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In Defense Of Telephone – OR – What Exactly Is Sandy Rios So Worked Up About?

by Karen Tortora-Lee on March 27, 2010

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It’s no secret that I’m a huge Gaga fan.  But fan or no, I’m not actually writing this post as a person who loves the Lady.  This is a response to the bashing Lady Gaga’s Telephone video has been getting in the media.  Bashing which is so unwarranted that it’s caused me to go on a tirade to anyone who will listen.  And yes, at this point it’s almost a “so what?”  but at the same time, I’ve got this blog and rather than repeating these same points over and over I’ll take it to the web, where at least I can accentuate my points with exhibits that I can write funny captions for.


So Much Scandal, So Little Bandwidth

I would like to present the case that absolutely nothing in Telephone can’t already be found in pre-existing mainstream media – media which, I might add, is often far more exploitative of women and far more pointlessly violent, and pointlessly pornographic.  I would also like to illustrate how many of the Telephone images that are being isolated and vilified have, in other contexts and for other artists, been celebrated.  My question is – are we honestly going to crucify a woman who creates a video that is a veritable homage to Tarantino films just weeks after nominating him for Hollywood’s highest honor without someone crying hypocrisy?  What’s REALLY going on here?

The prosecution makes their case:

Sandy Rios Objection – “We have to speculate whether she has a male member or not … whether it’s been cut off or not”.  I love when people give you a glimpse into their mind by telling you how they filled in the blanks.  Sandy Rios, you dirty dirty girl.  No one in the video said anything about john-bobbiting at all.  Not even REMOTELY.  But I love that you inadvertently told us what YOU started to speculate – which was a whole lot kinkier than what the prison guard actually said.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock and sharing lichen with Sandy Rios you know exactly what the prison guard said, and why.  Frankly, it was a funny, wink-wink moment that I found hilarious.  I’m not quite sure how a woman who makes her mark on this world as the President of the Culture Campaign and as a commentator on a news program can be so out of touch with the actual meaning of this exchange.  Her ignorance alone on that issue 1) disqualifies her from commenting on ANYTHING in the video and 2) proves that she’s not involved enough in the media to be policing it, as whole cultural touchstones seem to be whizzing over her head.   Sitting on the sidelines and crying foul when something enters the red zone of your morality meter does not make you an accurate litmus test for what is “poisonous to the minds of our children”.

Just Checking ...

Just Checking … yup … Still there.

I direct Ms. Rios’s attention to Rihanna’s “Hard” video (pictured) and ask what she then makes of Rihanna repeating “I’m so hard, so hard, so hard, so hard” while repeatedly grabbing her crotch?  Maybe Rianna’s asking us to speculate whether she has a male member or not too?

Sandy Rios Objection – “Beyonce and Gaga are Gay Lesbian Lovers”.  They are?  They look more like Thelma and Louise from where I’m sitting … You know, good ole Thelma and Louise, who were also murderers, remember,  and who … if I’m not mistaken shared a big ole kiss before grabbing hands and plunging over that cliff.  Yet they’ve become lovable movie icons who have, in the 20 years since the movie’s release, spawned many homages (especially in cartoons) but no copycat suicides to date that I’ve been made aware of.

Once More, Into The Breecha

Once More Into The Breach, Dear Friend

Sandy Rios Statement “I would not, under any circumstance, allow my children to buy Lady Gaga cds or listen to them … and I would explain to them why”.  I imagine it would go something like this: “No!  Put that down!  I can not allow you to listen to fluffy ear candy with messages that, when played backwards contain satanic messages, or recipes for making crack in the basement! No Lady Gaga in the Rios house EVER!!!  I don’t care if it has a good beat and you can dance to it!”

Gaga is kissed by a girl – branded girl-on-girl disgusting soft-core porn.  Sandy Rios says “You may not watch it, I may not watch it, but the man next door who’s a sexual predator is watching it!”  He is?  Right next door?  I thought I lived next door to an avid sports fan?  You know, the kind of man who worships and hopes to emulate Tiger Woods … a much more wholesome role model whose actions DON’T poison the minds of our youth. Oh wait …

Exhibit a: A sexual predator is so ready to sexualize anything that he thinks a playground at lunchtime is a soft-core porn paradise.  He’s not going to surf MTV and wait for the Lady Gaga video to come on to feed his predatory lust.  He’s already put together a slide show of all the Naked Photo Shoot episodes of America’s Next Top Model.
Exhibit b: Katy Perry sang “I Kissed A Girl … And I Liked It!” which is all about getting drunk and kissing some no-name girl as “an experiment”.  The song get Katy Perry a VMA award nomination and a Kid’s Choice Award.  A KID’S CHOICE AWARD.  Not only were kids listening to it, they were CHOOSING it as their favorite song.  Go figure.
Exhibit c: Last time I checked, being gay wasn’t a crime, and kissing wasn’t pornographic.

Objection that a girl kissing a girl is soft core porn – Overruled.



Quick, Look Away Before Your Eyes Burn Out Of Your Head!

Objection – Fox blurred out this very scene when showing it on their report because if they didn’t you then would be able to see “everything”.  If that’s EVERYTHING down there, Fox needs an anatomy lesson.

Ladies of Chicago

Ladies of Chicago

Exhibit a:  The outfits worn during Gaga’s dance scene in the prison corridor look similar to the outfits worn by the women prisoners in the musical “Chicago”.  Shall we quickly go over that plot?  A woman cheat on her husband, kills her lover, tries to pin the murder on her husband, goes to jail, meets many unsavroy woman, says whatever her oily lawyer tells her to, feigns pregnancy, has to side step the lesbian advances of the prison matron, and eventually teams up with the other biggest murderess (who murdered her husband and her sister) in the joint in order to keep the fame monster going.  The venerable Chicago The Musical gift store sells T shirts emblazoned with the rallying cry “He Had It Coming …”.  Had WHAT coming?  His own murder? Did he now?
Oh, and just a little footnote: Chicago won six Tony awards and was successfully brought to the big screen where it won six Academy Awards including Best Picture and BEST COSTUME DESIGN.  AND it was based on a 1926 play which in fact was based on actual events which occured way back in the 1920s … which all pre-dated Lady Gaga by 80 or so years so I’m pretty sure that she had no hand in poisoning the mind of the actual woman upon which the whole shebang is based.

I See London, I See France, Where Are Cher's Underpants?

I See London, I See France, Where Are Cher’s Underpants?

Exhibit b: Cher blatantly showed her butt (Or, in Fox-speak, “Everything”) in her 1989 video for “If I Could Turn Back Time”; a video filled with sailors, suggestive rides on huge cannons and prancing, all of which had nothing to do with the lyrics of the song.  It was “scandalous” then. Have we learned nothing in 20 years?  Oh wait … of course we have.   Since then we’ve had:

Exhibit c: Victoria’s Secret “Angels” parading around in their annual … I’m sorry, are you calling this a Fashion Show?  Are you seriously putting this event on year after year and expecting people to think “Awwww, how cute!  They’re angels? Cuddle Cuddle!  Good clean fun for our boys!”

Miranda Kerr Shows Her Angel Parts

Miranda Kerr Shows Her Angel Parts

Last time I checked the Bible, angels were messengers of God  (not of Victoria) who are asexual therefore not really the type to go running around in bra and a thong (and garter belts either).  So in effect, by calling these naked gals “angels” and outfitting them with wings and little else you’re basically taking a religious being and debasing it.  No one would put a saint in a thong, or a nun, or the Pope, Mother Theresa, or the Virgin Mary.  Why, it’s blasphemous to even think it.  So, in my mind it’s tantamount to putting an angel in a thong.  But instead the Fashion Show is televised and eagerly awaited, despite all the “everything” that’s so proudly displayed.

Hey, I hope you used some double sided sticky tape to keep that hat in place . . .

Oh, and just because I find this picture sosos0 funny, let’s look at it for a moment (and no, I’m not picking on Rihanna,

I’m just curious what Sandy Rios would have to say).  So … here we have Rihanna in her Disney best, and little else.  If this doesn’t help to turn an otherwise un-sexy object specifically meant for children (Mickey Mouse ears???) into something titillating, then I’m misreading the intent here, eh? Meanwhile, I do hope Rihanna was smart and used some double sided sticky tape in order to make sure that her … hat stayed on.

Objection that wearing a thong is “exposing everything” Overruled.

Then there’s the “bondage” objection which I’m not quite clear on.  Hmmm, could it possibly be this image here?  I’m going to guess it is and proceed accordingly.

Do Not Cross

While it’s not exactly my style, very little of what Gaga wears ever is, which is what makes it so much fun.  Sure, this is a little revealing, but bondage?  When … first of all … it’s got a pretty positive feminist message of “do not cross” rather than “open for business!” so …

All Wrapped Up - Gisele

All Wrapped Up – Gisele

I’m pretty down with that.  And secondly, I think it’s safe to say that by this point of the video it’s all a bit of hyper realism, as opposed to REAL fashion, worn by REAL fashion models which our REAL daughters are trying to emulate leading to REAL anorexia, bulimia, and REAL plastic surgery of Heidi Montag proportions.  Take this REAL dress worn by Gisele Bündchen which, frankly, looks more like bondage, especially with those fetish shoes.  And is it me, or does this photo make her look like a bit of an amputee?  Now THAT’s a little bit of exploitation.  All things being equal of course.

"You're the most beautiful girl I've ever seen ..." "No, YOU'RE the most beautiful girl I've ever seen!"  "No!  YOU!" .... "Shut up!  It's YOU.  YOU'RE beautiful!!!"  "Okay, okay.  You're right.  It's me."

“You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen …” “No, YOU’RE the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen!” “No! YOU!” …. “Shut up! It’s YOU. YOU’RE beautiful!!!” “Okay, okay. You’re right. It’s me.”

Ahhh, counsellor, you’ve now opened the door … may we just examine Gisele’s oeuvre a bit here?  Just do a Google search and you come across a thousand little images that, when put together end to end and, say, and made into a slide show and played over a song such as … oh, I don’t know … Telephone … would be quite shocking too.  Why, you can even find some girl-on-girl kissin’ … never-mind that the girl and the girl are both Gisele.  The thought planted in the head of millions of little randy teen boys is the same.  In fact, it’s a bit worse, because it looks like she’s kissing her twin sister which, to me, opens up a whole nasty can of worms that I don’t want to pursue here.  Again … just sayin’.


But while we’re at it, I would like to talk about what “our children” are being exposed to and what “perverts” are using to fuel their nasty fantasy machines before going out and hurting people.  Besides Lady Gaga videos (which, obviously, are right up there …) I’d like to add the venerable Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.  A boon to the magazine when the marketing department (come on, we all know the story) realized that during the sports slump they could raise the flaccid sales of their magazine (you heard me right) by putting pretty young things in very, very little and calling it a “bonus issue”.  (Subscribers who are offended by the contents are allowed to skip the issue and get a 1-week credit.)  I call it a “boner” issue, but that’s just me.  It all started off healthy enough, I guess, in 1964 with Babette March on the cover being playful but these days it’s more s0ft-core porn than



you’ll find in this Gaga video.  For years, models have worn the skimpiest of bikinis … at some point they started holding their tops rather than wearing them (see this year’s cover), and now, with body-painting gaining popularity, half of them don’t bother wearing anything at all (see last year’s cover; “Bikinis Or Nothing!” it shouts as Bar Refaeli struggles to keep her bottoms on and only succeeds in showing us her brazilian wax).  This is considered wholesome, cute, fun, healthy, other words with positive connotations that don’t imply one-step-below-Playboy Magazine (which is also so mainstream that getting an offer to pose for them is considered an “honor”) …but a singer dancing around in a studded bikini is considered soft-core porn?  Still not connecting the dots, sorry.

2009 ... can't ...keep ...bottoms ...on ...

2009 … can’t …keep …bottoms …on …

2010 ... can't ... keep ... top ... on ...

2010 … can’t … keep … top … on …

As for the rest, the “mass murder” … Yes, agreed, it was a bit odd to see everyone sputtering over there food and keeling over.  But when Beyonce (squeaky clean Beyonce – somehow the Justin Timberlake to Gaga’s Janet Jackson in all of this) drops a Bit o’ Honey Bee Poison in her nasty boyfriends coffee I was right on board with her.  He was just downright mean, even that other guy thought so.  If Honey Bee didn’t kill him, someone else would have.

The end of this 10 minute video plays a bit like Pulp Fiction, which, if I’m not mistaken, was directed by Mr. Quentin Tarantino; a man whose films have a combine body count that outnumbers some natural disasters and who not only is revered for his work but is nominated for Oscars – butchering bodies as well as the spelling of the word bastard – to thunderous applause.  I don’t see people calling for a ban on his work.  No one’s accusing him of poisoning the minds of our youth.  Let’s face it, if we started banning mass murder half the film makers in Hollywood would be on trial; including those nominated for Oscars.    So rather than call these Telephone murders gratuitous for no reason, howsabout we call them gratuitous for EXACTLY that reason.  For the same reason Rhianna is sitting on top of a tank and firing a gun for no reason.  It’s for the sake of irony, eh?

Just Put Down That Gun, Rihanna, And Let's Talk This Over, Eh?

You Can Stand Under My Um-ber-ella-ella-ella Or Under My AK-47-7-7-7

Violence is so commonplace these days that it doesn’t get a second glance.  But put it in a dance video in an ironic way and suddenly they’re calling out the troops.  Maybe they’ll call Rhianna?

I happen to like the movie Thelma and Louise.  I like the musical Chicago.  I like the movie version too.  I love Cher.  I like Rhianna. I like America’s Next Top Model and Katy Perry.  I like fashion and fetish shoes and people of all genders and sexual persuasions being able to kiss each other whenever they want to.  I like the Quentin Tarantino films that I’ve seen.  I like hyper realism and thoughtful commentary and a driving beat and exceptional choreography.  I like the Telephone video.  It’s funny, clever, and so obviously meant to be taken on an abstract meta level that to misconstrue the meaning of it is to, again, give more of a window into a twisted mind than anything else.  I wish I could call for a ban on people who are so concrete about everything that they don’t allow for the notion that the action IS the commentary.  I assume these are the same people who didn’t realize that “All In The Family” was a satire meant to expose the Archie Bunkers of this world rather than venerate them. But if we banned all those who asked to ban things that would mean that commentators who stand atop the judgement plateau wagging their fingers at everything that pushes the envelope would be out of a job, and frankly I don’t think the economy can handle that so … have at it, you finger waggers.  You dig your own graves.

If you’re worried about your children, then Parents – police your children.  I grew up on Madonna, Boy George and The Cure as my musical influences.  Aside from having hair that was immobile, lips that were ice blue outlined in black and a penchant for androgyny I escaped my teens relatively unscathed and I would assumed today’s youth would be able to do the same.  I grew up thoughtful, I make good choices for myself and my world, and I don’t abuse alcohol, drugs, puppies, my spouse or the system. Would I want my kids to watch this Lady Gaga video?  I don’t have kids.  But that’s not the part of the Sandy Rios statement that’s concerning me … “This is just poison for the minds of our kids”  it’s when she goes on to say  “… and for our minds, for that matter”. She’s obviously not poisoning your mind, Ms. Rios, because she disgusts you and disgust is the antidote to this type of poison.  She’s certainly not poisoning my mind, because I find her video at best clever and thoughtful, and at worst, just really entertaining.  So why the royal “we”?  (Or, in this case, the royal “our”).  Who are the disenfranchised for whom you speak?  I daresay those people are already making the wrong choices with or without a little extra Gaga poisoning.

We’re bombarded with images, thoughts and conflicting opinions all day long.  The only way to make informed decisions about anything is to be informed. I believe that uninformed censorship leads to something a lot worse than titillation and good choreography.

The only thing I intended to do today was to prove that anything provocative, scandalous or horrifying in the Telephone video is already out there in the form of movies, fashion, videos, and magazines.  90% of what is portrayed has already been seen, well received, and in some cases, celebrated.  To say “well that’s different” just means “well, that’s accepted”.  If you can allow Saw to have five sequels, surely you can allow Gaga to clear one little diner out so she and Beyonce can get their dance on?

The defense rests.

click to play video

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