So I was going about my own business the other day, clicking a link to YouTube, when — as often happens on YouTube these days — a commercial began playing. Before I had any indication of what I was in for, I first noticed that this commercial was several minutes long. I thought that surely nothing on earth could be so awesome that some advertising company should presume that people would actually be willing to sit through almost two and a half minutes of YouTube commercial for it. Ha ha. Silly advertising company.
So, naturally, I proceeded to watch the whole thing.
Score one for the marketing team.
At first, I wasn’t clear on what the commercial was for. There was a very pleasant, homey feel about the opening scenes. There was an interview of a pleasant, laid-back farmer, a man who seemed to emanate the down-to-earth simple wisdom of someone who’s spent a lot of time behind a plow making an honest living. “I’m John,” he says. “I have lived here my whole life.”
Aww, that’s nice. At this point, I’m anticipating an ad for either butter, sausage, biscuits, organic foods, or a documentary about organic food.
John proceeds to tell us that he and the neighbors weren’t exactly too sure what to think of Lady Gaga when she first came to town.
Hang on, what?
Now I haven’t the slightest clue what to do with what I’m seeing and hearing. Maybe Lady Gaga is releasing a new album. Like, a country album. Maybe she’s trying to prove she’s not just for the young, crazy teens. Maybe she’s doing a concert tour of rural America. Maybe farm folk are trying to prove that they really can run with the hip young kids. Maybe Lady Gaga did some kind of community outreach thing in a small town where she helped pick soy beans and milk cows and pose with a tractor or something to support local growers.
Oh, how wrong I was. How very, very wrong. Nothing could have prepared me for the fact that what I was watching was an ad for…
If you’re confused — well, let me rephrase that, because I can’t think of who would NOT be confused by such a mind-bendingly bizarre piece of digital trippiness. If you don’t know who Lady Gaga is, or why it should matter that her name is mashed up with “Ville”, allow me to briefly explain.
The Ville part is due to Zynga, a social network gaming company responsible for all kinds of personal-info-leeching time-wasters on Facebook. The most famous of these apps is FarmVille. FarmVille is a game where, unsurprisingly, you have a farm. On your digital farm, you plant some digital crops, go tootle around the internet for a while, and then come back some time later to harvest those digital crops and make some digital money off of them. Of course, if that sounds too tedious, you are welcomed and encouraged to spend NON-digital money to hurry things up a bit.
Lady Gaga is… hard to explain. She’s a rock star (as if that kind of stage name didn’t give it away). She is a rather strange rock star (as if that kind of stage name didn’t give THAT away, too). She is probably more famous for her various “unique” fashion statements that she is for her music — fashion statements that ring along the lines of, “Why let Halloween come only once a year when you can dress like it everyday?” or, “I don’t mind scaring small children,” or, “If you’re worried my dress/hairdo/accessories will poke your eye out, then just sit further away,” or, “Who says meat is only meant for eating?”
No, I’m not kidding about that last one. She has worn a dress made entirely out of raw meat. Her next-most famous stunt was being carried into an awards ceremony inside a giant plastic egg. She dramatically emerged from it wearing some kind of skimpy, shiny, yellow yolk-inspired outfit. I’m sure it must have meant something.
Anyway, unless you have been living under some kind of wonderful rock which has prevented you from hearing about these and similar shenanigans, I expect you knew this much already. What is more important to the purpose of this commercial, however, is that Lady Gaga is also making a name for herself as a humanitarian. As far as I know, this is not due to her actually having done anything helfpul, per se, but due to her having written positive and uplifting lyrics. We’ll get to those in a minute.
So returning to the narrative, there I was, with a commercial for “GagaVille” on my computer screen and my jaw in my lap. These simple farm folk started gushing about how Lady Gaga had been spreading “love” and “acceptance” and “freedom” all through their small, simple farm town (Ville). As a result, giant rhinestones began growing in place of normal crops. Which apparently was wonderful. Because I guess oversized, tacky fake bling is way more profitable than, you know, actual food.
It’s a good thing that these folks liked fake bling, because it didn’t just grow on their trees. It started appearing on the animals. The buildings. The people. It’s not entirely clear to me if the townsfolk did the decorating themselves, or if this was some kind of parasitic Bling of Doom that ate an entire Midwest farming community, or if Lady Gaga went postal on everybody with a Bedazzler. In any case, the commercial seemed to think it was a good thing.
Things continued to escalate in even more confusing, sparkly, love-acceptance-and-pixie-dust ways. Finally, at the end of the commercial, we find a bunch of people dressed like freaks and partying in the barn.
That’s just the background.
In the foreground is that kind, simple farmer John from the beginning of the commercial. His face is now adorned with rhinestones and eye pencil, he is sporting some kind of disturbingly cross-dressy lycra thing that would make your average clubber look at him a bit askance, utterly happy about all the “love” and “acceptance” Lady Gaga brought to the town. In conclusion, he smiles a little bashfully, shrugs at the camera, and says, “We’ve become quite the little monsters, haven’t we?”
It took a long time for any thought more intelligent than “Buh?!?” to form in my mind. It took even longer for my jaw to finally come off my lap. This commercial might have actually broken something in my brain.
As you would expect, those two and a half minutes disturbed me. I was so busy scrambling for something — anything — to start making sense again, that it took me a little while to put my finger on what felt so terribly wrong about it. I mean, ASIDE from the fact that somebody thought FarmVille + Lady Gaga was a good idea.
It wasn’t really about Lady Gaga herself. I mean, don’t get me wrong. The gal is weird. She is certainly not being subtle about her attempts to shock and befuddle her audience. She may not be fully sane, or she just may be making every effort to act like she’s not. She may have a demon or two (or 10,000) hanging around. I’m not about to go buy her CD and I will not deny that there’s something inherently skeezy about her act.
But let’s face it: Lady Gaga is certainly not the first performer to have (or pretend like they have) one or more screws loose. Freaky and unsettling performing artists have been around as long as the performing arts have existed. She is conveying a new and unusual brand of crazy, sure, but I think you’d have to do some work to prove that she is conveying a deeper level of crazy than anyone before her ever has. So as disturbing as Lady Gaga is in her own right, that’s not what was bugging me about the commercial.
I was also not primarily cringing about the reason “love and acceptance” came up so much, although that is certainly cringe-worthy in and of itself. See, the thing that has catapulted Lady Gaga from the status of “crazy lady in the meat dress” to the status of “Love! Acceptance! Glam! Ponies!” is a song she’s written called “Born This Way.”
If you couldn’t guess from the title, this has been eagerly taken up as the new anthem for the gay rights movement. Lest the line “God don’t make no mistakes” throw you off, let me clarify that this is not a general “Everybody’s beautiful in their own way” buying-the-world-a-Coke kind of song. It’s very explicitly about validating unbiblical sexual orientations, although people of different races and physical abilities get a brief nod towards the end, too. So it’s kind of “Yay! Perversion perversion perversion… Oh, I guess people who don’t look like me are okay too.”
And this is what gets read as “love and acceptance”.
That’s horrifying, don’t get me wrong. But that’s also not what was bugging me most profoundly about that commercial. Because as much as that sentiment grieves me and makes me all the more desperate for revival in our nation, I knew this kind of filth was out there. Where sleeping with however many people of whatever gender at whatever kind of commitment level you like is seen as an issue of social justice, of course it is going to be glorified in virtuous language. I was saddened, but not shocked by this.
After another moment or two of sorting things out, I finally figured out the thing that was eating at me the most. It was not the definition itself of “love and acceptance” — however problematic that is — it was the juxtaposition of “love and acceptance” with “little monsters.”
Now, I’m going to take a guess that “little monsters” is a song lyric, or a song title, or something, and if only I was more in the loop of pop culture it would make perfect sense to me. (Have I mentioned lately how glad I am not to be in the loop of pop culture?) What actually caught me off guard was this idea of the end justifying the means, even when the means is obviously and intentionally aberrant. It was not that “We learned love and acceptance by, you know, loving and accepting people”; it was that “We learned love and acceptance from a kooky singer who wears meat and now we are all little monsters and ISN’T THAT AWESOME?”
I don’t know if “monster” has a positive connotation in Zynga’s universe, but it sure doesn’t in mine. I can’t come up with any possible defense of the concept that learning to be more monstrous somehow increases love in a community. I can’t fathom how turning what looks like a nice, happy little farm town into a freak show discotheque is supposed to be indicative of moral progress. Yes, I know it’s just a commercial, and I know that those are just actors making a buck by reciting a script. Yes, I know that the people and places represented are purely fictional. Yes, I know it’s just trying to be funny to make me want to play the game, and in some ways, it kind of is funny.
Smart advertisers do not create ad campaigns in a vacuum. They don’t ask themselves, “Do I relate to this?”, but rather, “Will my audience relate to this?” Really smart ones do test groups and surveys to make sure they can accurately answer that question. They want their commercials to evoke a reaction of, “Haha! YEAH!”, not, “Umm… huh?” Gauging by how unbelievably popular Lady Gaga is at the moment, I’d hazard a guess that Zynga’s marketers were not too far off. They expect their viewers to be on board with their message. If they’re much good at their job, then they know that their viewers are on board.
The end justifies the means. Love and acceptance. Little monsters.
Suddenly I wasn’t thinking about the weirdest and least excusable cross-promotion to ever hit social networking. Suddenly I was thinking about the Antichrist.
At first I thought I must have really gone off the deep end this time. But I couldn’t shake it. The end justifies the means. The supreme end is love and acceptance (which translates to bald-faced immorality). Any means that gets us love and acceptance is subsequently great — even if the “means” looks like us turning into little monsters, emulating our hero who led the way in that regard.
Of course I don’t believe that Lady Gaga is the Antichrist, or even the false prophet, or the harlot Babylon, or anything else you’ll read about in Revelation. But I’m getting the same kind of feeling I had surrounding the messianic language that permeated our most recent presidential campaigns — while we are not yet looking at the biblical event itself, we can see that our culture is getting more and more ready for it. If we are expected to rally behind an openly and intentionally creepy person, because somehow doing so promotes love and acceptance, is it really that big of a stretch to see that happening on a larger, more political scale? If we’re supposed to turn a blind eye in our entertainment to things that should strike us as wrong, because of the happiness and sparkles and all that, is it really such a great leap to ignore things like, “Oh, yeah, I guess that leader kind of came out of nowhere through political intrigue, but who cares! Love! Acceptance! Rhinestones!”
Honestly, it made me wonder: if the Antichrist were to actually crawl out of the ocean with seven literal heads and ten literal horns (Rev 13), would people actually up and follow him anyway? A week ago I would have thought that not to be possible. Now I’m not so confident.
I really don’t intend to be alarmist with this. The end would be coming no sooner nor later if Lady Gaga weren’t prancing around being as weird as possible. The Antichrist will not look like any more or less of a monster just because people enjoy saying ridiculous things about love and acceptance. But I am troubled to see how willing and eager our culture is to be blind to the obvious, just so long as happy lingo is involved. It’s like the devil doesn’t even have to try to be subtle anymore.
I think it behooves us, the church, to notice these trends. Yet a mere shake of the head or a cluck of the tongue is no more profitable towards loosing revival than an inane digital farming game is towards creating utopia. We need to stay alert. We need to speak boldly and kindly about the true source of love and joy. And above all, we need to keep praying, crying out for the God of mercy to send revival to our nation.