It’s not often that I find myself thinking deeply about Lady Gaga, or thinking about her that much at all, regardless of how fascinating I may find her. In light of Camille Paglia’s profile on her, “Lady Gaga and the Death of Sex,” from last week’s The Sunday Times, though, I’m suddenly compelled to defend her: Lady Gaga is all-American.
Paglia’s critique of Gaga bears its teeth early on in her piece, with a tone akin to a Holden Caulfield rant. Paglia writes, “Although [Gaga] presents herself as the clarion voice of all the freaks and misfits of life, there is little evidence that she ever was one.” Paglia continues, “Her upbringing was comfortable and eventually affluent … There is a monumental disconnect between Gaga’s melodramatic self-portrayal as a lonely, rebellious, marginalized artist and the powerful corporate apparatus that bankrolled her makeover and has steamrollered her songs into heavy rotation on radio stations everywhere.”
Rumors confirmed: Lady Gaga isn’t real. As if a knock-out punch hadn’t been thrown, Paglia unleashes the haymaker, and lays in: “Lady Gaga is a manufactured personality, and a recent one at that.” It gets worse, “Photos of Stefani Germanotta [Gaga’s previous personality] just a few years ago show a bubbly brunette with a glowing complexion.”
More than anything, I find it strange that Paglia would be so shocked and disturbed that someone in American public life could be manufactured, counterfeited or engineered when the idea of the self-made man or woman is such an American ideal. We remake ourselves in the pursuit of money, fame, power or change.
Beyond, this is a culture that turns a blind eye to half truths and lies. We want the “truth” to be our Truth, a reality that fits our personal story.
Theodore Roosevelt is revered as a cowboy hero of the West, even if he was a New York City-born career politician educated at Harvard who only spent roughly four years on the range. A century later, another president would perform a similar ruse: Connecticut-born, Yale-Harvard-educated — along with a Skull and Bones member — to some, George W. Bush is just a happy cowboy on his Crawford, Texas, ranch.
Rosa Parks, civil rights hero and iconic woman with tired feet, was also an active participant in the civil rights movement before her arrest, though there is little mention of that, for the alternative is a better story.
Self-styled civil rights activist, and populist mouthpiece for the downtrodden, Glenn Beck is a former morning-zoo shock jock with a questionable record, though none of that stops him from wielding tremendous power.
From near fiction to true fiction, there’s the likes of Jay Gatsby. He’s remembered for his fall, but also for how he is a fully manufactured personality of his own making, and an American icon. The Gatsby for the 21st century, Don Draper of Mad Men is himself a creation all his own, and a pop-culture fascination.
For we are of a land of government-demolished buildings Sept. 11, WMD’s still sitting in the Iraqi desert and a Muslim president whose policy is informed by Kenyan anti-colonialism — if someone will believe it, let it be real.
Even we university students are participating in our own conspiracy of reinvention. Be it a remake of who we are socially, to the hard fact that we are trying to transform ourselves through learned facts here at school, we’re firmly a part of this culture of flux and its pursuit of money, fame, power or change.
According to Camille Paglia, were all just a bunch of phonies. So be it; Lady Gaga can be our standard-bearer.
Mike Munzenrider is a columnist. Please send comments to [email protected]