April 21, 2011
Lady Gaga's Inclusion Problems
Pop star uses racial slurs in "Born This Way" -- and then calls her critics "retarded." Huh.
Last month, we blogged about Lady Gaga's new single "Born This Way," noting that at least one blogger interpreted the song as nothing less than the good news of the gospel.
To me "Born This Way" sounds less like an anthem than a peppy exercise song. When the chorus gets going, I always want to jump up and work those ab muscles or something.
Gaga seems pretty proud of it. "I'm on the quest to create the anthem for my generation for the next decade," she said during the making of the album, also called Born This Way, "so that's what I've done."
And while it's clear from the title single and its accompanying video that Mother Monster wants her Little Monsters to be a "big-tent group" -- a race which bears no prejudice, no judgment, but boundless freedom -- she's also taking heat from critics who object to some of her word choices.
The first objections came soon after the single's release, when people noticed the words she used to describe Latino and Asian people: Chola and Orient, respectively.
"Whoa, hold up. Did she just say Orient?" wrote blogger Edward Hong on 8asians.com. For many, "orient" evokes "Oriental," a rather outdated term for Asians. "I can't help but wonder all sorts of crazy questions in my head: Is it okay to call Asians "Oriental" now? Are we back in the 1950's? Why did I love Lady Gaga again?"
Still, as a longtime fan, he's willing to be charitable: "I don't find the words that she uses to be racist in any means," Hong said, "but a bit ignorant."
Cholo or Chola, meanwhile, is a derogatory term derived from an Aztec word for dog, or mutt, which a spokeswoman for the group Chicanos Unidos Arizona called as derogatory as the N-word is for African-Americans.
"Are Latinos supposed to be grateful that a white superstar, born of privilege, included a racist shout out to our community?" asks writer Robert Paul Reyes. "Not all Latino ladies are 'cholas' in the barrio, some of them are teachers, writers, engineers and nurses and doctors."
This week, Gaga infuriated a few more people by calling certain criticisms of her title single "retarded".
When asked about people who accuse "Born This Way" of ripping off Madonna's "Express Yourself," she shot back: "Why would I try to put out a song and think I'm getting one over on everybody? That's retarded."
That didn't go over too well with Gawker. "It's getting a little difficult to stay sympathetic to Gaga's divine cause when she casually throws around terms like 'retarded.' Last time I checked, the intellectually disabled were born that way, too."
Quickly realizing what she's said, Gaga apologized through Perez Hilton's blog, calling it "a furiously unintentional mistake" and quoting a snippet from the song: "Whether life's disabilities, left you outcast bullied or teased, rejoice and love yourself today."
She's also responded to those already firing snark at her next single "Judas" and calling it blasphemous for its appropriation of Christian imagery: "I feel like honestly that God sent me those lyrics and that melody," she said in the same interview that featured the R-bomb.
Fortunately, everyone can now take a breather to enjoy her fellow musical iconoclast Weird Al Yankovic's just-released parody single "Perform This Way," to which Mother Monster somewhat belatedly gave imprimatur this week.