Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Meat Dress

Lady Gaga wore a meat dress at the VMAs. I'm not sure I even need to say this. Most of you either saw it as it was happening or later on in the event coverage. What I do need to say, just briefly, is why we should all be recognizing a little something wrong and hypocritical here. A lot of this has probably been said, but I believe that people need to say their piece about stuff like this as often as possible. The fact is, we are the voices of the consumer-- of pop music and of meat-- and we have a chance to change the way people play the game if we lobby hard enough.

First, I applaud Gaga for her work with gay rights groups and for the statement she made by making victims of Don't Ask, Don't Tell her dates for the night. I think that's a really wonderful thing and despite the fact I'm not a general fan of hers, I can respect that kind of move. It's something I wish we saw being done more often by celebrities. However, the irony here is that on a night she rallied so hard in her own way for human rights, she managed to do something very ignorant of animal rights.

I was speaking to Worcester Polytechnic Institute's Professor John Sanbonmatsu the other day for a piece I'm doing with Pulse Magazine. It's about his work to get people to think about animal consumption in a new way. I'm going to paraphrase here since I don't know if quoting him violates some sort of policy, but he said that people often get offended by the idea of animal rights when it comes to food because confronting the realities of how food is produced involves actually placing some blame on yourself. People don't want to believe that eating a steak makes them complicit in a very cruel, destructive system (both to life and to the environment). He went on to say that it's also offensive because people are then required to ask themselves who really gave them the right-- according to him, no one-- to cause suffering to other animals on such a mass scale. While I am a vegetarian now, I do believe that eating meat is natural. I don't believe it's natural or humane the way we're obtaining it, and I believe that it undermines our idea of what it is to be human. If being human is somehow "better" than being another kind of animal, how do we justify mass cruelty to other sentient beings?

I'm getting a little away from the point, which is that Gaga, who seems to pride herself on being "the most judgement-free human being on the Earth" and doing so much work to try and this atmosphere of peace and freeness and equality, is taking a step backward. Though she claims this outfit wasn't meant to offend anyone vegan or vegetarian and was just a message about fighting for our rights we'll become as valueless as the meat on our bones. Whether she meant to or not, the combination of that statement and wearing real dead animals is truly telling of underlying disregard for life. If the "meat on our bones" have no rights and she's wearing animal meat to make the statement (she could have worn faux human limbs or something), it would follow those animals don't have rights.

The outfit's designer confirmed that this outfit is genuine meat. 50 pounds of it. The newest statistics I could locate (provided by the USDA in 2006) projected the 2006 per capita beef consumption in America at 66 pounds. That statistic may be different by now, but think of it. If that's true, Gaga was wearing close to one person's year supply of beef on her body. The designer said that the dress is meant to be worn once, then saved to dry up and eventually be displayed. 50 pounds of food. Obtained from a butcher. Meaning its original purpose was to feed someone, not clothe a billionaire. I know that people wear leather (personally, I do not), but leather is not food. Leather was not created to feed someone. And this world is full of people who are literally starving. Making a statement would be going to the VMAs in your underwear and explaining that you were going to wear a meat dress, but instead you sent 50 pounds of beef to an impoverished community so that children didn't go hungry for a few days. What I'm saying is this wasn't a little bit of beef. This was food that could have fed a lot of people. It's very First-Wold-centric to go around wearing food and then tossing it in a closet for a later date.

Not to mention, of course, as far as shocking statements go, the meat dress has been done to death. Even by Gaga herself. She just appeared on a magazine cover swathed in meat, after all. For a performer who prides herself on being new and interesting every time we see her, this was a major misstep. You can find plenty of meat clothes just by Google searching. Artist Jana Sterbak famously did a show on meat clothing. On top of the waste and the anti-animal rights message it flaunts, it's kind've cliche, and isn't Gaga supposed to be the exact opposite of that? (I would argue she really isn't, but then again I'm not a fan in general).

What I'm asking here is not for you to agree with me. And I'm certainly not attacking those of you who do eat meat. We can all choose what we want to eat and put into our bodies and what systems we want to buy into. What I ask, however, is that we take moments like these and really think about what they mean and ask ourselves hard questions. When I was much younger, I loved animals and my heart broke at the idea of eating them-- but I did it anyway because it was "too hard" to be vegetarian. As I got older I realized that we have to be honest with ourselves. I wanted to be the kind of person in practice as I was in theory. Being mature is sometimes admitting when we're wrong. We don't all have to go about things the same way, but we should really be actively thinking about how we live our lives.

Right isn't always easy. When I see Lady Gaga wearing 50 pounds of food that will never even fill the stomachs it was intended for in a world of starving people, I feel disgusted. And I feel like it's her way of taking the easy way out. Wearing meat was shocking, but not for the right reasons.

What are your thoughts on the meat dress? 


Katie said...

What Gaga did was a waste of food, and it was disrespectful to the animals that died for her disposable outfit.

I eat meat and wear leather, but I also believe that we need to respect the animals that give their lives to feed and clothe us. In this case, wasting food and treating their bodies as something disposable (that meat was probably beginning to rot before the night was over) does not honor their lives at all.

Personally I think Gaga is grasping for straws because she's running out of ways to shock audiences into paying attention to her. I predict she'll be playing at State Fairs within five years :P

Marie said...

I think it is gross, a waste of food, and just another stunt to get attention. Personally, I don't "get" her message on this one and feel like it was a lame attempt to make the outfit be a political statement.

Anonymous said...

It's not any worse than leather which people wear and use on a daily basis, and creates more harm to the environment (production, shipments) than Lady GaGa's lady dress. Also- people waste food on a daily basis. I'm sure the average American wastes WAY more than 50 pounds of food in their lifetime, either by eating too MUCH food that they don't need to sustain their health and bodies, or people's more conventional idea of "wasting" food when it goes bad... or even when it DOESN'T go bad, like milk, which is still drinkable way after the expiration date.

I don't agree with Lady GaGa's meat dress, but I also don't agree with people making a big deal out of something that they can't change. If anything, we should be making a big deal of all the small, everyday actions that add up over time... like people wasting food. Encourage people to only take what they need, and eat all they have- or at least put it to some good use, like compost. Don't eat more than you need, that food can to someone else who is starving.

Lady GaGa's dress is done and over with. You can't change the past. Get over it.

Vanessa said...

Anonymous: I totally agree with your points on wasting food-- a whole lot of that goes on that's really unnecessary and people should probably be more educated about things like expiration dates and try to only take what they need. I know at my college they did a little campaign to make students more aware of food waste. We got rid of trays (so students could only take what they could carry in two hands) and had some little events to bring attention to it.

I guess what I should clarify is that I get that there's nothing we can do about Gaga's meat dress. What's done is done at this point. What I was really going for was not so much an attack on her as an attack on what message she's sending to her millions of adoring fans and viewers in general. Basically I feel like if "progressive" artists who reach such a wide audience were a little more conscientious about stuff like this, they could do a lot of good. Instead, I feel like she made a very public statement against animal rights, whether she meant to or not.

Thanks for your comment!

rubybastille said...

Oh, Lady Gaga. I tried to defend your videos a couple times, but this is not okay.

I didn't realize that dress was actual meat. If she had an actual point she was trying to make, I could maybe kinda respect the effort, but she just sounded totally coked out on "Ellen." I agree that she's just clinging to shock value now.

Also, sucks to have to sit next to her while she was wearing that. Imagine how bad it would smell!

Vanessa said...

The Ellen thing seemed a little weird. I wasn't a fan of the sarcastic/judgey-sounding "what is it, tofu? Nutritional yeast?" comment. Vegetarians eat foods that aren't weird, thanks. Like vegetables and stuff. Just like regular people.

Probably reading too much into it.

tywo said...

This offended me a lot. I am vegetarian, and I am saddened by it. I didn't watch the awards. I thought my sisters lied when they told me. We need to respect animals.
I'm filled with disgust as I look at her.
I missed reading your blog.
I hope you have a great day.


Kelly said...

I think she wore this JUST to be shocking and not *actually* to make any sort of point. Even her quote about why she did it is so vague and so far-fetched and basically just a load of BS. She wanted to wear something that would get attention, and she knew it would make people mad so she came up with this fake "reason" to wear it, a soundbite that doesn't really mean anything so that she doesn't really have to STAND for anything.

I'm not saying she doesn't stand for certain things. I'm just saying that in this instance, I think it was less because of some sort of principles she has or message she wants to send, and more just that she wanted attention.

If her *real* goal was to make a point, she would have worn fake meat.

Kelly said...

now I'm just commenting because I want to subscribe to comments and couldn't do it the first time :)

Vampires and Tofu said...

I am a vegetarian and I was disgusted. We've pretty much managed to get to the point where wearing fur is generally not accepted and this shouldn't be accepted either.

And to anonymous...yes, people DO need to make a big deal about things, that is what causes change my friend. Talking about the dress brings attention to the very subject of wasting food...

Carry on!

Laells said...

I think it's a waste of food (even though I'm not a vegetarian) and I'm sure if I thought about it for a while I could think of some better alternatives of something that would be shocking to wear.

I love Lady Gaga and I've been waiting for an artist like her for a long time but I do admit I'm getting slightly tired of these sorts of look at me antics.

I agree with what Kelly said. It seems like she's doing it for no real rhyme or reason just that she wants to be talked about and piss off some people maybe.

Anonymous said...

I am a vegetarian but I wouldn't make a big deal of it. Ok, so a pop star wasted 50 lbs of meat that could have fed other people. Let's say it was $500 worth of stuff. But how many people could you feed with the thousands of dollars that the celebrity sitting next to her likely spent for his or her outfit? That's just as much of a "waste".


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