Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal by J. Jack Halberstam explores new ways of looking at sex and gender and uses the artist and performer Lady Gaga as one of the many examples of people reflecting the cultural changes occurring presently. “Gaga Politics” concludes Halberstam’s chapter, “Gaga Relations: The End of Marriage” which introduces five activists, visionaries and theorists covering possibilities for re-imagining relationships. It is a concentrated group of ideas in just a few pages to reimagine “…life worlds by understanding the history of the present” (125). The concepts include challenging the institution of marriage, alternatives to capitalism, an unconventional relationship, an argument to the right to refuse rights, and finally a whimsical but profound conclusion to open up to new ways of being. There are concurrent themes between Halbertam’s ideas and the collective persona of Lady Gaga’s “Millennial” generation that generally let us know what direction society is headed both culturally and politically.
The first idea Halberstam covers is on activist Spade and Willse’s work who argue against gay marriage. They believe marriage perpetuates racial and economic inequality and that marriage is mainly an issue for privileged gay men and lesbians. When society votes for gay marriage to access the state institution’s security and entitlements, it bypasses larger, more important civic issues that affect a larger part of society. As a part of their work, Spade and Willse created a chart that offers alternative plans of action for every argument made for marriage. The second idea highlights contemporary feminist visionaries J.K. Gibson-Graham, who argue for an end to capitalism. They believe that society is so engaged in capitalism, that successful non-capitalist modes of business are not promoted as they should be. Gibson-Graham’s strategy is to encourage society to engage in other types of exchange such as co-ops and swap meets, and to acknowledge other forms of kinship and intimacy. Halberstam then reflects on his own experience of meeting three women in a longterm relationship with one-another. He argues that there are other viable forms of relationships that do not intend to get legally married. The fourth idea highlights visionary scholar Fred Moten who argues to “refuse the rights that have been refused to you” (128). On that principle, Halberstam proposes the option to reject the right to marry and to cast aside the state and status quo. Halberstam’s conclusionary strategy is inspired by the animated film, Finding Nemo. Dory, a female fish, lives a life out of the norm, setting an example of an alternative lifestyle. Halberstam comments, “She literally forgets family, forgets to get married, forgets to become a mother, and in the process opens herself up to a new way of being. I suggest we do the same” (129).
Halberstam starts off “Gaga Politics” by making an argument “…for a more quirky politics, a gaga politics made up of fanciful agenda less oriented toward legal inclusion and more oriented to a queer project of reimagining life worlds…” (125). What did Halberstam have in mind with his reference to quirky politics, fanciful agendas and queer projects? He suggests living outside of rigid binary constructs that society has been living within for ages such as marriage, law and religion. In addition to these ideas being “alternative” in nature, they are more civic and/or community-minded, running parallel to American historian Neil Howe’s work describing Lady Gaga’s Millennial generation. This generation is born after 1982 and spanning approximately 20 years. Through Howe’s studies, he predicted what this generation is driven by.
It is interesting to note that the author of Gaga Feminism, Halberstam, a professor of American studies and ethnicity and gender studies at the University of Southern California, is part of “Generation X” (Gen X), born on the cusp of the “Baby Boomer” generation in 1961. He is in admiration of the mindset of Lady Gaga’s work that symbolizes the Millennial generation. President Barack Obama is also born in 1961, the most progressive person of royalty in history, the late Princess Diana, and the famous trans performance artist (and courageous of his time) Boy George. Clearly, a “new variety of thought” started to emerge with the Gen X generation starting in ‘61. This survivalist, pragmatic and rebellious Gen X generation (in part) has accommodated a platform for the Millennials to thrive, in the form of technology providing access to information also known as the “information age”. Additionally, with the robust access to information from all over the world via the Web, exposes that there is not just polar opposites to live by, but many variables that exist in the spaces in between. We are not just living in a city, but in a worldwide community where we can communicate with others easily on the other side of the planet.
From analyzing “Gaga Politics” from a generational point of view, one can pinpoint patterns and get a unique glimpse of where things might head. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign slogan said it all… “CHANGE”. Halberstam made a statement in his “Manifesto” chapter that has “Gen X” written all over it. He stated, “Gaga feminism recognizes that the world rewards the corrupt, the cheaters, and the liars, and that dishonesty pays. Therefore, the only way to advance toward total disruption of inertia and complacency is to steal from the rich, undermine the religious, and upset the moralists” (147). Halberstam may have not meant stealing in a literal sense, but moving into the Millennial generation, it is their generation that will most likely address his anarchist-like rant. In his short, but to-the-point chapter on “Gaga Politics”, the Gen X-to-Millennial tactics are loud and clear, and from their approach, we can glean the current threads of mass consciousness.
Historian and demographer Neil Howe characterizes the Millennial generation as special, confident, team-oriented and achieving. He explains “confident” as, “Millennial teens are taking a longer view of the future and have faith that their generation can make the world a better place…” The selfless and future-mindedness of the Millennials is indicated by being able to see all the opportunities available and/or variables, flavors, colors and shades of gray. Howe describes “team-oriented” as:
“Millennials are developing strong team instincts and tight peer bonds. Throughout their childhoods, there has been an upswing in community service, student juries, and collaborative sports. Kids are transforming technology itself into a group activity, powering up their IM and e-mail servers as soon as they touch a computer, and making themselves the most 24/7 peer-to-peer connected generation in history. As they get older, Millennials will continue to bring their collaborative strengths to the workplace, contradicting the Generation X stereotype of the competitive, individualistic free agent.” Neil Howe
With that being said, it confirms the belief that the Millennial generation is in fact community-minded. Additionally, Howe expounds how the generation will shape America’s future by stating, “There is a sense of optimism and civic engagement about them—with community service not only at an all-time high, but also required at many schools. As they come of age over the next two decades, they may strengthen civic institutions and social infrastructure, especially since we are approaching a moment of urgency in our country.” With information provided by demographer Howe, the concurrent threads that are driving the Millennial generation comes to life.
Understanding what the Millennials are inspired by and comparing it to Halberstam’s suggested gaga political ideas uncovers where society is headed. Halberstam highlights trans activist Dean Spade’s work where he communicates to society that there is a broader civic picture that needs to be looked at. He covers Gibson-Graham’s work to recognize the non-capitalist, community-driven alternatives around us. Halberstam mentions other forms of relationship arrangements, and the option to refuse rights as an different way of looking at society’s legal system. Halberstam concludes “Gaga Politics” by suggesting to be open to new ways of being. All these ideas fall in line with Howe’s observations of the Millennials. This Millennial era is about community instead of individualism, limitless variables and less binary structures, and change in lieu of the status quo. We can never know for sure what our futures will be like, but with Millennials coming of age, it is quite possible we can expect just as much access to information as currently, unveiling the many variables of being within society, increased cultural flexibility and civic activism in not just our cities but in a worldwide community.
Finding Nemo. Dir. Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich. Perf. Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould. Pixar, 2003. Film.
Halberstam J. Jack. Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, And The End of Normal. Boston: Beacon Press, 2012. Print.
Howe Neil. Millennials. Camping Magazine, EBSCOhost. Jan 2007. Web. 5 March 2013.
Professor M. Harrison