Entry from June 7, 2011

Last September, when Lady Gaga first announced the title of her now just-released album, “Born This Way,” at the MTV Video Music Awards, she marked the occasion by appearing in a hat, dress and boots made of raw meat. Was she born this way? For someone who has made her name and reputation so largely by appearing in ever more outlandish costumes marked by extreme artifice, there could not but have been a degree of deliberately cultivated cognitive dissonance in the production of a signature tune titled “Born This Way.”

My mama told me when I was young
We are all born superstars
She rolled my hair and put my lipstick on
In the glass of her boudoir
“There’s nothin wrong with lovin’ who you are,”
She said, “‘cause he made you perfect, babe.”
So hold your head up girl and you’ll go far,
Listen to me when I say
I’m beautiful in my way
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track baby
I was born this way. . .

I guess mama never got around to explaining why, if God made her perfect, it was necessary to roll the hair and put the lipstick on.

Of course we know that the song is part of her pitch to ideological gays whom she sees as her fan base. In an interview with Jon Pareles of The New York Times, she explained the meat dress as a political statement against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Huh? It’s because “equality,” she thinks, is “the prime rib of the American constitution.” So she dressed in prime rib. Nobody could have figured out her visual aid without her explanation, but of course what mattered was the publicity it got on behalf of those for whom being seen to be born that way is a political necessity, allowing them a place on the civil rights bandwagon along with other victim-groups who are discriminated against and oppressed because of what they can’t help being.

But the absurdity of the idea of someone who regularly appears, as Robin Givhan of the Washington Post described her, in “Kermit the Frog coats, Philip Treacy millinery sculptures, Alexander McQueen tentlike cloaks and Giorgio Armani crystal-studded scaffolding” as a spokesman for Nature — as absurd as the idea that “we are all born superstars” — cannot but raise the suspicion that there must be some intention there to send an ambiguous message about how she, and perhaps others, were really born. The British sociologist Frank Furedi sees in “Born This Way” a new kind of politically correct fatalism that he describes as the fossilization of identity.

It is not surprising that her self-consciously outrageous cultivation of the unexpected has led to the very traditionalist declaration that sexuality is natural. Since the 1960s, identity politics has fluctuated between the individualistic celebration of choice and self-reinvention and a rather conformist quest for legitimacy. By the end of the 1970s, the politics of identity had lost its liberal impulse and instead insisted that it should be respected and recognised in its own terms. It was at this point that identity started to be presented as a fact of life, an unchangeable thing, something that one is born with rather than being a matter of choice. Increasingly, the refrain ‘I was born this way’ became a demand for recognition and for the celebration of one’s identity.

Well, there’s a lot of it about. Yesterday, a report by an independent Christian group, the Mother’s Union, was published titled “Letting Children Be Children” on “the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood.” Commissioned by the British government to propose ways of lessening what the Prime Minister, David Cameron, described as the “toxic waste”of sexual imagery to which young girls, especially, are exposed, it serves as a reminder that, when it comes to sex, there’s a lot more to it than being born any way. Lady Gaga stands for a certain kind of sexual exoticism whose purpose is the negative one of knocking down anachronistic ideas of sexual “normality” in order to facilitate a cultural trend towards sexual and other forms of self-invention — the very opposite of the rhetorical determinism of the song. As the ultimate in self-invented entertainers, she cannot but know this, but she wants to claim the now discredited moral authority of the normal for the freedom she advocates. The mothers of little girls may understand better than most what an impossible contradiction that involves her in.

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