I’m really loving the new Lady Gaga song, I have to say. Not just for the catchiness and the positive lyrics, but for what it’s doing, which seems so deliciously subversive in light of how I feel about pop culture and mainstream media in general: at worst, manipulative in a very carefully engineered way, at best, innocuous but inane. After feeling completely bombarded by the messages “there’s something wrong with you,” “you’re not good enough,” and “if you would just buy this thing/act this way/look different, then you’d be happy,” I started tuning out. I felt brainwashed.
So you can imagine my surprise and delight the other day when I logged onto Facebook and saw dozens of links to this song. I mean, I had pretty much just assumed pop music was only supposed to be about our absurd mating rituals and the fact that we will never actually be satisfied. What is this, a song telling people to accept themselves? Something not meant to drain our self-esteem and get us to buy things? Well I’m getting a kick out of this.
I was reminded of the ending scene of Serenity, in which the heroes flood the wicked totalitarian regime’s broadcast system with a video exposing its crimes against its own citizens, instigating its downfall. Ok, maybe the effect isn’t that dramatic. (Or is it? How many billions upon billions of dollars are spent on private research and marketing trying to persuade people to think and consume in a certain way? How many hundreds of thousands of media messages are we exposed to over the years? They shape our minds and feelings like water running through caves. Eventually you get a canyon.) But in light of just how routinely bad we’re made to feel about ourselves, whether that’s overtly or implicitly, I find it kind of triumphant that here we have a pop singer with the attention of millions of people, taking advantage of her medium and her influence to send them this message: you’re ok exactly as you are.
I confess that I’d had the thought that the song wasn’t really “directed” at me, since hey, I’m a straight white woman, so I must be completely in line with society’s scripts of compliance and heteronormativity, right? But I realize that the message to love ourselves is something that every one of us needs to hear, especially in an environment where messages to the contrary are surrounding us, whether we realize it or not. At a certain point, all labels dissolve, all distinctions blur, and all there are is individuals needing to know that they are loved and accepted, loving themselves and other people.
I want to take a minute to just say how profoundly thankful I am for my friends and the people I love, and how much I adore them exactly as they are. (I hope that they know this already and that it’s obvious, but it’s the kind of thing that I think people don’t get to hear out loud often enough.) My life is rich and wonderful because of their love and their simply being who they are. I’ve never personally experienced what it’s like to be ostracized or hurt specifically on the basis of things like sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, or disability. But when I think about all the moments in my life where I have felt put down and marginalized, and when I realize that so many of the people I love –and good people just like them– are routinely subjected to these feelings and so much worse because of things that they cannot possibly change about themselves, it completely breaks my heart. It feels unfathomably unfair. It reminds me how desperately needed these messages of acceptance are, for everyone.
Why do we choose to harm others on the basis of things that they cannot possibly change about themselves, as if they were wrong to begin with? We were born this way…perfect as we are, unique, diverse. But what aren’t we born with? The belief that there is something wrong with us, that we are unacceptable. Those beliefs are instilled in us later, as the product of others’ fear, pain, and ignorance, I think. Likewise, the belief that others are wrong, that they are flawed, that they deserve judgment or punishment, is something that we are taught later –sometimes overtly, and sometimes in very subtle ways. (I find it a little strange that a lot of Lady Gaga fans call themselves “little monsters.” The only monstrous thing I see is the way some people have treated them!)
Something that saddens me a little bit is that I’m not sure I’d be writing this blog post if I’d been born 50 years ago. That’s not to write off that generation as being unaccepting or closed-minded, only to say that our culture shapes our beliefs and the way we judge people so profoundly, and it can be difficult to transcend those beliefs. Were we born hating or fearing people who are different from us? Were we born hating ourselves? I don’t believe so. These beliefs can change, but it takes reminders of the truth…and what a catchy, upbeat reminder of the truth we have to enjoy this week. Personally, I love it.
I would love to see an absolute outpouring of acceptance, positivity and beauty overwhelm the airwaves, flood the internet, jam the signal. I hope this is a sign of a greater shift. I suppose I’ll have to say tuned.