Tuesday, February 15, 2011
I love her intelligence, her savvy sense of the entertainment marketplace, the brilliant way she takes a theme and develops it in words, music and visual art, and the outrageous way she keeps pushing the boundaries.
Yes, she is often both crude and vulgar - so unlike the rest of what constitutes entertainment in our culture - but, like Madonna before her, she is very smart about how she uses it to both express herself as well as satisfy the "fame monster" that, if we are honest, lives in all of us.
And, if the bottom line of success has a dollar sign in front of it, she is very, very successful.
Both women were educated by nuns - Madonna in parochial schools in Detroit and Gaga at the posh Convent of the Sacred Heart, 91st Street, from which notables like the Kennedy, Vanderbilt and Hilton women also graduated.
I find the Italian-Roman Catholic parallel fascinating - especially since an undercurrent theme in the artistic expressive lives of both Madonna and Gaga have to do with images of women and power, religion and success and fame.
Madonna has been surprisingly vulnerable in her honesty about the impact the death of her mother - at age 30, when she was only 5 years old - has had on her life, her sense of self, her relationships with men and her music and her art.
Lady Gaga has also spoken of how she felt alone and like an outsider as she was growing up, and has made several references to having been taunted and bullied at school for being different from the other girls.
Indeed, both walk the line of androgyny in their costumes and both have more than hinted at their sexual dalliances with other women, forming a bond with gay men, alliances with bisexual men and women, the fondness of some lesbian women all the while enticing the sexual fantasies of many heterosexual men.
Gaga and Madonna weave themes of art, sex, and religion into their work, with Madonna adding the provocative elements of social issues and politics.
Gaga is only 23 years old. I'm sure these last two elements will begin to appear in future work as she, like Madonna, reinvents herself.
It is the image of the post-modern woman which both women project that both fascinates and intrigues me. In many ways, they present the classical stereotypes of women in power - using men and their fantasies about "the virgin whore" for financial gain and social power.
And yet they are both not afraid to show their vulnerabilities - Madonna with her two divorces and three children, and Gaga with her efforts to repair her relationship with her father, recently helping him to get the open heart surgery he needed.
Madonna has also become a superstar of spirituality - taking us with her as she moved from a rejection of her Roman Catholic roots to a sojourn with debauchery, through Eastern spirituality and now in full embrace of Jewish mysticism.
I suspect we'll see a similar trajectory for Lady Gaga. I couldn't help but chuckle - as I watched the replays of her now-infamous "Egg" performance of her new hit "Born This Way" at the Grammy Award Show the other night - that, when she had a momentary, minor slip, as she quickly recovered, she made the sign of the cross.
As a former Roman Catholic girl, I understand. The nuns of our youth continue to loom large in our present reality - as well as our future.
What messages about being a woman do these two women send to young girls? I think that's yet to be revealed.
Her concern increased, however, when I insisted - rather loudly - that I was not a "cow girl", but rather, a "cowboy girl".
Even at age six or seven, I think I intuitively understood something about gender politics. I didn't want to be a 'cow girl'. I understood that 'cowboys' had the real power, but I didn't want to give up my status as a female. So, 'cowboy girl' it was.
When I refused, I lost the privilege to wear my cowboy girl outfit. This apple didn't fall far from the tree of strong women from which I had blossomed. Even when I wasn't dressed as Dale Evans, I continued to call myself a 'cowboy girl'.
I suppose an argument could be made for the socio-cultural, political revolution caused by a seemingly innocent cultural icon as Dale Evans.
Well, at least at one time, in one little girl.
Who knows what reaction - or, counter-reaction - pop icons like Madonna and Gaga will have on this generation of young women?
You know what? I think "the weaker sex" is much stronger than that. I think we can make our own way - remembering that our greatest strength often springs from our most vulnerable, broken places.
Indeed, I think our anxieties about the influence of the entertainment industry gives way too much power to the admittedly powerful force of pop culture.
At the end of the day, I think the love and nurture of family, an understanding of God's love and the support and nurture of community instills more in us - male and female - than the credit we give to the entertainment industry.
Madonna has been a formidable if not controversial voice for AIDS education and prevention as well as her work on the forefront of the AIDS pandemic in Africa.
Lady Gaga has yet to find her voice for social good, but she's young.
After all, she did bless herself when she slipped on stage during her performance at the Grammy's.
Yes, both of these women do and say things that, in the words of Annie Lamott, are enough to cause "Jesus to drink gin straight out of the cat dish."
Never underestimate the formative and transformative power of family and faith.
That, ultimately is the message I hear from these two women - whether they intend to send it or not.
For all their controversy, these two kids "are all right".
And, so will our children and our children's children.
It has ever been thus.