’ The E.N.D. (The Energy Never Dies). 3 Eleven days later, I returned to “Buy Album” and started listening to The Fame on repeat through to today.

When I started writing these notes, I thought I would talk about Lady GaGa’s pop genius, evident in lyrics so self-aware they’re practically sentient, bass so strong it lifts people’s feet, and changeups so sudden they should stumble but they fly. But when reassembling the digital traces of becoming conscious of Lady GaGa, I found an FPP to Jonas Akerlund’s Paparazzi.4 5 I’m ready now to say Lady GaGa’s style is a natural evolution of postmodern aesthetics.

The short film Paparazzi is densely packed, rich with visual style, kinaesthetic meaning, and cultural references. In the clips I briefly discuss below, there are echoes of Cindy Sherman, Brian DePalma, Simon Fields, Alfred Hitchcock, and Fritz Lang. The short uses suture as a self-conscious strategy, reproducing a thematic that descends from Michael Powell’s 1962 Peeping Tom.6

Let’s go see.

Do You Mind If I Switch the Subject?

One of the film’s kinaesthetic signatures is an oscillation between fluid, graceful, slow-motion movements and rapid, jerking, charges. This periodicity not only structures the motion of the film’s subjects, but also the video medium itself. The following clip begins with a closeup of Lady GaGa’s thighs, as she stands knock-kneed, propped up by crutches. The second third of the clip shows the injured GaGa partially collapsing, breaking her fall by bracing herself on her crutches. The frame cuts to GaGa in a different scene, both her hands drawn as mock guns, right one extended. GaGa whips her face toward the camera and pulls her extended arm into the mirror position of the other. Both guns point ceilingward. Her mouth is open in a sneer or a gawk.

The injured Lady GaGa’s partial collapse interrupts GaGa’s steadying shimmy, and the frame cuts away at this vertical “break” in motion, carrying the motion laterally, shifting the focus from a victimized to a villanous GaGa. This quick subjectival shift, whose theme is several times repeated in Paparazzi, is a kinetically maximal update of classic cinematic suture technique. This particular shift has three distinct phases illustrated in the following series of stills.

Still Sequence of Paparazzi 4m9s - 4m11s

They’re Coming to Get You, GaGa

Before the shift from vicitim to villain, the camera perspective twice zooms GaGa. These twinned zooms cut the sequence into three distinct phases: distant wide, medium full, and close cropped. In the first phase, GaGa is motionless, seated in her wheelchair. Her entourage showcases her immobility by contrast of their punctuated exuberance. The members of GaGa’s entourage move gracefully and confidently. Their vitality draws attention to the frame’s still center, GaGa slumped and disabled. The theme is constructed through the visual dialectic between the vital and the victim.7

The sequence reveals GaGa as a species of invalid, her range of motion diminished. To the opposite degree GaGa’s humanity depended on the fullness of her range of motion, GaGa injured can be understood as something beyond human, her transhumanity apparent in a shining skullcap, an artificial arm, and supernumerary legs. GaGa returns from death’s edge as a golden cyborg.

The revelation of GaGa’s transformation and the uncanny beauty of her locomotive style comes in three phases—wide, full, and cropped—the camera’s increasing proximity and the consequent exclusion of GaGa’s extremities from the frame metaphor and analogue for GaGa’s post-traumatic ontology. The camera approaches the paralytic GaGa in jerks and jumps, finishing with a GaGa rebuilt.

The connection between mortality, deathliness, vitality, visuality, and spectatorship unites several disparate entites—GaGa, the camera, her entourage, the audience, the music—within an alternately ruptured and self-repairing cyborg field. This, partially, is the transformation and transduction of an exhausted postmodern aesthetic through cyborg transhumanity.

Still Sequence of Paparazzi 3m45s - 3m50s

A Tangled Tango

From Michael Myers’ inexorable plodding to Freddie Krueger’s miraculous teleportation to Dracula’s silent flight to the zombie’s shambling stagger to the infected’s frenzied sprint, the monster’s approach reveals something of the nature of the monster’s threat. So does GaGa’s twitching parlalytic stagger reveal something about the threat she poses.

GaGa’s shifting figure-eight steps call to mind the Tango’s Ocho with the difference that she does not reverse, but moves unsteadily and implacably toward the camera. Her broken sidewise advance can be read both as teasing and as clumsiness. Like the clips discusssed above, GaGa’s cameraward progress is split into three stages by cutaways to Cindy Shermanesque women who have died, killed themselves, or been murdered.8 In other words, the phases of GaGa’s advances toward the viewer are numerically reflected by the phases of the camera’s approach of GaGa in her wheelchair. Once these phases have passed, GaGa stands before us, our view focused on her legs and crutches.

Still Sequence of Paparazzi 4m18s - 4m25s

Combined with the camera’s approach of invalid GaGa, this sequence produces an equation that balances the viewer on one side with GaGa on the other, the camera/screen in the middle producing equivalence between them. The equivalence of GaGa and the viewer through the camera/screen refreshes the predictable postmodern theme that the production of celebrity is on one level the murder of the person who becomes a celebrity. The interchangeability of GaGa and her audience means that the production of celebrity also kills the persons who generate celebrity by the (f)act of viewership.9

GaGa’s spidery cameraward stagger stitches itself together with the bodies of dead women. The connection between victim and viewer establishes in the cuts from Lady GaGa to those bodies. A side-by-side comparison of the two directions of this equation clarifies my meaning.


Given that my brief notes above consider incompletely twelve seconds of film, much more must be said about Paparazzi. A supporting apparatus would draw upon Deleuze and Guattari and my own work concerning race and cybernetics. Given the presence of the dead and GaGa’s rebirth as prostheticized cyborg, the dimension of transduction and the figure of the zombie would be insrumental to this hypotethcial fuller reading.

Important things to consider as I choose between Box Office and Official Platinum.

GaGa Tittering

end of article


1 To be honest, I didn’t read the entirety of Jem’s post. In fact, I think I only scanned the title and teaser text in NetNewsWire and flagged Jem’s post for safekeeping.

2 I had never heard Poker Face, so I benefited from the gender ambiguity of Walken’s “performance”.
3 The album is pretty much shit, however interesting Boom Boom Pow is as an articulation of the signficance of media shift .
4 The reaction of some of the users suggests the degree to which Lady GaGa presents something difficult to grasp.
5 So, I missed this twice. Once in May, and again in September when Jem posted his song of the week.
6 The geneaolgy of Akerlund’s Paparazzi is so extensive its articulation is outside the scope of this blog entry.
7 Hi Pam.
8 Other dead women appear in the film, but only these three appear during GaGa’s Tango-on-crutches approach to the camera.
9 I am not stuck in 1987.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

I’ve Deactivated My Facebook Account

I haven’t felt this way in maybe ten years, this panicked need to just get the fuck out. But I felt it about Facebook. I’m an introvert, and I think the barrier to communicating person-to-person(s) should be fairly high, higher than it is on Facebook, anyhow.

I found virtually everything posted by people I love dearly and desperately to be inane.1 It didn’t matter whether those updates were about family, friends, work, or ideas. After the nostalgic reconnection to people I realize I no longer even (or ever) knew, I couldn’t hack it anymore.

end of article


1 I don’t think inanity is the full reason I’ve decided to deactivate my Facebook account. Here’s my supplemental response to “Why are you deactivating?”

I dislike visiting Facebook. It presents my friends with the illusion that I may regularly visit the site. I would feel quite different if there were an RSS feed I could subscribe to for the various updates. Email is bothersome.

After a few months of deactivation, I will consider deleting my account. I look forward to Facebook taking its head out of its ass and offering users other ways of (i.e. RSS) of receiving updates.

Thursday, 05 November 2009

This Is It: Portrait of the Artist as an Entertainer

I was not expecting to write this post.

Last night Pam, my mother, and I went to see This Is It at the Century Cinemas in the Del Monte Shopping Center. About fifteen people were in the audience. A young couple, a mother and her sister. Another young couple with their just-past-infancy child. A few older couples. Us.

My mother initiated the outing, much to my surprise. After my brother died, my mother became a vexing companion to take on trips at best.

One time my aunt, my mother, and I went to a Thai restaurant in Berkeley. After we were seated, my mother looked around and sneeringly classified other patrons’ dishes: “I’m not going to eat that.” “That looks nasty!” “Who eats that?” She pointed with her finger to indicate each dish she was talking about. My aunt and I should have taken this as a cue for all of us to leave. Had we done so, we would never have experienced the embarrassment and shame which followed, feelings intense enough that remembering the event a decade later provokes those feelings again.

I reflected how uncanny was this branch of the many-worlds, this one where Michael Jackson’s corporal form had been surgically and chemically altered, postmodern technology transforming his body into a materialization of an invisible and monstrous existence rumored to be pervaded by criminal sexuality and considered to be promoting pathological celebrity. I speculated that the this-world passage of Michael Jackson, his visibly mutated form, assembled not only thousands of individuals into complex articulations of production, distribution, and exchange, but also gathered a Korean immigrant mother, her racially hybrid and medially dislocated son, and a culturally disaffected future daughter-in-law into an unlikely if actual audience whose peculiarity even purple prose can not exactly characterize.

I liked the film better than I expected. My mother did not fall asleep. Pam liked the film better than she expected. We three liked the film better than we three should have by any measure of what could be reasonably called likelihood.

The film conveys at its outset the admiration and respect Jackson’s enormous talent and unbounded humility inspired in his co-performers. In the scenes that follow, the edited footage constructs a portrait of the entertainer as a man possessing unerring musical intiution and flawless kinaesthetic instincts which, of course, is the partial purpose of this film.

I further didn’t expect the emergent meaning of the phrase this is it which signals at different times: a singular opportunity to perform alongside a figure made incomprehensible by a prodigious media system; love as an immediate and extensive dimension; a final opportunity to avoid the consequences of irreversible global warming.

Through all this comes the improbable figure of Orianthi Panagaris, a woman whose talent most certainly will sweep her to the top of rock-and-roll’s guitar virtuoso pantheon.

end of article

Wednesday, 04 November 2009

Swine Flu Vaccine Shortfall, or Why US Health Care Needs Greater Governmental Oversight

Barbara Ehrenreich explains that the shorfall of H1N1 vaccine in the United States is due to the failure of US pharmaceutical companies to meet their self-imposed production targets. This failure is the direct result of pharmaceuticals choosing to pursue profits rather than provide public service. In particular, pharmaceutical companies chose not to employ modern virus production methods (developed with government funding) in favor of a cheaper and slower 50-year old technology involving the production of the virus in chicken eggs, a method long since abandoned by China and the European Union.

Color me sickened.

end of article

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