Like many others (if Twitter is to be believed), I sat through two-plus hours of VMAs last night. There were highlights (I don’t care how you feel about Beyoncé—her performance, which concluded in a mic-dropping-baby-bump-reveal move was the brightest of bright spots), lowlights (Chris Brown, who flew above the audience looking like a royal jackass—as if any amount of highwire bullshit could make up for his misogyny and abuse), and, well, there was Jo Calderone.
Video: Lady Gaga’s performance and monologue as Danny Zuko Jo Calderone. From a feminist perspective—hell, from an MTV watcher’s perspective—it’s tough to know how to feel about Lady Gaga’s gender-bending performance as her male alter ego Jo. (First things first: Annie Lennox paved the way for this idea at the 1984 Grammys, though Gaga has yet to acknowledge it.) Sure, the performance commanded attention (at least initially—I agree with Kyle Anderson that she should have known when to fold ‘em), but did Gaga’s dressing and presenting herself as a man make any kind of a statement beyond that? Though I’m not a fan of Gaga’s music per se, I do appreciate her postmodern-to-the-extreme commentary on celebrity culture, and I like that she attempts to do something with the platforms she’s given—both politically and artistically. I think she was going for that with the Jo Calderone thing as well, saying before the show began that she’s interested in “all the different people we can become or have become in the past.” Her dressing as a man, especially in light of her public stance on identity politics (that people are “born this way” and should be able to live however they choose), could have made a strong statement. However, the cheesy accent and wild mugging for the camera pushed the persona into self-indulgent territory. (Especially when she kept it up during her/Jo’s incredibly creepy presentation of Britney Spears’ Vanguard award.) Sorry Pony Boy, it’s just me: Jo Calderone. I couldn’t help but wonder what the point of it all was, especially moments like this one, where Jo talks about his sexual relationship with Gaga:
When she comes, it’s like she covers her face ‘cause she doesn’t want me to see, but she can’t stand to have one honest moment where nobody’s watching. I want her to be real, but she says, ‘Jo, I’m not real. I’m theater and you and I…This is just rehearsal.’
In theory, it’s interesting—if a bit heavy-handed and self-centered—that Gaga would assume an alter ego in order to make statements about herself as a performer and her belief that she is “theater.” But who is she trying to convince? After all, there wasn’t much confusion before as to whether or not she is theatrical. And was the line about her covering her face while she orgasms meant to be a statement on intimacy, or was it thrown in there for shock value? If we’re to believe that Jo Calderone is a jilted ex-lover of Gaga’s, his berating of her and his revealing of her bedroom habits was arguably pretty shitty. But it’s performance art, right? And Gaga is the one writing and saying it so that makes it OK, right? Aah! Postmodernism!!! *shakes fist* So what’s actually going on here? Is Jo Calderone a modern-day Chris Gaines? Was Gaga simply trying to further reinforce her image as artifice personified? Did it work?