This Sunday marks the fourth week of Advent; in a week, it will be the feast of the birth of our Lord. My mother has been blasting Christmas music. In between choir boys singing “Silent Night” and Bing Crosby, the radio DJ told his audience that the number one performer of 2010 is Lady Gaga.

Lady Gaga is more than a manufacturer of pop music and catchy tunes. She came into the music scene two years ago, infecting the senses and causing a strong urge to move it-move it with her first single, “Just Dance”—closely followed by more hits: “Poker Face,” “Paparazzi” and “Telephone” (with Beyonce). She has become, in the most secular use of the term, an icon. Her image is a mosaic: outrageous, loud, provocative, creative, and unabashedly out there.


Just to get an idea of how culturally embedded Lady Gaga is, let’s use the technology litmus test. Of her 21 uploaded videos on YouTube, the lowest viewed video has over 1 million clicks and her highest is over 319 million (the music video for “Bad Romance”). At present, the LadyGagaVevo channel has 342, 426 subscribers and over a billion total upload views. She has over 7 million followers on Twitter and almost 25 million people “like” her on Facebook.

Now let’s compare Lady Gaga’s popularity to, say, the Roman Catholic Church, who has over a billion members worldwide. The Vatican has its own channel on YouTube. It has 900 uploaded videos, mostly excerpts of speeches by Pope Benedict XVI, translated by a voice over. The most viewed video has over 105 thousand views; the lowest has a few hundred. The Vatican joined YouTube on November 21, 2005 but only has 26, 392 subscribers. On Twitter and Facebook, its fans and followers are collectively below 12,000.

Perez Hilton, a celebrity gossip blogger, is a big fan of Lady Gaga. He is known for his “dictionary of celeb terminology/nicknameology,” says a friend of mine. One of his many nicknames for her includes “GaGalupe,” a clear reference to Our Lady of Guadalupe, a celebrated icon of the Virgin Mary. It can be supposed that Hilton calls her this because “Gaga” and “Guadalupe” both start with “G”—and, perhaps, because Lady Gaga was raised Roman Catholic and has publicly stated that she is currently celibate. This fact sends mixed messages, considering her provocative attire, and is an ironic and bold statement in today’s openly promiscuous society.

Lady Gaga’s videos are reminiscent of something Flannery O’Connor wrote in “The Fiction Writer and His Country.” She said, “When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock–to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.”

Lady Gaga is a visually startling figure in today’s society, a modern symbol of female empowerment. Her celebrity revolves more around her projected image and “daring” performances on and off the camera. She is an advocate for the LGBT community. For World Aids Day, she “sacrifice[d] her digital life to fight HIV/AIDS.” She posted a video on her fan page to repeal DADT, which got 42,355 “likes” and 5,002 comments. Her latest album has 6 Grammy Nominations and won her the 2010 Billboard Award “Artist of the Year.”

The Church’s leader, Pope Benedict XVI, on the other hand, is an intellectually startling figure. It’s not just his deep-set eyes and wry smile. He is the spiritual leader of over a billion people and successor of St. Peter. He coordinates his colors according to the liturgical calendar. A relentless defender of human life, he nearly caused riots in England. The pope’s comment concerning condoms and how they may be the first recognition of morality in male prostitutes was widely misconstrued, elaborated upon, and discussed. The Vatican recently criticized the Chinese government, calling their acts “unacceptable and hostile” and a “grave violation of their human rights, particularly their freedom of religion and of conscience.” The Church is heavily criticized, but Pope Benedict XVI’s adherence to the Church’s sacred tradition and the teachings of Jesus Christ gives hope in a spiritually poor world. He is, to many faithful Catholics, a kind of rock star; to the rest of the world, perhaps, an old fool.

Lady Gaga sings about losing her keys, communication issues, and love. The only meat she brings to the “Great Conversation” is the kind she wore as a dress to the 2010 MTV Music Awards. Her records have reached the #1 slot in most countries across the globe; the University of South Carolina now offers a class on her and the sociology of fame. She may be a celebrity, and therefore not comparable to a religious leader, but her popularity says something about the culture. It says people want something different and fascinating and intriguing. She is an icon verging on idol: people love her, want to know her, people want to be like her.

Lady Gaga is not the problem with society; the real problem is that more and more people are looking away from the wonder of God and religion to find meaning in their life. It seems it is no longer enough to be alive–people forget there is a dignity in existing. They have lost the delight found in thinking, smiling, suffering, and worshipping. Life becomes a fight for identity, instead of an enjoyment and appreciation. During her summer interview with Rolling Stone, Lady Gaga said, “When I wake up in the morning, I feel just like any other insecure 24-year old girl. Then I say, ‘Bitch, you’re Lady Gaga, you get up and walk the walk today.'”

Last November, the European Court of Human Rights said that crucifixes were no longer allowed in Italian schools because they breached the rights of non-Catholic families. Both the Catholic Church and the State protested, with Italy’s education minister saying that the cross is a “symbol of our tradition.” That ruling is currently being appealed, with the Greek Orthodox Church joining in the protests, fearful that this will set a precedent. Bishop Nicholas, from central Greece, argued that if crucifixes and icons are removed from classrooms, children will not have any worthy symbols to inspire and protect them; he thinks football and pop idols are “very poor substitutes.”

Pope Benedict XVI, when asked by a reporter of what he could do to make Catholicism appear more “attractive” and “credible” to secularists and atheists in Britain, brilliantly said,

“One might say that a church which seeks above all to be attractive would already be on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for itself, does not work to increase its numbers so as to have more power. The Church is at the service of Another; it does not serve itself, seeking to be a strong body, but it strives to make the Gospel of Jesus Christ accessible, the great truths, the great powers of love and of reconciliation that appeared in this figure and that come always from the presence of Jesus Christ. In this sense, the Church does not seek to be attractive, but rather to make herself transparent for Jesus Christ. And in the measure in which the Church is not for herself, as a strong and powerful body in the world, that wishes to have power, but simply is herself the voice of Another, she becomes truly transparent to the great figure of Jesus Christ and the great truths that he has brought to humanity…”

You see, Advent is still a season for hope; the latest YouTube video to go viral was one of flash mobs singing Handel’s “Messiah” in food courts, not another teenager singing Gaga. Blessed Pope John Paul II said that our whole lives must be Advents, preparing for Christ to come. Truth is not a popularity contest. Pop stars are sojourners too. As Wendell Berry says, we must live our life in a non-computable way. Even in Lady Gaga, there is a reminder of another icon, a real one, who sacrificed himself for our redemption. As Pope Benedict said in his homily on December 16th, a true appreciation for the Incarnation will “infuse courage in our lives.”

O come, O come, Emmanuel—let us adore you!

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5 replies to this post
  1. This is a courageous literary feat, Julie; comparing the incomparable can be dangerous, but you pull it off with good taste and understatement. I was reminded of John Lennon saying back in the 60s that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, a statement that was probably objectively correct. I did notice ten days ago that the anniversary of his death got more air time than the anniversary of Pearl Harbor the day before–on Fox News! I do suspect that in the case of your comparison, part of the disjunction is that the LGGC (Lady Gaga Crowd) is perfectly represented and reflected in the moral and intellectual level of the social media, which, thank the Lord, is not true of the Holy Father's admirers.

  2. Thanks you! I believe there was a poll a year or two ago saying President Obama was more popular than Jesus too. It's definitely true that Lady Gaga's following reflects more the moral and intellectual level of the social media, but I was recently talking to a person who got all their news/ facts about the Catholic Church FROM the media. When I told her that the media is overall anti-Catholic, she disagreed with me, even though I'm in journalism and thus see it all the time. That doesn't mean, however, that this is all their moral or intellect can amount too. I truly believe people want more substance in their life, and perhaps raising more awareness and explanation about the Church, her teachings and her mission will accomplish that. Maybe not, if people do not allow the Holy Spirit to lead them. I do, therefore, look forward to being part of the Holy Father's New Evangelization movement in the Church; there are definitely things that deserve more media attention (like the recent Catholic martyrs in Iraq and Turkey) than what someone wears to music awards.

  3. After she opened that recent column as Miss Manners on exposing state secrets, I'll read anything that Julie Robison writes! And, as John says, here she sets a hard task for herself and wins with real class. I am sure that the Gagguys and Gaggettes are as Dorothy Parker quipped: 'deep down, they're shallow.' I also suspect that they will grow out of it or many will: a lot of silly people who squealed and wet themselves over The Beatles are now probably less silly and going to church. Then I think of those ten-or-twenty-thousand people who were, for 15 minutes each, more popular than Jesus: including that hypocrite John Lennon (Elton John sang, 'Imagine no possessions, It isn't hard to do, One floor for fur coats, The other just for shoes…'), then the Bay City Rollers, that tart Madonna, Lady Googoo and probably even Jimmy Carter. I think that Joseph McDonald, lead singer of Country Joe & the Fish, was once 18.4% as popular as Jesus for two weeks in 1970 until he went into detox.

    Meanwhile, it is funny how the Son of God hangs in there nevertheless. It is just as odd how that geriatric ol' kraut (okay, the Holy Father to me and thee) probably can't boogie worth a darn yet he packs 'em in in every country that he visits while YouTuberculosis patients can't even hum along to his recordings. A lucrative lesson here may be to set up an investment company doing what most investment companies do, namely fleece the gullible. Sell celebrity futures: the teenyboppers, the chattering classes and the dim-bulb media can bet it all on Lady Gorgonzola who will be roundly forgotten two days after Hoi Polloi gloms onto a new trollop, while we can donate the takings to Christ and His Holy Church (now there's a brand that stands the test of time and they don't even want your Visa card). It would help save souls and – deliciously – confuse and infuriate the clots.

    Stephen Masty

  4. What a great contrast Pope Benedict’s statement about the Church’s goal and purpose as the voice and service of Another, namely Jesus Christ’s Gospel and reconciliation, to the many different opinions as how to increase the Church’s attractiveness by adapting herself to the practices of successful businesses to satisfy the greatest number of potential customers, offering them what they want, the way they want it, with adapting changes in the faith and moral truth according to the age we live in. The Church was instructed from start to bring the love-message of Jesus everywhere, because it is the truth of the everlasting life, even if some oppose and reject it. We were given freedom and the choice is ours : life or death. The Church of Jesus Christ was not given the practical political m.o. to compromise or change the divine commandment, only man-made practices and disciplines can be improved or left behind. This is not a popularity contest or “the price is right.” For the Church it is a do or die for the greater glory of God, and for the sharing of the divine attribute: eternal life in God’s kingdom.

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