Gaga and Gaudium et Spes
In light of that intent, another observation from the Vanity Fair piece is worth noting. According to Robinson, Gaga
is, without question, the world's biggest pop star . . . She has had close to 800 million views of her videos on YouTube. She recently broke the record on Facebook with more than 12 million fans—surpassing those of President Obama's. Digital downloads of her singles have reached more than 25 million.
There's more. Time voted her one of the 100 most influential people of 2009, and Barbara Walters named her one of the "Ten Most Fascinating People" that same year. Oprah dubbed Gaga a "cultural and spiritual leader."
Her fans agree. They view Gaga like a lot of voters viewed President Obama prior to the election: as a shade of the supernatural, someone who initiates a way of thinking, a way of being, at once healing and salvific. According to Robinson, Gaga's fans send her thousands of books and paintings, many filled with stories about broken families, abandonment, struggles with sexuality, self-hatred, and bullying. In the wake of her video for the song "Paparazzi," a video in which Gaga rises and walks from crutches and a wheelchair, Gaga said, "I had girls in wheelchairs crying to me at meet-and-greets, telling me that when they saw that video it changed their lives."
Gaga joins the imagery with an attractive message. In her June 2010 conversation with Larry King, for example, she said, "I'm more interested in helping my fans to love who they are and helping them to reject prejudice and reject those things that they're taught from society to not like [about] themselves." At one concert, Gaga implored the audience "to reject anyone or anything that ever made you feel that you don't belong. Free yourself of these things tonight!"
The rise of Gaga even includes a kind of rebirth: as a young girl, she "used to pray every night that God would make me crazy. I prayed that God would teach me something, that he would instill in me a creativity and a strangeness that all of those people that I loved and respected had."
So let's see: she has incorporated flesh and blood into her costuming; the wounded and dispossessed flock to her; she talks about love and exhorts her followers to reject the perceived moralisms of society; she preaches freedom; and she prayed to become like those with whom she now professes solidarity.
At this point, you will absolutely not be surprised to read the following observation from a writer in Elle magazine: "A theme [Gaga] revisits in her videos and songs is herself as somehow destroyed and resurrected."
Plenty of other celebrities have found themselves labeled "messianic" in popularity or perception. But it is doubtful whether anyone in recent years has so deliberately cultivated that adjective the way Gaga has. To men and women who have felt only isolation and ridicule, she is an icon of love and acceptance. In her success, gays and lesbians in particular feel they have an ally, one of the few with the fame and power to fight the negativity that stalks them from so many different places, pulpits included.
A Church dedicated to reading the signs of the times and to shedding the light of the Gospel upon them cannot fail to consider Gaga's influence and what that influence says about both her fans and the health of the mystical body of Christ.
How is it, one might ask, that a 25-year-old multimillionaire wearing dresses that spew fake blood becomes a more compelling source of hope than the followers of Christ?
To that question there is no single answer. Some people like Gaga because of her music. Some like her simply because she is different. Some enjoy a catharsis as they watch her dismantle mainstream norms. And some are galvanized by her embrace of a near-total subjectivism: read her interviews or listen to her songs and it's hard to imagine any behavior or lifestyle she would not validate. There is no taboo, no abnormal; the self is absolute.
For people with brittle identities, that is a tempting path to liberation. But Gaga's martyrdom is staged, and the redemption she offers is not real. Gaga is still only a human being, herself in need of security and love. To her and to her millions of fans, then, the Church must bear witness in fresh and accessible ways to the true source of our hope and identity, who long before Lady Gaga announced:
Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. (Mt 11:5).
Matt Emerson writes from California, where he teaches at Xavier Prep.