Out on the Edge: Is Lady Gaga a Role Model?

Popular culture has recently been taken over by a woman by the name of “Lady Gaga.” Born Stefani Germanotta, this performer has become a symbol of complete self-expression and freedom from social conventions to her fans, and has been held up as a role model.  As she said herself, “The truth is what I’m a role model for is the ability to change culture,” and “I find it so important now to be a role model and a figure … most important is my connection with my fans and the connection that they breed with one another.” Given that her goals are such, it is essential to look beyond her basic message of freedom and to examine what kind of behavior the entirety of her work promotes, since it contains problematic messages regarding many important topics, including religion, sex, respect, and treatment of women.

There is a strong theme of violence and perversion in Lady Gaga’s work, usually of a sexual nature and usually toward women. Because this is a family-friendly publication, most of her material is too explicit to be specifically detailed here, but there is no shortage of instances of this attitude in her song lyrics and music videos. Many of her songs like “I Like it Rough” and “Animal” portray a woman as a victim who will do anything to satisfy her base desires, and her music videos like “Telephone” and “Bad Romance” repeatedly show someone being victimized, either by being violated, kidnapped, drugged, stripped, or even murdered. These videos are also often pornographic, from the terribly immodest outfits worn by Gaga and the other characters to the particular filming style, which often focuses on only one part of a woman’s body. Combine this with explicit dancing, and the picture of an objectified woman is complete.

Lady Gaga also chooses to trespass into religious territory and frequently abuses specifically Catholic and Christian figures or symbols in her work, often while including satanic themes and imagery. In the music video for “Alejandro,” Gaga eats a rosary while dressed in a red latex nun’s habit and wears inverted crosses. In “Judas,” Gaga retells the story of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, featuring a scene in which Gaga (as Mary Magdalene) washes the feet of both Jesus and Judas as they sit together as equals in a hot tub. She also wears multiple outfits that feature crosses in inappropriate ways, dances sexually in a blue top that showcases an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and wears a blue mantle reminiscent of traditional depictions of Mary, the Mother of God, all while singing about how much she loves Judas. Gaga (who was raised a Catholic and now identifies herself as a Christian) intentionally released this music video on Easter Sunday, making her blasphemy even more deliberate.

Lady Gaga’s work is full of contradictions, as she frequently makes positive statements on important issues, but encourages the opposite negative behavior in her music videos and songs. This is particularly evident in her dealings with the issues of bullying and feminism, since even though she calls herself a feminist and actively campaigns against bullying, her work consistently glorifies depictions of bullying and abuse of women. Even her call to be happy to be “Born this Way” is contradictory, since she’s created a new persona for herself, even with a new name. According to her, “Lady Gaga is my name. If you know me, and you call me Stefani, you don’t really know me at all.” Gaga also glamorized suicide in her song “Princess Die,” and she recently smoked marijuana onstage during a concert in Amsterdam, saying it encourages her work: “I want you to know it has totally changed my life … It has been a totally spiritual experience for me with my music.” Even her new “Fame” perfume is problematic, since it’s intended to make you smell like, as Gaga put it, an “expensive hooker.”

 

If you think that no one is really going to think of her as a positive role model, think again. In a recent article, a blogger said that, after much struggle and denial, she learned to accept Lady Gaga as a role model for today’s women and girls. Why? Because she “isn’t afraid to act smart, dress for herself, focus on things other than her body, be odd, and have a sick name.” The blogger adds that her name even teaches women and girls that it is OK to be a lady! This could not make less sense, since the behavior she models is overwhelmingly negative. We have a responsibility as Catholics to recognize the dangerous messages that fill Gaga’s work, and in doing so, we should refuse to listen to her music or support her in any way. She once said, “I want women and men to feel empowered by a deeper and more psychotic part of themselves. The part they’re always trying desperately to hide. I want that to become something that they cherish.” Certainly Lady Gaga is a role model; there is no question about that. But she is anything but a positive one.

Rebecca Smith

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Rebecca Smith is a music teacher at a Catholic elementary school and serves as music director (pianist/organist, choir director and cantor) for a Catholic parish. She can be reached at rebeccasmith.rcc@gmail.com.

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