Last night, I watched a grown woman dance with bloodthirsty (but sexy!) monsters, set off firecrackers from her bra, and battle and defeat an evil, angry (and curiously cute) anglerfish while repeatedly posing like a cross and hinting that she is our salvation. Not only that, but this didn't take place in a mental institution, but in Madison Square Garden in front of thousands of screaming fans dressed equally outrageously. Yes, Lady Gaga is certifiably out of her mind, and yes, I absolutely love it.
A major part of Gaga's appeal is her message, which came through loud and clear loud night at her Monster Ball Tour: don't give up on your dreams, be true to yourself, forget about your insecurities, hold true to your dreams no matter what anyone says, embrace your inner freak, etc., etc. Admittedly, her message isn't new or revolutionary. Still, her ideas resonate with people, and for obvious reason! It feels good to be yourself-- unabashedly and unapologetically, and to have people appreciate that self.
People clearly heard Gaga's message. Reminiscent of an American Idol audition, thousands of fans dressed "uniquely". Of course, they all looked just like Gaga, but still it was nice to see people break out of the "standard" patterns of dress and behavior and get a little crazy.
I must admit, there were moments when I swelled up. Moments where Gaga fused intense, emotional music with her plea for us to stay true to who we are. That combination couldn't have been more powerful. After the concert though, in the calm of my quiet apartment, and with a bit more reflection, I thought about Gaga's message and the practicalities for those who aren't... well... Gaga.
In school there are outlets for those who want to express themselves-- art class and drama come immediately come to mind. But what about the students who just think extraordinarily creatively and bizarrely like Gaga but aren't interested in art or drama?
I am in no position to officially diagnose Gaga, but last night I certainly saw touches of schizophrenia. I actually would go so far as to say that at moments, I bet she really believed (for that moment) she was our lord and savior. That's how much she got lost in her performance last night. She gave us 110% to show us her fantastical, bizarre, twisted, and unfathomably creative mind.
But what about students with the same touch of madness? Or students with learning disabilities whose minds are naturally bent in a different direction? How can they take Gaga's message and just be themselves and not worry what others think, considering the reality is that we live in an educational climate that promotes conformity and rule-following? When acting or dressing in a bizarre manner causes ridicule and taunting from peers?
Last night I looked around the packed Madison Square Garden and was enthralled to see thousands of inspired and passionate youth all in one place. Clearly Gaga hit all the right buttons. The important question is this: how can we encourage such individuality in the classroom, workforce, and even academia?
Many students with "learning disabilities" who are put in "special education" classes would love to be told "It's OK that you're different. Just be yourself and I'll appreciate it. Keep your oddness up, because someday lots of others will think it's creative." Instead, they have to go to a public concert to be inspired by a woman eating her own bloody heart. Why?
Thank you Gaga for being completely off your rocker and for owning it. You're empowering people in a way few others do. Hopefully, others in a position to empower others will follow your lead, without having to slay a creepy fish to do it.
Follow Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sbkaufman