Pop star Lady Gaga has once again making headlines for her fashion sense, this time for wearing a dress made of raw meat to the VMAs.
Gaga wore three different dresses during the course of the evening, but it was the final piece that earned her so much media attention. That ensemble: hat, dress, purse, and shoes were all ostensibly made of slabs of raw meat. A surprise coming from a woman who said she never wears fur.
This kind of stunt draws a very predictable reaction from animal rights groups seeking to capitalize on a media frenzy to get their message across. Of course PETA issued a statement immediately about how disgusting the dress was.
But I find it hard to believe that even the most ardent meat eater would think the dress was actually attractive or fashionable. This publicity stunt, like everything about Lady Gaga, was formulated by an artistic marketing team that crafts her image. The dress itself was made by Franc Fernandez, but it’s the Haus of Gaga and associates that craft the mystique, the story that goes along with it.
In a clumsy attempt to explain her actions in an interview with Ellen Degeneres, Lady Gaga issued a series of non sequiturs about her dress being a political statement about gay rights. She added some comments about fighting for our rights, and added what could be interpreted as a vaguely feminist remark about her not being “a piece of meat”.
Those in the media who have decried Gaga’s fashion choice are extremely remiss to not express the same level of disgust when a celebrity wears leather, suede or fur to an awards show. Gaga’s dress might be uglier to look at, smellier to stand near, and filled with hatching maggots, but at the end of the day, dead flesh is dead flesh.
Or do we really think that killing animals for clothing is okay as long as the clothing is pretty to look at?
We in the public are remiss to think there’s an ethical difference between wearing leather or fur and wearing slabs of steak. At least Lady Gaga’s dress makes no pretenses at being anything other than a dead animal.
But Lady Gaga herself is most remiss when she attempts to use the real life oppression of animals as a metaphor for the oppression of humans, be they gays or women. Carol J. Adams writes extensively about the missteps of feminists who use phrases like “piece of meat” to describe women’s oppression. In her book The Sexual Politics of Meat, Adams writes:
“[F]eminists among others, appropriate the metaphor of butchering without acknowledging the originating oppression of animals that generates the power of the metaphor. Through the function of the absent referent, Western culture constantly renders the material reality of violence into controlled and controllable metaphors.” (page 68 of the 20th anniversary edition)
We shouldn’t forget that wearing animals is wearing animals, and a meat dress may catch more eyes, but it’s no more or less reprehensible than wearing leather. And Lady Gaga should remember that meat might be a convenient metaphor to make a point, but that metaphor doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Its meaning is established by the torture and slaughter of billions of animals every year.
UPDATE 09/23/10: Lady Gaga’s meat dress is being turned into beef jerky. However it will not be eaten, it will be perserved for posterity. As if this pungent failed attempt at political commentary was worth remembering. Designer Franc Fernandez is preserving the dress and says he will not make another.
Let’s hope not.
Photo: Daniel Åhs Karlsson