Lady Gaga, as pictured here:
(This is only our fifth post mentioning her, and we are not obsessed!))
Well, why not? It’s hard to make sense of selecting her unless dressing well includes wearing uncomfortable clothes to attract a great deal of attention.
This outcome seems to me connected with David Brooks’ latest column in the NY Times. “A Case of Mental Courage” starts with a description of Fanny Burney recounting her breast surgery, without anaesthetic. But it is actually about an ethos of self-discipline, which he thinks we have lost. He also takes this to be the source of a lot of obvious problems today:
She lived at a time when people were more conscious of the fallen nature of men and women. People were held to be inherently sinful, and to be a decent person one had to struggle against one’s weakness.
In the mental sphere, this meant conquering mental laziness with arduous and sometimes numbingly boring lessons. It meant conquering frivolity by sitting through earnest sermons and speeches. It meant conquering self- approval by staring straight at what was painful.
This emphasis on mental character lasted for a time, but it has abated. There’s less talk of sin and frailty these days.** Capitalism has also undermined this ethos. In the media competition for eyeballs, everyone is rewarded for producing enjoyable and affirming content. Output is measured by ratings and page views, so much of the media, and even the academy, is more geared toward pleasuring consumers, not putting them on some arduous character-building regime.
There’s an obvious connection between his comments and the appearance of Lady Gaga on VF’s best dressed list. But I wonder if there is not also a less obvious one. That is, one factor in the loss of the culture of self-discipline may well involve a loss of generational leadership in the early 60’s. You couldn’t trust people who were horrified at, for example, the Beattles’ hair or Elvis’s wiggle, while so many thousands were being killed for the sake of democracy in South East Asia.
There are many other factors, of course, with capitalism being a large one. But for university teachers, the question of generational authority is a major one. And now we have the capitalists substituting their goals for ours in educational institutions.
So maybe I’ll lay off any problems with Lady Gaga.
What do you think?
**As aside: it seems to me there’s a lot of talk of sins, but they are conveniently others’ sins.