After much pre-release controversy—including charges by Bill Donohue’s Catholic League and various Latino activist groups that it’s anti-Catholic—Lady Gaga released her hog-heavy video for ‘Judas.’ Or rather, it leaked, since it had been set to debut tonight at 7pm.
To be honest, it’s hard to imagine how exactly this would offend Christians. Sure, the clip presents a motorcycle-gang retelling of Jesus’ betrayal at the hands of the most reviled, though perhaps most important, disciple. But no less than St. Francis of Assisi inaugurated the idea of setting Nativities and passion plays in local, non-Middle Eastern settings.
Okay, maybe having a biker stud don a crown of thorns is problematic. But to me, the only real sin here is Laurieann Gibson’s “Simon Says” choreography. Take a look at the video after the jump and tell us what you think.
I have to say, my kneejerk reaction was negative. “Judas” seemed like her weakest video to date. But on further reflection, I suspect that was due to Gibson’s admittedly awful hand-waving-as-choreography and the fact that the narrative Gaga follows is her most literal to date. Part of the fun of previous efforts, like “Telephone” or “Born This Way,” has been the disconnect between the song lyrics and the images. The result was a kind of audio-video collage, and a slap in the face to viewers demanding concrete meanings and easy answers.
Now that I’ve watched it a few times, “Judas” has really grown on me. In her Twitter-fueled build-up to its release today, Gaga described the video as a “Motorcycle Fellini PopArt FantasyFilm.” Like a (later) Fellini film, I’m not entirely certain if the decadence on display is indicative of thoughtfulness or camp.
I do think you can read “Judas” as a serious-minded inquiry into the nature of good and evil, highlighting the traitor’s important role in Christianity. If Judas had never betrayed Jesus, He wouldn’t have been killed. If He had never been killed, He could never have been resurrected. If He had never been resurrected, He couldn’t have proven His promise of eternal life. Or according to our Lady of Perpetual Gaga herself, Judas is the “Darkness cast when standing in The Light.”
In a sense, you could see “Judas” as her Last Temptation of Christ, a deeply misunderstood but devout examination of the Gospels that doesn’t register with those looking merely for dogma. Especially considering it’s highly sexualized embrace of bad-girl-gone-good Mary Magdalene’s dual role as reformed prostitute and tainted convert. When Gaga-as-Magdalene washes Jesus’ feet, it’s a pious act, sure, but, with those dagger like nails protruding from her fingers, it’s sensual too. Images of Willem Dafoe’s Jesus having sex with Barbara Hershey’s Magdalene in The Last Temptation of Christ—meant to show what Jesus was sacrificing in order to fulfill divine prophecy and die on the cross—rankled fundamentalists, and “Judas” might very well too.
I don’t think she’s just trying to provoke, though. Gone is the playfulness of her earlier videos. When she emerged from the swimming pool in “Poker Face,” clad in black latex, face obscured by a disco-ball mask, she was pop’s Creature from the Black Lagoon. Now, her dip in the surf in “Judas” seems a baptism.
On the other hand, Judas is occupying a bath with both Magdalene and Jesus, which admittedly favors the view of Doubting Thomases that this is nothing but camp and provocation. You could say that Gaga reduces Christian theology to nothing more than a torrid love triangle. “Jesus is my virtue and Judas is the demon I cling to,” she sings. So Jesus is the nice boy she feels comfortable with, who treats her nicely and saves her from being stoned, and Judas is the bad boy, hot as hellfire, but capable of betraying her with a kiss. To add further kindling to her heretic’s pyre, that Lynchian gun/lipstick prop she brandishes at Judas as a come-on and a threat seems disappointingly obvious.
But despite those qualms, I am inclined to take “Judas” seriously. How refreshing that for her directing debut she chose to express such a personal perspective on her faith. She still embraces an unapologetically Catholic worldview of good and evil, even if she acknowledges that one cannot exist without the other. Call it the Book of Gaga.
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