Lady Gaga is just one example of our worship of celebrities
To imply that Lady Gaga is a no-talent bum, as some critics like Camille Paglia have, is just plain stupid.
Gaga may have less talent than her admirers say she has, but she has more than her critics are willing to admit.
However, to write in a recent newsletter, “In September at the opening Mass, I officially announced that this was going to be the Year of Lady Gaga at SMI,” as Father John Medwid did, is also stupid.
It is especially stupid when SMI (St. Mary’s Institute) is located in Amsterdam, the hometown of Norma Petruccione Bozell. She is the wife of arch-conservative Catholic Brent Bozell, founder and president of the Media Research Center and nephew of the late William F. Buckley.
In a May 3 article by Bozell on his newsbusters.org site, he quotes the following from Father Medwid, “Many people may not realize that Lady Gaga is the product of Catholic education” and “she was someone who followed her own path. . . . It takes a great deal of courage, especially for young people, to blaze their own trails in life!”
Bozell then cites several examples of Lady Gaga’s Catholic bashing and highly sexualized performances as reasons she should not be celebrated in Catholic schools.
Bozell and Paglia, coming from different perspectives, are not alone in their critiques of Gaga. In the April 7, 2010, online edition of The Wall Street Journal, Emily Esfahani Smith wrote of Gaga, “Her lyrics also celebrate themes of bondage and sadomasochism,” and, “Vaudevillian and carnal, Lady Gaga has got the knack of sending rape-like fantasies — in songs and videos that double as catchy club hits — to the top of the charts.”
I have watched enough Gaga videos to conclude that Bozell, of whom I am not a fan, is right. I would go even further than he does and say that not only is Gaga not appropriate for children in a Roman Catholic Elementary School, but she is also not appropriate for children in the public schools.
Further yet, I would ask why is it we continue to use celebrities as role models for children, even celebrities less controversial than Gaga? Say Mel Gibson. Bozell might not have written a piece criticizing Father Medwid if Medwid had proclaimed “the year of Mel Gibson,” but I would have. Being a celebrity should not automatically disqualify someone from being a role model, but it does not automatically qualify someone, either.
cult of celebrity
We pay too much attention to rock musicians, athletes, people of “royal” blood, wealthy people and movie stars, and churches are not immune from the “cult of celebrity.” Billy Graham, somewhat of a celebrity himself, never held a religious crusade without being accompanied by some celebrity. Joe the Plumber and Harriet the Housewife might have gotten to sing in a Graham choir or serve as an usher, but they were never up on the platform with him.
Pepperdine University Professor Craig Detweiler says, “I see a hunger for celebrity as a hunger for eternity.” Being a celebrity, being famous, Detweiler argues, is the closest people get to Heaven. The hunger for fame, regardless of how fleeting, seems to have increased as more and more people jettison their belief in eternity. Which makes it all the more troubling that a priest would want students to celebrate a celebrity, any celebrity.
One problem with our focus on celebrities is that it denigrates the “average” person and the contribution he or she makes to society. Most of us are not celebrities; we are the common people Frank Capra celebrated so well in his movies. We live quiet lives — working hard, raising our children and contributing to the stability of our society. Our lives are only lives of “quiet desperation” when we look at celebrities and wish we were them.
But I don’t want to be too hard on Father Medwid. Most of us are drawn to the “cult of celebrity” from time to time. We are drawn to it in part because many of us secretly harbor a desire for fame, no matter how fleeting.
Medwid may have even meant well when making Lady Gaga a poster girl for Catholic education. Nevertheless, he made an error of judgment. That should not disqualify him from being a priest, but it also cannot be ignored.
The parishioners of St. Mary’s are reeling from the death of Father James Gulley on the heels of Father Medwid’s resignation. Although a Protestant, I grieve with them. Good leadership is so rare. Hopefully, St. Mary’s will find a good priest soon, and Father Medwid, after a period of reflection, will be able to pastor a church again.
Daniel T. Weaver lives in Amsterdam and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.