Meat is Couture? - Lady Gaga's Meaty Message

Lady Gaga's VMA meat dress

Image Credit: Lady Gaga at the VMAs, Designer Franc Fernandez

I realize that I may be a bit behind the times to be addressing (ha!) Lady Gaga's fashion stunt of last fall, but meat's been on my mind this week as I'm about to embark on 30 days of eating vegetarian - largely as a result of the text we're teaching in our introductory rhetoric classes here at UT: Colin Beavan's No Impact Man. But that's another story.  Gaga's appearance at the Mtv Video Music Awards sparked controversy that dissipated rather quickly, and though this may have been due to the singer's own inability to adequately (or logically) explain the reasons behind her wardrobe choice, the images left behind offer a really interesting opportunity for varying and disparate interpretations.  

While I was surprised (and a bit disappointed) to discover that Jezebel didn't have much to say about the dress, my immediate reaction was to think of the outfit as a commentary on female objectification.  The dress literalizes an all too familiar trope - that women are just pieces of meat - and the contrast between the female body and the hunks of beef strewn about it seemingly negates the metaphor by calling attention to it.  Yet considering Gaga's videos and her ethos in general, it could also easily be argued that the outfit does just the opposite (reenforcing the trope/idea/attitude instead of negating it), especially considering the precursor to the dress - her appearance on the cover of the Japanese Men's Vogue in a meat bikini.  They say we are what we eat, perhaps we are what we wear, too?

Lady Gaga meat bikini

Image Credit: Vogue Hommes Japan

Now, while Gaga argued that she meant no disrespect to vegetarians, that didn't prevent a backlash from animal right's activists and environmental groups.  PETA was predictably outraged by her VMA outfit, though their response was surprisingly brief., a website devoted to sustainable fashion, instead used the dress as a conversation point, exploring the environmental impact of designer Franc Fernandez's 50 lb. creation. I'm sure both organizations would disagree with me, and perhaps this is a bit of a stretch, but I can see how one might argue that the dress is in fact an argument for vegetarianism and animal rights. 

Dress on a dummy

Image Credit: Designer Franc Fernandez 

For one thing, looking closely at the dress certainly doesn't make me want to run out and eat a steak.  But it also opens up space for an argument through analogy - how is wearing leather any different from wearing pieces of beef?  Vegetarians are often critical of those who abstain from meat but still wear animal products, and the dress seems to call attention to this complaint.  It also calls into question what constitutes acceptable use - if we can eat it, why can't/shouldn't/don't we wear it? And vice versa? Would the fur trade somehow be more palatable if we ate all the animals we wore?

Gaga's dress wasn't the most appetizing wardrobe choice, but it certainly got some attention.  Everyone should be please to note, however, that the dress won't be going to waist - according to People Magazine, the dress is slowly turning into beef jerky that will be preserved for posterity (not eaten).

(Apologies for the rampant puns in this post, but I simply couldn't resist).


Making it visible

Congratulations on trying vegetarianism. I'd like to hear what it's like for 30 days. It took me years to get over serious meat cravings, but I've been vegetarian for almost 10 years now. Anyway, on to the point about Lady Gaga's dinner-wear. Maybe this because I know very little about her other than that she's always in the news for being outrageous, but is it not likely that she just did it to shock people? I'm skeptical that she thought about the pro-/con- vegetarian and animal-rights arguments she might be sending with her dress.

Then again, I may be not giving her enough credit. While I personally find her dress both disgusting and wasteful, it does point up the hypocrisy of people being perfectly willing to eat factory-farmed meat in their hamburgers, but uncomfortable seeing raw meat displayed. I don't see it as much worse ethically than meat-eating generally*. The juxtaposition of raw meat against human skin also suggests a body turned inside out, doesn't it? In both cases, her dress is making visible the conventionally hidden, perhaps another reason for the multiple visceral reactions it evokes.

*That is, meat-eating in wealthy nations where there are multiple options. The entire moral calculus changes radically when there are few to no choices about diet because of poverty, scarcity, etc.

Forethought Shmorethought

Thanks, Mike.  Those are some great points. And I'm sure she just did it to shock people. Don't get me wrong, I love Lady Gaga.  But I also don't credit her with investing a lot of forethought into all of her stunts.  She's a strong advocate for gay rights and has generated a lot of positive response in that area, but that doesn't automatically translate into full political awareness.  Here's the explanation she gave when vegan Ellen Degeneres questioned her about it:

"Well, it is certainly no disrespect to anyone that is vegan or vegetarian. As you know, I am the most judgment-free human being on the earth," said Gaga. "However, it has many interpretations for me this evening. If we don't stand up for what we believe in and if we don't fight for our rights, pretty soon we're going to have as much rights as the meat on our own bones. And, I am not a piece of meat."

I'm not really sure what to make of that last bit, but I like the images because they have interesting implications well beyond the singer's intentions.

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