Gaga in her "Telephone" video.
By Chris Cole
For her 9-minute music video “Telephone,” Pop artist Lady Gaga takes the word “Telephone” from her single's title and turns it into a human condition brought on by American commercialism. It’s called “the Telephone effect.”
There are many references in Gaga’s “Telephone” video that support the concept of nature turning into product, and this concept drives the video. Gaga uses her video to rediscover the humanity she had in her childhood before becoming exposed to the products companies sold to her through their advertisements. The Telephone effect is that urge that people get when they see a product in an advertisement. Then the telephone in their head goes off, and makes them hungry for more and more, like a vampire hungry for blood.
The video starts out in a women’s prison full of anger and violence where she sees glimpses of the life experiences that make her life uniquely hers. The guards escort Gaga into the women's prison and put her into a jail cell and strip off her clothes. The scene cuts to the prison exercise area where women lift weights. Gaga wears glasses made of active cigarettes blowing up smoke. The cigarettes on Gaga’s eyes represent her blindness from commercialism. Steel chains wrap around her body. She’s a prisoner. Next, Gaga is in a jail cell with a bunch of women. Gaga stands dressed in a black studded leather jacket with spikes down the sleeves that references the Crust Punk scene of the ‘80s. She wears short blond hair with Diet Coke soda cans rolled in it. Gaga’s mother uses to use soda cans as rollers during Gaga’s childhood. A woman with long brown hair and sunglasses stands next to Gaga. This woman is a doppelganger of Gaga’s old self before the fame, the woman with long, dark hair waiting tables in New York City. The loud speaker announces that Gaga has a phone call for her from Beyonce. Gaga answers.
Beyonce brings the food that Gaga must feed on to stay alive. Beyonce arrives in a frosted package of sweetness, like a human honey bun. The bright yellow car she picks up Gaga in is the Pussy Wagon from the film Kill Bill. She opens up a honey bun package and holds it out for Gaga to eat. Gaga takes a bite and then Beyonce takes a brisk bite. The brisk sound of Beyonce’s bite is visceral. It makes you hungry. By taking a bite out of Beyonce’s honey bun treat, Gaga is essentially taking a bite out of Beyonce because the honey bun product, in its crinkly packaging and sweet, frosted texture, represents Beyonce. Hence, her name “Honey B.” Beyonce discards the half-eaten honey bun out the window. Its image against black asphalt is a shiny piece of product on something hard and ugly. The discarding of the honey bun represents how humans crave something and then eat it to satisfy the craving, only to shit it out. The half-eaten honey bun becomes road kill.
“Once you kill a cow, you gotta make a burger,” says Gaga, dressed in a 1940s power suit that’s definitely an homage to legendary actress Joan Crawford. As Gaga says, if you’re going to kill something, you might as well make a product out of it because that’s what the businesses and the media do. Turning death into product is what fast food restaurants do. They kill cows and use their meat to make quick money. The media turns death into product whenever someone dies, whether the victim is famous or not. Sometimes the death is the death of a reputation, and of course the media covers this religiously. A half-finished fountain drink from a fast food restaurant, crumbled up wrappers binded inside the pussy wagon’s cup holder reference the death of the food and drink. The food and drink was consumed and then peed and crapped out. On to the next product to eat and waste out. Gaga takes Beyonce’s picture with the Polaroid camera. It’s another example of instant satisfaction, and something going in and then quickly coming out. The Polaroid camera is like a mini factory in itself where the camera makes a copy of life, and then poops it out and discards it. It dies.
Beyonce in "Telephone" video.
It’s in a diner, a symbol of America and buddy movies, that the video’s culmination takes place. Beyonce enters and meets her boyfriend Tyrese there. The placemats on the table are shaped like American flags. The name of the diner is “Diner: Homestyle Cooking.” Another piece of America lies in Beyonce’s wig, which is pure Betty Page who was a racy 1950s pinup babe. The diner’s customers are of different races, ages, colors and sizes and probably different sexual orientations making the diner a melting pot and a symbol of a diverse America. Tyrese goes up to the diner's bar and smacks the butts of female patrons. Watching closely, Beyonce pours poison into his coffee. A logo of a skull pops up in the screen next to the bottle of poison in Beyonce’s hand. Even the poison is turned into a product, and once again death is a product.
Lady Gaga plays chef of the diner. She’s a homicidal Rachel Ray cooking up poisonous food, and at the same time selling her products. The diner kitchen scene turns into a commercial when the slogan “Let’s Make a Sandwich” pops up on the screen in bright text. Gaga’s dancers play chefs, replete with chefs hats, and they use baguettes of bread, lettuce, their hands and kitchenware as telephones. All these items are also products. Lady Gaga wears a hat made of a rotary telephone. Her head is the rotary wheel that spins around, and makes the call, and Beyonce answers. Gaga’s image dissolves into Beyonce’s in a bedroom. Beyonce sits on a bed in a room that is decorated in old ‘50s décor, but the walls are made of cinderblock, painted blue. The cinderblock hints that the bedroom is really a prison cell disguised as a home. In her telephone hat, Gaga only prepares food, but she only starts dancing when she removes the telephone hat. Without the telephone hat, Gaga turns into cooking maven Rachel Ray demonstrating how to make a poison cocktail. She also models another product: her “Heartbeat” earphones.
“I knew you’d take all my honey” says Beyonce to recently deceased Tyrese who drank the poison-laced coffee. The discarded honey bun from earlier comes back into play reminding that it represented Beyonce. It also points out that the honey bun is a poisonous product that hypnotizes people into craving it and eating it, only to kill them. The diner’s patrons representing America choke to death and Gaga and Beyonce dance around them. Gaga and Beyonce poisoned the entire restaurant. A newscast plays and the reporter calls the mass murder at the diner “The Telephone Effect.”
What is the Telephone effect? It is how products kill people, hiding their poisonous interiors with their shiny, colorful and often beautiful exteriors. America is a country especially shaped by commercialism because it was a country built on capitalism. In various ways, products and their advertisements shape who people are, regardless of their country. People seek identity when they buy products that are advertised to them. Next time that phone rings, will you answer it?