Gaga’s Meaty Protest

It didn’t take long for fashion and food columnists alike to churn out their reactions to what may be Lady’s Gaga most infamous fashion choice yet: an outfit made entirely of raw meat. Gaga accepted her Video of the Year award at the recent Video Music Awards dressed head to toe in 50 pounds of uncooked beef, gristle and all. The reaction has been an odd mix of regular red-carpet slams, culinary quips and animal rights rants. But everyone seems to be skirting around the contextual framework for Gaga’s outlandish getup.

Gaga has recently emerged as possibly the most high-profile pop celebrity to publicly support gay rights and activism, with highly publicized tweets calling for an end to the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and multiple appearances at marriage-equality rallies. Her website is awash with explicit support for marriage freedom. Gaga’s projects have also evolved into a more deliberately theoretical art practice, most recently with her own version of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain.

Prior to changing into her carcass dress, Gaga was arm and arm with her dates: four U.S. Armed Service members who had been expelled from the military because of their sexual preference. She later told Ellen DeGeneres that her steak couture was about standing up for those rights.

The Los Angeles Times quickly wrote off Gaga’s get-up as “absolute inanity” and “pointlessly repellent.” Times writer August Brown was sure to qualify this, saying he liked Gaga’s “music and provocations” normally. For Brown, public protest is apparently just not important.

PETA, of course, also felt the need to chime in, quoting Eminem about the flank dress’ stench. One might think that an organization that supports equality and respect for living beings might also give credit to the implications of Gaga’s performance (and yes, I recognize it as not merely a photo op but as a performance which utilizes Hollywood’s uber-lens for the sake of making viewers think). But PETA also chose not to address Gaga’s explicit directives–even though Gaga has assured animal rights’ activists that the dress was later made into beef jerky rather than going to waste.

The use of dead animals in avant-garde art is hardly unprecedented (think: Carolee Schneeman’s Meat Joy) and political statements have for years been a regular part of the VMAs. As Gaga’s work becomes more politically and historically engaged, she increasingly proves to be more than just a vapid celebrity figure. But the question remains: Is the pop music demographic ready for her art practice? The mainstream media obviously is not, and never has been, ready for the art of rupture. But Gaga is one pop princess who refuses to leave political, artistic and activist discourse out of her career, and for this she should be commended.

What do you think of Gaga’s activism and most recent performance?

Photo from Flickr user VirtualErn under Creative Commons 2.0.

Comments

  1. Gaga can wear raw meat at the same moral level that I can wear my leather shoes: it's all up to her feelings on eating and wearing animals. I hunt, eat, and wear animals, so I have no trouble with Gaga doing the same, albeit in a more bio-degradable way. My only problem would be if she sat in a chair without some plastic down first.

  2. We'd love it if Ms. would link to the lengthy round-table discussion of the meat dress with critics & artists alike, over at Gaga Stigmata: Critical Writings and Art About Lady Gaga. Check out "Gimme Some of That Bad Girl Meat Dress" here:
    http://gagajournal.blogspot.com/2010/09/gimme-som

  3. Amanda Montei says:

    Thanks Kate! I encourage everyone to check out the discussion at Gaga Stigmata. Meaty stuff!

  4. heatheraurelia13 says:

    I like Lady Gaga, I don't care what people say about her, if a celebrity want to stand up for LGBTQA rights, then I like them. :P

  5. hmprescott says:

    I remember seeing a documentary about a Miss America protest in the 1980s (or maybe early 1990s) in which a demonstrator (a former model) made an evening dress out of meat as a critique of the contest as "meat market". I thought it was brilliant.

  6. Opinioness of the World says:

    I applaud Lady Gaga's stance on DADT and LGBTQ rights. But as a vegan feminist, the meat dress disgusted me. However as Ari Solomon pointed out, if she had strutted on-stage with a leather dress, no one would have said a word. Bottom line: both come from dead carcasses.

    PETA naturally weighed in on the issue as they advocate for animals and their treatment. But it's not surprising that in their one-track minded approach, they didn't mention Lady Gaga's statement against DADT. PETA notoriously implements sexist tactics to promote their message. Not all animal activists agree with their methods. You shouldn't slight one cause to further another.

    Protesting wearing animals certainly wasn’t Lady Gaga's original intention. But I hope that her fashion choice spurs people to not only discuss LGBTQ issues but to perhaps rethink their own wardrobes too.

  7. I feel a little conflicted. I love GaGa, as a feminist and a musician. But I am also a vegan (who thinks that PETA is more about attention-leeching through sexism than doing any good for the animal rights movement). The point is, I can't help feeling disgusted by the raw meat attire. Even if I weren't vegan, I'd be put off by it on hygenic grounds.
    I think perhaps she went a bit too far on this one in the name of "art".

  8. Also, what the heck does raw steak have to do with Don't Ask Don't Tell?

    • Ariel-Marie says:

      Nothing. I’m glad someone had enough sense to point this out. Not to mention she copied the dress from a 1980′s protest, but at least in that context, it made sense. Here, it makes less sense and her reasoning for it is hollow at best. She does what she does for show.

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