I wonder if there are some Lady Gaga students and theological aficionados out there who can help parse the significance of her role in contemporary popular culture. I am late to the party, having been led to Gaga by my undergraduate students, who get her symbolic order on a more intuitive level than I do. But if her music and persona is important to them, I had better think about how the theological tradition might relate to her and to my students' fandom.
Michael O'Loughlin on this blog recently posted a defense of Lady Gaga as a contemporary prophet, but the post was capable of being read as so intentionally guileless that I could not tell whether it was parody worthy of Spinal Tappish sublimity. (And his post was met with the memorable dig in the comment box: "I will use this for meditation tomorrow after Mass.")
(For me, part of what heightened the Tappish archness of the post was O'Loughlin's reporting that Lady Gaga advocates celibacy -- followed by a link to a "60 Minutes" interview in which Gaga says that she prefers to be called by her real name during sex.)
There must be some who are tracking the theological contact (and conflict) points in her songs, videos and interviews, in the experiences her fans have of her music, or in the production of her persona and products. I wondered about this again when I was watching (not suitable for children) Episode 41 of her "Transmission Gagavision" series, in which she has an encounter (from her limousine) with a Christian protester at her concert, warning of the path to hell awaiting those taken in by her:
Gaga: "We really believe in God at my show."
Protester: "Well, your pervert ways don't quite equate to what God is all about, darlin'."
Gaga: "My pervert ways?"
Protester: "Yeah, you know, the homo stuff?"
Gaga: "The homo stuff?"
Gaga: "I went to Catholic school for thirteen years."
Protester: "That's probably most of your problem is you got raised in a screwy religion."
She then has a little trivial fun with the encounter with this man, who will no doubt live in a sort of infamy (or fame, depending) at least for a little while.
But I wondered about that "Catholic school" reply and his "screwy religion" retort, especially in regard to "the homo stuff," when I read about the recent report by the Public Religion Research Institute that according to their survey data, nearly three-quarters of U.S. Catholics are in favor of civil unions or marriage for lesbian and gay couples.
Presuming the data hold up over time, as Austin Considine reports in the New York Times, "Today's Catholics are the most progressive Christians in the country regarding gay equality -- and more open than Americans in general."
As countless commentators have observed, once a religion like Catholicism unleashes an idea like the presence of divinity in the flesh, it may just be that "the faithful" will take this in ways not intended (but surely imagined) by the official teachers.
Or as Fr. Gil Martinez of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in New York City is quoted in Considine's article, "Once you say that God is a human person -- I mean we're just so varied and diverse that way -- I think the real Catholicity of that is to acknowledge that and accept that."
We now have several post-Vatican II generations, many of whom went to Catholic school like Lady Gaga, representing the leading edge of this tolerance for and affirmation of sexual diversity. Could it be that a century from now, our culture's present preoccupation with "the homo stuff" will be seen generally in the United States to be as parochial as it now appears to (apparently) a great number of Catholics?
Hastings-on-Hudson, New York