[Update: Just to be clear—because there seems to be some misunderstanding about this, for which I’m happy to take full responsibility—this piece is in no way meant as a commentary on either the political message of Sarah Palin, or the music of Lady Gaga. It’s simply a look at what I believe to be the primary reason for their phenomenal appeal. Thanks! Love.]
To those on the left, a person inspired by Sarah Palin is like a person who rushes to pick up a road apple dropped by an oblivious, preening parade horse, takes a giant bite out of it, and cries out, “Oh, yummers!”
To those on the right, a person inspired by Lady Gaga is like a crackhead in a hot air balloon: at best aimlessly floating, and certainly headed for a crash.
For anyone who is or aspires to be a spiritual leader, there is something exceptionally important to learn from both Palin and Gaga. Because though of course their styles of delivery (not to mention their audiences) could hardly be more different, the message each is sending her audience is identical. And that message is the same one delivered by Jesus Christ in his Sermon on the Mount.
What Sarah Palin and Lady Gaga are both communicating to their fans is: “Even though the world might care not a whit about you, you are, just as you are, fantastic.”
“No matter how maligned and ignored you are,” they’re saying, “you are special. You’re more than special: you’re awesome. You may not be rich, educated, glamorous, spectacularly talented, particularly disciplined, nagged by ambition, burdened by potential, in control of your destiny, envied, articulate, accomplished, understood, admired, famous, or respected. But, still and forever, you are awesome. You, whom the world has deemed to have nothing, have, in fact, everything.”
That’s a message to which people passionately respond. It’s one that moves product, engenders loyalty, fills stadiums, launches movements. That message is a gift that keeps on giving.
Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the mournful. Blessed are the broken, the sad, the lonely, the hopeless.
The nobodies of today will be the somebodies of tomorrow.
That’s the most impactful, straight-to-the-heart message there is.
Sarah Palin’s appeal isn’t to mainstream America. It’s to people who feel that mainstream America has cast them aside, left them behind, decreed that their values and convictions are superfluous, trite, boring, hopelessly outdated. What people who wonder how anyone can be so stupid as to support Sarah Palin completely miss is that Palin’s message—her brand, as it were—has nothing whatsoever to do with thought, and everything to do with emotion. It may be true that Palin is ignorant of history, geography, current events, the purpose of a dictionary. And to those inspired by her affirmation of their private, instinctive convictions about their own lives, those things are no more relevant than would be news of Harvard University changing the font on its diplomas.
Forget the news; the news doesn’t matter. What matters is identifying with Sarah. What matters is being Sarah’s friend.
For her part, Lady Gaga is also reaching out to those who look out at the world and see no one famous or powerful who looks or feels the way they do. Though on the opposite side of the social-cultural spectrum from Sarah Palin’s, Lady Gaga’s audience also consists of people who understand themselves as maligned, shunned, passed over, and ignored.
They’re freaks, misfits, outcasts. No one’s listening to them. No one really cares about their existence. They have no power.
And there’s Lady Gaga, nailing it with just her name. Being as outrageous as possible. Tickling and affirming her fans by calling them “little monsters.” Boldly being on the outside what on the inside they’ve for so long known themselves to be.
Lady G. is telling her audience the same thing that Sarah Palin tells hers: that they’re perfect, just as they are. That it’s not just okay, but righteous to be something that the establishment doesn’t consider normal, that’s beyond the pale of the mainstream, that by all pronounced and supported standards is absurdly subpar. That their values are exciting, admirable, and honorable—no matter what society at large tells them.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,” said Jesus on the Mount. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you… .”
And bingo: you’re not just invited to the party. You are the party.
Anyone who cares about the well-being of others should take a lesson from Palin and Gaga, which is that the most important, affective, salient thing you can communicate to another is that they are, just as they are, fantastic. That they don’t need to change in order to be worthy; that they are worthy. I think Christians in particular need to be sensible of the value of this message. Because so often the message Christians lead with isn’t, “You’re awesome; I love you.” It’s “You’re broken; you need to be fixed.”
I know how hard it can be for the Christian to not believe that the non-Christian is, in fact, broken, that they do need to be fixed. And if as a Christian you cannot imagine being inspired or guided in how you engage with others by the likes of a Sarah Palin or Lady Gaga, then cut straight to the model of Jesus Christ himself. Read the most famous part of his Sermon on the Mount, The Beatitudes. Note that nowhere within them does Jesus say or even suggest that anyone in his audience needs to change anything about themselves in order to become worthy of the kingdom of heaven.
They’re perfect, just as they are.
If you’re a Christian, you probably find the message of absolute affirmation that Sarah Palin and Lady Gaga are sending to their audiences woefully inadequate. And ultimately you may be right about that. But if you really want to be a “follower of Christ,” you could do a whole lot worse than bearing in mind what Palin and Gaga both do as you take your place beside Jesus on the Mount, and, hand in hand with him, first and foremost offer unconditional love, and absolute affirmation.
I once also wrote “Five Pros & Cons About Sarah Palin.”