Pop Culture Videos

You Cannot Gaga Gaga by Jack Halberstam

Is this film about castration? Oh yeah baby. Your phone is going to be off the hook, your land line is now cordless, your cordless lost reception, your mobile is turned off, your girlfriend is turned on and she is escaping in a pussy wagon with another woman!



Can you hear me? Listen up: I am gaga for Gaga. I know we all are now, and I was already gaga for Beyoncé except now Gaga is gaga for Beyoncé too so…so I am gonna have to call them both up on the t-t-telephone and find out how to get a piece of the action. And the action, by the way, has little to do with the phallus, real, imagined, lesbian or bionic. Thanks to Tavia (see below) for his brilliant and on point reading of the disappointing and disappearing phallus but from here on out, it is about phones, headsets, hearing, receivers and objects that become subjects, glasses that smoke, food that bites. If the sappy, eco-friendly message of James Cameron’s bloated 3-D off-world was “I see you,” the cooky, cocky, whacky voice-mail left by Gaga/Beyoncé is “I hear you.” The ear and the phone are neither vagina and penis nor speaker and listener, in this agenda-bending extravaganza the telephone is an Avital Ronell wet dream – electric speech served with a twist of live wire. And, by the way, what is up with divas and phones? Remember that Blondie was hanging on one, Madonna was hanging one up, even Beyoncé in “If I was a boy,” was turning one off and telling “everyone it’s broken/so that they would think I was sleeping alone.”

“It is a question of answerability,” says Ronell in The Telephone Book, “you picking it up means the call has come through.”

But what is it saying? When you get the call, who speaks and who listens? And what happens when she tells you to STOP CALLING MOTHERF#*KER!

Telephone, for the two people who missed it, is the breakout online Gaga/Beyoncé extravaganza set in a women’s prison in LA. In this ten minute mini film,  Lady Gaga wears her diet coke in her hair, her heart on her sleeve and models a series of hats made out of telephones while she and Beyoncé perform in “Thelma and Louise” meets Marcel DuChamp meets Set It Off. They dip and bob, stutter and wink across a landscape of diners and deserts leaving a trail of bodies in their wake – the crime they are punishing? Honey theft. Yes, like queen bees deciding to kick the drones to the curb while keeping their honey for themselves, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé buzz around dangerously looking for the next sucker to sting.

Watch the video here: Telephone by Lady Gaga featuring Beyoncé

In their “pussy wagon” Gaga and Beyoncé chart new territory for femme liberation, female aggression, feminine techno embodiment and instant gratification – using a Polaroid camera, Gaga captures her “Honey Bee,” (that’s Beyoncé to you) leaving the scene of the crime and promises that they are leaving and never coming back. Throwing the picture to the ground, the gesture suggests that images are cheap but check out the sound system. The telephone line goes dead, the connection is lost, the heroines are far from the law, lost to the boyfriends calling on their phones, far from home, and far from dead. Their honey is safe and their desire is as shiny and new as the glittering heels they used to walk over the corpses. Featuring cameos by female body-builders, female body artist Heather Cassils and Gaga’s sister, the video gives sisterhood a brand new name: NOISE . The prison yard kiss with Cassils, in particular, reminds the viewer that this is a queer sisterhood, a strange sisterhood and one which is not afraid to flirt with some heavy-duty butch-femme, S/M dynamics. Cassils has talked in an interview about what the video has done for her visibility:

Interview in OUT with Heather Cassils

The blogosphere is already full of readings and revelations about the video – it is a Foucaultian take on prison and “technological entrapment”; here on Bullybloggers, it has been read as the channeling of Butler’s “Lesbian Phallus”; it is obscene, murderous, cruel to animals, misogynist, man-hating, homophobic and heterophobic; and I think you could safely place it as a Deleuzian exploration of flow and affect not to mention an episode in Object Oriented Philosophy. So whether the philosophy in question is drawn from Zizek on speed, Ronell on crack or Meillassoux on ecstasy, this video obviously chains a few good ideas to a few very good bodies and puts thought into motion. So what is the “telephone” in this sonic drama and what is Gaga doing with it?

Notice many of the phones in the film are landlines – the phone in the jail (or “club” as Gaga calls it), the green phone in Beyoncé’s bedroom, the blue phone that Lady Gaga wears as she makes sandwiches – these phones are fixed in place, not mobile, wearable but also restricting – “Tonight I’ll not be taking no calls because I’ll be dancing…Stop calling, stop calling, cause I don’t want to talk anymore/Stop calling, stop calling, I don’t want to think anymore/I got my head and my heart out on the dance floor.” The push and pull of the game of telephone resembles the rhythms of hetero dating – she waits, he calls; she answers, he speaks, she yells, he hangs up. But they also resemble stalking—“stop calling, stop calling”—and they sound like the surveillance calls brilliantly dissected as part of the marriage script in Laura Kipnis’s Against Love – “Hi hon, just called to check in…where are you now?” The mobile phone is a player in the battle of lovers and so Lady Gaga and Beyoncé decide to unleash themselves from the tyranny of the phone – instead of hanging on the telephone, they become the telephone. The music pulses like a ring tone (like the ring tone it is about to anyway become), it burbles and beeps, hiccups and repeats, insistently, calling and ringing, ringing and calling and chaining us all to the charisma of the pop beat.

Like the ringing music, the choreography is also phony, phonic, supersonic – like the clipped conversations that lovers have on phones with reception and messages fading in and out, the divas strut and twist their bodies into jerking machines – in one remarkable sequence, a break in the dinette dance scene, Beyoncé, dressed in her Michael Jackson uniform complete with epaulets stands with her eyes wide open and her mouth opening and closing to the stuttering “eh…eh…eh…eh” of the music.  Beyoncé is channeling phone here, she is the receiver, the answering machine and the dial tone all in one and all are saying the same thing – no one is home! In another sequence when Gaga is leaving the prison, she stutter steps in another homage to Jackson but also to convey the shift in time-scapes from doing time in prison to taking a dropped call from Beyoncé out in the real world. Time, in “Telephone,” ripples with queerness, stops, starts, repeats: and while time stops for the losers in their way, Beyoncé and Gaga are tripping off to a utopia of milk and honey. Beyoncé and Lady Gaga repeatedly lift their hands to their mouths to make the telephone sign and they sing into handsets and hold the phone like a dick they are about to rip off. Is this film about castration? Oh yeah baby. Your phone is going to be off the hook, your land line is now cordless, your cordless lost reception, your mobile is turned off, your girlfriend is turned on and she is escaping in a pussy wagon with another woman!

Well, so is the phone the phallus after all? Is the mobile phone a dildo? Is the old landline a kind of metaphor for male penis and the new “virgin” cell phone a metaphor for the lesbian phallus? I still think that phallic as phones may be and phunny as the connection between phone and phallus becomes throughout the video, the real sex organ in this piece is the ear, and while the phallus may well circulate, this is pussy power all the way. Lady Gaga and Beyoncé demonstrate a femininity done right and over done to the point of parody. But here is where it gets interesting – while Lady Gaga always seemed like a drag queen in her outrageous costumes, in this incarnation she reminds us that no one does femininity like a fierce femme and while you can already see the drag shows going on in a bad gay bar near you with super tall drag queens lipsyncing to Gaga and Beyoncé and cat-fighting their way across the stage, remember you heard it here first – you cannot Gaga Gaga, honey so don’t even try! She is camping camp, she is dragging drag, she is ironing irony (ok…ok), she  has done it, been it, worn it. And be warned, don’t call her, she’ll call you!

Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You

25 replies on “You Cannot Gaga Gaga by Jack Halberstam”

Cock Off (uttered shrilly, affectionately) you adorable Mo, Discipline and Punish! I will now spend an entire twenty minutes charting carceral culture through GaGa. Whom I adore.
I am interested to know: who will emerge as GaGa’s Paglia? Who will be the theorist to really Justify My GaGa?

Dear Jack,

My colleague and I very recently started a critical journal about Lady Gaga called Gaga Stigmata: Critical Writings and Art About Lady Gaga. You can see the journal in it’s current (early) manifestation at We are only publishing high-quality works, with the goal of eventually publishing a book (we already have a publisher interested in the project).

We’d definitely be interested in running a version of your Gaga articles here, or any new critical works about Gaga, if you are interested in submitting. Please contact us at if you are.

Kate Durbin

Great reading- I intend to start forwarding it to all the students who come to my office hours now to ask what I think of Gaga. My only concern is that this queer celebration of Camp Gaga does not address the egregious product placement- Virgin Mobile being perhaps the most problematic for our celebration of Gaga’s irony. The name of the phone has plenty of ironic connotations, especially for this video, but the way in which the camera and editing give the spectator time to note brand and features do not (necessarily–I’m dying for a counter-argument, as you can probably tell). Your closing publicity shot of Beyonce shilling for Samsung suggests that the divas’ dependence on endorsements is already an implicit component of your argument, so I’d love to hear more.

“And, by the way, what is up with divas and phones? ”

Hello, welcome to popular culture. Phones (once dialed, then touched, now texted, but always fingered) are a tool that every girl and boy understands. Not sure why you are confused… phones today are ubiquitous parts of the culture.

867-5309 (Jenny don’t lose my number). Not a diva, but still a phone song.

What’s interesting is that someone thought of writing a song about an object so commonplace. What’s even better is that the video makes a ‘queer’ sensation out of an otherwise banal narrative: “Can’t talk to you because I’m busy getting drunk at the club.” It’s so much cooler when you throw in some diesel-dykes and some tattooed dancing girls.

You spoke at my school yesterday and I simply fell in love with everything you said. You totally got it. You are so articulate and see way past the surface– even past the beneath-the-surface! I appreciated the distinctions you made that most people overlook. That the term “culture” is not synonymous with white culture, that most of white culture is borrowed from black culture, and your brief inputs on colonization and a “post” imperialist world. Many speakers wouldn’t draw in this heavy issues but you absolutely weren’t afraid to highlight their relevance. And I loved it. I cannot wait to hear more from you and your thoughts on “hybridity.”

Thank you Jack!

Listen – Beyonce…

“Listen” is a 2006 R&B, soul song recorded by American singer Beyoncé. The song was written by Henry Krieger, Scott Cutler, Anne Preven, and Knowles, and produced by The Underdogs Matt Sullivan and Randy Spendlove for the soundtrack to …


Have you heard of Mykki Blanco’s video and song for “Haze Boogie Life” (available on youtube)?

I think you might be interested. She alludes to, among other things the 1999 Sixth Millionth Patent Ceremony, La Moneda Palace in Chile (The former palace, and, later, bunker of Augusto Pinochet during the coup), Peter Bofinger (who serves as the only Keynesian economist on an extremely powerful and historically conservative economic panel in germany), and the 1996 movie “The Great White Hype.” The whole time I watched and listened, I was also reading an provocative analogy between the dancefloor body politic and the music industry body politic.

Just a fan of your work, and interested in your opinion on a performer in whom I think you might be interested. Thanks!

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