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The Machiavellian Mother Mons†er

January 31, 2011

Hey, so, have you ever heard of this one singer/songwriter/pianist named Stefani Germanotta?  You’ve never heard of her?  That’s alright; neither have I.  Wait a minute. . . .here’s a video of her on YouTube:

(This footage is owned by NYU’s IRHC and is posted here with permission.  Thank you to allthingsfangirl.com for posting it on YouTube.)

She has an impressive voice, doesn’t she?  And what a modest, unassuming style too!

OK.  So, here’s another question:  have you ever heard of Lady Gaga?

Now, what if I told you that Stefani Germanotta and Lady Gaga (aka “Mother Mons†er“) are one and the same person?  You wouldn’t believe me, would you?  Well, it’s true.  How could this be?  The two characters could not be more dissimilar.  Stefani Germanotta could be placed into the category of indie, singer-songwriters alongside artists like Ingrid Michaelson and Eva Cassidy; Lady Gaga, on the other hand, is so mainstream that she is frequently (and quite easily) compared to Madonna, arguably the most recognizable female name in popular music.

Was it completely necessary for Miss Germanotta to torch her innocence (a visual of this torching can be seen at around 4:25 in the music video of her song “Bad Romance“) in order to succeed as a popular artist today?  Was it at all possible for her to succeed without resorting to shockingly violent and sexual videos?  Did she really need to wear a meat dress so that people would know that she can sing?  Would YOU care about Lady Gaga if she didn’t present herself in the way that she does?

Perhaps Stefani’s recreation of herself into the “Mother Mons†er” (through the persona of “Lady Gaga”) is simply a Machiavellian scheme.  Hmmm . . . . well, let’s take a look and see what happens if we insert Lady Gaga’s name inside of a key quote from Machiavelli’s The Prince:

For [the Mother Mons†er] who wants to act the part of a good [wo]man in all circumstances will bring about [her] own ruin, for those [s]he has to deal with [the media and the rest of pop culture she competes with] will not all be good.  So it is necessary for a [Mother Mons†er], if [s]he wants to hold on to power, to learn how not to be good, and to know when it is and when it is not necessary to use this knowledge (Wooton, p. 33).

Do we have a match?  Has Stefani sacrificed her dignity in order to build fame and fortune, or is she simply expressing herself via eccentric, grotesque art?

Work Cited

Wootton, David, ed.  Modern Political Thought:  Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche.  2nd ed.  Indianapolis, IN:  Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2008.  [Words/letters in brackets within the quote above are my own and replace Machiavelli’s words in places.]

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10 Comments
  1. John D'Adamo permalink
    January 31, 2011 4:36 PM

    Sure, Stefani’s ends justified the means. She is a worldwide phenomenon who is adored by many for her bold statements and choices. She is also one of the best singers I’ve heard out of the current artists in popular music, and for me it’s a huge plus when talent is actually good live. Great post, Zack, your post brought more vividity into the blog.

  2. Emily Slaga permalink
    January 31, 2011 9:13 PM

    I think her ends justified the means, though I think her means were different. I don’t believe she gave up her dignity to become famous. With the exception of the meat dress (which I really don’t understand), her outfits, appearance, and actions haven’t been morally questionable or socially unacceptable. The dresses and costumes she wore are just crazy and the fact that she kept her face hidden for the longest time was also what drew attention to her. She also stayed out of scandals, and still has. I don’t think she ever did anything to shred her dignity. So to me, losing her dignity weren’t her means of becoming famous.
    However, in a sense she was Machiavellian because she knew how to be bad, at least as a rebel in the eyes of the media. The media loves to know every detail of someones life and how they shot to stardom. Gaga didn’t allow that. She rarely gave interviews, in fact she rarely made any public statements in the beginning, which really annoyed most people. She also didn’t let you see her face, she was always wearing masks. The fact that she was so mysterious was rebellious and seen as wrong by some people, which is why she got so much attention. She “learn[ed] not to be good” in that sense, going against the public norm. This helped bring about her rise to fame. If hiding her personal life from the media, remaining a mysterious figure who came out of nowhere, and dressing against the norm were her means to becoming famous, I’d say they were justifiable. I think she still has her dignity, as opposed to most artists. Maybe that’s why she seems so different? Perhaps the norm has become all artists lose their dignity to become famous, but she hasn’t! I really don’t know!

    (Awesome post by the way!)

    • rlwulf permalink
      February 14, 2011 12:27 PM

      I agree with this. And another point is that she has not necessarily compromised any of her beliefs by partaking in these crazy trends. From what I know of Lady Gaga, she’s always had the “monster” living inside her. Although most of the songs on her album tend to be quite poppy, there is usually an underlying meaning still in the words she says beyond the “I’m just trying to make a statement” point. Her method has been very Machiavellian in the sense that she has found a way to read the needs of the population, and give them the courage to express themselves freely by combining her crazy styles with dark pop music. She fuses the pain and joy of being unique in a society where people are expected to fit into a mold. So, I do ultimately believe that her ends justify the means, but that does not necessarily mean that she has compromised who she is as a person along the way.

  3. chrisshu permalink
    January 31, 2011 10:56 PM

    I do not think i any way whatsoever has Lady Gaga sold her dignity. Rather, if anyone is to be criticized, it’s the mass media and societal “norms” nowadays that makes a singer have to do “outrageous” things to become popular. Another good example, other than Lady Gag is Ke$ha. She was an International Baccalaureate in high school, equivalent in a sense to AP, and had a score of 1500 out of 1600 on her SAT. When interviewed about her appearance, she stated that she liked to have a good time, but would never drive drunk or do drugs, or “let her vagina hang out” (Billboard magazine). To reiterate, the whole “bad girl” image many singers nowadays employ is a method used to sell CDs and their music and not a representation of who they are. I don’t believe Lady Gaga or Ke$ha for that matter soiled their image, but rather, want us to think or lead us to think they have when they haven’t. For all we know, this can be who they are but the media has evolved to become so grotesque, it makes gossip and “news” out of anything. I think Lady Gaga is just fine the way she’s acting and our constant excitement over her “exotic” fashion sense is what adds to her fire. She’s not doing anything moral irrepressible, or “wrong” for that matter. She’s not breaking laws to get popular. Instead, we should wonder why we get so excited over her meat dress and her Kermit dress rather than focus on the true perils our society faces.

    • Zack Orsini permalink
      February 1, 2011 2:32 AM

      If the mass media and society set the “norms”/rules of “the game of fame” (if you will), and then you (as an artist) decide to play by these rules, which often encourage deceiving consumers into believing that you are a “bad girl/boy” (when in fact you are not), are you not lying to your fellow man and thus defiling your dignity?

      • chrisshu permalink
        February 1, 2011 10:24 PM

        She could be playing by the “rules” or maybe this is who she is. Perhaps she is just a kermit and filet mignon dress-wearing singer and we, in our materialistic and gossip-y society, find a need to examine her. I suggest it could all be a ruse but I don’t know. I’m not Lady Gaga and maybe, it really is a reflection of who she is. That’s more of the point I was trying to get across, that they aren’t doing anything to sell themselves. Maybe they’re just being honest but we can’t see that as “normal” so we must think they are being “avant garde” or outrageous.

    • Zack Orsini permalink
      February 1, 2011 11:42 PM

      Do you know what? I agree with you, Chris. Thank you for calling me out. It is unfair to say that Lady Gaga has deliberately sold out her dignity in order to gain fortune and fame. I actually REALLY like her outrageous dresses. Especially the Kermit one! It expresses a rare individuality that is difficult to come across in entertainers today. As Emily mentioned above, Lady Gaga has also pretty much entirely stayed out of scandals. I really do appreciate that about her (Gaga). Lady Gaga is a very talented (albeit quirky) musician who is actually rather enjoyable to listen to (especially live: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7HvURBhMGE)!

      I personally believe that she really is being herself (there’s really no reason for me not to believe that). But, like all people, I think maybe she stumbled a bit (e.g. with photos like this: http://www.vanityfair.com/online/daily/2010/08/lady-gaga-september-issue.html). But, again, I may be being a bit too judgmental in immediately regarding this picture as degrading to her image. If she really does intend for that sort of picture to be an expression of who she is as an artist, then all the more power to her! I just don’t like to see artists who possess (as she does) so much potential to lose their dignity because of the lure of money and fame.

      When I saw the YouTube video of her singing at New York University (in the original post), I was in awe at her raw talent and I may have had an incorrect image in my mind of who Lady Gaga really was as a person (due to the media’s incorrect perceptions of her); as a result of this potential mistake (on my part) in observing who she really was, I immediately felt the urge to write the above blog post because I really do not like to see such raw talent go to waste. I really do enjoy her music, and I am glad that all of those who commented on the post helped me to see her in a brighter light.

  4. molliefein1 permalink
    January 31, 2011 11:37 PM

    I also don’t think that Lady Gaga has sold her dignity, but for different reasons. I don’t think that it’s radical social “norms” that force her to act the way she does. Not only do many of Gaga’s outfits have some sort of meaning beyond their outrageous appearance, but I think that it’s all a part of her brilliance and master plan. Gaga is undeniably a very smart woman, and many of the so-called outrageous things that she does are to make a political or social statement. She’s made public appearances in the political world, such as her relatively recent speech on “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”, in Maine. I’m going to make a potentially far-fetched and probably ridiculous connection by comparing her to Socrates, or Martin Luther King Jr.. The woman has a very different way of getting her point across, but she is using an underlying form of civil disobedience to convince others to take her side, and create social change. She is paving the way for minorities, especially those in the LGBT community by preaching through her music, fashion and statements that it’s okay to be radical, and different, and conformation is not necessary. Socrates and Martin Luther King Jr. also used their talents to preach what they thought was right in a way that would create justice, even though it created some social unrest in both cases. Gaga is just uniquely following in their footsteps.

  5. oliviaavery permalink
    March 21, 2011 3:53 PM

    According to Machiavelli’s writings, when the ends justify the means, there is a greater good it at stake. The sacrifices of some are meant for the good of all. In the case of Lady Gaga, she has given up her old image and artistic self, but for what? What good does her fame do the world? Her music is entertainment. I understand that music is a form of expression and art, but is her parade of sexual violence really that earth shattering? She wants her audience to relate to her, but the video above begs the question of whether she can even relate to herself any longer.

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