There are many words in the Indonesian language that start with “gaga”, such as gagas (to initiate); gagap (to stutter); gagau (to grope around in the dark); gagah (strong, sharp, as in “looking sharp”; bergagah-gagah to show off your strength) and gagal (to fail).
All of these have some sort of connection with Jakarta’s recent Gaga-saga. The Big Daddy entertainment organizers gagas-ed a Lady Gaga show for June 3rd, the authorities got all gagap and gagau about it, conservative Muslims, such as the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) went out of their way to bergagah-gagah, and then did all they could to make the Lady Gaga show gagal. They succeeded — for now.
Yes, Lady Gaga is a magnet for controversy. She’s been accused of spreading satanism and corrupting young people’s morality.
She’s sexually vulgar and religiously blasphemous, so her critics say, and they revile her for outrageous performances. On the other hand she is the beloved of her many fans, engendering a worldwide Lady Gaga movement.
Love her or hate her, Lady Gaga arouses strong passions. So far, people have looked at the Indonesian Gaga-saga in terms of freedom of expression, state authority and democracy.
But is there deeper significance behind the intense reactions she has evoked? Why was she named one of the 10 most influential people of 2010? And why did she rise to fame when she did?
First, let me state my position. I love Lady Gaga, in the same way I love all strong women who are not afraid to express themselves (remember Madonna’s 1989 song “Express Yourself” with its gender equality message?) in powerful, forceful and creative ways.
And I love her because Gaga is like gado-gado! This is word that means not only the cooked vegetable salad with peanut sauce, considered one of our “national dishes”, but also something mixed or eclectic.
Yep, Lady Gaga is definitely eclectic, creating an oversized persona from a cocktail of high and low culture, inspired by fashion, film, drag queens, heavy metallers and pop stars, as well as spiritual figures like Deepak Chopra.
That’s what artists do. They use their skills — including lyrics, sound and performance — to take a snapshot explaining what it’s like to be alive in the times they inhabit.
That’s why Lady Gaga is to the YouTube generation what Madonna and Michael Jackson were to the MTV generation — and the viral system of social networking has been a much more effective means of turning her into a global icon than the recording industry’s publicity machine.
Lady Gaga’s ascendance began with the onset of the global financial crisis (GFC). Her outrageous, attention-grabbing acts were just what people needed to distract themselves from their economic woes.
But it would be a mistake to reduce her creative commotions to mere diversion from hip-pocket pain. Her art resonates with audiences because she expresses and defines images, ideas, emotions and desires that are already in people’s minds and hearts.
Today we live in a time of limitation, be it of material, natural or spiritual resources. Rampant capitalistic greed has created a chasm between the minority rich and the majority poor, not to mention environmental degradation.
Those who benefit from the existing paradigm hang on to it tightly. The rest feel the future is bleak — doomed even — and want to change it. Hence the worldwide Occupy Movement. They’ve been criticized for not having an agenda apart from expressing dissatisfaction, but that’s only because the time is not yet ripe.
Then, there are the desperados who act with reactionary fervor, either because they pessimistically feel their time might be coming to an end, or because they optimistically think vindication is just around the corner.
The pessimists not only include the FPI and that ilk, but also the Church (plagued with corruption and sex scandals and, in the West, declining attendance) as well as the Santorums and Romneys of the world, of whatever faith.
The optimists include the Facebook and Twitter generation who think the old guard is rotten, as well as women, many of whom have had it with patriarchal domination.
Lady Gaga’s Born this Way, which is usually considered as a plea for LGBT rights, is also the anthem of a new generation who care more about social solidarity and the environment because their lives and future depend on it.
Part of the reason why both Muslim and Christian reactionary groups have lambasted Lady Gaga as satanic is because she is a woman who dares to be herself, therefore copping the usual “witch” label. It’s ironic really. When groups like the FPI attack people or buildings are they being godly? No, of course not, and in the long run, they will lose because of it.
Be prepared folks, as things will get worse before they get better. It will be some time before the Facebook and Twitter generation come of age in 2023 but they will bring a new set of values to the world’s leadership.
The reason why Lady Gaga has such a huge following is not just because she’s giving the finger to the old guard, but also because she embodies the spirit of this coming generation.
It’s a pity Lady Gaga didn’t make it to Indonesia. But who knows, maybe she’ll make the FPI even more famous by making them part of her next act!
The writer (www.juliasuryakusuma.com) is the author of Julia’s Jihad.