For this project, I explored the numerous representations of militarism and nationalism in mainstream media. To be more specific, I went through the works of pop stars Lady Gaga, Lana Del Rey, and Marina & The Diamonds in order to extract and analyze the pro-war depictions that are claimed to be artistic.
Within this framework, I analyzed the normalization, glamorization and celebration of U.S. militarism and nationalism. Furthermore, given both concepts’ link to consumerism, I examined the way in which such art form is able to reach an incredible amount of people through its global visibility and attractiveness; repeating specific kinds of images, it erases the negative connotation usually associated with violence, and even goes as far as giving it an appeal in popular culture.
Developing on that matter, the excessive portrayal of firearms and the necessity and inevitability of war in order to reach peace can be seen as tools of propaganda; no longer are we in denial of the importance of militarism in society when such a notion becomes a motive of celebration.
In terms of methodology, I have navigated through the artists’ respective discographies to select and study video content and imagery, as well as lyrical content from their respective songs. In other words, my primary sources consisted of music videos, lyrics, and interviews. As for secondary sources, I have collected an array of scholarly articles on militarism and nationalism, from which I have withdrawn concepts to apply to my assignment.
For the production of this multi-media project, I consulted analyses of militarism and nationalism within sports, comic books, and various fields of popular culture. Seeing the same kind of patterns within the works of Lady Gaga, Lana Del Rey, and Marina and the Diamonds, I applied similar concepts to my own research. Consequently, scrutinizing elements of popular culture that I have personally consumed for the past years, I was able to draw connections with power dynamics and mechanisms of hegemonic control. Whether it is the surprising amount of times guns, death, and similar terminology is used in lyrics, or the bloody depictions found in music videos, illustrations of violence were not difficult to find, let alone allusions to control, power and domination.
Additionally, I have consulted academic journals that conduct direct inquiry on Lady Gaga and her music videos, which allowed me to familiarize myself with the implementation of academic and feminist concepts on modern day popular culture. Even though I have applied the knowledge found in numerous documents about fan base culture, it was easy for me to make sense of since I have gone through it on a personal level. And although I have not found relevant academic research on Lana Del Rey and Marina and The Diamonds, the analysis I have conducted encompasses the three pop sensations in eminently similar ways. Therefore, feminist theories developed in this project are still applicable to their work.
Finally, on a more intimate level, this project was an interesting self-transformation, given that I had to be very critical of content that I usually celebrate in my every day life.
Fan Base: the fans of a pop music group or artist considered to be a distinct social grouping. Fan base culture is nothing new if we consider the mostly American artists who have been famous on a global level for decades. But in an age where information circulates faster than that it ever has, recent pop sensation Lady Gaga has propelled the notion of followers to an epidemic level. Along with Lana Del Rey and Marina & the Diamonds and by the means of technology, the kind of connection that is established between the fans and the celebrity does not only operate through visual representations, but also by virtue of an emotional bond, one that deeply affects the way in which fans perceive what is being sold to them through the screen (Graefer, 2016). Although such pop stars often use their platform to showcase subversive messages, the outcome can be seen as one big explosion of consumption.
When pop stars preach messages of self-empowerment and artistic expression, isolated individuals who fall under their spell can have a hard time differentiating what they are being forcefully fed from what they truly choose for their own well being. The feeling of belonging to that specific group (Dilling-Hansen, 2015) blurs the lines between the real and the fake.
The concept of war is presented and sold as a spectacle, which consequently encourages a public discourse that is completely distanced from real-life issues of war (Fischer, 2014). Shifting the public’s attention through such non-accurate depictions of the effects of state violence, citizens are reduced to disengaged and complicit spectators who unadvisedly participate in a heavily militarized culture (Fischer). From this particular perspective, the post-modern pop star becomes a lucrative site “for the production of militaristic rhetoric” preaching “loyalty to power systems” (Fischer, p. 202), and ideas such as the necessity of war is planted into the minds of millions, teaching an acceptance of domination and a respect for “violence as a means of social control” (Hooks, 1989, p. 97).
This phenomenon can be analyzed in army-like visual representations, where dancers are portrayed as soldiers, baring absolutely no emotions and therefore glamorizing the aesthetic of troops and the way in which soldiers are deconstructed and rebuilt into hybridity, navigating between characteristics of human and machine. However, the artist herself states that this video is about her symbiotic relationship with the gay community, and her devotion to denouncing the hatred of the church against homosexuals. Furthermore, she develops on her admiration and envy for the gay community’s bravery, strength and steadfastness (Ferrari, 2010). From there, we can even recognize the way in which stereotypical depictions of gay men are disrupted: moving away from the mainstream feminine depictions of such characters, Lady Gaga portrays homosexual men as powerful and united, rising through the chaos. But really, we can ask ourselves if a more radical feminist approach would not instead encourage the refusal to participate in military activity altogether, rather than the inclusion of a marginalized community in the wrongfully built initial framework (Davis, 2008)?
Given that mass culture is usually not taken seriously and mostly dismissed in terms of its substance, its impact is often underestimated. As a matter of fact, what makes its depictions dangerous is the way in which it works undercover. Contaminating the nation and working through the vision of millions, it celebrates and injects patriotic feelings that are meant to “generate popular backing for empire and warfare” (Fischer, 2014, p. 209).
In this specific power dynamic, a herofication process takes place and involves both parties’ participation (Kelly, 2013). On one hand, the public needs to believe in the glorification of the army, and on the other, the military itself is required to “feel [that] the nation understands and supports [it]”, therefore validating its role in regards to the nation (Kelly, p. 729). Sustaining a contradictory dichotomy, Lady Gaga shouts against unjust immigration laws and denounces anti-gay marriage stipulations, all while glamorizing the most nationalist feeling for good old America.
The sustainment of hegemony succeeds better when counter-hegemonic voices are appropriated to keep disobedient groups under control; giving birth to the repackaging of a resistant discourse by dominant groups (Kelly, 2013). When specific pop stars are able to establish the illusion that they fully represent isolated groups who might have different ideas on peacemaking, it allows a high-end elite to maintain pro-war ideals through a capitalist-obsessed system of consumerism. Furthermore, the divine-like power that these pop stars indirectly claim is endorsed in depictions of royalty, whether it is in forms of imagery or lyrics.
Throughout history and in an effort to instill a vision of gender and racial politics in times of war, the USA has “mobilized popular culture” numerous times to establish a consensus around an apolitical vision of “American national belonging” (Lebovic, 2013, p. 265 and 273). Indeed, “the liberal, individualistic and pluralist nature of America’s democratic war culture” is usually constructed by a small elite group who possesses the power to dictate values through media (Lebovic, p. 265). However, instead of enforcing censorship like it would during World War II in an aim to encourage a steady and conservative home (Lebovic), today, it glamorizes the disruption of private life through the implantation of technology in viewers’ lives, giving it the ability to force-feed a certain perspective. What has not changed, on the other hand, is the embodiment of such indoctrination through the bodies of women, which turns out to be a “best selling point” (Lebovic, p. 273). Decades later, the idea of “female performers [as] potential objects of desire” has not faded, which implies the “general agreement that commodified beauty [is] the hallmark of the American woman” (Lebovic, p. 275).
This can be described as the legitimization of national identity through pop cultural symbolism (Edwardson, 2003). As a matter of fact, what we see can be interpreted as a reiteration of myths and stereotypes that benefit dominant groups, often to the detriment of less privileged groups (Edwardson). The domination here is done through the perpetuation of conceptions that enforce the practical and positive ideas of war, preserved by a never-ending moneymaking machine.
This is especially made possible by the virtual existence of a nation (Edwardson, 2003). Never meeting each other, the communion of the members of the so-called nation is maintained through the image that is metaphorically burnt into the brains of those same members (Edwardson). That way, nationalism creates a nation where in reality there is none, consequently engraining a national identity through visual media, a medium that facilitates mental construction (Edwardson). Furthermore, such a mechanism is even more easily established when there is lack of a “common religion, language or ethnicity” (Francis, 1997, p. 10). In other words, the popularization and validation of national identities is effortlessly entrenched through commodities and consumerism in a landscape where there is an initial absence of identification (Edwardson). The incessant cycle of production, reproduction and consumption sets a market that is foundational to the construction of hegemonic identities (Yoshino, 1999). Another key element to highlight is the very young audience of consumers to whom this popular culture is often intended, which makes the transmission of “national myths, symbols, ideologies, and value” that much easier (Edwardson, p. 186).
Interestingly enough, academic feminists such as J. Jack Halberstam (2012) view a video such as Lady Gaga’s Telephone as something that “brings together meditations on fame and visibility with a lashing critique of the fixity of roles for males and females” (p. 5). Introducing contemporary feminism to a younger audience and building on popular iconography, Lady Gaga is seen to have adapted to a generation of clones who cannot absorb information without the medium of electronic media technology (Halberstam). Essentially, she is described as “the end of culture, the end of civilization, the end of truth, values, and meanings, the end of sex, and the triumph of a robotic age emptied of human sentiment” (Halberstam, p. 6). From there, we could argue that the younger generation should be able to construct a mind of its own, picking and choosing from the overload of information thrown its way. Inversely, they could also be viewed as brainwashed zombies that are unable to define anything on their own, and who are easily manipulated by modern day technologies.
In the end, what really prevails from these post-modern larger than life futuristic visual media depictions might sit in the eye of the beholder. Whether it helps feminism move forward or sustains hegemony ultimately depends on which brand of feminism you identify with out of the panoply of feminisms available.
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