A Kinder, Braver World
Lady Gaga and Whitehead
All things counter, original, spare and strange
-- Gerard Manley Hopkins
Lady Gaga's Christianity
"While the picketer may have deemed her boundary-blurring music as an especially pernicious development of secular modernity and cultural decline, it would only be because he hasn’t studied his history. “Gender-bending and queerness have been present in Christian art and theology since the beginning,” says Mark D. Jordan, a Distinguished University Professor of Religion and Politics at the John C. Danforth Center at Washington University in St. Louis, which publishes this journal. The virgin martyrs, for example, were described as displaying a “male strength” in defending their faith and chastity until death itself. St. Sebastian was, for centuries, painted as “young, willowy, and lightly rouged.” While these images are not explicitly sexual, they go quite a ways in showing that the male-female binary that we think of as “traditional” is not so very rigid after all, an idea that Gaga runs with, particularly when she’s performing as her male alter ego, Jo Calderone. Even more importantly, the elaborate stagecraft that goes into Lady Gaga’s shows and videos picks up on a pageantry that is strong within Catholicism. “The liturgy is not just the words of the hymns,” Jordan says. “They include the entire staged performance on the altar. There are the priests swinging censers, the altar boys, and they all have these choreographed rituals they perform for the congregation. The act of worship itself is fundamentally material, all the way down to the Eucharist.
It is easy to dismiss Gaga’s use of Catholic tropes as mere entertainment. Like Madonna, “the Material Girl” before her, Gaga plays on the recognized symbols of Christianity, a technique that could be for effect, separated from spirituality or belief. In the new book Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal, J. Jack Halberstam outlines “gaga feminism,” Halberstam’s own philosophy, that uses Gaga as a symbol for an aesthetic and political way of living that is queer, anarchic, liberated, and outrageous. In the book’s closing manifesto, in Point 4 on “creative nonbelieving,” Halberstam claims that one cannot be the gender-bending feminist of the title’s icon and also be religious:
When it comes to gender norms and sexual mores, religion really is the root of all evil, and that cuts across many religions. This is a bit of a problem for a branch of feminism that takes Lady Gaga as a kind of mascot. She is, of course, like Madonna, thoroughly saturated in Catholic imagery and narratives of sacrifice, virgin/whore oppositions, and Judas-like betrayals. All the more reason, then, for this feminist, this gaga feminist, to flag some of the differences between Lady Gaga and gaga feminism from the get-go—religion is a no-no and God has got to go-go.
It’s a shame Halberstam rejects the complexities of Lady Gaga’s fascinating and ambiguous relationship with Catholicism. It’s also a little bit ironic, given that Point 3 in the manifesto was to “think counterintuitively.” When we do, we find that the Gaga persona is deeply embedded in a vibrant, queer, theological tradition that is as old as Christianity itself, and as relevant now as ever."
-- Idol Worship: The Beatitudes of Lady GagaBy Xarissa Holdaway | February 19, 2013/ Religion and Politics.org