Gaga for Gaga

I am not much of a celebrity watcher. This may not be much of a surprise to some of my dear readers. Occasionally something like the “twerk” breaks through my self-imposed isolation from pop culture to give me something to ponder. (I’d have had to be living under a rock in Siberia. In a cave. Probably under the permafrost to miss that one.) In any case, it was not the twerk alone, but also Lady Gaga. I got there by way of Facebook.

Unlikely as it seems, I follow Lady Gaga’s updates on Facebook. This probably seems even more out there when you consider that I am the mother of two. One is already in high school and the other is a “tween”. I generally don’t bother to read the endless rants of the assorted “little monsters”. They are more often than not gushing with adoration of the venerable Gaga. In light of that, it was pretty unusual to see someone post the pejorative term “slut” about her on Gaga’s page, and then go on to make some half-baked comparison to Miley Cyrus. That’s what actually got my attention and made me think.

There’s a feminist rant just waiting to happen here, by the way. “Slut” after all is a term rather generally applied to just about any female who happens to break the mold and exhibit some sort of power doing it. That’s not where I’m going with this, although it is a valid point.

It was the jarring comparison that was made rather off-handedly between the squirm-worthy Cyrus and Her High Fabulousness, Gaga. I can’t overstress that the comparison is ludicrous at best. It’s just downright insulting to Gaga at worst. She might disagree with me. After all, there is that Oscar Wilde thing about not being talked about at all. Considering the vast marketing machine that is all things Gaga, I suspect she would probably be amused rather than insulted.

That, in fact, is the first difference of several. All things Gaga are exactly that. There is not a single aspect of her performance art phenomenon that she doesn’t create all by herself or at the very least heavily influence. The same cannot be said of Cyrus.

Both were performing from a young age, but it wasn’t Miley who was composing and writing her own music from the tender age of four. A quick check of Miley’s discography uncovers a long list of co-writers and producers. Not so for Gaga. Now I don’t mean to imply that Miley hasn’t got any talent at all. All you have to do is listen to her soaring vocals on a song like The Climb to know that she has some serious vocal chops. The difference is the all encompassing nature of diverse talents across a broad spectrum of skills. In Gaga’s case it’s not merely the performance. It’s everything from marketing to media management, writing, creating, activism, visual art, performance art… the list goes on. It’s a singularly impressive list.

Another difference between the two may simply be a matter of age. Both may have been performing early on, but it was Miley who grew up in the media spotlight as Hannah Montana. It’s one thing to grow into a role that causes media frenzy. It’s quite another to try and grow up in–and then out of–a highly romanticized tween/teen image of wholesome, American, girl next door. Think Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears, and you get the idea.

By contrast, Gaga has emerged as a smash celebrity only since 2008. By then she was already over twenty-one. She had long ago left her Catholic schoolgirl days behind. During the early formation of her image as Lady Gaga, she had relative privacy in which to explore herself and create her style. She paid her dues living in squalor and working hard to achieve celebrity. Certainly she had backing and support from her family, but not to the same extent.

Miley’s recent twerking debacle highlights yet another glaring difference. To begin with, by the time of the overtly sexual “Bad Romance”, the former Ms. Germanotta had a few highly experimental years on Miley. A completely adult, and very real awareness of sex and sexuality comes across from the Haus of Gaga that is entirely missing from Ms. Cyrus’ VMA performance. She comes across as exactly what she is: an inexperienced kid who is both awkward and trying too hard. Sexuality for Lady Gaga is a nuanced and deliberately chosen message.

All of this aside, there is one thing that makes me respect Lady Gaga. Yes, I even admit to being something of a fan. While this doesn’t mean that you are likely to find me at a Monster Ball wearing death defying six-inch platforms shoes with a meat dress, it does mean that I think she is in many ways a genuine (gasp!) role model. Gaga is publicly committed to using her celebrity to support causes that are both timely and meaningful to her. She has been an outspoken anti-bullying voice and a staunch supporter of LGBT rights. She put her money where her mouth is in starting the Born This Way Foundation, which advocates for tolerance across all segments of society. What’s more, we are made to understand that the issues of tolerance and acceptance are more than merely vehicles for celebrity grandstanding. Gaga takes these matters to heart and has deliberately chosen them as a way to support others who may not have the benefit of her status to find healing. Regardless of what else anyone may say, that’s a message that earns my respect.

Kathleen Ronan is a writer and a nurse, specializing in meditation for medical applications. She’s also a harpist, a bookworm, and a renaissance woman. Her editor, who lives under an even larger rock than she does, first heard of this “twerk” thing when editing Kathleen’s column.

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