Is Lady Gaga dumb? This is the question that Mark Dery ponders, as only Dery can, in his latest True/Slant essay: "Aladdin Sane Called. He Wants His Lightning Bolt Back: On Lady Gaga." The point-of-entry is a New Yorker essay from last year by music critic Sasha Frere-Jones in which he raised the eternal inquiry, "How not dumb is Gaga?" Dery's answer may not not surprise you. From True/Slant:
Most of the comment-thread flame wars between Gaga's Kiss Army of "little monsters," as the Lady calls her devout fans, and her no less devout haters are ignited by the Great Debate: Is she a rarified being who has more talent in her clitoral hood than you can even dream of, little man? Whose Art for Art's Sake raptures us out of our stonewashed lives, into a disco ball-flecked Bubble World, a Studio 54 in the Sky where gay teens, pillow-biting emo boys, and high-school weirdos are waved into the VIP lounge while all the Mean Girls and haters mill outside, crazed with envy? Or is she just some Tisch drop-out who watched Grease one too many times, pickled her brain in Britney, and now thinks she's some cross between Madonna and Leigh Bowery, just because she forgets to wear pants and name-checks The Night Porter (Sontag's "Fascinating Fascism" for people who don't read)? In other words, is Lady Gaga the last, best hope for pop smart enough to beat the Society of the Spectacle at its own game, sell out with a shamelessness that would shock the pants off her patron saints (Warhol and Dali, who perfected the complimentary notions of self as brand and art as marketing) and still snooker a generation of cultural-studies profs and nth-wave feminists into a deconstructive swoon about her Judith Butler-approved gender performativity? Or is she something thuddingly dumber: Donatella Versace in the remake of Blow-Up? Liza Minelli in a Vegas revue inspired by The Reluctant Astronaut? Perez Hilton sings the Human League songbook? Is she pop, or Pop Art? In on the joke, or just a joke?