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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XXVI, No. 3
Michaelmas 2011

Born this Way:
Lady Gaga and Her Truthful Video

by Juli Loesch Wiley

“In every manifestation of his mind working in ignorance — but sincerely — man shows his desire for God’s light. In all his psychological mistakes and oddities, he shows a wish to be what God wants him to be, though he often shows it unconsciously and by making his pseudo-self into a caricature of his real, God-made self.”

— Caryll Houselander

It started out as a conversation with a young person I care for: a conversation that itself raised a spark of gratitude in me, since he communicates with very few, and I am not often one of the few. Anthony John — we’ll call him that — considers himself the odd sock, the misunderstood singleton who fades back while others pair off. He does seem to have a more vital connection to his iPod than to any living soul.

Somehow that became the topic. “We’re all misfits”, I offered, feeling very humane and Catholic for putting it that way. Having for many years pondered my own oddities — yes, I have thought of them long, and not always soundly — I thought I might offer a little hard-won insight here.

He looked interested, so I pushed on for the catechetical clincher: “Being different can be a source of suffering, but also of understanding. One of my favorite writers, Caryll Houselander, always felt she was kind of an oddball, but she had this tremendous compassion for others who felt messed-up and out-of-place. She was probably a saint, you know?”

“Yeah, reaching out. Understanding. That’s good, that’s the main thing”, Anthony John agreed. “Like Lady Gaga in ‘Born This Way’”.

Ouch. The collapse of the catechetical clincher.

You could go to the internet, as I did to get a full dose — eyeful, earful, and readable lyrics — of the Lady Gaga music video, “Born This Way” (youtube.com/watch?v=wV1FrqwZyKw). It’s old news, since both the single and the video were released in February 2011. Maybe you should catch up?

But: no, I can’t say I recommend it.

But here’s a few things you need to know about it: it is a visually stunning, high-production-value manifesto — skilled, explicit, effective propaganda — essentially making this point:

Personal individuality > Worth and dignity > Human rights

Sweet! Pretty fair! But then:

Polymorphous perversion = Personal individuality

Pretty foul.

How effective? Here’s the other thing you need to know: this YouTube video has had, so far, more than 75,000,000 viewers.

Including me.

Consider the question: what’s the message the 75 million viewers probably take home from this meaty, beaty, penetrating and persuasive pitch?

Here’s an odd thing about it. The song, the audio track, “Born This Way”, asserts that sexual perversion is inborn, in an explicitly theological way:

No matter gay, straight or bi
Lesbian, transgendered life…
A different lover is not a sin
Believe capital H-I-M.

Capital H-I-M”? She’s talking about God? Yes.

I’m beautiful in my way,
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way.

Stefani Joann Angelina Germanotta — Lady Gaga — attended the Convent of the Sacred Heart, a private all-girls Roman Catholic school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. According to its “Goals and Criteria” statement, Sacred Heart promotes a “critical consciousness” linked to “total community” with people who are “poor, marginalized and suffering from injustice”. In part, these values are surely reflected in the “Born This Way” lyrics, which exhort:

Don’t be drag, just be a queen
Whether you’re broke or evergreen
You’re black, white, beige, chola descent
You’re Lebanese, you’re orient...

Whether life’s disabilities
Left you outcast, bullied or teased
Rejoice and love yourself today
‘Cause baby, you were born this way.

These are good, hopeful thoughts, if construed in an “all God’s children” kind of way, and bracketing for a moment any reference to disordered sexual behavior. One would expect a winsome eye-candy collage to go along with such Kumbaya sentiments. (Cue: “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world…”)

But the video, the visual track, abandons any winsome appeal to the eye, and focuses on frankly hellish imagery.

You have to see it to dis-believe it.

As the music spirals back to the sex theme, the camera returns repeatedly to two androgynous corpse-figures — a man and Gaga herself portraying a man — in tuxedos (bridegrooms?), clinging to and fondling each other. It’s a challenge to describe, since Gaga’s images, like her paradigms, are a shifty lot: the overall impression manages to be at once hallucinatory, matrimonial, and funereal.

The audio pounds in the doctrine that all the permutations of gender identity and sexual attraction are inborn, but the video disagrees. It shows a disoriented female trying on manikin heads that are variously feminine and masculine, this and that. She’s not searching into herself honestly to find what is inborn: she’s a plastic artifact without a head of her own, toying with detached identities.

What’s smeared across the retina is a kind of sexual repellent: not loving or lovely, not like anything you would reach out to for wonder, warmth and breath. And this surprised me, reminded me of one of Frodo’s lines from Lord of the Rings: “I would think that a servant of the Enemy would look fair and feel foul.”

Mute the audio, suspend the actual words for a stretch of seven minutes, and what you see looks foul.

Not all of it, of course. There’s some choreography that could legitimately appeal to people who like aerobic girls with not much clothing (lusty, but in its way, exhilarating and exuding cardio-pulmonary health.) But that’s the best of it. The worst looks like an animated necropolis, a decayed carnival.

I am not one to ridicule a man or a woman who desires same-sex erotic relations by exploiting the Ick Factor. One of the reasons I despise heterosexual porn is that it makes even normal sexual doings — the whole man/woman project — seem pointless and ugly. It uproots sex, takes a knife to its tendrils, tears off its petals, and leaves the stamens and pistils out there looking stupid.

People’s longings and drives, whether well-directed or misdirected, deserve gentle handling. Whether anyone can accurately be called “gay” — as if it summarized their identity — I very much doubt. But whatever we are called or call ourselves, I know what we are called to be: icons of God.

So if I were a video-moralist, I would refuse to stoop to the tactic of demeaning gay people by depicting physically repugnant vignettes. I would be ashamed to create such ugly images against homosexuality, as the Gaga videographers have created in favor of it.

This is a puzzle. Lady Gaga is in a sense globally distributing her very own anti-gay propaganda.

And yet … there is something inherently objectionable about gay sex acts. Such acts do not embody the life drive, but a turning away from the life drive. They do not procreate new human treasures, but rather are significant vectors of disease. They bend the stem of the species into a question mark. They make people’s embodied sexual differentiation and reciprocity seem pointless. They direct the lifestream into a sewer.

Just like “straight” sex acts with a rubber.

A West Coast gay writer, Richard Rodriguez, has put it succinctly: contraceptors are heterosexual gays.

That fact alone surely prevents me from being a heterosexual triumphalist, considering what a botch heteros have made of sexuality. What do you think of those moral opinionistas (very often, but not always, non-Catholics) who object selectively to “gays” and “trannies”, while not objecting to anti-fertility hormone regimens, pills and patches, jellies and jams, plugs and rubbers for straight people? They’re certainly not objecting in principle to acts that are turned away from their own nature, perverted acts. I personally suspect that they are just bigots, after all.

This suggests a whole bundle of paradoxes and contradictions. And Lady Gaga’s absurd and ugly video — because it is absurd and ugly — is also a truth-telling video. That is, it conveys the truth back-handedly, if the viewer carefully analyzes its inbuilt contradictions.

One easy-to-spot contradiction: if this is love, where’s the loveliness?

Another: you’re hardly “born this way” if you’re “transgender” — a person who wants to surgically mutilate and remove the way he was born.

Another: you can hardly celebrate conditions (“gay and bi” or even “promiscuous straight”) that make it so difficult for men and women to find their way into natural marriage: the unique and blessed mutual giftedness of husband and wife.

Lady Gaga is right to say we should show respect to those who are dealing with “life’s disabilities”, but she is wrong to say we ought to define ourselves by our disabilities, and cling to our disorders as if they were our very selves.

Gaga remembers that God created the Good (“Cause God makes no mistakes”), but she forgets that the Enemy has attacked the Good with disorder and deception, with the rot, the blight and the skull-face stink.

So the viewer must analyze and remember. But how likely is that? Music videos are not about “analyzing” and “remembering”: they’re about plunging into a sense-surround and absorbing indiscriminate impressions. That, as communication theorist Marshall McLuhan would remind us, is the nature of the medium.

If anyone evaluated the “Born This Way” video in terms of True or False, Fair or Foul, Lady Gaga’s sex messages would be as welcome on six continents as an E. coli-contaminated effluent stream. But instead, she’s promoted by national and international power establishments, governments, political leaders, Democratic and Republican alike (like I’m surprised? Okay, I’m not). There’s this:

Hillary: State Dept. ‘Instrumental in Sealing Deal’ for Lady Gaga’s Gay Pride Gig

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday that the State Department played an instrumental role in “sealing the deal” for pop-rock star Lady Gaga to perform at a gay pride rally in Rome, Italy. Clinton specifically pointed to a letter that David Thorne, the U.S. ambassador to Italy, sent to Lady Gaga urging her to participate in the event. “And then there is the work that our embassy team in Rome has been doing,” Clinton said. “Two weeks ago they played an instrumental role in bringing Lady Gaga to Italy for a Euro Pride concert…

(Source: cnsnews.com/news/article/hillary-us-ambassador-instrumental-seali)

And this:

Bush Solicitor General ‘Proud’ of Lady Gaga’s Support for Same-Sex Marriage

Ted Olson, former Solicitor General under President George W. Bush, said he is “proud” of Lady Gaga’s support for same sex marriage and credited celebrities for raising public awareness of the issue. “Lady Gaga — I’m very proud that she announced last week that one of the songs on her album was inspired by the Proposition 8 [same-sex marriage] case” said Olson on Monday during a keynote address at a U.S. Justice Department Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) ceremony…

(Source: cnsnews.com/news/article/fmr-solicitor-general-proud-lady-gaga-s)

So: the US Department of State and the US Department of Justice at your service, officially sponsoring the deconstruction of sex. Your tax dollars at work.

Surely people will get a bellyful of this tainted meat, and then at some point eject it. Won’t they? Surely real sexual love — that which connects the two sexes and the 10,000 generations, the fount of life for every one of us — must attract people, and dead-end disorder and dysfunction must repel them. Won’t it?

Even Lady Gaga’s videographers know — and even if they don’t “know” it, they show it — that being jerked around by lust is as wholesome as an amputation, as lively as a couple of carcasses, and as truthful as a rack of plastic heads.

“There are certain things man was created to be… Through his redemption and his oneness with Christ; under all his confusion and folly, something in him strains and agonizes toward those things and tries to fulfill those conditions.” – Caryll Houselander

Is Lady Gaga straining toward what she was created to be? Or will she settle for corpses in tuxedos with a great dance beat?

Will she struggle toward the truth?

In the long run, the untruths — because they violate reality — will undo each other.

In the short run, I hope the untruths don’t undo the 75,000,000+ confused and ardent fans. Or the 31,000+ kids who have personally sung, recorded, and uploaded their own “Born This Way” cover videos on YouTube. Or the little girl — Maria Affendi, age 10, who did it duet-style on stage, here: youtube. com/watch?v=LEB3nnIsAmQ — with Lady Gaga herself.

In the short run, I hope they don’t violate Anthony John.


Juli Loesch Wiley, a contributing editor to Voices, is a Catholic writer and longtime pro-life activist. She is the wife of Donald Wiley and the mother of two sons. The Wileys live in Johnson City, Tennessee.


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