OPINION COLUMNS

Can’t read her poker face

By Joy Carrico | Published Wednesday, February 8, 2017
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Before Lady Gaga performed her halftime show at the Super Bowl this past Sunday, there was much speculation about whether or not the show would be a political protest.

In my ever-oblivious state, I was unaware that I was meant to be on guard for political commentary, but the Fella clued me in right before her show started.

Joy Carrico

Joy Carrico

The show opened, and she appeared high above the crowd, wearing a space-age leotard and go-go boots singing “God Bless America,” which then morphed into “This Land is Your Land.” Behind her was a lighted American flag. I thought: this is awfully patriotic.

Next she flies – a la Peter Pan – onto her stage and commences to sing a medley of her greatest hits.

Initially there was an outpouring of approval that her halftime show avoided political conflict. “Way to go, Lady Gaga, for keeping politics out of it!” was the general consensus. We may not like her politics and we may not be followers of her music, but she put on a good show.

But come Monday morning, another question arose: Was her opening with “This Land Is Your Land” a subtle political protest?

The history of that song, according to National Public Radio (NPR), would seem to indicate that it was.

Apparently, when Woody Guthrie wrote the song in the early 1940s he was sick to death of hearing “God Bless America” on the radio. He wrote a response song originally titled “God Blessed America for Me.”

The original version included several less than uplifting verses, such as: “There was a big high wall that tried to stop me. The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property.’ But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing. This land was made for you and me.”

And, “One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple, by the relief office I saw my people. As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if God blessed America for me.”

Before recording it, he changed the title and the main phrase from “God blessed America for me” to “This land was made for you and me.” He also never recorded the second verse quoted earlier about seeing his hungry people. God only knows why. At any rate, his original recording was never released. It was only brought to the public in 1997 when someone cataloging recordings came across it.

In the decades since Guthrie wrote his sarcastic answer to “God Bless America,” it has been covered by many artists, both with and without the more controversial verses and it’s been sung by countless elementary school children from California to the New York Island.

So, now Lady Gaga sings it at Super Bowl LI.

And Monday morning, after the Super Bowl euphoria has worn off, we’re all wondering, “Did Gaga sneak a protest past us?” Did we fail in our obligation to swell with public outrage at her liberal leanings and disrespect for our nation?

I don’t think so.

First, Lady Gaga can be called many things, but subtle isn’t one of them.

This is an artist who attended an awards ceremony in a dress made entirely of raw meat, who had herself carried into the Grammys encased in a giant egg and who has hung lifeless and dripping with fake blood over the stage after a performance. The word gaga itself means “excessively and foolishly enthusiastic.”

Second, although Lady Gaga is outrageous and provokes controversy, Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta is a smart lady.

All the news articles focused on the protest aspect of “This Land is Your Land.” They completely missed the fact that she opened with “God Bless America.” She sang a few lines of it, then changed to “This Land is Your Land” (before flying off in her silver Barbarella suit and go-go boots).

If, as the various articles claim, Lady Gaga was aware of the subversive nature of the origins of “This Land,” she was also aware that Guthrie wrote it in direct response to “God Bless America,” which he found irritating.

If we’re looking for meaning in Gaga’s opener, I think it’s far more telling that she put those two songs together in the first place.

If Gaga was making a statement by using these songs, understanding their history, it was more about merging two sides of the same nation rather than sneaking a liberal protest past the conservatives.

If “God Bless America” represents the conservative values and “This Land is Your Land” represents the more liberal values, then by putting them together, she seemed to be making a statement that America is big enough for both sides, at least for as long as it takes to watch the Super Bowl.

Finally, I want to point out that as seemingly strange as Lady Gaga is, she has her own kind of integrity. In a statement made before her performance, she said “I believe in a passion for inclusion. I believe in the spirit of equality, and the spirit of this country as one of love and compassion and kindness. So my performance will have both those philosophies.”

I don’t think she would act outside her own values. I think she did exactly what she said she was going to do. She chose an opening that was inclusive of both conservative and liberal by merging the two songs.

Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe she did sneak a liberal jab past the populace. But if so, I don’t feel too foolish. If I don’t know to be insulted until NPR explains it to me, then I think I can live happily uninsulted, no matter what was intended.

Joy Carrico is a Messenger graphic artist. She’s gonna take Lady Gaga’s advice and “Just dance. It’s gonna be OK.”

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