Monday, February 1, 2010

Lady Gaga and the Dangers of Equality

Everyone's high school experience is different. I never really felt the extreme pressure to fit in that movies and TV tell us we should have. I think it's partly because my parents taught all of us to be ourselves and to not worry too much about other people's petty opinions, and partly because my high school was a great one whose student body was generally accepting and positive. None of this is to say that I never yearned for some thing that would let me fit in better or that I never questioned myself because my decisions didn't match the majority of my classmates. I also measured myself up against the magazines I read, because they promised to speak to some universal girliness. As with most people, the older I got, the more I realized the pointlessness of trying to be like everyone else, particularly at the expense of things I actually liked.

We tend to think of politics as a hobby and not as something that involves us all equally and requires our attendance. Your level of participation is variable, but we're all involved in politics because it sets the parameters within which we live our everyday lives. In America, we have a particularly dangerous political system because it empowers all of us, and this requires that even more attention be paid in order to hold up the greatest possibilities of the system and quash the hazards. We learn the Declaration of Independence early in our lives; we learn that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Americans cling fiercely to their equality, but it is frequently taken to mean that even nature must endow us equally, and that is unrealistic. It's also the kind of hyperequal state of mind that leaves us with only majority opinion to guide us, and while that has some legitimacy in politics, it's damaging in society at large. We understand that the majority is to be conformed to - whether or not we decide to do so is our choice, but there is significant large-scale pressure pushing us towards majority social rule. This is why we have cross-generational types. Cheerleaders do this. Nerds do that. Punks do another thing. Each type tends to fit a mold because it's what is expected by the majority. It's given us an emotional and social shorthand for understanding human relationships. I believe this is to our immense detriment, because a lack of pressure to understand each individual qua that individual leads us to lose our ability to do so.

I think fashion is important for many reasons, but mostly because it is a way to show our personalities and to show what we think is important. When it's done thoughtfully, it can remind us of and comment on our pop cultural traditions and make us think about what they mean.

And that's why I nearly peed my pants when Lady Gaga showed up on the red carpet dressed like the Soviet space program.
Lady Gaga at the Grammys (Image from Getty, via Jezebel)

I love Lady Gaga, and I love her for many, many reasons, not all of which are explainable, but chief amongst these is her declaration that she is a performance artist and the zest with which she sets about living up to that name. She takes insane risks, not only with fashion or politics (she is an outspoken activist for many causes, not least gay rights), but with her principal source of fame, her music. When she showed up on American Idol, a glorified karaoke show, watched by people who enjoy hearing reasonably competent karaoke, and completely broke down and restructured her biggest current hit, "Poker Face," she risked weirding out a major section of her audience, but she did it anyway. That takes serious balls. I just love that she's willing to play with every social norm she can get her little monster hands on, and I think it's possibly the healthiest social experiment that has come along in ages. She's talented, but focuses on an often-disposable genre. She's pretty, but she's not classically beautiful, and she changes her look so often with glasses and makeup it hardly matters. She has a great body but her fashion choices dramatically shift the shape of her body (see exhibit C, the Snow Miser outfit she rocked after this one).

Maybe it's a stretch to say that Lady Gaga could be great for a healthy American democracy, but I hope that people can take cues from her and experiment with the way things are, have been and should be. Dispelling some of our long held stereotypes and rickety beliefs could go a long way towards restoring our ability to discuss the state of America productively and clearly.

And that's why I'm proud to hold my little monster hand high.

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