Lady Gaga is back, her hip surgery just a minor interval in an otherwise hi-buzz career. Stephanie G, like others such as Richard Nixon, will surely again bifurcate the world into "like" and "not like." Where she prances there is no middle ground. But as she returns to center stage with her modified anthems and ARTPOP album, perhaps it's worthwhile to cast a primal eye on this modern entertainer and place her in a never before spoken about -- and larger -- perspective.
Lady Gaga is a shamanistic priestess.
Eras before Lady Gaga come on the scene, popular radio personality Paul Harvey's weekly "The Rest of the Story" uncovered the hidden backstory of the day's top news. First, he would recount the obvious -- the gist, the top-of-mind, the superficial, the business as usual -- and then deconstruct the hidden, really interesting, and most human, dimension behind the headlines.
The rest of the story...
As an anthropologist who has studied primitive tribes, when I watch Lady Gaga, my mind careens back to my days in the primeval forest. Beyond the torrent of press coverage citing Lady Gaga's expertise in social media and digital distribution strategies, there too is a "rest of the story." In this case, it's a story about how Ms. Germanotta represents something at once age-old and ageless. Primal.
It's not just about how Lady Gaga dances and sings to her own beat, in her own way, much like Mic and Astaire, who danced, not to the rhythm (like most of us), but to the melody. Each shaman I have met, from New Guinea to the Amazon, has their own unique, atypical gait and tempo, which is a reflection of their other-worldliness.
It's not just Lady Gaga's theatrics, wild outfits, headdresses and masks. Although she shares this practice with most Shaman who often cover shoulders and scalp with feathers from rare birds and paint their faces with natural pigments and dried blood.
To the Spirit World and Back, with Knowledge
It's more that these visual and attention-getting communication devices are the necessary accouterments of the shaman's prototypal ventures out of the temporal, the locally-situated familiar, into the "spirit world." Once there, inevitably, the Shaman does battle with the dark forces of the cosmos -- fighting "monsters" (a favorite word of Lady Gaga). And, as the Lady says, for this you must feel "fierce." You have to vanquish all doubt, blood-soaked and mythic.
Following the trials of the fight, the shaman "comes back" to his people (having usually traveled beyond via trance or hallucinogenic) to give over to them the lessons -- practical, existential, and cosmological -- that he or she has learned. In large measure the shaman's expertise lies in how well these teachings are transmitted, such that the tribe experiences what the shaman experienced, as if they themselves went on the hero's journey. It's a feeling not so much as if they participated, as much as it is a felt sense of "post-icipation."
Henceforth, it is up to the individuals of the tribe to rely on their new self-expanded idea of themselves and their world. Moses is a model: lead your people to the promised land (or state of mind), then your people go forth without you. This is exactly what Lady Gaga seems to be up to.
The Benevolent Priestess
This completely fearless-about-her-ambition Italian girl from New York (Yonkers), has a dream and is outrageously outspoken about it, not only for herself but for her fans, particularly her young, female fans. Lady Gaga is the archetype of the benevolent leader. In her Barbara Walters interview, she voiced the sentiment of wanting to be a teacher to her fans, saying, "I want to liberate them from their fears so they can find their own place in the world."
My own life and travels suggest that to find what is truly "you" necessitates tapping into essential competencies we all already have, but need to recognize and use. These include curiosity, sensuality, and openness. These capabilities provide clues -- revelatory moments --- about who and what one truly is. As such, they provide a steady base and a jumping-off point from which to discover and continually expand one's self-story. The goal is to be on a search narrative. The goal: personal innovation.
Attaching to Brand Gaga
A fact of human biology and cognition is that people attach to that which provides them the stimulus and the venue to more fully realize what has only been latent in them. Lady Gaga is like the Yellow Brick Road in that through participating in her journey, each young fan can feel, "I can become myself." There is no greater gift one can bestow on another.
Lady Gaga's out-of-the-box rise to fame is founded on the fact that she embodies the behavioral design of a leader, a hero who neatly fits the zeitgeist of performance and pose, but appears completely authentic. Think: Ronald Reagan or even Pope John Paul -- who spontaneously performed and inspired intense emotional attachments and loyalty from their followers.
Gaga Is Primal
Yes, of course, there will remain as many people who like as dislike Lady Gaga. But especially nowadays when attention spans are foreshortening, it seems worthwhile to have a point of view about contemporary issues that takes a long view -- if not forward, than at least backward to a time before media even existed.
Why is Lady Gaga so watched on YouTube, Twittered about, commented on and searched for? Because she is the real deal. She is primal. She is a shaman priestess who seeks to take you beyond your present self-story and pitch you out of your everyday cocoon. She is artfully full of life, so others may be too. That's the secret ticket to stardom.
And that's the rest of the story.
Bob Deutsch Ph.D., is a cognitive anthropologist, author of the forthcoming book The 5 Essentials: Using Your Inborn Resources To Create a Fulfilling Life (Hudson Street Press), and founder of Brain Sells. His insights into human behavior have made him a valuable asset to the State Department and the Department of Defense. His commercial clients have included MasterCard, American Express, Pfizer, Apple, HSBC Bank, National Geographic and The Johns Hopkins Medical Center.