The Battle Between Écriture Féminine and Objectification: “Bad Romance”

In “Bad Romance” both male and female characters clearly exhibit several forms of objectification, including instrumentality, denial of autonomy, violability, ownership, and denial of subjectivity.  Gaga is first objectified when two women yank her from the bathtub where she is portrayed as a doe-eyed virgin; her boundary-integrity is breached when the women force the clear liquid (presumably the Ukrainian Nemiroff that is portrayed several times in the video) down her throat, and her autonomy and subjectivity are denied when she is yanked, stripped, and forced to dance.

Of all the instances of objectification in “Bad Romance,” this is the most reductive, for, after she is yanked from her bathtub, Gaga is changed from a wide-eyed, doe-eyed virgin to a provocatively dressed dancer whose face is obscured by a cage-like crown.  What is more, it is particularly disturbing that women—other Objects—first objectify Gaga; instead of working to promote Gaga’s humanity and subjecthood, they strive to make her into an object.  To understand why women do not always aid each other in transcending objecthood, it is helpful to turn to Simone de Beauvoir.  In the introduction to The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir explains that many women do, in fact, like the role they play as the Other[1], the Object, because there are “advantages” (xxiii) to this role: “Man-the-sovereign will provide woman-the-liege with material protection and will undertake the moral justification of her existence; thus she can evade at once both economic risk and the metaphysical risk of a liberty in which ends and aims must be contrived without assistance” (xxxiii).  These women, then, who abduct Gaga, could be considered complicit in the phallocentric system; they are aiming, not to transcend, but to win the favor of the ringleader (who will become Gaga’s lover) and his band of thugs.

There is, however, no overt pact between the men and the women who objectify Gaga; in fact, it is not clear what their relationships really are.  This uncertainty, then, could suggest that the women are not in league with the men; rather, they use Gaga to entrap the men.  If this is the case, then they objectify Gaga for their own purposes; ironically, they use subjugation to overcome subjugation.

All of the men in “Bad Romance” also objectify Gaga.  These voyeurs sit in a semi-circle, drinking alcohol, seeming bored; however, there does not seem to be anything to keep them from leaving, so it can be conjectured that they find watching Gaga and the women dancers entertaining—the women are dancing for them, after all.  Their voyeurism can be classified as intentional, non-reductive objectification.  While they are not the ones who physically strip Gaga and force her to dance, they deny her subjectivity by ignoring her struggles and gaze greedily on.  One image in which Gaga is framed by a man’s legs (presumably the ringleader’s) is particularly disturbing because it suggests that this is the way in which the men perceive her:

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A Disturbing Frame: “Bad Romance”: 2:18

Every other time the men are portrayed, they are sitting; this heightens the juxtaposition between Gaga’s fall (caused by the other dancers) and the ringleader’s strong stance.  This frame shows Gaga through his perspective, and it reveals that he does not see her eye-to-eye, as an equal, but, rather, he views her as something who merely fits between his legs; unwillingly, Gaga is forced to grovel before his phallus.

Not only do the men disregard Gaga’s feelings and consider her as merely an instrument for their pleasure, but they also intentionally and reductively objectify Gaga by bidding on her, reducing her to something than can be bought, and, thus, owned.  This ironically occurs just after Gaga claims to be a “free bitch” (“Bad Romance”):

Later, there are stills of Gaga standing, clad in black lingerie and surrounded by floating crystals and a circle of men:

These stills remind one of lingerie advertisements or, perhaps, a lingerie fashion show.  It seems, in light of the auction, that Gaga is portrayed as a trophy—she certainly is dressed and posed in a way that allows the men to best examine her body.  By the time the chorus comes back around, however, Model Gaga ceases to be inert and joins Seductress Gaga in singing the war cry of a chorus, “Rah rah ah-ah-ah! / Ro mah ro-mah-mah!” (“Bad Romance”).

This transformation from immobility to singing is the beginning of the end of the video when the once-purchased Gaga, the former trophy, incinerates her lover.  The last scene features the two of them on a bed: he, a charred skeleton, and she, in a sparking bra, rather Bride-of-Frankenstein-esque.  Derritt Mason observes, “Gaga’s body […] fights and ultimately kills the man who purchases her, who tries to fully know and possess her.  And Gaga’s breasts themselves do the dirty work, symbols of a femininity both lethal and erotic, desirable but resistant—even hostile—to desire.  ‘Bad Romance,’ indeed” (1).  Simply put, Gaga is too hot for her lover to handle.  More complexly put, however, Gaga has transcended the masculine economy that has tried to fit her into the role of the second sex, the Other, the Object.  She has done this through her multiplicity of personas, challenging the idea of a singular, classifiable (and, thus, controllable) self.

From the very beginning, as Gaga sits enthroned, surrounded by dancers, thugs, and dogs alike, she signals that she is ultimately in control.  The red sign that reads “Bath Haus of Gaga” reiterates this control; “Bad Romance” is Gaga’s story.  She begins her narrative by emerging from a coffin/tanning capsule as a white monster with a crooked crown.  The other monsters seem to follow her command; they are her chorus.  However, even though Gaga is the author of this video, the setting is not her own, for the style of the room marks it as a masculine setting.  The lines and the symmetry signify linear rationality, and the black and white color scheme demonstrates a binary opposition.  Everything is clearly measured and ordered; it seems as if this is an aesthetic manifestation of phallocentric discourse, which is based on “a masculine economy […] which accepts the tenets of Aristotelian logic, the logic of non-contradiction, the mutual exclusion of opposite terms [and which] promotes thinking in terms of hierarchical binary oppositions” (Still 239).   Because this is a masculine setting, there are times when Gaga-the-protagonist struggles for control.  This is seen most clearly when she is abducted from her bathtub and when she is stripped and forced to dance.

Even as Gaga-the-protagonist struggles for control, she reveals herself to be uncontrollable and as unpredictable as the quick camera cuts; as the narrative progresses, her multiplicity increases.  More and more Gagas are introduced into the narrative, and the main persona undergoes a few costume changes, which parallel different stages of the development of her character.  She begins as a doe-eyed virgin in a neutral, transparent shirt and with flyaway curls; after her abduction, she becomes a bejeweled, quasi chain-mailed seductress; then, she transforms into a kind of bride clad in a long robe of white fur; finally, Gaga is last seen post-sex, post-incineration as a Bride of Frankenstein:BR 1 19

Doe-Eyed Virgin: “Bad Romance”: 1:19

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Chainmail & Jewels: “Bad Romance”: 2:53

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Bride: “Bad Romance”: 3:51

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Bride of Frankenstein: “Bad Romance”: 4:59

However, one Gaga does not give way to another, instead, they all vie for the attention of the camera—all of her personas participate in the story.  For example, after her abduction from the bathtub, flashes of Doe-Eyed Gaga are still spliced into the narrative and while these cuts may be flashbacks, they nevertheless sustain Doe-Eyed Gaga as part of the ongoing narrative.  In fact, even after Gaga has been sold, even after the emaciated Prisoner and Fashion Gaga personas have been introduced, the doe-eyed virgin is still given a few cuts; she defiantly asserts, “I’m a free bitch, baby!” (“Bad Romance”) a phrase that preludes the destruction of her lover:

This utterance of “I’m a free bitch, baby!” (“Bad Romance”) echoes an earlier assertion that marks the turning of the tide that happens exactly one minute earlier:

Ironically, when Gaga’s fate seems to be most decided—when she is purchased—she reasserts her autonomy.  Her claim to be a “free bitch” (“Bad Romance”) would seem futile in face of the auction except for the disappearance of her cage-like crown and for the dancing of Prisoner Gaga who had before brooded and, perhaps, plotted in her barred enclosure.  These two elements only help to reinforce the reassertion of her autonomy.

Appropriately, as an emaciated prisoner, Gaga most reveals her condition as the objectified.  Only after the women dancers have abducted and objectified Gaga does she appear as Prisoner Gaga.  She is portrayed skeletal, hunched, and hardly human, embodying the effects of reductionistic objectification.   Then, just before the far off cry “I’m a free bitch, baby!” (“Bad Romance”), a light begins to break into her dark cell and she starts swaying her hips, signaling her ownership of her body, her self.  She is not a dejected jailbird, and, in fact, the only tie to this identity is the dead bat on her head, which after all, is not a bird anyway.  As Seductress Gaga marches towards her doomed lover, she also has some sort of dead animal (possibly a rat?) in her hair; instead of a bat that is merely skin and bones, as seen on Prisoner Gaga, this animal is white and fluffy, mirroring Gaga’s change in costume and situation:

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Bat Barrette: “Bad Romance”: 3:01

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Rat Barrette: “Bad Romance”: 4:26

Like the bat that echoes Gaga’s imprisonment, the empty cage subtly haunts a corner of the background as Gaga marches towards her lover; it serves not only as a reminder of the confining and controlling nature of objectification but also an omen to her lover: she has escaped; she cannot be contained.  The last cut of Prisoner Gaga features her passionately singing, “want your bad romance,” just before Gaga (all the Gagas) achieve victory.

As an emaciated prisoner, Gaga comments on her objectification, but as Fashion Gaga, débuting during the bridge, she marks the transition point between the objectified and the empowered Gagas:

The bridge is the tipping point where Gaga’s assertion of her autonomy, of her self, comes to fruition.  Here, Fashion Gaga, like écriture féminine, breaks the rules.  First, she defies all expectation—her glittery costume is in no way congruent with the stark, sterile setting.  It does not fit with the streamlined, binary, black and white theme of the Bath Haus.  Perhaps the sequins bear some resemblance to the jewels that clothe the abducted virgin Gaga, but they are so out of proportion that they mock them, and, with her ridiculous high heels, Fashion Gaga parodies one of the traditional markers of femininity.  Finally, Fashion Gaga and the lyrics that accompany her focus, not on her lover—he is not even there to watch her—but on her self.  This is Gaga exploring her femininity; this is Gaga writing her body, “Walk-walk fashion baby, work it move that bitch crazy / Walk-walk passion baby, work it I’m a free bitch baby” (“Bad Romance”).  She is in tune with her self, including her body.  Focusing on what her body is doing—walking and working it—helps Gaga to grasp her freedom—“I’m a free bitch baby” (“Bad Romance”).

After Fashion Gaga comes the final, fatal scene.  An empowered Gaga, “a bridal femme fatale at once alluring and repulsive, seductive and terrifying, adorned by the white skins of a polar bear whose head trails on the floor behind her” (Mason 1), marches towards the unsuspecting ringleader.  This time, the Gaga whose dance sequences are spliced with the narrative is wearing not white or black but red, deconstructing the black and white, binary setting and matching Bridal Gaga’s lipstick—a foreboding correlation.  Just before the moment of two-fold consummation—in which the lover sleeps with Gaga and is consumed by her fire—Fashion Gaga fires an imaginary gun.  This image echoes the imaginary gun Doe-Eyed Gaga holds up three minutes earlier, suggesting a congruity between the two personas.

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Ready… : “Bad Romance”: 1:12

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Aim & Fire: “Bad Romance”: 4:15

This congruity between two Gagas who are characterized in very different ways (by their costumes, their mannerisms, and their roles in the narrative) demonstrate that Gaga’s personas are not completely separate from each other.  They are not each individual and distinct Gagas; rather, together, they are Gaga.  She is all of these personas, demonstrating the écriture féminine “logic of heterogeneity and multiplicity” (Leitch 1941).

The seemingly disparate splicing of the various personas, coupled with the echoes of costumes and hand gestures, demonstrate that Gaga is multiple.  She does not fit into the restraining, singular role of a sex toy; instead she is a doe-eyed virgin and a fur clad seductress, a white monster and a black queen, an emaciated prisoner and a dancer wrapped in red lace.  Moreover, she is a Fashion Gaga who escapes definitions, who embodies contrasting personas, and who “unthinks the unifying, regulating history that homogenizes and channels forces, herding contradictions into a single battlefield” (Cixous 1949).


[1] In observing how men have subjugated women, de Beauvoir explains, “humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself, but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being.  […]  He is the Subject, he is the Absolute—she is the Other” (xxviii)

          

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