“Rah-Rah-Ah-Ah-Ah, Roma-Roma-Ma-Ma, Gaga, Ooh-La-La”: Persona, Authenticity, and the Right of Publicity Now

Yesterday, I posed the following questions: What is identity? As we define the right, should we only protect a person’s authentic identity (name, likeness, voice, etc.), or do we protect that constructed identity? Are Madonna’s many personas as valid as Janet’s one? These questions of authentic and constructed personas are still very much an issue in today’s video culture. Our current great video stars, Lady Gaga and Beyonce, have often played with this question of authenticity versus construction.

In fact, I would argue that Beyonce and Gaga can be seen as “baroque” versions of the authentic Janet and the constructed Madonna. Beyonce heightens the authentic tradition in her videos. For example, in the video “Crazy in Love” she sings, standing next to the man who would become her husband, Jay-Z, about how much she loves him. Like Janet, Beyonce uses her given name. Lady Gaga, very obviously, extends the constructed tradition. In the video for “Bad Romance,” Lady Gaga changes personas fourteen times in one video. Lady Gaga makes us call her Lady Gaga.

Lately, however, Beyonce and Lady Gaga themselves have sought to confuse these boundaries, between the authentic and constructed, through their two videos “Videophone” and “Telephone.” 

“Videophone” is very much within the tradition of the “authentic” video persona (the video is shot in black and white, Lady Gaga is in white the entire time, and even the choreography re-visits previous Beyonce’s videos). By contrast, “Telephone” (which clocks in at 9:30 minutes) is an extended play on constructed personas where both Lady Gaga and Beyonce play with any number of personas, and indeed in the penultimate scene, use the trope of a traditional authentic video (lunch with boyfriend in diner) to poison all of the participants.

Thus, these videos attempt to bridge the authentic and constructed identity, and then question it even more by asking, is there a difference? Are our authentic selves “constructed”? Our “constructed selves” authentic?

All of this is interesting to me because it raises the question of whether we should be protecting this right of publicity in the first place. What are the markers of identity? How can we judge what is the best protection for identity if we cannot decide what is that constitutes those “indicia” of identity?

And I have not begun to delve into Minor Threat, OK GO, Nirvana, Sleator-Kinney, and the authentic DIY Alternative Music Video!

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Peter Lillis

    Wow, a Minor Threat mention in a law blog. Nice work.

  2. Sue Cobalt

    “In the video for ‘Bad Romance,’ Lady Gaga changes personas fourteen times in one video. Lady Gaga makes us call her Lady Gaga.” This seems to confuse costume and makeup changes for “personas.” She doesn’t change “persona,” she is still just Gaga. She changes wardrobe and style. That’s it.

  3. Kali Murray

    Thanks for your comment, Sue.

    First off, I think that you are right in pointing out that the ultimate creation is Lady Gaga herself (whom I want to call Stephanie all the time!).

    I do think the question of Lady Gaga’s persona in “Bad Romance” is a little more complicated than mere wardrobe changes. The changes in costume are meant to drive the narrative of the video forward, which is the basic understanding of persona (which Merriam-Webster defines as a character in a written work). In that, I contrast how Lady Gaga approaches costume as opposed to say, Rihanna, who in the “Umbrella” video, changes costume and wardrobe, but without an accompanying narrative. Like Madonna, the wardrobe is linked to a larger narrative, and thus has the potential to create more significant questions about identity.

  4. Peter Heyne

    “Persona” has a rich theatrical (as well as theological) history, being the Latinization of the ancient Greek πρόσωπον (“prosopon”)–the mask that (all-male) actors wore to depict the various male and female characters that they each played. One can recall that until Sophocles, there were only two speaking actors onstage at the same time (not counting the chorus), so each of these two might then have to wear many masks in turn. Peter Sellers would have fit right in!

    I find intriguing the clinical definition from Merriam’s:
    “an individual’s social facade or front that especially in the analytic psychology of C. G. Jung reflects the role in life the individual is playing; compare ANIMA, the inner personality that is turned toward the unconscious of the individual.”

    In this age of do-it-at-home digital manipulation and constant re-invention, is it even possible to discern an artist’s anima?

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