Thursday, March 29, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mother Monster!

I love Lady Gaga. Most people who know me think this is inconsistent with my personality. So here, in my birthday post, since her birthday was yesterday, I’m going to explain one small aspect of her appeal.
Lady Gaga claims to be a Master of the Art of Fame. What is so compelling about this is that in most circumstances fame is
1)    a tool used to establish a platform
2)    a by-product of a high-visibility career such as acting or politics, or
3)    a fleeting occupation for freaks and criminals.
But fame, as celebrity or popularity, is neither mastered nor art. At least, not by any of the famous people we have known.
Fame as Exposure
Some celebs lament the burden of fame – paparazzi and the invasion of privacy – and others crave the spotlight of it via reality show or public appearances. They lead us to believe fame is not controllable.
As a tool for promotion, fame may lead to a higher income or more opportunity. This is true of sports stars in the Olympics or college vying for professional careers. But the recipients of such advantages are usually also victims of the invading and fleeting nature of fame.
Careers in art such as film, theatre, fashion, or music may require a certain level of fame. In this case fame is used as marketing. While the art may be what fame promotes, the fame itself is not the art.
For those freaks and criminals whose fame occurs by accident, the aftermath is typically much worse. Like being in the center of a tornado with its terrific winds and spiraling height, participants in this fame are bound to fall. The news media loses interest, the truth about one’s life prior to fame comes to light, or some fatal public relations misstep brings the ride to an abrupt and usually disgraceful end.
The most intriguing thing about this type of fame is the self-loathing the observers feel once the experience ends. How did we fall for that? How did we even care about that? More on that in a future post.
Lady Gaga-style Fame
None of these, though, is Lady Gaga. She has no platform. True, there is the “Born This Way” message, but she is not campaigning for office or funding a charity. She promotes self-acceptance and love as their own rewards. She doesn’t want anything from her Little Monsters, she wants things for them.
She does not have a product. Yes, she sings and dances, and provides comedy on the funniest episode of SNL in a decade, easily. But the product, Gaga, transcends music and fashion. She’s more and she makes that very clear. While selling records is how she gets paid, she is not a reluctant participant in marketing herself or her music.
To dismiss her as a freak or criminal would be simply absurd given the acclaim and affection she has earned.
So how did she earn it?
Fame as Artistic Medium
Master of the Art of Fame: she has made Fame a medium. It is not a tool, it is not an accident, it is how she creates art, like sculpture has clay and portraiture has paint and music has notes, Gaga uses fame and its many dimensions to be an artist. Her efforts are so purposeful as to not be misunderstood.
When she confides to Anderson Cooper that she is insecure, when she wears something outrageous to judge American Idol, when she shows herself, any piece of herself, she is always in character. She is always Gaga. Yet she is always in control and she is consistent, which indicates the character is true.
Her tools are social media, music, television, and photography. And whether these are her own Tweets or others’ hashtags, or interviews or sketch comedy shows, or magazine covers or paparazzi, it is all her own art. She’s made others the builders and painters of her art, they add the structure and the color, but she determines her own role, she directs the production.
Is this new?
Political machines have this kind of press manipulation. Some of the best of it occurs at the highest levels. The reason they fail and she succeeds is because she doesn’t lie. She doesn’t need to spin the perceptions of voters. She doesn’t need them to stay employed. She can afford to tell the truth about herself.
It’s refreshing, it’s frightening, it’s compelling. I can’t help it, I love her. As I am nine years her senior, I don't consider myself a "Little Monster," but I adore her nonetheless. She inspires me. Be bigger, be better, be yourself, be happy.
I’m drawn to adjectives like Bold and Fierce and Courageous. If her art is a fa├žade, simply a character she’s playing, it is still a bold character. And if her art is really her, even in the smallest way, then it is braver still.

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