Adult Certification Needed: Lady Gaga In South Korea – OpEd

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She has a habit of lousing up proceedings with a manic dedication. Now, Lady Gaga has overly impressed South Korean authorities and religious groups with her particular branding of religious interpretation and provocation. There is nothing too deep about her messages, executed with a noisy insistence on contrarian themes. Conservatives and reactionaries should be thanked by Lady Gaga, if for no other reason than they provide her another basis of validity. Everything else risks being a bit camp or a bit vulgar, purposely orchestrated to piggy back on gay pride. Had Gaga existed during the Cold War, she would have paraded in an adjusted Trabant in an austere uniform.

The Born this way Ball, launched in Seoul a few days ago, is described by Gaga as ‘an Electro-Metal Pop-Opera; the tale of the Beginning, the genesis of the Kingdom of Fame… How we were birthed and how we will die celebrating.’ As a note in the Huffington Post (Apr 27) ventured, ‘audiences will be treated to another epic statement from the queen of epic statements’. High, if somewhat exaggerated praise indeed.

For Gaga, fashion is the weapon of choice. The human flesh beneath it might as well be mechanical, a machine that enables the product to live. This is true alienation on stage – human estrangement in favour of commodity glitz, the anti-human context made into a tour show. The commodities themselves are what shape her body, tormenting it, distorting it, rendering her a cameo grotesque. In a sense, Gaga does, at stages, reflect pure and brilliant automation, a sex cyborg in full command. She stops short, however, of going the distance with such performance artists as Stelarc, who have taken the position that the human body itself has become redundant.

That is hardly what is threatening to the authorities or certain groups who are the self-appointed gate keepers of morality. Their concerns are more traditional and banal. A South Korean outfit calling itself the Civilians Network against the Lady Gaga Concert found her performances ‘too homosexual and too pornographic’ (BBC News, Apr 27). Rather than banning the Gaga express, a brake has been put on it: adult certification has been enforced. Gaga’s ‘little monsters’, as she terms her fans, had to be on the older side.

Having achieved that humble concession, it seemed that the organizer of the protests, Yoon Jung-hoon, took the chance to pay for a ticket to attend the concert. Guarding morality is a serious business, requiring vigilant ‘monitoring’ of the Gaga phenomenon.

The protests in South Korea are hardly unusual. Most people seem more bemused than horrified. Lady Gaga has stimulated her own hate club in the United States, where Christian fundamentalism has a happy and well stocked home. Last year, Gaga herself encountered a rather zealous sort, a picketer outside her Anaheim show in California. The protester was holding a sign with ‘Trust in Christ or End in Hell’ and was kind enough to offer ‘Get Out of Hell Free’ cards to those willing to accept them. Hell, as Robert Frost argued, is only ever a half filled auditorium. A Gaga concert is another story, even when restricted to little monster adults.

Binoy Kampmark

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: [email protected]

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