Lady Gaga Makes It to Harvard

                        By Charlotte Allen

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What is it about academics and Lady Gaga? Last year it was a freshman writing course at the University of Virginia titled “GaGa for Gaga: Sex, Gender, and Identity.” This fall there’s an upper-division sociology course at the University of South Carolina titled “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame.” Meghan Vicks, a graduate student in comparative literature at the University of Colorado, co-edits a postmodernist online journal, “Gaga Stigmata: Critical Writings and Art About Lady Gaga,” in which the names “Judith Butler” and “Jean Baudrillard” drip as thickly as summer rain and the tongue-tripping sentences read like this: “And her project? – To deconstruct the very pop culture that creates and worships her, and to explore and make problematic the hackneyed image of the pop icon while flourishing in the

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Charlotte Allen

Charlotte Allen blogs for the Los Angeles Times and writes frequently about cultural trends for the Weekly Standard.

5 thoughts on “Lady Gaga Makes It to Harvard

  1. I’m no academic, but I think watching the “unfolding spectacle” that is Gaga is getting to be pretty goddamn boring.

  2. It’s true that some academic writing is pompous and jargon-ridden. It’s also true that instructors of freshman writing courses no longer feel like writing can be taught only with reading, or that gender and sexuality are hot topics in some parts of the academy. I share your frustration with at least item one.
    But there’s no larger point here about why Gaga does not deserve the acclaim she gets in the academic community. I’m not actually saying she does – I don’t really listen to her music. But, to me, an effective essay would’ve laid out the thesis that Gaga is over-appreciated in academic culture, then refuted that point with specific references to her lyrics, style, etc. You make a few cursory nods in that direction when you claim her rise is undeserved, but don’t actually delve into specifics. (And repeatedly mentioning that she’s won multiple Grammys does not help your point.)
    Instead, your essay seems to flow like this: “The respect Gaga gets from academics is undeserved,” -> “The way academics talk about her is pretentious and jargon-ish,” -> “Academia has declined from a golden age.” Points one and three seem like good thesis statements in themselves, but need more support; point two feels unfocused and ad hominem. If you are genuinely interested in changing the aspect of academic culture – and it’s a goal I would certainly be on board with – it seems to me you need to at least acknowledge the possibility that these authors have points, then show how the points could be made in language that’s easier to understand. When you think an author has no point at all – as you seem to with Halberstam above – you need to talk about why. It might seem self-evident to you, and it might be incredibly obvious to a portion of your readership, but without expanding on your point you won’t actually change minds. If you want to make a point, you’ll need more than vitriol.

  3. Ditto, edmund.
    Charlotte, you might entertain the possibility that an interdisciplinary academic investigation into the phenomenon of Gaga has precisely the opposite effect than you argue. It seems self-evident to me that the social phenomenon that is “Gaga” has captivated the collective attention of enthusiasts and defectors alike and elicited much vehement and often intelligent social, philosophical, and artistic discourse.
    Perhaps, a study of both the “text,” the unfolding spectacle that is Gaga’s “social performance,” as well as the various, manifold reactions to it will build on our “paradigms for understanding how human beings function in social groups”. And such a study would undoubtedly provide a compelling contemporary context for the instruction of style, rhetoric and audience–rhetoric is after all, like it or not, a field that Gaga has mastered. You might even say rhetoric is the very medium with which she works.

  4. Just to get your criticism straight, it boils down to “People are studying this thing I don’t like and they’re using all kinds of fancy-pants big words to do it,” right? There really isn’t anything more to it than that.
    That’s some hard-hitting investigative blogging.

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