By now, Lady Gaga fans have probably already seen her latest: a fourteen-minute opus that is allegedly a music video for her song “Marry the Night”. I say “allegedly” because the song itself doesn’t even start until nearly nine minutes in, after an extended sequence where Gaga narrates about trauma and we get to witness her smearing Cheerios all over her body and wearing a maxi pad as a bra, in what I can only assume is her usual songwriting process:
In Gaga’s mental hospital, she envisions the nurses wearing their gauze caps “tipped to the side like Parisian berets”. The psych ward is artistically lit, with one patient sitting at a mysterious white piano. When Gaga leaves the hospital, the silent patients line the balconies to watch her leave. Balconies? Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that this is all apparently happening in a big, old house.
The video draws on just about every romanticized stereotype of mental illness and mental hospitals I can think of. Gaga’s mental hospital seems like a play on a Victorian institution more than a modern medical facility, and the vague, unspecified operation she is recovering from evokes visions of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest-type lobotomies and conspiracies.
I am unspeakably tired of this motif, and I’m willing to bet a lot of people who have real experiences with mental illness feel the same way. Real-life psych wards are hospital wings, not old houses full of quirky, entertainingly crazy people who ask the nurses for “gummy bears and a knife”.
These mental institution fantasies degrade the actual psychiatric profession and increase the stigma of mental illness. I can’t imagine that this vision of a psychiatric facility as a creepy, outdated place where an “artistic” perspective on life is taken as insanity would help anyone feel more comfortable asking for mental health help.
And in the center of Gaga’s fantasy world is this image of the crazy girl who just needs someone to believe in her, and makes sure to show off her naked body to the cameras during her mental breakdown. What a conveniently palatable vision of mental illness. The crazy girl is a staple of misogynist filmmakers. Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted is probably the most famous example. More recently, we’ve had Black Swan and Sucker Punch. In movies, crazy girls are always stunning, and their mental illness is glamorized, providing an opportunity for viewers to both gawk and pity. Men with psychiatric disorders are hardly ever romanticized in the same way.
Gaga claims the video is based on what she went through when she was dropped from her first record label. While I’m sure that it was a dark time for her, and that her passion in the video is sincere, comparing this time to severe mental illness is nothing short of appropriation. And painting mental illness as something that causes hot girls to take off their clothes and smear their eyeliner is just insulting.
While I agree that the stereotypes present in this video are negative, it should be remembered that Gaga specifically states that she is re-remembering her past artistically with a deliberate flair for the dramatic. And what rule says that one can’t reclaim a negative time in one’s life, recast it in another light? If Gaga wants to be sexy, let her be sexy. Don’t villify sex-positive imagery–that’s just as bad as promoting antifeminist, rape-culture-type imagery. I understand that Gaga is imperfect in her presentation of women, sex and their relationship with men, but her music is a reflection of the times. She does not create horror, merely mirrors it. That’s what art does. It is offensive, and she should be held accountable for parts of it, but a good deal of it is beyond Gaga’s control.
I am just so over her. I don’t understand why people find her such a respected or creative artist. A monkey could come up with this. Where is the real creativity?
I love everything about your post and this website. I have yet to watch the video in its entirety, but I did read the article itself and I do want to point out one thing…. Psych wards, mental facilities.. they come in all shapes and sizes. I was recently released from a facility that specialized in eating disorders and when I was admitted, I was surprised to find that it was nothing like I ever would have ever imagined. Facilities like that generally don’t broadcast what they are, in favor of privacy for the patients. My eating disorder treatment facility was on a very busy, well known, city street, yet the townspeople weren’t neccessarily aware of it’s existence. When patients left that location, where group therapy was held and meals were conducted, we stayed in a regular old house that looked exactly like any other home in the neighborhood.
I completely agree that mental disorders should not be glamorized, or sexualized at that. It’s enough to make my skin crawl… this kind of ambience in Hollywood settings is exactly what put me in that facility to begin with. I really appreciate you pointing out that Lady Gaga is a culprit of placing intricate emphasis on outer beauty, fashion, and everything else superficial. I wish that more people would take this negative influence into consideration. It truly is tragic to see so many women and young adults belittling themselves over an idea beauty that doesn’t exist.
I agree with what Hal said, Lady Gaga said in the video that it was her artistic recreation of what happened. Just as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest was ken Kasey’s artistic perspective on the mental illness wards. Nobody would seriously believe that Gaga’s vision is representative of an actual mental ward. From how she explains it, seems her vision was how she envisioned the mental ward she was in as a way to cope with that dark time in her life. It’s like you’re suggesting it’s wrong for people to dissociate into fantasy as a coping mechanism.
As for the haters, I’m not seeing you making these inspiring and artistic videos like Lady Gaga. It’s easy to judge, it’s harder to do.
Hal, thanks for your comment. I imagine reactions to this video would differ greatly based on if you view it as sex-positive imagery or objectification. To me, it reads as objectification, but I accept that it’s not the only possible interpretation. Gaga is free to portray her past however she wants, but when she uses tropes and images that are part of a pattern of misogyny (the hot crazy girl clichÃ© I mentioned), I just can’t excuse her on the basis of art.
Oh, thank you for sharing that. I was basing my statements on my own experiences visiting family and friends in psych wards, which were always in hospitals, but you’re completely right to point out that there are many flavors of psychiatric facilities.
I read an article on Racialicious a couple of years ago that argued that Lady Gaga is radical because she refuses to rely on her fairly conventional white beauty, and makes herself weird and interesting rather than sexy. It was a great point, and ever since I read it, I’ve been extra disappointed when she caves to the dominant message of beauty. Sigh.
I think how a person reacts to the depiction of mental illness of the experience of being in a psychiatric facility depends a lot on whether you’ve ever had that experience yourself; if you have, it can get irritating when depictions of mental illness don’t seem to *get it right*. i have schizo-affective disorder and have been hospitalized a few times, and if someone asked me “what was it like?” i always told them it was like being in a college dorm but without homework or classes, and you can’t leave and you can’t drink, do drugs or have sex – a total non-event and non-experience. whenever i see a depiction like this one i just keep thinking “do people *still* think there is something glamorous, rebellious or exciting about this?” i mean, Lady Gaga is free to depict her life however she feels like it happened, but in this case I just think that her depiction is no less by the book about mental illness than any others out there.
Yeah, but when you’re discussing an artist like Lady Gaga who’s known for being over the top, why wouldn’t she over dramatize her time in a mental ward too? She’s a lot like Rarity from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
I think the problem lies in the fact that there is such a lack of honest depictions of metal illnesses out there that lady gaga’s video is another unwelcome drop in the already shitty ocean. If there was more diversity there wouldn’t be a problem but there isn’t.
just like an overly sexual Christina aguleria video in and of itself isn’t a problem but with the already saturated hypersexualised media landscape out there, it certainly isn’t helpful.
So you really think that a primate could have created that video? It’s fine to say your opinions in a classy way, but just don’t be unnessesarily rude. No one needs your attitude.
congratulations you fed the troll. everyone else successfully ignored her. happy now?
Obviously the troll cares because she bothered to read the article THEN respond to it. I think they may just be jealous of the popstar….