Telephone, Video Phone, Stronger: Our Work Is Never Over

So, I’ve been working on a reading of Gaga’s Telephone video, but that’s become more of a project than I originally anticipated. So, while I’m still working on that, some initial thoughts regarding the video’s interpretive context.

Here’s Gaga’s video:

This video needs to be interpreted in dialogue with two other videos: Beyonce’s Video Phone, which features Gaga, and Kanye West’s Stronger. The connection between the Video Phone and Telephone is obvious; between Stronger and Telephone, not so much. First, Beyonce:

It shares w/Telephone:

1. The literal content of the song, i.e., the feminism: Both are about women using technology against patriarchy. In Telephone, GG and B refuse to answer the telephone, i.e., ideology’s “hail” — they abandon traditional feminine care work (waitresses, cooks) and act autonomously. In Video Phone, B and GG direct the camera’s gaze (see my earlier post about VP for more on this). In both videos, women take hetero-patriarchy and turn it against itself. These are not stereotypically feminine women; GG’s intentional ugliness is evidence enough of this.
2. The Tarantino references: The first scene of VP is very Reservoir Dogs-esque; the Pussy Wagon from T comes directly from Kill Bill.
3. Beyonce’s styling is consistent between videos (Betty Page-inspired hair, makeup, and clothes). The “Wonder Woman” style is present in VP, and could be seen as inspiring the stars-and-stripes getup in T.
4. The sci-fi references: In VP, B totes ray-guns and dresses up in what could be seen as cosplay-inspired duds (e.g., the vaguely Japan-meets-Nazi lyotard and hat combo). In T, all the chemicals that GG uses to poison the people in the diner come from various sci-fi worlds (e.g., the first chemical is from the extended Star Wars universe).
5. Killing: B tortures one camera-headded dude, and shoots another one full of arrows in VP. In T, they kill a diner full of people (and a dog).
6. There’s probably more — I welcome your suggestions!

OK, on to West’s Stronger:

1. “That that don’t kill me, can only make me stronger” (or, the lyrical content of the song): As in VP and T, this video portrays a subaltern subject turning hegemony against itself…or, more literally, it portrays someone busting out of captivity. The military-industrial complex tries to re-engineer West, but he turns into a crazy superhero who busts himself out of some sort of imprisonment.
2. Killing/plot arch: West blows away his captors in some superhero puff of smoke.
3. Technology, specifically, the reappropriation of technology: West takes Daft Punk and remixes it, and in the video West’s character repurposes his cyborg body.
4. Posthuman bodies: West, Daft Punk, on the one hand, and the female bodybuilders, trans-people, and other queers on the other.
5. Sci-Fi: I already explained the sci-fi in T; its role in S is pretty overt…
6. “I’ll do anything for a blonde dyke” — self-explanatory
7. Cut-up vocals: The eh-eh-eh-s in T; the way West cuts out and lets the DP “Never” come through (around 2:56 in the video)
8. “Our work is never over”: Either B and GG are saying they reject the gendered imperative for care work, or their work of revenge is never over…
9. Again, I’m sure there are more, and I welcome suggestions (I also realize one thing these videos DON’T share is feminism…)

So, I’m arguing that it is productive to think about Telephone in the context of these other videos…More on how that plays out soon…