Gaga, Chelsea, and Manhood

JUNE 30, 2011 BY TOM MATLACK 4 COMMENTS (EDIT)

Lady Gaga and Chelsea Handler are good for men.

Sometimes pop culture actually gets it right. By that I mean cultural icons can tap into something so foreign, so crazy, so insane that it actually wakes us up to a deeper truth about ourselves through our cult worship of the stars themselves. We don’t quite know what’s happening until it’s too late. Let me digress. One of the most influential books I ever read as a teenager was Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I know: a real pageturner. But what I found fascinating about the book was the how Kuhn explains the way knowledge, even in science, is not absolute. Truth is a moving target and subject to groupthink, or as Kuhn calls it, a paradigm shift. We all believe the earth is flat—and that is our truth—until one day somebody sails across the Atlantic. That piece of data is a fly in the ointment of the existing belief structure. Once there are enough data points contradicting the existing paradigm, the entire edifice of what is truth has to change to a new paradigm, whether a round earth or an earth that orbits the sun or the theory of relativity. Of course what is true of science is true of everything else too. That’s why I have always been suspect of those who lay claim to first-hand knowledge of eternal truth. I really believe that supposed facts are all relative and we are always one anomaly in the data away from having to rethink everything. Which brings me to my two new favorite paradigm shifters, Lady Gaga and Chelsea Handler. Ask even their fans why they love them and they come up with a wide range of bizarre answers. The following, I would argue, is based on our collective intuition that these women have got something right that we all know too but have been missing for way too long. ♦◊♦ Any discussion of what it means to be a man involves what it means to be a woman. We define ourselves in large part via this inextricable dance of being male and female. Lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people are, perhaps, the most impacted by the rigid historic definitions of gender. As we have tried to foster a nationwide discussion about what it

means to be a good father, son, husband, worker, and man, we have come back again and again to how we relate to women through sex and relationships and the various ways men treat women well and not so well. It has become very clear that defining manhood in isolation is a futile exercise without the context of considering changing conceptions of what it means to be a woman. So to talk about manhood it seems we have to be willing to talk about womanhood. And just like men are at a point of profound transition, so too are women. We have these relatively traditional vestiges of what it means to be feminine propagated by mainstream media, porn, and even politics. But under the surface there is a revolution going on against the very basis of those beliefs. I saw Lady Gaga at Radio Music Hall when she was just on the cusp of breaking out (you can read about that here, “Poker Face: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”). One of the things I loved most about her is that she is not traditionally beautiful. She is frankly weird looking even before all the performance art and make-up. What I also loved about her then and still do now is that at the core of all the insanity is an amazing voice. Check out this a capella version of her song “Born This Way” and tell me the woman doesn’t put Madonna to shame: http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=84Gp5Dr4p7E&feature=player_embedded I also recently watched the 60 minutes segment in which Gaga explains her “little monsters.” Her message is really for all of us, especially girls and women, who don’t fit into the traditional stereotypes of what it is to be female. She calls herself, and us by proxy, the “freaks.” In other words, the anomaly in the scientific theory about truth that has worn down at the edges so much that it is no longer working because, well, most of us no longer feel like we fit in. Her message is one of encouraging her audience to embrace their freak nature, to accept who they are with radical honesty, and thereby find the superstar hidden within. Yes she is a brilliant choreographer of her own fame through insane fashion, half-naked performance, and self-promotion taken to the extreme. But all the swirl of activity, I would argue, is needed to break

down the barrier of the edifice of truth about women that is no longer useful to them or us as men. You don’t have to be stereotypically beautiful, you don’t have to feel like a freak, you don’t have to accept homophobia, you don’t have to shun your sexuality. Be who you were born to be is the Gaga mantra. ♦◊♦ Back when I was single I used to watch this ridiculous show called The Best Damn Sports Show Period. It featured comedian Tom Arnold, former Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Jon Kruk, and former Detroit Piston John Salley, with guests like Snoop Dogg, Dennis Rodman, Bob Knight, and Chris Rock. One thousand episodes aired over almost a decade on television. I loved the fact that I could watch the show, just relax into my sofa, and laugh my ass off at guys talking sports completely like me and my buddies do. Objectively, the show was actually pretty awful, but it connected to a real piece of me that helped me relax and see humor in the stupidest possible banter about a topic for which I did, and still do, have great passion for: sports. With BDSSP off the air as I head into my 10th year of marriage, my nightly routine with my wife has taken on a new mainstay: Chelsea Lately. There’s a roundtable discussion of the day’s news, not unlike BDSSP, with a panel of comedians like high-pitched and infinitely funny gay man Ross Mathews and my personal favorite Loni Love, who Chelsea often calls her “Chocolate Thunder.” Then of course there is Chuy, the Mexican “nugget” who is Chelsea’s one constant on the show. For the uninitiated here’s a clip where Loni and other members of the roundtable show up topless, causing Chelsea to lose it (and not because Chuy is wearing a headdress): http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=tHwggMnOBfg&feature=player_embedded Where the hell am I going with this? Great question. We went from the philosophy of science to Mexican nugget in one giant leap of logic. Fair enough. I love Chelsea for the same reason I love Lady Gaga: she fearlessly breaks down the barriers of what it means to be female

and, frankly, a human being. Homosexuality, race, sex, and little People for crying out loud, she just doesn’t care what you think. She is brutally honest and, as a result, incredibly funny. At least to me. What I value most about Chelsea, though, is her approach to female sexuality, which is the constant refrain on her show. She just refuses to live within the boundaries of what women are supposed to be like. She jokes openly about her sex life and just about anyone else in the news or on her panel. And in so doing she becomes another powerful anomaly in the received truth about women. ♦◊♦ Objectification in the context of human interaction, it seems to me, is the reduction of a living, breathing, and three-dimensional person to an object. If Albert Einstein showed up in a centerfold naked, we’d all agree it was truly wrong, even if for some strange reason men with mustaches became a huge sexual fad. It’d be wrong not just because we don’t really like to see old guys in the buff, but because it would reduce a genius to a two-dimensional object. One of the central issues in gender relations, in both directions, is the objectification—the reduction and over-simplification—of the opposite sex. Men are currently being painted with broad brush of bad-boy celebrities and the supposed slackers in their 20s. It is “the end of men” at the very moment where more men are staying home with the kids and thinking hard how to love in a way that works for women. Women continue to be portrayed as sexual objects, where superficial beauty matters infinitely more than soul. The explosive growth of the pornography industry demonstrates the desire on the part of men to see women who turn them on not in the flesh and in relationship but as some kind of skin-deep fantasy. The “bad boy” media frenzy is all about objectifying men, making them all the same, just like we airbrush every freckle, every wrinkle, and every bulge on a Playboy centerfold’s body. We want our female stars to be all the same under their clothes—drop-dead gorgeous. And we want our men to be all the same under their clothing too—not so powerful, not so suave, but flawed and exposed.

So the question becomes: How do we as men deal with women in a more meaningful and ultimately fulfilling way? And how do women break out of the preconceived notions of being female? Lady Gaga and comedian Chelsea Handler are part of a move toward a new paradigm of womanhood. And that’s why I just can’t seem to get enough of either one of them. Call me crazy, a freak, a lover of women dressed in raw meat. Guilty as charged. But there’s a lot more here than a singer running around in outrageous outfits and a comic talking incessantly about her Kaslopis. —Photos via E! Related Posts: • Another Middle-Aged Guy Goes Gaga (12.3) • The News—Tea Partying with Lady Gaga (11.7) • Lady Gaga Shoots for Sainthood (11.4) • March Madness and Manhood in Sin City (7.2) • Health and Masculinity: Is Manhood Killing Us? (6.7) We Recommend  Bros Before…Promises  King of the Hipsters  Eligible, Black, Male, and Hopelessly Single  Why A-holes Trump Good Men  Has Your Wife Read This? FILED UNDER: ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT, FEATURED CONTENT TAGGED WITH: CHELSEA HANDLER, LADY GAGA, MASCULINITY, OBJECTIFICATION, SPORTS, WOMEN

About Tom Matlack Tom Matlack is the co-founder of The Good Men Project. He has a 17-year-old daughter and 15- and 6-year-old sons. His wife, Elena, is the love of his life.

Comments

1.

Daddy Files says:

June 30, 2011 at 1:39 pm • Edit 4 1

I guess wearing a meat dress and inspiring an episode of Glee makes one a cultural icon these days. To me Lady Gaga is kind of pathetic. She tries so hard to be different…just like everybody else. Reply

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Ryan Brady says:

June 30, 2011 at 2:58 pm • Edit 2 0

Why aren’t you wearing a meat dress then? Lady Gaga has plugged into what it takes to become a pop star, and carefully crafted an image to accomplish that goal… and she’s used her fame to plug for LGBT issues. I really don’t think she’s trying to be different just to be different. She’s being “different” as a route to being successful. Reply

2.

Jill says:

June 30, 2011 at 7:02 pm • Edit 0 0

I disagree, I think Lady Gaga perfectly fits the stereotype of a female pop star. Even though, true, her face is a bit weird looking, her body is conventionally “hot” and she uses it to it’s full advantage. I believe her stardom is 100% manufactured and I’m sure calling herself a freak is something that she and her publicists came up with to sell more song downloads. She strikes me as completely inauthentic. She’s hardly a revolutionary. Also, I’m tired of the idea that being a sex object is somehow empowering to women. Reply

3.

Erin says:

June 30, 2011 at 8:03 pm • Edit 0 0

Tom, I love this piece. I really love it. It really gets to the core of the issue for both men and women and looking within ourselves to see not only how we treat each other on the surface, but the messages we might have buried deep about our own gender and the opposite gender that aren’t based in reality, but based on perceptions sold to us through mass mentality. Men and women are undeniably intertwined. Although I will say, I do love Lady Gaga for the same reasons you

expressed, her complete fearlessness and her uncharacteristic looks, she does or had struggled with eating disorders and drug use. Reply