Tag Archives: Lady Gaga

Hero of the Week Award: September 28, French President François Hollande

28 Sep

Hero of the Week

What a delight to celebrate a world leader taking a strong international stand for basic human rights. French President François Hollande made an historic speech at the United Nations this week. Using his own nation as an example, he discussed the obligation of leaders to fight for universal human rights and freedoms.

France will continue to engage in all these struggles: for the abolition of the death penalty, for women’s rights to equality and dignity, for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality, which should not be recognised as a crime but, on the contrary, recognized as a sexual orientation.

All member countries have the obligation to guarantee the security of their citizens, and if one nation adheres to this obligation, it is then imperative that we, the United Nations, facilitate the necessary means to make that guarantee. These are the issues that France will lead and defend in the United Nations. I say this with seriousness. When there is paralysis… and inaction, then injustice and intolerance can find their place.

Well said, Mr. President! How nice to see that France replaced Sarkozy with someone truly presidential. Let’s hope American voters are smart enough not to do the opposite this November.

Honorable mention this week goes to two women who shared their personal struggles to help improve the lives of thousands. Katie Couric revealed her youthful battle with bulimia in an interview. A few days later, Lady Gaga expanded on her Born This Way foundation to include victims of poor body image, discussing her battles with anorexia and bulimia because she “felt like a freak.” Let’s hope that the courage and leadership they have shown help remove stigma and move the dialog forward productively.

Number 3 Hero of the Year Award 2011: Lady Gaga

30 Dec

Number 3 Hero of 2011

In light of the shenanigans that so many people get up to when they get the least bit famous, it is a delight to be able to honor a celebrity who uses her voice, money, and spotlight to make the world a better place. Stephani Germanotta, better known to the world as Lady Gaga, has been a tireless force for good in 2011, bringing her in at #3 on this year’s Hero list.

Already known as a staunch ally of the LGBT community for her opposition to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Lady Gaga hit the ground running in 2011 with her amazing album and single Born This Way. She stuck to her principles commercially (a rare trait indeed) and broke an exclusive distribution contract with Target when the retail giant refused to stop its funding of anti-gay politicians. A vocal supporter of anti-bullying programs, she’s been a one-woman It Gets Better campaign. Following the tragic suicide of Jamey Rodemeyer, she not only dedicated a concert to him and to all the victims of bullying, but she lobbied the White House for national anti-bullying programs. She’s also raised funds and awareness to fight AIDS.

It looks like she’ll be continuing the momentum in 2012, as her new Born This Way Foundation — dedicated to youth empowerment, bravery, and kindness — launches. Using her power for good pays off, too, as Forbes named her the most powerful celebrity of the year (beating out Oprah) and DoSomething.org put her at the top of their annual list of “Celebs Gone Good.”  Let’s hope more youth hear her message of personal value and more celebrities take her model of using fame for good to heart.

Flashback to 2010: Fittingly, last year’s #3 hero was Dan Savage and the It Gets Better campaign.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 24, Lady Gaga

24 Jun

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, better known as Lady Gaga.  Gaga identifies as bisexual, a group that often is misunderstood or neglected. TSM tries to focus on issues around social justice and LGBT issues; Lady Gaga falls into both categories and deserves to be celebrated for her highly visible and fierce dedication to civil rights.

Her detractors leave me nonplussed.  I don’t see many 25 year olds, or many people in general today, who are willing to take serious risks and stand up for a population that is marginalized.  Gaga took a very strong stand for LGBT rights.  She defended Adam Lambert from a homophobic attack, and she joined the fight against the discriminatory DADT policy.  She organized a rally to repeal DADT and offered a wonderful speech regarding discrimination.

I was particularly impressed with the stand she took against Target.  What other celebrity would break a contract to stand by their convictions?  And of course, her latest album Born This Way, which was so compelling that my husband and I actually bought the album.  We have not purchased any music in years.  Many of the songs on Born This Way address inequality and discrimination.  The song Americano is about two women who are in love.  I also love that the song addresses immigration rights and I certainly don’t see a lot of folks talking about immigration discrimination! While I like the lyrics, I have to admit I really also enjoy the music. II thank Lady Gaga for her advocacy, her visibility, and her courage.

Continue to Boycott Target: Here’s Why

18 Jun

Boycott Target

As most TSM followers know, my husband and I have been boycotting Target for almost a year now because of their right wing political donations to anti-gay candidates.  I was so disturbed by the actions of the homophobes at Target’s corporate office, I even did an interview with a local Target store--very disappointing indeed.

Then there was a ray of hope called Lady Gaga; it looked as though she had put sufficient pressure on Target to change their policy on political donations in exchange for an exclusive deal to release her Born This Way album.  Fools!  Target did not change their policy and Lady Gaga had the integrity to break her contract with them–makes me love Lady Gaga.

So here is why we need to be even more vigilant about boycotting Target: they have become the corporate embodiment of Gov. Scott Walker.  Target has created videos and propaganda that only Joe McCarthy would be proud of, as they vilify unions.  Honestly, I almost threw up after seeing this video.  We can’t afford to lose our unions and how they protect workers from organizations like Target.  Click here to see to see the video they force all employees to watch. Click here to see some great coverage by Daily Kos.

Update: Unfortunately, the Target Right Wing Propaganda Machine worked and they defeated the union.  Click here to see the NYT article.  What’s next? Will Scott Walker and the Koch Brothers be doing a PSA for Target?  Please, I encourage you, Boycott Target until they stop discriminating against the poor and the LGBT community and cease being in the pocket of rich, right wing government.

Wednesday Word of the Week, June 1

1 Jun

There's nobody like her.

This week’s word is: IDOL

a material effigy that is worshipped as a god
someone who is adored blindly and excessively
an ideal instance; a perfect embodiment of a concept
– all courtesy of Macmillan Dictionary Online

Last week saw someone often held up as an idol host her last show: Oprah Winfrey. I must confess that I watch very little television and have seen only snippets of Oprah’s show over the years. Nonetheless, she has been a major media presence for most of my life and I have a good sense of who she is and what she has done. With that knowledge and a little research, I have to wonder what kind of idol she may be.

Oprah is clearly not an EFFIGY

a representation of a person (especially in the form of sculpture) – Macmillan Dictionary Online

so although she may be worshipped as a god (of ratings?), this definition fails.

Arguably, Oprah has been adored by millions. Is that adoration blind or excessive? Something must compel 14 million people to watch her show. If she didn’t hypnotize or bribe them, either they were blind fools or she really had something to offer. What could it have been? Did it relate to that third definition? Has Oprah been an IDEAL?

the best example of something that you can think of or imagine – Macmillan Dictionary Online

In terms of financial success and viewership, absolutely. Considering these standards for being an ideal idol, however is a bit recursive. In what way was she the best?

Without a doubt, Oprah has been a pioneer for women in media. Many came before her, and many have followed; her success, however remains unique and provided a much needed model for women and other minorities. The best? Probably not. The most well-known? Quite possibly. In terms of impact, her visibility matters.

Many have also credited her new take on the talk show with creating a safe forum for many people to share their issues and their humanity with the American public. No less than Michael Bronski has said

In the recent past, lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgendered people had almost no presence on television. With the invention and propagation of tabloid talk shows such as Jerry Springer, Jenny Jones, Oprah, and Geraldo, people outside the sexual mainstream now appear in living rooms across America almost every day of the week.

Her role may have been somewhat passive and ratings-based, but it made a difference. So much of a difference, in fact, that Oprah thanked the LGBT community for their active support during her final show.

As a philanthropist, Oprah has raised, channeled, and donated hundreds of millions of dollars over the years. She is routinely listed among the top 50 philanthropists in the world, often topping the list of celebrity philanthropists. One may quibble with her choices, but her generosity is not in question.

Looking at the Forbes list of the most powerful celebrities shows a group sadly lacking in generosity. That makes the truly generous like Lady Gaga and Oprah stand out and deserve recognition. It makes one wonder why Oprah chose someone like Tom Hanks, whose philanthropy is limited, as her final MC or the social-justice-impaired Will Smith as a final guest.

Oprah has made some missteps. Choosing corporate partners for her generosity that have questionable or deeply flawed histories (like Wal-Mart) when she could pick (and subsidize) anyone, shows her crassly commercial side. Her adherence to commercial broadcasting and televising gimmicks also fits that model.

Nonetheless, she has always made some effort to make a difference. She has been a pioneer, a philanthropist, and a provider of platforms whose influence cannot be overstated. It remains to be seen what path she will walk next. I suspect that she will not be out of the limelight, even without her show, and that she will try to make the world a better place in some way. Most of us will never have the chances she has had, and few who do make half as many good choices as Oprah. Let’s not sing her praises too loudly, then, but thank her for what she has done well, and look forward to what she might do next.

An ideal? Not really. An idol? In fairness, not quite by any of the definitions. A flawed, overexposed, clever, tenacious businesswoman whose impact has improved the lives of many? Absolutely, and by any definition, clearly an

unusual or different from anyone or anything else, usually in a way that you admire – Macmillan Dictionary Online

INDIVIDUAL.

Hail Lady Gaga: 2011’s Most Powerful Celebrity

20 May

Integrity can be Powerful

Congratulations to Lady Gaga, just named Forbes’ most powerful celebrity of 2011. She unseats Oprah Winfrey for only the third time in the past several years. While Oprah’s cash haul ($290 million) was substantially greater than our Lady Gaga’s ($90 million), Forbes uses a variety of measures to rank their list. The factors include (with Lady Gaga’s rank):

  • Dollars earned (8th)
  • Presence on TV and radio (3rd)
  • Press coverage (2nd)
  • Web presence (1st)
  • Social media presence (1st)

As the makers of the list observe, the #1 celebrity truly understands the power of online tools, which are critical to success in a rapidly changing market of short attention spans.

[Lady] Gaga is there not just because of the $90 million she earned with a monster tour, but also because of her 32 million Facebook fans and 10 million Twitter followers–aka Little Monsters–who helped move 1 million digital downloads of her recent single “Born This Way” in only five days. They’re also happy to buy the MAC makeup, Monster headphones and Virgin Mobile phones she features in her videos.

As regular readers of TSM will understand, we are thrilled to see a celebrity who regularly practices integrity and promotes equality achieve such success and authority. Comparing Lady Gaga’s stand against Target with Oprah’s celebration of Wal-Mart makes this year’s result particularly cheering. The majority of the Top 10 list are celebrities who have done little beyond increase their own wealth and power in the past year (with the exception of serial do-gooders U2 and the very mixed bag of Sir Elton John, champion of AIDS research and Rush Limbaugh crooner). In that context, Lady Gaga’s position is very heartening indeed. Let’s hope that Target is kicking itself for losing a lucrative, powerful partner while standing by its homophobia.

Target Stores: Now That Takes Chutzpah

27 Mar

Where Ginni Thomas Shops

Not that we needed another reason to continue the boycott of Target stores, but we sure do have one. Unlike some of the celebrities on HGTV that do ads for Target, at least our Lady Gaga has some integrity and refuses to do business with the homophobic company. Now Target is suing a group, Canvass For A Cause, alleging its activists are driving away customers–now that takes some Chutzpah.  Canvass For a Cause is a pro-gay pro-equality group that has been canvassing outside Target Stores in San Diego. Yes, how dare call Target a bigot just because they are!  I’m sure Ginni Thomas will be involved soon, demanding that the LGBT apologize to Corporate Target.  I also feel very bad for all of the LGBT employees of Target–this is not the time to find a new job with an employer that believes in equality, so they are trapped working for a corporate bigot. Click here to read the entire article.

Big Rainbow Jukebox: Gay-Affirming Songs

14 Feb

After composing yesterday’s post on homophobia in music, I needed some affirmation from pop culture. As a nice tonic, here is some of my favorite gay-affirming music.

The Fabulous Sylvester

Let’s start with one of the first openly gay pop performers: Sylvester. While his music was seldom about being gay, Sylvester was always openly himself. He was a star who probably sacrificed some measure of success for his flamboyant honesty. His You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) is a bona fide disco classic and a delightfully exuberant anthem of attraction. Current out performers like Adam Lambert owe Sylvester a great debt.

Another pioneer is Tom Robinson. Openly bisexual (though understandably assumed to be gay early in his career), Robinson penned the anthem Glad to Be Gay back in 1978.

Bronski Beat were a new wave act in the early 80’s who wore their sexual orientation proudly on their sleeve. With the debut album Age of Consent calling out the hypocrisy of British law differentiating between gay and straight relationships in its liner notes, they, like Sylvester, sacrificed some measure of success to make their very danceable point. Standouts are the wistful coming of age song Smalltown Boy and the militant yet funky Why?

WHY? by Bronski Beat

Contempt in your eyes
When I turn to kiss his lips
Broken I lie
All my feelings denied
Blood on your fist
Can you tell me why?
You in your false securities
Tear up my life
Condemning me
Name me an illness
Call me a sin
Never feel guilty
Never give in
Tell me why?
You and me together
Fighting for our love
Can you tell me why?

The out and ironic duo Pet Shop Boys deserve a mention as well. Their lyrics about odd and broken relationships are often ambiguous, but the pair never were. My personal favorite is the wonderful Can You Forgive Her? which tells the story of a closeted man struggling with his truth and his girlfriend.

The great folk singer Ellis Paul recorded a wonderful story of love in the face of family disapproval on his seminal Translucent Soul. Fitting perfectly into his masterwork of broken lives and redemption through love, She Loves A Girl is a wonderful, bittersweet song.

The original I Kissed A Girl belongs to the wonderfully quirky Jill Sobule. An honest song of yearning, confusion, and freedom, it should have been the hit that some other performer managed to have with her cynical fluff piece.

Stephin Merritt has assembled some of the best queer talent for his band The Magnetic Fields and a number of other projects. Frequently gender-bending in his lyrics, unabashedly out and proud, Merritt and his cohorts offer up gems like I Thought You Were My Boyfriend and When My Boy Walks Down the Street (with the great line “and he’s going to be my wife”). Frequent Merritt collaborator l.d. beghtol crafts wonderful songs about gay life and love, usually with his band Flare. A personal favorite is the dating disaster odyssey Don’t Like the Way We Live Now.

Some songs are affirming for their context. The use of Mama Cass’ music in the wonderful play and movie Beautiful Thing helps the sweet story resonate. As a result, her Make Your Own Kind of Music feels like a gay anthem to me; it’s spirit of pride and individualism certainly earn it a place on this list. Similarly, the delightful Free to Be You and Me encourages everyone, especially children thanks to Marlo Thomas, to be happy with themselves, whoever they are.

Last but not least, thanks to current proto-diva Lady Gaga. Her new single Born This Way is dynamically affirming and helped to inspire this pair of posts.

Although Valentine’s Day is a pretty crass excuse for a holiday, let’s use the excuse to celebrate the ones we love. Enjoy these inspiring, fun, lovely songs with the man or woman of your choice.

It’s A Mighty Thin Line Between Art and Hate: Homophobia in Music

13 Feb

Lady Gaga & Katy Perry: Supportive vs. Sensationalist

The use of character and language in music is not black and white; it is a continuum. When is the use of a stereotype or a slur justified? When is it shameless sensationalism? When is it hatred?

The other day I had one of those weird moments of inspiration that turned into a blog post. I was sitting at my desk at lunch, listening to music and browsing the news online. I saw a post about Lady Gaga’s new, very pro-gay song Born This Way while my desktop jukebox was playing the Pogues’ Fairytale of New York. As I was smiling at the transcription of the lyrics to the new song, the old favorite belted out “you cheap lousy faggot.” I winced and thought, not for the first time, “That’s a great song by a great band. Is it ruined by that slur?” I knew what my instinct said, but as a good librarian, I decided to do some research.

I found two great sites that helped me organize my thoughts.

The presence of homophobia in music falls into four categories:

  1. Violent lyrical content,
  2. Homophobic performers,
  3. Stereotypes and trivializations, and
  4. Songs performed in character.

Some music is aggressively homophobic. Dancehall performers like Buju Banton often have violent, even murderous, anti-gay lyrics.  The lyrics of rappers like Li’l Wayne (who chants “no homo” with great abandon) often include homophobic language as well. When the music advocates violence against LGBT people, condemning it is quite straightforward.

Singers with such violent lyrics are often outspokenly anti-gay outside of their music as well. Some performers, however, don’t address gay topics in their music but are very homophobic in their words and deeds. Country performers Big & Rich and Brad Paisley often speak out against gay rights. It’s difficult to condemn their music if it isn’t actively homophobic, but I certainly won’t buy anything performed by someone who uses their fame to advocate against my equality.

The next category is a bit trickier. Songs like the Kinks’ Lola and Monty Python’s The Lumberjack Song use cross-dressing stereotypes but are clearly meant as humorous (and probably ironic). Humor definitely has its place in music; it is very important as we hunt for the demons that we not lose our ability to laugh. Some stereotyping, however, is gratuitous at best. The Dire Straits (more on them shortly) song Les Boys serves no apparent purpose but to stereotype the gay community. There is no artistic merit in such behavior.

Katy Perry is another performer that I put in this category. Her song Ur So Gay is pretty vile, using the word “gay” as a slur while attacking a man for being unmasculine. Her I Kissed A Girl is trickier, but I file it in the no-thank-you category as well. She uses a flirtation with lesbianism as a cute hook, exploiting the gay community with a wink, a nod, and a rush to #1. Treating legitimate exploration of sexual identity as a fairly cruel “experimental game” tips the song into homophobia.

The toughest category to analyze are the songs sung in character. Some performers clearly use the “It’s not me, it’s my character” line as a dodge; the aggressively homophobic Eminem is a perfect example. (Sorry, Mr. Mathers, singing with Elton John doesn’t get you off the hook. Sir Elton’s credibility as a judge of character ended at Rush Limbaugh’s wedding.)

Many great songs are written in character, and it is clear that the listener is supposed to support or condemn the words of the character from the structure and tone of the song. Richard Thompson is a master of this; we are clearly not meant to sympathize with the sociopath whose voice is presented in I Feel So Good. Billy Bragg’s song Valentine’s Day Is Over is sung from the perspective of a battered spouse and is extremely powerful in some ways because of the disconnect between the singer’s gender and the lyrics of the song. The use of a homophobic character in a song could be powerful and educational. Sadly, this is not typically the case.

The prime example of a failure of character is the huge late-80’s hit Money For Nothing by Dire Straits. (I told you they’d be back.) The song repeatedly uses the word “faggot” to attack a singer seen on MTV. Writer and singer Mark Knopfler has defended this by using the character defense. The song is cast from the perspective of a laborer in an appliance store. According to Knopfler, he lifted much of the language from direct observation of an employee in a store. Sadly, there is nothing in the song to provide a sense of context or irony. (Having Sting bleat “I want my MTV” at regular intervals is probably intended as humorous, but it does nothing to ameliorate or contextualize the loathsome language of the narrator.) As an added bonus, the protagonist gets in some pretty racist language as well.

Another point worth making about both Katy Perry and Dire Straits is their decisions to release the song as a single. A song in character as part of a larger work has an entirely different impact than a song heard as part of the pop stream on the radio. Hearing “look at that faggot” as part of the mix of I-love-you’s and why-did-you-leave-me’s legitimizes its use in a dangerous way. Getting your jollies sucking the cherry Chapstick off an unsuspecting young woman’s lips just because trivializes the real struggles of LGBT youth.

So where does that leave me with my longtime enjoyment of the Pogues’ song? Sadly disappointed. It’s very clear that the two protagonists are working-class Brits with a love-hate relationship. Shane MacGowan is as masterful as ever in setting the mood and using language to create tension. One lover calling the other a “lousy faggot” is a very realistic line in context. Is it necessary development or gratuitously shocking? After long analysis, I’m inclined to believe the latter.

As always, I am not advocating censorship. All of these performers are entitled to their opinions and even have the right to put those opinions, howver ill-considered or vile, to music. When that recorded opinion incites violence, however, responsible media should think carefully about airing it. More importantly, good consumers should think twice about where they spend their entertainment dollars.

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