“the Gaga-who-walks-among-us”

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Blogging for the Jesuit national weekly America, Tom Beaudoin (associate professor of theology in the Graduate School of Religion at Fordham) indulges in speculation about the theological and cultural significance of … Lady Gaga, soliciting reflections from a new generation of budding scholars and theologians on Lady Gaga’s “ethos of ‘authenticity'” — as in the following, from a faculty member of Marymount School in NY:

But to think about incarnation in another way, imagine Gaga performing unplugged and sans makeup as her natural-born self. She would then be not the Gaga sanctified and worshipped as “Mother Monster” on a (media) pedestal, but the Gaga-who-walks-among-us, the one who knows and understands the pain of being freak, outcast, and reject.

Recall the furor back in 2005 when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the direction of then-Cardinal Ratzinger, gave the order to dismiss Fr. Thomas J. Reese, former editor of America. The CDF has been long concerned about the Jesuit publication’s promotion of positions on moral issues often in conflict with Catholic teaching. And insofar as the heterodox theological output of America was taken seriously, the Vatican’s concerns seemed warranted.

But in this case, I would encourage Mr. Beaudoin and company to keep up the good work.

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  1. To paraphrase Karl Marx, America the Jesuit rag is the opiate of idiots. That anyone takes this deeply silly publication seriously now is a sign of what an intellectually and spiritually impoverished time we live in.

  2. The “significance” of Gaga is that she’s determined to be even more tiresomely “edgy” than the trashy and now long-in-the-tooth Madonna was back in the day. Madge strutted about in a ridiculous cone bra, so Gaga has to drape herself in a meat dress (what a sad waste of perfectly good sirloin). Madge used crosses and Catholic iconography in her videos so Gaga has to push the envelope even further by singing about how she “loves” Judas. He’s a bad boy, you know?

    The only theological significance Gaga has is that she demonstrates for the umpteenth time, that Christian-bashing is lucrative and earns one the reputation for being a daring artiste, without any real risk involved. Well, there is, in fact plenty of risk involved if one considers the afterlife, but Madge, Gaga, et al don’t. Or if they do, they undoubtably assume that getting into heaven is like gaining entrance to a snooty Manhattan club. The Lord will be so impressed with their celebrity and string of Number 1 hits that He’ll make allowances and wave them right in. And then He’ll ask them for an autograph.

  3. Congress needs to enact legislation outlawing that magazine from abusing the name, “America.”

  4. Talking about Gaga’s “ethos of authenticity” just shows you’re not in on the joke. As Weird Al recently pointed out, Gaga’s not crazy, she just “performs that way”. Outrageousness for the sake of outrageousness as a means of increasing fame and record sales is hardly a novel media strategy at this point. I’ll admit Gaga’s better at manipulating the media than most, but how anyone could look at the deliberate spectacle and come away talking about “authenticity” is beyond me.

  5. “I’ll admit Gaga’s better at manipulating the media than most, but how anyone could look at the deliberate spectacle and come away talking about “authenticity” is beyond me.”

    That great philosopher David Hannum explained it long ago John Henry: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”, and nowadays many of them have degrees.

  6. The idea that an entirely corporately managed, marketed and packaged product is “authentic” really betrays the spirit of a Christian ecology that the America readership embraces doesn’t it. This performer and marketing team merely studied the way another Italian-American and traditionally Catholic success story sold records via tapping anti-Catholic sentiment and has played it up to the maximum.

    People liked to dance to a certain throbbing beat in nightclubs and then it was marketed as a mainstream product. It doesn’t mean that people actually really like it or that the market would embrace a pro-Catholic performer dressed the same, with the same beat etc…

  7. But I think I can be of service here to help clarify the context better. Likely this author would have taken it further but perhaps he was distracted, had papers to grade, etc., we all know how it can be these days in academia.

    Here’s the thing with Ms. Germanatta/Gaga. She and her sister were privileged enough to attend an elite, private, progressive, all-girls nursery through 12 Catholic school in Manhattan for her years of schooling. Likely her parents sacrificed to give her this education in the faith to the tune of what average Americans will spend on a car for transport to and from job, on an annual basis. Undoubtedly in choosing one of the most expensive private schools in the country that also happens to be Catholic, her parents wished for Gaga to have the benefit of faith.

    Leaving aside the fact of the corporate marketing driven popular culture which does not really favor open and spontaneous artistic expression, and leaving aside the fact that Madonna decades ago did the exact same things to the tune of many millions of dollars reaped for herself and the companies who sponsored her and then going on to be her own company in effect, leaving all of that aside if you will.

    Looking at the Gaga oeuvre it seems that she is prone to posing, with little clothing on in a manner that emphasizes breasts and a rosary or some re-enactment of some sexual act. I am sure the author of this article did not intend to hide that which Gaga herself is most proud. We need not be embarrassed to acknowledge her message.

    As she walks amongst us she grapples with coming to terms with faith. She wishes that the rosary will bless her sexual persona.

    I think what this author and America readers are in fact pining for is the full reconciliation of Gaga with her faith such that she put into action all the benefits of a progressive elite expensive Manhattan Catholic school education. To be a leader and a disciple, a voice for the outcast and condemned.

    I envision that Gaga will process this article and the sentiments therein and be encouraged to rise to her calling. I picture Gaga organizing and leading the next prolife flash mob. Just to underscore the resistance. To show the little 2nd grade girls (who I know for a fact watch her and consume her products) that, indeed, what God has made is very good and, hallelujah that their mothers permitted them to be born. This way. Or that way. Or whatever way God created them. That when they enclose their breasts in cone shaped expensive bras and simulate graphic sexual acts on the stage or in video, they may also look forward to authenticity in their life of faith and that they need not be scandalized by a generation that loves to sell them things and takes their money that also out of the other side of their mouth pronounces life as not always desirable and indeed if one aborts a little girl simply because a boy was wanted in her place this is entirely a private and ok thing.

    We will see what is in store for Gaga. With her finances and the successful marketing of herself, she certainly has a bully pulpit at her disposal. Let’s hope that little girls who see and hear her products do not misunderstand that the only or best power and dignity they possess comes from the ability to wear conifer shaped bras and simulate sexual acts to music. Let’s hope that for little girls in difficult and diverse circumstances there are enough good voices in their lives who see them for who they entirely are, listen to what they have to say, as good.

  8. Don: “how anyone could look at the deliberate spectacle and come away talking about ‘authenticity’ is beyond me.”

    I neglected to mention Michael O’Loughlin’s earlier post to America:

    What does unconditional love and acceptance look like in twenty-first century America today? Sometimes, she wears a dress made of raw meat. … This message, so simple yet so elusive today, is one that echos some central tenets of the Christian faith: the love of neighbor and acceptance of yourself as God created you.

    and as another scholar-to-be at Harvard puts it:

    “A different lover is not a sin”—the affirming message about sexuality in Gaga’s “Born This Way” is quite amenable to the views of most young adult Catholics I know. As such, the real theological impact of her work resides not in the content of her position on sexuality, but in her willingness to proclaim it.

    So, it’s “authenticity” and self-affirmation that sort.

  9. As such, the real theological impact of her work resides not in the content of her position on sexuality, but in her willingness to proclaim it

    I know it can be a bad career move for a theologian, but sometimes it’s more in-keeping with an “ethos of authenticity” to just come out say, “I give up. I have nothing interesting to say about theology or culture.”

  10. Octuple facepalm. “Thinking Catholics” at work.

    Are they really arguing for the “authenticity” of someone who calls herself “Lady Gaga”? At least Madonna used her given name, for the love of Elvis. I guess their knack for critical thinking shorts out spectacularly when it’s not aimed Romeward.

    So if I change my name to Lord Portaloo, run my voice through an autotuner and rip-off a much-more-talented-in-every-way predecessor, as long as I mouth platitudes about self-esteem I can strut around in a codpiece (literally made of cod) and get lickspittle love from some of the best educated laity ever?

    Better get to work.

  11. “As such, the real theological impact of her work resides not in the content of her position on sexuality, but in her willingness to proclaim it”

    Tell that to the junior high kids hooked on the porn who haven’t even begun yet to live or sort out sexuality or identity…

    By this criteria, the billions plus porn industry (which is an export for the US) is a theological good. Meaning, good, virtuous, healthy, helpful…

  12. The whole notion that one only has sexual power if one simulates sex acts on tv or wears things that arouse in order to be objectified by another seeking immediate sexual gratification and nothing more is so passe.

    Apart from the cleavage or the thongs what she wears (and says and sings) is a bit sterile. Since she does not mention anything spiritual but just uses certain words and throws rosaries around for effect, it’s kind of hilarious to say that she carries any theological message.

    I think that her overall theological message is more having to do with this “funny expensive clothes, a disco beat, combined with marketed with hatred towards the Church” sells big right now in the U.S.

    If a young woman who looked exactly like her but dressed according to the Mormon culture shown on reality tv were to attempt to market her stuff how far would that go? Who’s to say that such a person lacks “sexual authenticity” or “sexual power”?

  13. Great post, Emily.

    Dale, that is why I read Paglia a lot more regularly than America.

  14. Cut them some slack – those America writers have deadlines to meet and white space to fill just like everybody else. They may have even misplaced their “pop star has theological theme” article generator and had to write from scratch! That ain’t easy while nursing a hangover.

  15. c matt, So I take it you aren’t one to take the “theological output” of America magazine seriously? Certainly there can be some interesting articles. Maybe it was sort of like PBS pledge week…

  16. This Paglia line pretty well sums up:
    “Lady Gaga is a manufactured personality…”

    What year did David Bowie do the Ziggy act…now living a bourgeois albeit extremely wealthy existence with wife Iman…It’s about profiting from manufactured shock and awe isn’t it.

    Sort of insulting to artistic community to say that if they cannot afford to wear push-up bras and simulate sex (or, for whatever reasons, choose a different avenue for their art) while throwing around a rosary that they lack authenticity or power…pretty sad commentary isn’t it.

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