“Alejandro” is the second time Lady Gaga has visually referenced The Night Porter (dir. Liliana Cavani, 1974) in her videos.
The first time was in the “Love Game” video, in which she wore the dark pants, suspenders and officer’s cap look Lucia wore in that iconic scene. This seemed to be gesturing towards the early 70s, post-Stonewall/pre-AIDS downtown New York City scene as an image of sexual freedom and adventure. However, the video doesn’t engage with the implications of the source image. It’s just a bit of early 70s nostalgia, bereft of any particular meaning for Gaga’s primary audience who wasn’t even born when The Night Porter came out.
The video for “Alejandro” does address the themes of the source material: the militarism, the eroticism, etc. There’s a problematic connection drawn between fascism/militarism and homoeroticism. The nun imagery at the end seems to suggest that the only way Gaga’s character can be acceptable to a fascist man is to become an asexual image of virtue, nun-like.
There’s something a bit paint-by-numbers in this, particularly considering the similarities to Madonna’s videos. Homoeroticism? Check. Fascism? Check. Bra with gun barrels? Check. Swallowing rosary? Check. Latex nun uniform? Check. It’s pretty easy to generate 15-minutes of controversy with this kind of material, without sparking any particular debate or getting people to change their minds about anything. There’s certainly a long (if not always noble) history of anti-clerical agitprop, but whether that has actually made any difference is another question.
It put me in mind of MIA’s notorious “Born free” video. (Not currently on Youtube.com) Mia’s video employs the simple strategy of depicting pogroms and ethnic cleansing, but targeting red haired men. It’s a simple inversion strategy, one that generates shock, but doesn’t necessarily spark any deeper understanding or change attitudes. This is what the philosophers and poets in the late 1700s/early 1800s did when they tried to imagine themselves into slave bodies. I don’t know if this had any direct impact on the debate over slavery, but it did eventually contribute to the evolving form of BDSM porn.