GaGa, Bowie, Hitler


Well you can bump and grind,
It is good for your mind,
Well you can twist and shout, let it all hang out
But you won’t fool the children of the revolution

-Marc Bolan, 1972


The mythology is all wrong. Prometheus did not bring fire to the humans.

This is what happened.

Prometheus stole fire from the old, conservative gods and ate it. With this fire in his belly, he descended to the human world, jumped onto a stage, and told them, “I have brought you fire!” None of them grew warm because of the fire inside the rebel god—they only though they did. Mesmerized by his dancing flames, they crowded around Prometheus and confused the shared heat of their bodies for that of his own. In their ignorance, they truly believed that Prometheus had brought them fire. In truth, all Prometheus ever did with the fire in his belly was dance.

For his crime, the old gods punished Prometheus by chaining him to his stage. There, tied to the stage on which he once danced, an eagle devoured his insides. At night, when the world slept, when everyone forgot, Prometheus healed from his wounds. In the day light, the eagle returned and ravaged him once again. The eagle haunted Prometheus forever.


In 1913, in the German city of Munich, a young man successfully avoided military service. This young man was an artist who could not thrive in the art world. He had been rejected from art schools and told by the old conservative world that he could never do what he wanted to do. When the first world war began in 1914, he eagerly sought to join the same military service he had once avoided. In 1914 he was shipped off to the Western Front. Despite being wounded in 1917, he found war to be the greatest experience of his life. When the war ended 1918, and his world of heroes and battles was over, he had nowhere else to go. And so, on the streets of Munich, Adolf Hitler happened upon the German Worker’s Party.

He entered this group just as he entered the art world and the military: looking for a world on which he could leave his mark. By 1921, Hitler had risen to become a minor party leader. They called him Fuhrer. In 1921, Hitler and 600 armed men surrounded the speech of their political opponent. From there they attempted to take over the Munich city hall. Eventually the Nazis were crushed and Hitler was sent to prison, but the attempted coup catapulted the Nazis into fame. A starving nation found comfort in the boldness of this political party. While in jail, Hitler wrote a book called My Struggle. His words were to find resonance in the desperate population of Germany. Finally, the artist had found his medium. All of Germany would soon be looking in his direction and before long, so would the rest of the world.


In 1962, in the suburbs of London, a young man just out of art school declared to his parents that he was going to be a pop star. They did not want him to become a pop star. Despite this discouragement, the young man moved from band to band, hoping to find the one that would catapult him into stardom. He wrote songs for money over the years and drifted through London, living his life as if it was a long, theatrical conquest. When his dream band arrived one day, he made them “Ziggy’s band.” He told the world that in the end he would become “sucked up into his mind” after having “made it too far.” Ziggy Stardust jumped onto the stage and immediately started to disintegrate. The fame he sought began to leave marks on his face: strange, sparkling lightning bolts that he displayed to the starving world around him.

The world from which David Bowie emerged was tumultuous and riddled with disorder. His album The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars was released in the summer of 1972, the same summer that the Angry Brigade was on trial. They were anarchists accused of firing a rifle at an embassy, sending bombs to members of British Parliament, and writing incendiary communiques, among other things. In one of these communiques, the Angry Brigade stated that “life is so boring there is nothing to do except spend all our wages on the latest skirt or shirt.” They once asked a question: “Sit in the drugstore, look distant, empty, bored, drinking some tasteless coffee? Or perhaps BLOW IT UP OR BURN IT DOWN.”

Bowie preferred to dance in front of everyone, watching as his face turned up on the latest shirts for people to spend all of their wages on. He proceeded to fulfill his own ambition until it consumed him. As Ziggy Stardust began to disintegrate, David Bowie started to unravel. He could not escape the stardom he had once craved. He could not escape his personality, his exoskeleton. He could not tell the difference between himself and his own image. Much like Adolf Hitler, David Bowie chased his projection into the future until it reached its wretched conclusion. Ziggy was to become an empty, desperate shell.

In his 1974 album Diamond Dogs, David Bowie declares that what he is doing is “not rock and roll. This is…genocide.” The dazzling luminary became rather dour. There was no more glitter, there was only a man with slicked-back blonde hair called the Thin White Duke. In 1976, his album Station To Station was released. During that same year Francisco Franco, the fascist leader of Spain, finally died. Rather than allow news of the dictator’s death to broadcast via satellite, Bowie chose to have his interview broadcast instead. Francisco Franco led a fascist army that, aided by Adolf Hitler’s army, wiped out and eradicated the anarchists struggling in Spain. The Thin White Duke spoke to England on the day that Franco died, but said nothing of the dictator’s passing. The same year, David Bowie told a reporter that “Britain could benefit from a Fascist leader.” Bowie later blamed this comment on drugs and stress. Also in 1976, he also said that “Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars.”

Ziggy Stardust ended up as the Thin White Duke. His persona had eaten him. He retreated to Berlin, the city where Adolf Hitler killed himself. There he made records influenced by German electronic music. Millions of people had flocked to see David Bowie while he was Ziggy Stardust. Millions continued to see him after Ziggy was dead. His albums continued to sell, his face continued to be on the latest shirts, his words continued to be broadcast everywhere. In 1977, just as the insurrections in the Italian cities were starting, just as the struggle against work and the factory was intensifying, David Bowie said these words to the world: “I’m the perfect example of the victim of technology. I think it’s disastrous.”


In 2003, in New York City, a young girl began to sing in clubs. She had left art school, dissatisfied with the people in her classes, and started to make music. The young girl knew it was her “destiny” to become a star. Soon she was singing in night clubs in a leopard-print thong. This disturbed her father, a wealthy man who did not understand what his well-educated daughter was doing. By 2008, the young girl had crafted her first album and projected herself into the future, much like Bowie, much like Hitler. The Fame, released in the summer of 2008, was Stephani Joanne Angelina Germanotta’s assault upon the world of pop-culture. She created an album, a persona, and an image that encouraged people to come to her and be themselves. Her album champions living like a spectacular movie star.

“This idea of The Fame runs through and through,” Stephani said. “Basically, if you have nothing, no money, no fame, you can still feel beautiful and dirty rich. The music is intended to inspire people to feel a certain way about themselves, so they’ll be able to encompass, in their own lives, a sense of inner fame that they can project to the world.”

Stephani, who had since given herself the name “Lady Gaga,” toured the United States promoting her new album. With The Fame, she began to develop a cult following that spread quickly through the electronic networks of the contemporary United States. Her image metastasized. Lady Gaga often expressed her love of David Bowie and wore a lightning bolt on her face in homage. As heiress to his tradition, Lady Gaga disseminated her songs of glamor, decay, and ecstasy. Her face appeared on the latest shirts and skirts.

Since the 1970’s, the aspirations of people like the Angry Brigade had been systematically crushed. There were fewer people attacking commodity society and they received less support than the anarchists of the seventies. By the fall of 2009, when Lady Gaga’s second album was released, the anarchists of the world had finally found a new power ever since the Greek Insurrection in 2008, an event which mobilized and inspired thousands of anarchists. Unfortunately, in 2009, commodity society was still more powerful, thanks to people like Lady Gaga.

With her follow-up album, The Fame Monster, Lady Gaga decided to dub her followers “little monsters.” Each song on her album was meant to be a monster that she found in herself. Lady Gaga, no longer calling herself Stephani in public, had become an exorcist for people who found comfort in her words and imagery. In interview after interview, Lady Gaga extolled her followers to purge their inner monsters from themselves at her concerts and through her music. Unlike David Bowie, Lady Gaga created an army and an empire for herself with her persona, an empire she sustained with constant touring and publicity stunts. In her music video for the song “Alejandro,” Lady Gaga is depicted as the leader of a hyper-sexual fascist army. With each stop in her Monster’s Ball Tour, Lady Gaga amassed more fans, swelling the ranks of her “little monsters.”

Like Adolf Hitler, Lady Gaga channeled the suppressed energy of her audience into herself. In the Germany of the 1920’s, Hitler told everyone that he was just like them, that he could feel their pain, and that, above all, he knew how to get rid of that pain. At the time, the population of Germany was poor, hungry, and starving for a common direction. In the United States of 2008-2010, the population was poor, losing their houses, and desperate for answers. Lady Gaga, a self-professed “freak,” told her fans she was just like them. Her fan base was composed of people with a reason to hate the current order. She spoke down to the freaks, excluded, the oppressed, trying to lift them up to salvation and inner fame. In the end, Lady Gaga did not liberate anyone, she only reinforced commodity society. Hitler used his fame to reinforce the fascist state. Lady Gaga used her fame to reinforce the capitalist state.

Costuming herself in a false benevolence, Lady Gaga told Oprah Winfrey, “All the things that I do, in terms of The Fame and in terms of The Fame Monster, it’s meant to sort of make it a bit easier to swallow this kind of horrific media world we live in.”


Lady Gaga is currently doing nothing new. David Bowie did it before her. Kiss, the Grateful Dead, and Jay-Z all did the same thing. Every shimmering star is a distraction from physical reality. Every star mobilizes their fans in order to profit off them monetarily. Every star crafts webs of fantasy, delusion, imagery, and sound in order to keep their fans coming to their shows and buying their albums. Every star accumulates capital. Every star is a star unto themselves, a fire-bringer that never really shares the fire.

For every Adolf Hitler, there is a Leni Riefenstahl, the filmmaker who created The Triumph Of The Will. As an artist, she felt no qualms about making a film for the Nazis. Her evocative film exaggerates and aggrandizes the Nazi leadership. It also depicts thousands of loyal fans giving the Roman salute to Hitler. Although Riefenstahl helped promote the Nazis in their ascent, she continued her life as an artist after the end of the second world war. Other artists would later find inspiration in her film techniques. She pioneered the art of displaying a star to a world. Since her 1934 film was released to the German public, cinema has mutated into the internet-centric media world of the present day. There are no longer lone Hitlers to keep people in line. There is a multitude of Hitlers out there, dancing on the screen, keeping the public in line.

Auschwitz was never completed. Its construction continues to this day. Auschwitz is everywhere. Everyone must work in order to buy a Lady Gaga album. Everyone had to work to buy a David Bowie album in the seventies. Everyone had to work in Auschwitz. Before being removed from the ghetto of Warsaw and taken to the camps, Jewish prisoners fought an armed insurgency against the Nazis. In the end, Hitler told Germany that the insurrection was crushed. During the 1970’s in England, an anarchist guerrilla group called the Angry Brigade blew up train tracks, shot prison guards, burnt politicians’ offices, destroyed banks, bombed the media, and torched army recruiting offices. In the end, the sound of David Bowie drowned out their actions.

On the first of May, 1971, the Angry Brigade said this after bombing an upscale boutique: “We have sat quietly and suffered the violence of the system for too long. We are being attacked daily. Violence does not only exist in the army, the police and the prisons. It exists in the shoddy alienating culture pushed out by TV films and magazines, it exists in the ugly sterility of urban life. It exists in the daily exploitation of our Labor, which gives big Bosses the power to control our lives and run the system for their own ends.”

The three artists in question, Gaga, Bowie, Hitler, are like all artists. But they have far more power than the others. Every artist who makes a film in Nazi Germany, every band who plays for money, and every singer who soothes the minds of her troubled “monsters” is a professional who keeps people in line. Hitler worked for the Nazi capitalist machine. Gaga works for the international capitalist machine. She gives it money. She keeps them entertained at home. In this world, art is used by capitalism to perpetuate itself. It uses the stars to stay alive and in return gives the stars what they ask for. For Lady Gaga, it was fame. For David Bowie, it was fame. For Adolf Hitler, it was fame.

In conclusion, the author of this article would like to make a simple request. Every artist reading should tattoo this phrase on their wrist: Art is Auschwitz.

11 thoughts on “GaGa, Bowie, Hitler”

  1. Aesthetics and Fascism

    I’ll give this author a good amount of credit for taking on this massive topic and trying to elaborate the analysis with such little space to do so. Here’s my thoughts…

    Hitler (and Franco, Dali, the Futurists, Fascism in General):

    Mentioning that Hitler was a failed art student is important… but, beyond the help of that film there is a lot more to be said about this. Hitler was an extremely aesthetic dictator… everything from the uniforms of the SS (which were designed by a homosexual) to the spectacular parades and symbolism of the Nazi party were in no way beyond the his dictates of style. Hitler and Richard Wagner (the Opera writer, whom Nietzsche rejected because of his antisemitism) knocked boots as well. Even Hitlers ideas of race are extremely aesthetic. It is no joke to say that Hitler’s medium was German society. I think there is a lot out there that could really have driven this point further is my criticism.

    This is not uncommon either (obviously, you get that). But, it is unfortunate that this piece does not mention Dali and his support of Franco during the Spanish Civil War (and Andre Breton’s rejection of Dali as a Surrealist), the Futurists and their totalitarian logic, Wilhelm Reich’s analysis of Fascism, the Surrealists critique of Dali and the sort of stardom you write of, etc. There is a huge body of work on the relationship between the Artist and Fascist ideology …and a direct relationship: not what I will write on next.

    Even Erich Fromm wrote few books, one called “the Rebel” which got into some of these issues, another called “Anatomy of Destruction” which goes even further… anyways – onward!

    Andy Warhol, the Dadaists, Duchamp, the Situationists, the Beatles/Rolling Stones, Walter Benjamin, etc.:

    Before Bowie even emerged into stardom, there had already been put forth a number of extremely relevant critiques of Art and its relationship with capitalism, commodity production, consumer culture, and other such issues. To not talk about Walter Benjamin, Andy Warhol, Duchamp, the Dadaists, the Situationists, and their critiques of mechanical reproduction’s effects on art, the art object as a commodity, the Spectacle, and such seems dishonest to me. Many artists (musicians or otherwise) were extremely critical of this concept of the Artist as Perfect Consumer. And out of these critiques, these rebels against the sort of shit the Beatles put out (for instance), etc. was born a highly experimental counter-culture which was a fertile ground for groups like the Mother Fuckers, the Angry Brigade, the Weathermen, the Symbionese Liberation Army, Charles Manson (for as fucked as he was), etc. So, to not bring this up is to distort what has been going on with “the reproduction of daily life” since WWII.

    Bowie and the 80’s: Bowie is a fine example for the Culture Wars of the late 70’s and 80’s I suppose. But Bowie was no Hitler… not even a Dali. What was going on at that time was not the emergence of an aesthetically charged fascism but an extremely complicated mix of situations. Focusing on Bowie and other New Wave fuckers makes it really easy to ignore this complexity. You have all of these counter-cultural movements emerging as well as a ton of relevant revolutionary or recuperative events taking place. Bowie was a certainly a great example of the recuperation of 60’s counter-cultural elements and the emergence of the androgynous demigod super star, but these celebrities were not embraced by everyone. One the one hand, there was the Religious Right in the US, the Torries, and all these other fuck-wad conservatives mourning the relativism and decadence of people like Bowie… on the other hand, there was radicals and underground or counter-cultures (and bands, like Crass) not only trashing these conservative elements… but also the super-star elements and the consumer society they endorsed. The problem with your piece isn’t completely the lack of noting this, but the fact that a lot of genuine artists were not ambitious, capitalist, consumer-culture sell-out twits. This isn’t to say that these artists and the counter-cultures that they were a part of weren’t recuperated… but reducing the consciousness of artists to this socially negligent, counter-revolutionary, and Ayn Rand-esque individualism is quite the falsification.

    Is it just the Artist?

    This is my major problem with this piece. While I do indeed applaud your recognition of this problem, this piece does two things that are very problematic: it suggests that all artists fall into this Star or Sell-Out category, and it ignores the overall similarities between sell-out artists to industrial capitalists, politicians, religious leaders, royalist scum, etc. The basic ideas that are being worked with in this piece, from what I understand, are being used to expose the personality cult of artists. But this isn’t limited to artists and doesn’t define artists. The analysis of this sort of subjectivity has less to do with whether someone is an artist or not, and more to do with objectification. The examples you give are all subjects who create a personae (self-objectification) and seek to incorporate as many others as possible into the cult of that personae (world-objectification).

    The Industrialist does this through their Corporate Personae, Branding, and seeking to dominate markets with their product line: think Bill Gates. The Politician does this through their Political Personae, the Party, and seeking to dominate political life with their party-line: think Obama. The Religious Leader does this through their Spiritual-Leader Personae, the Church (or other institutionalization of the religion), and seeking to dominate moral and spiritual life with their religious doctrine: think the Pope. Royalty has been doing this for centuries as well. These are all authoritarians that have been and are resisted, even in their relative fields of art, economy, politics, spirituality, and philosophy (Royalty and Philosophy is an interesting subject). So while you are recognizing an authoritarian tendency in recuperated art celebrities… you aren’t drawing any lines and you wind up by ending the piece with this:

    “Every artist reading should tattoo this phrase on their wrist: Art is Auschwitz.”

    Hitler’s concentration camps and sadistic use of flesh for things like lamp shades may have been a very deranged style of art. At the same time, revolutionaries must invent and rely on their own arts as well (…praxis). All that art amounts to is the application of Image (imagination, ideas, ideology, science, whatever) to a medium (society, clay, wood, your self, etc.). We tend to call something a craft when it isn’t a very refined practice, and an art when it reaches a level of refinement we perceive some sort of elegance about… but it’s a blurry and as far as I’m concerned, false distinction. So to put it simply, the second you start tattooing “Art is Auschwitz” on yourself, you’ll be in the role of the artist… practicing the art of tattooing. This won’t make you a Hitler, a Bowie, a Lady Gaga, or even a Sid Vicious and that should be enough to realize that Art is not Auschwitz – not by a long shot.

  2. Pingback: Aesthetics and Fascism « The Blog of Eternal Wretch

  3. Francesco Llopart

    “In conclusion, the author of this article would like to make a simple request. Every artist reading should tattoo this phrase on their wrist: Art is Auschwitz.”

    Just for the record, the above quote is all I wrote regarding art and Auschwitz. I wanted to evoke an image using words. That image was of an artist obeying my request to tattoo a phrase on their wrist.

    The wrist was the place where prisoners in Auschwitz had their identification number tattooed.

    The image of an artist obeying my request to tattoo Art Is Auschwitz on their wrist was the image I wished to convey.

    Hopefully that makes some sense.

  4. I sort of got it… I did have relatives with those tattoos (not from Auschwitz, other camps). I have personal reasons for finding the idea repulsive, being from such a family and an artist myself. Partially, that motivated my response but obviously I somewhat agree with your piece and just think there’s more to the overall problem of creativity and authoritarianism (aesthetics and fascism, etc. etc.).

  5. i object to the simplistic equation of art with genocide, the reduction of human life to a easy set of slogans and oppositions. “Auschwitz is everywhere. Everyone must work in order to buy a Lady Gaga album. Everyone had to work to buy a David Bowie album in the seventies. Everyone had to work in Auschwitz.” Please. Anyone with any sense of the complexities of the issues involved, not to mention their moral gravity, should be embarrassed to read (or write) such a thing.

    We are born into this world alone and incapable, and only with the aid of those around us do we ever, eventually, attain a level of maturity that enables us to understand the world and our own selves, along with a level of agency that enables us to engage with it. And the world is imperfect, of course, to the absurdly negligible extent that any one human’s conception of the word “perfect” might matter relative to the sum total of that world. To the extent that we carry the tatters of our youthful idealism around with us – hell, to the extent that we retain any capacity to empathize with the suffering of others – we rage against that imperfection, or at least against our sense of it. Which is all to the good. Dissatisfaction begets change and change, at least occasionally, leads to some greater good.

    But these are simply the engines that drive all artists (all artists who ultimately manage to leave a mark anyway). The great triumph of an artist like Lady Gaga is her clear communication of the idea that celebrity is merely a human game, a costume that anyone can wear. It is not, as we are often led to believe, a mantle bestowed magically and only upon certain preordained members of a mysterious elite. It is instead, something that you or I might conjure, might create, by sheer force and application of will. This is a magnificent lesson, and one that would be well heeded by political radicals of every sort. Gaga’s lesson is that the human world is an engine driven by human desire, and that it is not “owned” by anyone, or not entirely. The reins of the world, no matter how tightly they might seem to be held, no matter how distant we might seem from the driving engines’ fires, can be taken up by anyone at any time for any reason.

    Gaga makes this the explicit text of her work. She does not “soothe” her “little monsters.” Rather she tells them, quite plainly, that celebrity is a trick, a joke, a playground of human will and desire. She announces, more to the point, that this is a game that anyone might play, that one is not born to it, but simply creates it because one can, as one might create a painting, a chair, or a mathematical proof. This is a splendid and profoundly subversive lesson, and I salute her for her success in the game she has chosen to play.

    If you feel that the system of the world is unjust (and it is, of course – how could it be otherwise?), it seems pointless to fault those who subversively engage with it on their own terms and do so successfully. It’s pointless whether or not you share their goals or find value in their work. To make and sell an art is not to tattoo numbers on the wrists of a million victims, it is not to make lampshades of human flesh, or to butcher a race. The methods of Bowie and Gaga are in no way comparable to those of Hitler and the Nazis. Bowie and Gaga are simply rats trapped in the same bewildering, unjust, and often horrific maze as you and I. Moreover, they are rats who have found a means to survive and even prosper within the maze – a maze that is the product of nature and accident at least as much as any human will – and they have managed to do so without killing, hurting or even really exploiting anyone. There is nothing wrong with any of this. Their celebrity and material success may not be stations to which you aspire, but nor are they anything intrinsically evil.

    1. Gaga and Bowie also happened to make a lot of money for people anarchists should not like.

      They are rats the size of cats feeding cheese to bigger rats.

      Any subversiveness they have will be sold, fueling this economy.

      I see nothing of value in their work, nor reason to SALUTE them.

      1. it’s probably best to avoid “should” style constructions aimed at large groups of people, even if they seem to share an ethos. we each determine for ourselves, by application not just of received ideology but our own more private and subtle moral calculus, what we should or shouldn’t do/make/say/think.

        to say that pop performers work on behalf of people and organizations you personally dislike is one thing: well and good. to use this as an excuse for blithely comparing them to hitler is simply asinine (in my not entirely humble opinion). the comparison illuminates nothing and diminishes rather than expands our understanding. it might be worth noting in passing that neither are rats of whatever size analogous to nazis, regardless of where they might choose to point their cheese.

        i reject any conception of social justice that reduces the complexities of human social interaction to a simple dichotomy in which those who prosper economically within “the system” are the enemy, are inseparable from and morally culpable for the worst abuses of that system. this strikes me not only as pitiably blinkered, but arrogant and presumptive besides. human life is not so simply reducible, nor is any real ethical awareness, something that exists in the shadowy gray areas that invite and culture slow social change as much as in the reassuringly bright clashing of opposed absolutes.

        that’s the sense in which i think a more measured and generous view of “subversion” becomes useful. the social/political/cultural matrix we all inhabit is pushed constantly in a thousand thousand directions by forces too numerous to catalog, and within the balanced tension of those thousand thousand nudges, some large, some small, other forces arise, chaotic forces with no human hand behind them. in other words, the story of social evolution is not of this vs. that, but of a near infinite sea of individuals engaged on an infinite number of levels with their own commingled infinitude. any act which at least attempts to plant the seeds of non-exploitative possibility and agency in this interdependent web-world contributes to a larger net push: a push in the direction of freedom, dignity, cooperation and justice.

        you don’t have to see things this way, of course, but it works for me.

        1. To clarify:

          GaGa is pushing things in this direction? Yes?

          That is very interesting. I think I agree with you. I also believe that Van Halen was very instrumental in contributing to this larger net push. They dressed in a gender-bending way while also shredding on the guitar.

          I can see how GaGa is also pushing. Queers should be free to join and be out in the military. Her support of this cause will help everyone on the road to justice. Heteros and queers should cooperate on the battle field. They should fight with dignity and help bring freedom to the world. I see what you are saying now. Thanks for your response.








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