man in the mirror*

Taking a spare moment today between packing and writing projects to read one of the many wonderful essays linked through The Essayist website. This one, by Jennifer Egan, was published at GQ in 2002 and concerns her life-long dislike of Madonna. I found this gem of a connection especially illuminates how I think about pop music fandom in the present moment:

I’m not denying that there can be vanity, egotism and even real ugliness to Madonna’s self-exposure. One thing that makes Sex such a squirmy book to look at, and Truth or Dare such an uncomfortable movie, is Madonna’s obvious and unwavering complicity with the camera — an allegiance that seems to outrank any other bond she might ever form, sexual, professional, even familial. We’re watching her watch herself, is the feeling — there’s no one else in the room. In this sense we, the viewers, are complicit in her narcissism–essential to it. In his seminal book, The Image, Daniel Boorstin wrote, “Man fulfills his dream and by photographic magic produces a precise image of the Grand Canyon. The result is not that he adores nature or beauty the more. Instead he adores his camera — and himself. He is impressed, not by what he sees. . .Rather by the extreme and ever-growing cleverness of his ways of seeing it.”

I certainly think the same the true of Lady Gaga’s fans–that they love her because they love the sense of cleverness they feel while consuming her and interpreting the meaning of their consumption. I think it also true of our iPhone, iPad, I’ll-skype-you, Real World world. We love how we look at things, and the things themselves are rather like afterthoughts–vessels for the gaze.

*With apologies for blending MJ in with Madonna, which we should have stopped doing in, oh, 1986 or so.


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