Kairos and Lady Gaga: The role of pop culture in “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Last week, Lady Gaga used Twitter and YouTube to call senators and her fans to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, and people have been talking more publicly about Gaga and DADT as a result. I’m amazed at the power that Gagas’ tweets and her pop culture celebrity status has already played in producing discourse—in creating moments where people have seemed more propelled to discuss DADT publicly—since here blatant public intervention in the debate. In addition to my own conversations with friends about it, a Google search is filled with countless newspaper articles, blogs, and web pages discussing Lady Gaga’s politics—yes— but more importantly, DADT itself!  Essentially, then, what I would like to point out in this post is the immense power of pop culture/celebrity status (and perhaps Twitter?) to produce Kairotic moments where people feel inclined to voice their concerns, in a more public fashion, about heated political issues. Sure, there is going to be a vote this upcoming week on the Senate floor—an event that will also produce a time when newscasters will likely find it appropriate to discuss what happens during the vote—and I also recognize that people, such as discharged veterans, themselves, have been inciting discourse and fighting this issue for years. Regardless, I will at least admit that the publicity of Gaga’s intervention in politics, here, incited me to talk more publicly about DADT, to voice my anger in opposition to it, and to write this blog post (which I realize is more focussed on Gaga then the politics of DADT itself). Because Lady Gaga felt it was the right moment to speak more publicly about this issue, apparently I did too.

In his essay, “Toward a Sophistic Definition of Rhetoric”, John Poulakos notes the importance of time in relation to speaking for the Sophists.  For the Sophists, he argues, “kairos dictates that what is said must be said at the right time”(41).Furthermore, he points out that  prepon (or what is appropriate) is also important for Sophists, so that what is said “conforms to both audience and occasion”(41). Lady Gaga, I would argue, fits Poulakos’s sophistic definition of an effective rhetor in certain ways. She is responding to DADT at a kairotic moment (for example, there was a senate floor meeting coming up this week, making it a ideal time to ask fans to contact their senators) and she does seem to consider what is most appropriate before she speaks: as opposed to her normal music videos with multiple layers and complicated creativity, the YouTube video that she has a link to on Twitter is in black and white, she’s wearing a traditional shirt and tie, and her tone is serious. She thus appears to have thought about both the occasion and how to most appropriately appeal to her audience on this issue. And in doing so, she has at least achieved partial success as a rhetor (although DADT has not been overtuned, there are no doubt fans who have called their senators).

Yet if we consider Lady Gaga’s followers who have (and will) call their senators to voice their concerns against DADT, I wonder where their activism (their opportunity to be rhetors in the public sphere) is stemming  from. Are fans entering the public debate about this issue because they are aware of and concerned about the history/greater context surrounding DADT—such as other discharged veterans that have publicly spoken on this issue or other people who have been fighting for the repeal of DADT for years —or simply because Gaga’s celebrity called them to do so? Although she is timely and appropriate—and that her tactics as a rhetor have begun to work on this issue—I  wonder to what extent this timeliness or appropriateness has actually contributed to her fans following her call to action? Was it her skill as a rhetor (and I do think she is a skilled rhetor), or her celebrity status that called her fans to action? If the latter is the case, then I am led to wonder how we define kairotic moments, and the legitimacy of them,  in a society influenced and in certain ways driven by pop culture. I am not suggesting that Gaga’s intervention in the debate over DADT is a negative thing: I’m happy that she’s done so and I fully support her. At the same time, I begin to question the way in which I define kairotic moments in my own life? When is the ripe and appropriate time for me to speak out more publicly about issues that are important to me? To what extend is my activism and discourse as a rhetor directed/heightened/controlled by the demands of pop culture and celebrity status, as opposed to greater debate surrounding the issues I speak for?

Works Cited

Poulakos, John. “Toward a Sophistic Definition of Rhetoric”. Philosophy and Rhetoric  16.1 (1983): 35-48. Web. 19 Sept. 2010.

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3 Responses to Kairos and Lady Gaga: The role of pop culture in “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

  1. Ben says:

    Jon — I only have time for a brief comment, but I like how your post highlights a phenomenon that most rhetorical theory seems to overlook — the ability some (Lady Gaga) have to *create* kairos. Maybe we need a new term for that — kairotic agency? I don’t know. Interesting stuff, anyway.

  2. lanceelyot says:

    I agree with you in the power of celebrities to create Kairos, but I wonder how do those of us with only two followers on Twitter create Kairos :-).

    Also, this begs the question: Does Glenn Beck have great Kairos? Sarah Palin?

  3. Stephanie White says:

    I don’t think people “create” kairos; rather, people act on kairos. Check out Thomas Rickert’s work for some ideas on what I would call kairotic agency.

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