Zoom and Pan: Lady Gaga's Telephone Video

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Welcome to Zoom and Pan, Eat Me Daily's food n' film column. Each week, Soleil Ho of Heavy Table will tear apart a food-centric movie scene and, with luck, decipher the meaning behind all the food porn. This week: Lady Gaga's Telephone Video.

Telephone (watch it here), Lady Gaga's new music video (dir. Jonas Akerlund), follows the example of Michael Jackson's videos for Bad, Remember the Time, and Black or White, which feature surprising cinematic contexts that uncannily change the perceived meanings of the songs. Why was the King of Pop serenading David Bowie's wife in glammed up ancient Egypt? We'll never know; there's no food in the video, so I'm not going to help you with that one.

What I will talk about is "Telephone," which has left many people lost, albeit with a vague sense that maybe they should be outraged about something. Is it the free market system? The persistence of "soulless pop"? The Illuminati?

Nah, it's the food, of course. Honey, to be specific.

We Did It, Honey Bee

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Honey appears in many guises throughout "Telephone," starting with the jarring crunch of a cellophane Honey Bun wrapper after Beyoncé calls Gaga "a very, VERY bad, BAD girl," about five minutes into the video. She shares the gas station pastry with Gaga before tossing the remains out the window.

The next reference is quick to follow. With her mouth full of Honey Bun, Gaga mumbles, "Mmhmm, Honey Bee." She might also say something else; the informal internet consensus is that she's saying "Let's go," but that's not important. The important part is the nickname.

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When she meets Tyrese in the diner, she also greets him, apparently telepathically, as "Honey." Tyrese snatches the honey from Beyoncé's grasp and puts it on his biscuits while Gaga lurks nearby. Once he drops dead, Beyoncé finally speaks, saying, "I knew you'd take all my honey, you selfish motherf****r."

Akerlund also adds a close-up shot of honey during the mass carnage montage, with an ominous drip traveling down the dispenser. The cause of death? Poisoned food, including the honey.

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The penultimate scene features Beyoncé and Gaga flashing poses in costumes reminiscent of the films of Alejandro Jodorowsky, with the veils and gloves making an allusion to beekeepers' suits.

I Knew You'd Take All My Honey

To start off the cold, hard analysis part of today's column, I want to frame my argument in the context of the fact that honey is a food produced exclusively by females operating in a matriarchal (honey bee) society. Here's a quick rundown of bee life, for those of us who missed that Magic School Bus episode:

Honey bees generally fall into three types: workers (female), drones (male), and the queen (female). The workers do all the bee-like things that we know and love, such as building hives, gathering pollen, and making honey. The drones live to inseminate the queen and in so doing die as their penises are ripped off by the force of the act.
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Lady Gaga utilizes honey as a motif in "Telephone" in opposition to the other products showcased in the video, such as Wonder Bread and Diet Coke. She and Beyoncé are both "Honey Bees" and share the honey with each other in the Pussy Wagon. Here, honey serves as a vessel for queer understanding between two women, taking place outside of the violence of the prison and the lifeless American kitsch of the diner. The space where they share the Honey Bun (the Pussy Wagon, in this case) is all their own.

When Tyrese acts like a "selfish motherf****r" and steals Beyoncé's honey, he is embodying centuries of patriarchal entitlement to women's labor. In Gaga and Beyoncé's fantasy, his just desserts lie in the poisoned honey. The diner's patrons cannot escape death either, because they're also complicit in that oppression. The tainted food echoes the infinite ways in which oppressed women have covertly rebelled against professional and personal subjugation throughout history via hysterical fits, misplaced office papers, and witchcraft.

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Honey embodies multiple meanings in "Telephone," but they all converge to form an argument about women and production. Though it's much easier (and more profitable) for people to thoughtlessly consume processed foods, corporate messages, and jingoistic propaganda, "Telephone" poses "honey," or women's craftwork, as a utopian alternative. It demonstrates how myriad forces within modern society, including women themselves, work to alienate women from their own productive creativity in order to mold them into perfect consumers.

Soleil Ho

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8 Comments

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  1. bababaum

    oh god, i love this!

  2. I'm a little surprised you didn't mention the fact that Beyonce was dressed in all yellow with insect-like glasses as the entered the cafe. Queen Bee, much?

  3. Allison

    Very interesting. Also Gaga is wearing a costume and it looks like a beekeeper's.

  4. yea, but did gaga and beyonce understand any of that, or is just between you and the director?

  5. nineteen80snore

    I have taken screen shots of all the product placement in GaGa’s Telephone video. It is an orgy of product placement

    http://nineteen80snore.com/2010/03/16/13-things-you-should-know-about-gaga-video/

  6. Ash

    There's also the bit where she said that the Wonder and Miracle Whip brands were approached to appear (they didn't pay for their products to be showcased) to purposely make a comparison between the "Let's Make a Sandwich" scene and the following poison recipe.

    Yes, this post is weeks late. Slowpoke is me.

  7. Whenever we deeply analyse artists' works we see more than the ingredients and, probably, more than they planned or intended ... since there are often random and/or synergistic serendipitous outcomes and we all see different facets in the same diamond.
    Either way it's a very cool way to add visuals to pop.
    And, I'm way further behind than you Ash ....

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