Gayvolution, Gaga and You
I saw something today that chilled me to the bone. Something that defined, in less than five seconds, the progress and direction of gay-friendly entertainment and thus the national LGBT culture, telepathically telling me to write this. Whether or not I can stay focused enough to explore it with any hint of grace remains to be seen, and I’ll be keeping this a rough draft straight to publishing. I can be that lazy. Read on anyway, sucker.
Strolling downtown to the deli, I was delirious with thirst and uncommonly bored by the iPod that lay broken and useless in my bag. Across the street was a billboard featuring a centerfold of Beyonce, dyed blonde hair draped dramatically across her face and an aggressive snarl plastered on her mug. This piece of subtly stereotypical African-American egotism marketing hit me like a bolt of lightning with its name: Sasha Fierce. Beyonce Knowles is Sasha Fierce, a self-confident, sassy personality androgynous enough to make grandma uncomfortable at Christmas but with enough tits-and-ass to stay on the walls of frat boys everywhere. Sasha Fierce: a name so fucking gay I dropped my clutch and squealed in awestruck horror upon having it enter my world. “Just whatAmerica needs, a big black alternative to Lady Gaga,” I thought to my straight, square self, “I wonder how much weight this bandwagon can carry.”
Apart from the profoundly exploitative visuals, I had nothing by which to measure Miss Knowles’s newest brainchild. I wanted instinctually to pounce on her for being the Backstreet Boys to the N*Sync that is the meat dress. Did she find David Bowie on iTunes by mistake and copy/paste the “Greatest Hits” collection? Had Lady Gaga finally sold enough merchandise to qualify as an international commodity on the commodities market? Bing! We have a winner!
See, gay is golden nowadays. As Madonna ushered in a new era of aural hedonism in the 1980s, so Gaga has given new life to the stagnant culture of the LGBT community circa 1998-2003. The 90s weren’t an awesome time to be gay- the second summer of love had come and gone, grunge music gave every female a rallying cry for not shaving their legs, and hate crimes were so numerous and well-documented they got their own classification of murder and assault laws. While the level of closeted Nebraskan lumberjacks discreetly blowing each other remained about the same, enthusiasm waned in the general homoverse. Shit was boring and SO 1992.
Remember “the good old days”? No? Then you’re probably not more than 25. I’m a dedicated straight man with a penchant for social interaction rather than a gay person looking for a party, so when I was first introduced to the LGBT scene it was amidst a flurry of dull chatter and light house music- a model far removed from the flamboyant, in-your-face-mom-and-dad ethics floating around today. Being “a gay” was treated with either quiet dignity or outrageous pride and chest-pounding extroversion, and it was still deemed “gay” by mostTexassoccer moms. They existed, and God loved them, but they certainly didn’t come to our church and mentioning to anyone that I patronized gay bars with gay friends was a big no-no. Sigh, childhood naïveté.
A wild Elementary School Teacher appears!
Then, the new millennium hit. Humanity had somehow averted blowing itself up with atomic weapons and bling-bling was common enough to be called simply “bling” by high school teachers. This fertile breeding ground for cross-cultural phenomena was seeded with sweaty Metallica kids, insecure middle-age men obsessed with Gucci and a generation of geriatrics confounded by this new “Internet” crap. Quite obviously and predictably (look at the success of “The Matrix”, the most androgynous film ever made and ruined sequentially) some LGBT found itself in the mix, and around 2004 made its fabulous entry.
Gay bars were big again! High school girls everywhere gushed to their friends over how their cousin got them into S4 last weekend, Ellen DeGeneres was resolutely recognized for her frenetic dancing with a TV career and musicians everywhere removed a bit more clothing with every Super Bowl halftime show. Hot Topic even began carrying rainbow flag pins, bracelets and shirts to cater to the inner queen inside every 9-year-old demographic. These were the salad days the older gays talk about; the mid-decade flash in the pan that was kind of social progress, sort of. Whatever, it was fun! Gay! Wooooo!
This guy knows what I’m talkin’ about!
Then came Gaga. It is at this point in my “time spent among the LGBT scene” experience that I recall a deep, distinct shift in the culture of it all. This shift was slow and subtle, as evolutionary processes are, but the growing resentment of civil inequality and stagnating dinosaurs that ran everything from the entertainment industry to the Logo channel was unmistakable. Attitudes changed as world politics began to spin out of control, and the so-called “Internet Age” enabled everyone to see and do so much that first-world citizens found themselves oversexed, underloved and extremely bored.
Obviously, this was not a homosexual-exclusive phenomenon: Wall Street big-wigs and off-shore fishermen alike were entering an era that lacked not only mere material goods but any semblance of fellowship and cultural growth. The “let’s go, America!” spirit that floated about for the last few decades had taken a number of punches- Vietnam, the gas crisis, disco, bad weed- and by the time Kurt ate a shotgun sandwich the de facto model of the American adolescent/20-something was a jaded one, built on lessons stale from 1945 and morals that even their parents shrugged at. Sure, sporadic moments like the Spice Girls, the Macarena andWoodstockmade things interesting for a little bit, it was mostly war and restlessness. We needed something to look up to. A distraction. A hero. A dark defender. BATM- oh god, wrong fantasy again. Sorry,Gotham.
This city needs a hero. And a DSW.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw the worlds most paintable face on the television at J.R.’s. It was the video for “Poker Face” (which had debuted a few weeks earlier but was not yet covered by Eric Cartman) and absolutely nothing about it seemed original to me. Semi-nude woman, slow-motion shots of hair-flipping and water-dripping clichés, overwrought set design: it wasn’t new, it was formulaic and rehashed to ensure commercial success. I honestly thought it was Beyonce (or another black singer- not racist, just not up on pop culture) until she took off that hideous face-lacerating mask. How uncultured of me, the only straight man in attendance.
Even before social stunts like the meat dress and hyper-high heels, people were quickly taking notice of this new name on the scene. She met a lot of the criteria for being a future gay icon: androgyny, catchy 4/4 house songs with sing-along choruses written to be open to interpretation, fashion sense taken straight from Arkham Asylum, a nose upturned (publically) to the trappings of modern money-pop and a hand stretched nonchalantly out to the LGBT community. Once “Poker Face” made the list of every Top-40 DJ and album-burning preacher in the country, success was not only achieved but had no foreseeable limits in terms of popularity. Like Mother Madonna, Mother Monster found her niche in the iPods of 9,000,000 fans eager for something big, new and thoroughly fun.
Mindless, however, was not a perceived trait of Gaga. Sure, her songs were ultra-danceable and tailored for clubs and remixes, but her underlying messages were not the typical “peace, love is hard and so is life” ethos of similar artists past. Instead, an enthusiasm for self-expression (no matter how tactful) and disregard for anything repressive or conservative came to be the banner of her work, with songs openly and loudly celebrating the uniqueness of the human spirit.
Hey, gay beer pong! Alcoholism is colorblind!
Great! A strong, stoic female figure with the hookiest songs around talking about empowerment, self-respect and tolerance, with nary a tune about getting blackout drunk and punching a cop! These were her salad days, times when her shtick, or style, or whatever you want to call it, was something worth serious attention. Devoid of the brash indulgence and party-‘til-you-puke topics of her more established contemporaries, Gaga was at once a paradigm of over-the-top expressiveness and creativity as well as an evolution from the trashy/ghetto chic on the radio. Described to me once as “a cocaine princess with self-respect, dignity and just a dash of arrogance,” this iteration of Germanotta seemed too good to be true.
Unfortunately, it was. Gaga had been firmly sided with pro-LGBT, civil rights and other causes as she used her star power to draw attention and media coverage from what was apparently her honest-to-goodness heart. Her appearances on Ellen, Oprah and countless other venues evidenced her passion for compassion.
Until recently, that’s been the case- more or less, given the odd intoxicated tweet or paparazzi incident (pun 100% intended). However, with the release of “Born This Way” Stefani Germanotta has resolved herself as someone with gay rights at the top of her agenda. Name-dropping out celebrities, referring to the LGBT as “the gays”, bringing up sexuality in every context she finds herself in and generally acting as Queen of the Pink Triangle. In the words of The Key of Awesome, it became “a kooky sci-fi gay pride collage.”
This will help explain: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFvE9D3zMfY
I may be alone in this, but the marketing has eclipsed the music, and with it the original spirit of individualism many found in her songs early on. Nope, Lady Gaga has entered her middle-aged career point with a shameless rip-off of Madonna’s “Express Yourself” and the lyrical subtlety of Cannibal Corpse. Her “little monsters” are the same emo/goth/Hot Topic kids from years past, only many have found glitter and a subscription to Cosmo to be more effective in telling off mom and dad.
What will the grandmothers and Fox News anchors make of this? Exactly what they already are: an example of what they perceive to be disgusting and sinful. It’s one thing to argue how much influence religion has on how a celebrity is seen by the public, but it’s impossible to say “none at all,” though many politicians would have you think otherwise. What I’m saying is that as long as artistic expression exists, opponents will try to pervert it and cite it as unclean. There’s no stopping it, and as always it will trigger more artistic freedom, and the whole thing goes supercritical. It’s cyclical, it’s unfair, and it’s what needs to be contended with if any social progress is to be made.
So what should happen? Well, that’s a whole ‘nother blog, but the short answer is equality. Equality in marriage, work, pay, everything. That’s been the cornerstone of civil rights movements for centuries and it’s just as applicable today, only the focus and intent needs to grow with the times.
My eyes met with Miss Gaga’s, and I knew instantly that she was the Highlander- oops! Wrong fantasy world!