Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Critique of Lady Gaga and her Politics on DADT

Lady Gaga has morphed, as a "pop" performer, into a "pop" politician these days as seen in her recent speech about Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT). And I appreciate her attempt to merge the "political" imagination with the "popular" imagination these past couple weeks beginning notably with her famed "meat dress" and her guests at the VMAs.

Yet, while I appreciate her as an artist (which some will contest), a performer (which some will contest), and as a political commentator (which some, including I, will contest)...I want to take on her engagement with DADT. I, of course, will be critiqued for my critique because it is rather unpopular. To not argue for the repeal of DADT as a "gay" individual is unintelligible because it puts "me" in the camp of the "homophobe". There are in this debate, much like the marriage debate, only two sides creating a dynamic reminiscent of Bush's argument that "you are either with us or against us." I am neither with nor against though. I seek a different path illuminating that Lady Gaga is a better liberal than I am. As such, I want to re-frame the debate to perhaps open up space closed off by Gaga and her opponents (e.g. McCain).

Gaga notes in her speech, a rather thoughtful speech, that there should be a new law that actually "kicks" out the homophobic soldiers. The homophobia of individual soldiers is the problem here. The problem is not that homosexual soldiers threaten the morale of troops, but that homophobia and homophobic soldiers threaten the morale because it is their "fear" of the "homosexual" that are the issue. The issue is not the homosexual soldier - they are there to do their job - but the homophobic soldier who cannot do his/her job because of a (irrational) fear they have of homosexuality.

This makes sense and is quite compelling. Yet, it maintains the logic of shame. Gaga's "new law" maintains that shame should occur and this shame is always inevitably related to (homo)sexuality and the individual. There is no engagement with the homophobia except to remove it, to shame it. The difficult task of engaging homophobia and inevitably the issues surrounding "homosexuality" are still left untouched - namely the military. With Gaga's hypothetical law then, the logic of shaming is maintained only with the "now" the good people being restored to the place of honor.

The new law, instead of marginalizing the gay soldiers, marginalizes the homophobic soldiers (who could also be gay as homophobia is not absent from the "gay" community). The homophobe becomes the "queer" outsider while the homosexual becomes the acceptable insider whereby the homosexual soldier can feel like the "good gay" finally with the homophobe finally taking his/her place of shame. I, of course, am not arguing in support of homophobia. DADT is discriminatory, but the methods by which such discrimination is engaged are strange. What I am arguing though is that Gaga's solution is inevitably no different, no more ethical than the old law she seeks to contest.

This is not my biggest concern. My biggest concern is the irony of Gaga's position. A few months back when Gaga was being protested by the Westboro Baptist Church she told her monsters that "Although I respect and do not judge anyone for their personal views on any politics or religion, this group in particular to me is violent and dangerous. I wanted to make my fans aware of my views on how to approach, or rather not approach, these kinds of hate activists." Gaga did not seek violent reactions, but sought inaction against the protesters - allowing them to "be" outside - while inside love won out and the monsters sang. I admired Gaga's nonviolent stance and her ability to provide political commentary that did not use violence against violence.

Yet, in her talk she notes that "If you are not honorable enough to fight without prejudice, go home." The main concern of this statement is with prejudice. If you cannot fight without prejudice than you should not fight at all, you should go home. This concern is rather curious to me, in light of Gaga's oft dislike of fighting and love of, well, love. Gaga's position is strange because it does not address the issue of fighting. It argues for honorable and non-prejudical fighting. Fighting is ok, as long as it is "honorable" and without "prejudice". Gaga does not challenge the need to fight, nor does she critique the too numerous to state problems with the US Military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations that are far from without prejudice and some might argue, far from honorable. This is of course not to say that soldiers are not honorable, but the rhetoric used by the military via the media are problematic, limiting, and drenched in racism/xenophobia/sexism/homophobia.

It seems then that Gaga maintains an allegiance to the military in order to allow gay and lesbian soldiers to openly serve. She does not, unfortunately, argue against the military's use of sexual shame in its own campaigns against the foreign other. She addresses the homophobia that impacts individual soldiers while leaving in place the homophobia that structures the military mentality. What do I mean by this? One only has to look at Abu Gharib photos to see the ways in which the military has used sex, sexuality, and sexual shaming for its own benefit. So, while Gaga may be comfortable arguing for the inclusion of Gay and Lesbian soldier in the military, I have a problem following. I am not a good liberal. And I cannot support granting access to an institution that is fraught with problems. I see a major ethical problem arguing for people's rights to fight in battles that have in recent times been waged.

Of course this is probably an unpopular stance to take. It can be read as being disrepectful to soldiers and their families which it is not intended to be. My hope is, my argument is, that rather than merely granting access to gay and lesbian soldiers, a broader movement is necessary that challenges the necessity and operations of the military itself...because inevitably the issue with DADT as represented by Gaga is not with the miliary (and its homophobia/sexism/xenophobia), but with individual soldiers. The "military" remains untouched, uncritiqued while individual lives are shamed - be they the ousted gay/lesbian soldier under DADT or the homophobic soldier ousted due to Gaga's new (hypothetical) law.

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