Lady Gaga is one of the more, well, colorful public personalities today. Like many in pop culture, her shtick is to move from one outrageous behavior to the next… keeping all her “little monsters” wondering what else she is going to do to shock, titillate, amuse and entertain us. Unlike most others in pop culture, she is magnificent in this role. You may not fancy yourself a fan, but you have to admit that she is pretty good at building a fan base and keeping herself in the public eye. She has consistently placed herself in the right place at the right time while keeping her finger firmly planted on the pulse of the young (and not-so-young), plugged-in techno-savvy pop music fan.
One might surmise from all of this that it is all about Gaga all the time but one would apparently be wrong. On Leap Day, Gaga announced to the world at a “mock trial” held at Harvard University that she was funding her Born this Way Foundation (BTWF) to combat bullying and teenage cruelty. Her vision for the foundation is nothing less than a “braver, kinder world” where “everyone has the right to feel safe, to be empowered and to make a difference…..” Toward that end, the foundation is established on three conceptual pillars: (1) Safety: creating a safe place to celebrate individuality; (2) Skills: teaching advocacy, promoting civic engagement, and encouraging self-expression and; (3) Opportunity: providing ways to implement solutions and impact local communities. Remember the corporate concept of the BHAG (big, hairy audacious goals)? This is one really big BHAG, albeit on the social rather than the business side of life.
BTWF was established because of Gaga’s unfortunate experience at the hands of bullying classmates while growing up. For those of us who experienced bullying as a child, or have had children who have experienced it, the devastating impact of such incidents cannot be overstated. In the past, it was too easy to chalk up bullying and teenage cruelty to trite ideas like “boys will be boys” and “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” Bullying was downplayed. Those on the receiving end of such behavior were often told to suck it up and realize that the only reason a bully would pick on them was because the bully was jealous of them. Thankfully, as a society we are beginning to see through such nonsense and realize how damaging bullying is to both those who experience it , those who dish it out and also to society as a whole.
Enter Stephanie Germanotta, aka Lady Gaga, who cries “Enough!” “To this day, some of my closest friends say, ‘Gaga, you know, everything’s great. You’re a singer; your dreams have come true.’ But, still, when certain things are said to you over and over again as you are growing up, it stays with you and you wonder if they’re true.” (NYT, March 1, 2012) Gaga is smart enough and compassionate enough to realize that, while she may have been strong enough to overcome such experiences, many others are not.
Gaga is using her experience to shape her passion that every child deserves a chance to blossom into whatever nature intended without the threat of being stomped down by one-on-one cruelty and she is putting her money where her mouth is. Reportedly investing $1.2 million of her own funds into the foundation, she has also attracted $850,000 from Barneys New York and $1 million from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Research will certainly be a part of the mission but so will cutting edge initiatives to help children in trouble. Cynthia Germanotta, who wears two hats, one as Gaga’s mother and the other as the president of the BTWF says” “Like everything my daughter has done, this is a grassroots initiative asking for the response of the community to help build this movement and shape it. Therefore, a safe and trusted online community will allow users to share stories about themselves and their lives. Supporters can draw courage from the words of others as they explore BTWF’s online community.”
Grandiose? Perhaps. Narcissistic and cynical? I don’t think so, but only time will tell. It is too easy to paint celebrities with the broad brush that they will do anything to remain in the public eye, even carrying the torch for causes or pseudo-causes that they may or may not believe in. My bet is on the opposite, that Gaga’s fame and fortune has inspired her to indulge her passion for social justice in an area that is meaningful to her. May she be successful in this endeavor beyond her wildest dreams.