Deconstructing Lady Gaga

The New Yorker recently posted a review of a new documentary about pop sensation Lady Gaga. A sentence from that review jumped out at me when I read it:

The accidental tells here – when Gaga stops steering her own story or suggests a version that seems to be at odds with the facts – are the most compelling.

Whew. Two unrelated ideas immediately popped into my head. So – hold onto your hat, because we’re going to be traveling in two directions today.

1.   I was immediately reminded of a principle from Steven Pinker’s wonderful book The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century:”Good writing takes advantage of a reader’s expectations of where to go next.”

I expected the New Yorker article to provide examples of “accidental tells” – slippages in the image Lady Gaga is trying to present to us – and incidents “at odds with the facts” – contradictory details. But the article didn’t include a single example.

I wish, I wish author Amanda Petrusich had told us what she was thinking! For example, she mentions drug use – Lady Gaga lists all the medications she’s taking, and at one point she’s shown swallowing a pill. But those moments from the document are hardly “accidental” – the producer and director must have known they were there.

Here’s a takeaway for aspiring writers: tell readers where your writing will be taking them – and be sure to give readers what you promised. 

2. My other thought was about Jacques Derrida. Derridean deconstruction is all about “accidental tells” – omissions and marginal statements that can point us to useful truths if we’re patient enough to ferret them out.

When I read the Lady Gaga review, I was expecting something truly marginal (a favorite Derridean term) – perhaps something an alert audience member might overhear in a conversation or glimpse in a mirror while watching the documentary.

There’s nothing mystical or mysterious about deconstruction: it’s an everyday activity for us. We’re always reading “between the lines” and listening for gaps in what we’re told. (Parents automatically do this with their teenagers!)

Jesse M. Hellman, a Shaw scholar and friend who’s also a psychiatrist, says that he’s always looking for omissions in what his patients tell him: “You’ve talked about everyone in your family except your older brother. So what do you think is going on there?”

I hope I’ve aroused your curiosity about deconstruction – and given you something to think about! Stay tuned: next month I’m going to post a photo of my parents – and ask you to “deconstruct” it.

Lady Gaga

                                Lady Gaga

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4 thoughts on “Deconstructing Lady Gaga

  1. Margaret

    I’m happy you mentioned Pinker’s book. It’s an excellent guide for writers in many ways. I especially appreciate his dismissal of archaic and non-sensical rules of grammar.

  2. ballroomdancer Post author

    I just finished it – a wonderful book! I did think he was too dismissive of Derrida and postmodernism. I wrote him about it and received a lovely, thoughtful reply – he was going to read the article I sent him.

  3. Magjs

    I love his books both because I’m interested in his subjects and enjoy his writing. He makes very complicated concepts clear. And he does it without seeming condescending or pedantic.

  4. ballroomdancer Post author

    I haven’t read his other books – but I’m certainly going to. He’s a terrific writer, and his ideas are fresh. So many books about writing just hammer away at the same old concepts.

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