Dissonant Notes

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lady Gaga Thinks Homosexuality is Perverted

Imagine you're browsing on youtube and you find one of those ten minute videos where a young liberal minded reporter enters the lions den and starts asking conservative types what they think of gay marriage. The reporter is saying nothing, letting the typical bile flow out of the interviewee's mouths, condemning themselves with their ignorance. An older man appears onscreen and starts lambasting the gay lifestyle. "They're all a bunch of perverts. Dressing up and whipping themselves all the time. Not one of them is normal. They're all perverted freaks having orgies all the time". We allow ourselves a chuckle while inwardly gasping at the sheer idiocy of it all. But get this: Lady Gaga thinks exactly the same thing as this imaginary gentleman. Don't believe me? Read on friend.

Lady Gaga from day one has set herself up as an advocate of gay rights. Let me say right off the bat that as a position this is obviously admirable, especially as many gay couples are fighting to secure what should be unarguable rights. So far so good. But does Lady Gaga herself understand the association she is making by having gay rights advocacy infused so strongly with her highly stylised overtly sexual imagery that looks like dance night at an S and M club? Lady Gaga wants to be controversial. This is a given. Therefore she is playing with imagery that is meant to ruffle the feathers of the more prudish elements of American society. All fun and games, but if she imagines homosexuality to be one of those highly stylised shows of sexual degeneracy that will cause a stir then we have a problem. The problem is, homosexuality is normal. When a 25 year old man gazes longingly at the handsome stranger who just entered the bar, he is not engaging in a degenerate, perverted activity. He is obeying a natural bodily impulse. Do some homosexuals dabble in S and M? Obviously they do, as do a great many straight couples. Do I have a problem with S and M? Not in the slightest. One thing should be clear however: the rights of the S and M enthusiast come from a different legal and moral tradition than gay rights.

One of the great defences of gay rights goes something like this: gay people do not have a choice and should not be condemned by society for obeying natural impulses that cause no harm when practiced by consenting adults. As a position it is unarguable; but what if it weren't a choice? What if everybody felt raging sexual emotions toward everyone, but homosexuality were simply frowned upon or outlawed as unnatural due to religious beliefs or folk traditions? A case could still be made for the practice to be legal among consenting adults, but it would not come from a gay rights philosophy, it would come straight out of the John Stuart Mill tradition of the individual being at liberty to do as they wish as long as it does not harm others. It's all the same isn't it? No, it is not. A gay woman can press for her right to marry but still support the war in Iraq, or the law that a Corporation should be allowed to make donations to political parties, or indeed any political position she pleases. She can even think S and M is perverted. Being gay does not come with a set of beliefs. The civil rights movement was not based on a John Stuart Mill philosophy of individual rights, it was founded on the notion that black people had the same rights under law as white people. Gay rights advocacy groups ask that we see homosexuality as normal, and that homosexuals be given the same rights as heterosexuals. I wouldn't imagine that they want to see homosexuality viewed as a kink, or as a challenge to the patriarchal society, or as a rejection of norms. No, they simply wish it to be seen as normal.

So back to Lady Gaga. Let me reiterate, I see her support of gays rights as noble, and her support of gay charity groups can only be helpful. There is however, something not quite right in her portrayal of homosexuality as a kink, as a pervy side show to make the soccer moms blush. It makes it look like a marketing strategy rather than a genuine concern for gay rights, and it associates homosexuality with sexual practices that are obviously seen as deviant and shocking. In a Rolling Stone interview she claimed bisexuality, stating that her attraction to women was a problem for the men in her life. The fact that she never mentioned whether her attraction to men was a problem for the women in her life, and the interviewer never thought to ask, suggests that there really are no women in her life as a serious relationship prospect and that her "bisexuality" is entirely imagined, an image building excercise, or an occasional indulgence in what she sees as shocking behaviour, and something she will grow out of. By this point it hardly needs pointing out that her supposed bisexuality is nothing to do with gays rights and everything to do with individual rights, closer to Ron Paul than Harvey Milk.

I worry that, in a PR sense, her attempt to connect homosexuality so strongly with what are seen as deviant sexual acts will actually play into the hands of many religious bigots who see homosexuality as a perversion. One can perhaps say that it isn't Lady Gaga's fault if they make that connection, but seeing as Lady Gaga clearly makes that connection too it doesn't really stand up as a defence. So what if Lady Gaga thinks none of these acts are deviant? Well, she clearly knows that other people think they are, and by wrapping them all up in a provocative package she is at the very least exploiting their ability to shock, and by including homosexuality in that product she seems to be exploiting the idea of homosexuality as a deviant act rather than trying to show that it is in fact a normal thing for a human being to be. Don't tell me that the video for "Alejandro" was anything other than a second rate attempt to shock, a pale shadow of Madonna's "Like A Prayer" controversy. If she wants to shock people, fine, but by tying her actions in so closely with gay rights she risks reinforcing all the most bigoted and backwards beliefs about the homosexual lifestyle, and right now that's a problem.

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I wanted to add a postscript. As many have probably seen, Lady Gaga made a video asking for the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell'. While humbly positioning herself as the voice of her generation, she also made this curious statement:

"We are not asking you to agree with or approve the moral implications of homosexuality"

Now, can someone tell me the moral implications of homosexuality? It seems like either she wanted to sound intelligent and failed, or she is clearly confusing gay rights with individual rights. She seems to think that being homosexual should be categorised with all libertarian causes, and not tied to basic human rights like the civil rights movement. Imagine if you will at the height of the civil rights movement, when many expressed open disgust with the idea of a black man and a white woman marrying, someone were to say "We are not asking you to agree with or approve the moral implications of interracial marriage". Yes, the legislator does not have to agree, but what would the moral implications be? There would be none, other than some people thinking it is wrong. Now, in the case of 'don't ask, don't tell', nobody is asking for soldiers to have the right to engage in sexual acts that are categorised as gay, simply that they are allowed to BE gay, and not have to hide it. Again, I'm struggling to see any moral implications. It may seem like an insignificant point to raise, but I think it shows a muddled understanding of the issue at hand. Gay rights is a fight against discrimination, just as the civil rights movement was. It should not be something individual states get to decide, like drinking age. Being gay is a fundamental aspect of a persons being that nevertheless implies nothing other than what sex one is attracted to. Like being black or Jewish, there are certain cultural tendencies that are associated with being gay, but these cultural aspects cannot and should not be thought of as applying to all gay people. Homophobia should always be categorised alongside racism and anti-semitism, not with people who disapprove of smoking or owning guns. I find it a little unnerving that the voice of our generation doesn't seem to get that.

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