Lady Gaga’s Thursday night SXSW performance at Stubb’s BBQ in Austin, reportedly a benefit show for her beleagueredcharity ‘Born This Way Foundation‘, was vomit-inducing for more reasons than one might expect. Not only was the show sponsored by Doritos – a snack chip with a stench only beaten out by Funyuns in its rankness – but Lady Gaga let her friend, semi-celebrated puke artist Millie Brown, vomit green paint on her while the pop star sang “Swine.” Gaga bangs on a drum while waiting for Brown to laboriously conclude her retching, then the two sit scissors-style atop a mechanical pig with a ball gag in its mouth that I found rather depressing to look at, and Brown spews some more fluid, this time black.
Check it out if you have a reasonably strong stomach:
People predictably went a little apeshit over it. Fox News called the show “provocative,” many of her fans even deemed it disgusting and some, including TheX Factor judge Demi Lovato, accused Gaga and her pukey pal of glamorizing bulimia.
Lovato, who has been open about her struggles with disordered eating in the past, tweeted, “Sad … As if we didn’t have enough people glamorizing eat[ing] disorders already.” Later, she added, “Putting the word ART in it isn’t a free card to do whatever you want without consequences.”
Some are scolding Lady Gaga for insensitivity toward fans with eating disorders particularly because Gaga herself has said publicly that she has struggled with anorexia and bulimia since she was 15.
Brown and Gaga protested in separate interviews that they were not making light of eating disorders and didn’t intend for the performance to be any sort of statement about the issue. Brown told TMZ, ‘There’s a clear difference between using my body to create something beautiful, to express myself and feel powerful, rather than using it to punish myself and conform to society’s standards.”
“Swine” is alleged to be about Gaga’s past experience of sexual abuse and her purging of the hurt and anger associated with it. So therefore anyone critical of the performance just didn’t grasp its deeper “purging” theme, according to one fan who defended the performance online.But if the song is about Gaga purging something out of her, why would it take the catharsis to another level to have additional crap puked on her? If the puke is symbolic of trauma, why would Gaga want more of it dribbling down her chest?
Whatever the “meaning” behind it, I think the idea of showing an audience full of young women how easy it is to puke on command is, at the very least, in poor taste, whether you think pop stars have any responsibility for the example they set for their fans or not.
But frankly, my problem with the performance isn’t as much that it glamourized bullimia or that it was disgusting or shocking – it’s more that it wasn’t shocking enough.
Google “strawberry milk enema porn” (NSFW) and you’ll find many, many female “artists” expressing themselves by spewing colorful liquid out of one of their orifices. In the 1980s, GG Allin routinely threw freshly expelled feces at his audiences during Murder Junkies shows.
Porn stars and deranged punk frontmen aside, the body fluid motif isn’t new in the realm of Serious Artists, either.
Probably as much ink has been spilled devoted to the discussion of bodily fluids in art as have the fluids themselves. There’s even a handy-dandy chart on Wikipedia chronicling the use of organic mediums such as blood, poop, piss, spit, vomit and semen in art dating back to Marcel Duchamp’s 1946 Paysage fautif, which features the artist’s semen.
The hipster-hating crank at Die, Hipster said of Brown’s work, “I fucking hate people like you that get their 15 minutes for doing absolutely nothing. You are simply just another turd in the long line of turds that claim ‘anything can be art.’ People like you are dumbing art down to dirt. I can just imagine a room full of wine and cheese poseurs watching you ‘perform’ your talentless act of vomiting; all pretending to be part of some intellectual gathering of some sort – but all are actually complete nobodies trying to fool the person next to them. What a sick bunch of try-hards.”
Even Brown’s remarks about the genesis of her puke project don’t sound particularly inspired. In a 2011 interview with Don’t Panic, she recalled:
“In 2006, I was asked to take over an exhibition space in Berlin, at first I didn’t know what I was going to do apart from the fact it was going to be colourful and come from myself. Later I was watching people cry milk and thought how amazing it would be if I could vomit the rainbow. I had no idea if it was going to work, as I had never made myself sick before until I was on the stage and the rainbow came out perfectly. …
“The ‘puke a rainbow’ performance was never a conscious comment on bulimia; it was more about using my body to create art in a way that challenges people’s perception of beauty. I wanted to create something real and something I couldn’t control, tapping into primal urges. In no way do I want to promote bulimia, but if my work evokes us to think about a disease that affects so many people in such a terrible way, then I feel it will at least be raising some awareness.”
Even if the Gaga performance didn’t prove “triggering” to anyone who has seen it, I imagine Brown’s protests of “I’m really skinny but I don’t have an eating disorder, this is just my art!” might be pretty annoying to anyone with body image issues, too.
And does that “using my body to create something beautiful” idea sound familiar? It should, because she said roughly the same thing like two days ago in response to the Demi Lovato criticism, as I quoted her a few grafs up. I mean, 2006 was eight fucking years ago, lady, come on. Isn’t it time for a new project?
Whatever your opinion of performance art, I think most of us can at least agree that an idea explored in 2006 – no matter how brilliantly – can safely be left behind at this point. Evolve, Millie! Show us something that wasn’t once in your stomach. Please.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.