Is Lady Gaga (the self-proclaimed “fame monster” so well known for her enticing pop music, outrageous fashion, and elaborately-staged spectacles) involved in a pseudo-religious conspiracy of global moment? The answer is “yes”—but not for the reasons that the conspiracy theorists believe.
The internet is abuzz with speculation about the pop superstar’s supposed Illuminati connections. A Google search for “Lady Gaga + Illuminati” turns up over 220,000 results, and YouTube has a host of videos detailing the occult imagery pervading Lady Gaga’s body of work.
One main source for theories concerning the prevalence of occult symbols in Lady Gaga’s oeuvre is the intriguing (and highly speculative) set of analyses penned by the anonymous author of The Vigilant Citizen, an enjoyably paranoid e-zine devoted to exposing secret forces at work in mass media and popular culture.
Taking seriously its motto (attributed to Confucius) that “Signs and symbols rule the world, not words nor laws,” The Vigilant Citizen (henceforth VC) seeks “to understand the world we live in,” by “[going] beyond the face value of symbols in pop culture to reveal their esoteric meaning.”
In revealing the esoteric meanings of Lady Gaga’s prodigious and fascinatingly outré productions, VC highlights images and gestures suggesting the artist’s connection with the Illuminati; a term used today to designate a secret group believed by some to shape world affairs through governments and front organizations. Pop stars like Jay-Z and political behemoths, including Barack Obama and members of the Bush family, have been cited in connection with the cult. But it is perhaps Lady Gaga who draws the most attention for her regular and conspicuous displays of symbolism associated with the Illuminati.
For instance, in “Lady Gaga, the Illuminati Puppet,” VC finds in Lady Gaga’s name and wardrobe allusions to MKULTRA, a “covert CIA mind-control and chemical interrogation research program,” that pioneered a “mind-control technique which exposes the subject to a trauma so violent that his/her mind creates a dissociation.” “Gaga” evokes the absentmindedness resulting from the dissociative trauma, a name that says, according to VC: “I’m a lady and I’m empty-headed. This empty head can filled with any crap you want. Imitate me, young people. This state of mind is achieved after successful mind control.” The eventual transformation of the traumatically emptied personality is likened to the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly—hence, the use of butterfly patterns in Lady Gaga’s wardrobe.
VC goes on to analyze Lady Gaga’s logo, a headless—and thus mindless—female figure riven by a jagged bolt of lightning. He also notes Lady Gaga’s penchant for hiding one of her eyes, evoking one of the most salient Illuminati symbols, the single “All-Seeing Eye.” Another sinister image portrays Lady Gaga as a mannequin, with arms positioned in a manner clearly resembling that of Baphomet in the form of the Sabbatic Goat (a quintessential Satanic symbol). A protective eye is embedded in Lady Gaga’s palm—the Hand of Fatima?
She’s No Puppet
A conspiratorial reading of such “occult” signs is tempting and, frankly, fun. In the face of so much “evidence,” it is easy to see why so many people find this interpretation engrossing, even if not always convincing.
But I want to propose a different interpretation. Lady Gaga is no puppet for the Illuminati. She is a highly charismatic and multitalented figure whose symbol-laden presentations are evidence not of occult involvements, but of a strategic, effective, and very canny self-display centering obsessively on one concern: fame and the mechanisms that produce and support it.
Sociologist of religion Max Weber defined charisma as a quality that sets people apart from the ordinary, so much that they can come to be regarded as divine. One may argue about whether the charismatic Lady Gaga’s talent for devising compelling spectacles is divine in origin. What cannot be disputed is the fact that she has captivated the mass imagination, setting her on a fame trajectory that may eclipse even that of Michael Jackson. She has done this by fashioning a simultaneously protean and distinctive image of herself.
And in a very real sense, Lady Gaga just is image: she is all persona, all spectacle, all surface. French philosopher Jean Baudrillard might have called her “hyperreal”—a term in the postmodernist lexicon that refers to the simulation that conceals the secret that “there is no longer any reality or truth beneath the simulated image.”
Lady Gaga self-consciously applies an analogous logic to the various facets of her public personae, including her use of occult symbols. Notwithstanding the worries of the conspiracy theorists, Lady Gaga’s symbols do not hide some deeper truth. They are part of the total simulation called “Lady Gaga.” In fact, the occluded eyes, sinister postures and such are no longer symbols at all. They are elements of surface style.
The secret that these “symbols” conceal is that there is no truth behind them. They are strategic components within Lady Gaga’s experiments in fame. They do not evidence involvement with the Illuminati; rather, they betoken an artful and shrewd evacuation of meaning, a conversion of evocative symbols into provocative but empty components of style. This strategic move has been highly effective; “everyone” is talking about Lady Gaga, on television, in blogs, and in articles like this one. Charismatic and ingenious, Lady Gaga is not the puppet of a secret religious order, but the figurehead of her own cult of fame—a fame monster.
Lady Gaga’s (non)religion can thus be summed up in Baudrillard’s words: today, we have moved from a
theology of truth and secrecy… [into] an age of simulacra and simulation, in which there is no longer any God to recognize his own, nor any last judgment to separate true from false, the real from its artificial resurrection.
Lady Gaga is nothing other than an artificial resurrection. Like the ostensibly esoteric symbols that are so prevalent in her spectacles, she is a sign devoid of deeper meaning. A self-created simulation, Lady Gaga is no puppet, mindlessly executing a secret agendum; she is a self-styled, self-aware, and charismatic mannequin—an artificial person—who knows how to exploit, extend, and exacerbate the contemporary zeitgeist in her exploration and cultivation of fame.
This is all to say that there is no shadowy conspiracy at work here. The conspiracy is already fully exposed; it’s all right there, on the surface, and we are all complicit in it. Within Lady Gaga’s simulated reality, there are no shadows; she exists solely in the spotlight of fame, amidst stylized signs evacuated of hidden content.
Lady Gaga’s secret is hidden in plain sight. She reveals that today it is not signs or symbols that rule the world and control our minds. It is style.