Watching Lady Gaga’s Grammy performance of her new single, “Born This Way,” was sort of like watching Species while pondering the end of western civilization.
Nothing about Gaga makes much sense. Her meticulously crafted, over-the-top essence is founded on a fetishizing of head-scratching chaos, postmodern meaninglessness & “just dance” hedonism. Whether she’s sporting a dead-Kermit dress, bloody pieces of cow, or mutated shoulder blade prostheses straight from Syfy’s Face Off, Gaga prides herself on being an outrageous parody of shock-art subversiveness. In everything she does, Gaga makes a headline-grabbing “statement,” the substance of which is usually just a declaration of the primacy of “anything goes” surrealist circus fun.
The interesting thing about “Born This Way,” the anthem to go along with Gaga’s recent foray into pro-gay rights politics, is that it tries to make a statement of objective meaning even while it bombastically insists on a universally binding, “only you can determine what’s right for you” subjectivism.
The message of “Born This Way’ is that no matter what you are (gay, straight, bisexual, Kermit, an alien with horns and a Batman bubble butt), you should love yourself and embrace it all. “There’s nothing wrong with loving who you are,” sings Gaga. “Cause he made you perfect, Babe… God makes no mistakes.”
OK, Gaga. Even if I agreed with your illogical philosophical assertions about everything and everyone being perfect just as they are (which I don’t), how do you expect anyone to take seriously your “this is the right way to believe” political/theological statements when they are couched in a persona so thoroughly, amusingly dismissive of normative truths or general sense-making?
Among its many problems, “Born This Way” heralds the self-defeating message that no one can tell anyone else who they are or what they ought to be, even while it assumes the privileged mantle of moral authority to assert this apparent truism in the first place.
All logical inconsistencies aside, the song is just a bleak, hopeless celebration of nothingness. If the abiding truth of reality is that everyone in the world (including me) is exactly as they ought to be–every last broken, frail, misguided, treacherous one of us–then the world is a far darker place, and virtuous existence a far more futile endeavor, than any of us previously imagined.
But I believe, because my experience proves and my faith compels me to believe, that none of us are, or were born, just as we should be. Quite the opposite actually. From the get go we are selfish and sinful, out-of-sorts and awkward, prone to wander. To throw up our hands and say that all is well, we are “born this way,” is false to our very nature and tragically bereft of a theology of hope. “Born this way” is a self-satisfied approach to life that believes itself to be freeing, but inadvertently undercuts the things (repentance, redemption, reconciliation, moral formation) that bring about true human flourishing.