Lady Guttenberg vs. Lady Gaga Why Germany's Conservatives Can't Be Cool

German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg and his wife, Stephanie, are seen as the poster couple for a modern, enlightened form of conservatism. But Stephanie's recent comments attacking Lady Gaga for corrupting children are testing the limits of conservative cool.

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When Stephanie zu Guttenberg first met Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, she was still 18-year-old Stephanie von Bismarck-Schönhausen -- in other words, blue blood, just like him.

The two reportedly met during the Love Parade in Berlin in the summer of 1995 -- back when it was still a pretty wild spectacle. They both found themselves on the float of one of the city's notorious techno clubs. As an orgy raged around them, according to the tabloid weekly Bild am Sonntag, Karl-Theodor chatted Stephanie up with the line: "Any chance a techno nut like you could be lured to a classical-music concert?"

Given the setting -- streets packed with crazed techno fans -- the question sounded rather aristocratic. It had almost a pop ethos to it, as if he were saying: Don't worry 'bout what others think, baby, come to me, 'cause we ain't like them.

Fifteen years on, Karl-Theodor is Germany's defense minister, they're married, and that same sentence still reflects their aspirations. He says you can have a brand of modern conservatism and that even people who vote for his center-right Christian Social Union (CSU) party can be cool. And, as he sees it, you can also reconcile the contradictory influences of having grown up in an aristocratic family with roots stretching back centuries and in an era molded by '80s pop.

Karl-Theodor, 38, wants to be a cool CSU politician instead of a more typical member of the party, with their bad suits and inability to talk straight. He grew up in a world dominated by pop culture. It shaped his views, too, including his belief that politics and Germany both need a new way of doing things (and one that doesn't include mandatory military conscription). All of this has made him Germany's most popular politician.

But, now, Stephanie has co-authored a book called "Shaut nicht weg!" ("Don't Look Away!"), which has a curious little twist hidden within its pages: It reveals that modern German conservatism is a sham because it isn't really all that conservative.

Pop Stars or Porn Stars?

Stephanie zu Guttenberg, 33, is president of the German branch of Innocence in Danger, an international organization focused on preventing child sex abuse and helping its victims. "Shaut nicht weg!" is meant to be a handbook for dealing with cases of sexual abuse, answering nuts-and-bolts questions like: How can you tell if a child is the victim of abuse? How should you interact with them? What can you do to help them? What should you avoid? Where can they go for help? They're simple questions -- but hard to answer. And, for the most part, Guttenberg does in an almost consistently smart and level-headed way.

But, thanks to a couple of controversial comments, the book has become a political bombshell. Her remarks chastising the media and criticizing pop music even made it to the front page of Bild, Germany's top-selling tabloid daily. The paper slapped the quote "Pornography Debauches Our Children" across its front page in screaming letters. And, among the pictures it used to illustrate the story, there was one of Lady Gaga, the pop star who had scooped up an amazing eight trophies at the MTV Video Music Awards just hours before.

To connect the dots, you need to see the part of the book where Guttenberg discusses how contemporary pop culture corrupts children and youth. "Today's girls and boys grow up with pop singers who embody the mainstream but still look like porn stars" she writes. Then she brings out the names: rapper Snoop Dogg and singers Rihanna, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears. And special mention goes to ... (You guessed it!) ... Lady Gaga.

Her argument goes like this: The Internet is full of pornography and makes it easy for kids to get their hands on it. The Internet is also an important conduit for pop, which plays with sexual images. So, connecting A with B and B with C, Guttenberg concludes that Lady Gaga has something to do with pornography and, therefore, endangers children.

Pop Cultural Revisionism

Of course, that's a bunch of hogwash. For one, there's a world of difference -- in terms of culture, criminal laws and real-world effects -- between playing with sexual images and pornography. Secondly, and more importantly, the whole saga that Guttenberg tells about cultural decline is completely wrong.

"When I was a little girl," Guttenberg writes, "pop divas like Whitney Houston still donned tight silk dresses and German pop stars like Nena wore baggy T-shirts and drainpipe jeans." She then goes on to write that, "in the late 1980s, the big pop stars -- such as Madonna, Prince and Michael Jackson -- started making a point of wearing provocative outfits more commonly seen in red-light districts." Though the sense of disgust she feels at having to deal with such mundane matters is palpable, it still doesn't make her argumentation any better.

Pop, as we know it, was born in the mid-1950s. Ever since then, it has been all about the art of provocation and the sexualization of everyday life. And the consequences have been many: processes of emancipation, all sorts of sexism, creating and putting on display a broad range of body images.

Still, if there has been any trend in recent years, it's precisely the opposite of the one Lady Guttenberg describes. For decades, most women and girls were forced to reflect male conceptions of femininity. But now they've become artists themselves and embody their own conceptions of what it means to be a woman or a girl.

If nothing else, that's what the art of Stefani Germanotta -- aka Lady Gaga -- is all about. And sometimes that's even painfully obvious, like it was at the MTV awards gala, where she wore a dress made from slabs of raw meat.

Her songs, her videos and her red-carpet appearances always focus on larger-than-life fantasies of a woman in her mid-20s determined to declare that her body is a work of art. She is now exploiting all the opportunities available to her. Lady Gaga is the Andy Warhol of our times. She's bigger, more blatant and more superficial and, in her own unique way, she's also similarly genderless.

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esperonto 09/22/2010
1. dikes
I don't really understand Germany's obsession with being "cool". Its something that always threw me off. Its just another of Germany's hyper-divisions of reality, where finally Hasselhof can be cool. I think it is also weird conservatives going to the love parade! That was a fairly homosexual parade. And I think the Gaga woman is into homosexuality. Well she came to the right state, as Maine has a large convergence of dikes: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/21/us/politics/21gaga.html?_r=2&ref=politics This thing with conservatives being "cool" is weird to me. Like all those conservatives who suddenly wanted to live in New York like the Clintons. Its typical actually of them that they mimic what the left does. Also, I do not like Gaga's singing. I find it very generic. She seems like she is about to start singing really good, like she puts on a show first like something good is going to happen, then she starts singing in this very boring pop style that is currently vogue and tame. I don't find her even vaguely threatening, nor understand her appeal. Cyndy Lauper was more interesting. At least she had a voice that carried.
esperonto 09/22/2010
2. Gaga Versus Lauper
I can make a very clear case as to why Gaga is actually not very cool at all. The Gaga/Lauper dilemma. This may seem Kierkegaardian, but I find they are operating the same New York blond Dike venue. Lauper represents the real world, the working class. Her videos have working class home life and use her real parents as actors. Gaga on the other hand represents the new class policies of the millennium, where there is now a shameless upper class preference in all things. There is a new depression, but the bankers are getting bailed out instead of jumping. There is clearly a more brazen hatred of the lower class these days. As far as anyone in Germany being "cool", I would say the chances are nil, since it is quite true that Germans are the most un-cool people in the world. If you want to go somewhere that people are smug and not cool, Germany is the place, coming only second to England. Germans are so lacking in any form of coolness, that they are jealous of you as an American, because you come from the land of David Hasselhof, Lady Gaga, Elvis, and Bill Clinton's ugly daughter. Germans feeling sorry for themselves because they didnt get to grow up in Texas where Dallas the TV was shot, that they didnt get to have an "American childhood". Then if you are not from the American South, they will try to make you out to be this bad yankee carpet bagger type. I hate the USA, but Germany is definitely not an alternative. In fact, many foreigners are so dumb, I stay in the USA just to avoid them. It may seem perverse, but I would rather live in the real USA that I hate, rather than live with those idiots overseas.
BTraven 09/22/2010
3. *
Just another book which is indeed at the top of the bestseller list, however, nobody could explain why so many people buy it. How can she criticise an artist when she was attending the love parade which was at that time, by the way it was at its peak then, even more obscene than Lady Gaga has ever been in her short career? She uses her, as the author wrote, as straw woman, but not in way to the author believes – he thinks Guttenberg wants to show conservative people that her family still nurtures traditional values. I assume the Guttenberg’s are not so trendy as the Rapp wants to make us believe since she is a singer who acts wholly in the tradition of the old entertainment school which provided us with artists who are capable of doing different genres like dancing, acting or singing very well. The weird thing is that Lady Gaga does not use her body to promote her career, quite contrary she works very hard to make her body unattractive respectively does not want to give the impression that the reason why she has so much success is that people pant for having sex with her. She is an antidote to Marylin Monroe in a certain sense. Her thesis could reflect a certain mood among people here in Germany, namely the rising uneasiness of being swamped by products of a culture which is not their own.
BTraven 09/23/2010
4.
Zitat von esperontoI can make a very clear case as to why Gaga is actually not very cool at all. The Gaga/Lauper dilemma. This may seem Kierkegaardian, but I find they are operating the same New York blond Dike venue. Lauper represents the real world, the working class. Her videos have working class home life and use her real parents as actors. Gaga on the other hand represents the new class policies of the millennium, where there is now a shameless upper class preference in all things. There is a new depression, but the bankers are getting bailed out instead of jumping. There is clearly a more brazen hatred of the lower class these days. As far as anyone in Germany being "cool", I would say the chances are nil, since it is quite true that Germans are the most un-cool people in the world. If you want to go somewhere that people are smug and not cool, Germany is the place, coming only second to England. Germans are so lacking in any form of coolness, that they are jealous of you as an American, because you come from the land of David Hasselhof, Lady Gaga, Elvis, and Bill Clinton's ugly daughter. Germans feeling sorry for themselves because they didnt get to grow up in Texas where Dallas the TV was shot, that they didnt get to have an "American childhood". Then if you are not from the American South, they will try to make you out to be this bad yankee carpet bagger type. I hate the USA, but Germany is definitely not an alternative. In fact, many foreigners are so dumb, I stay in the USA just to avoid them. It may seem perverse, but I would rather live in the real USA that I hate, rather than live with those idiots overseas.
I have to admit that comparing Cindy Lauper with Lady Gaga would have never occurred to me, however, it does not mean that this comparison is wrong. Unfortunately, I do not have many videos of Lauper in my mind, just her famous girls want fun song with which she perfectly expressed the dominating mood of that time. I do not know whether Lady Gaga’s songs and videos reflect the attitude of her generation. They sound and look very artificial otherwise is her choreography, especially her last video (Fernando), very ambitious, well, I would even say quite imaginative. I do not believe that Lauper had ever had the idea of dancing in a way Gaga performs it on stage an in her videos. Presumably, she was influenced by Madonna who brought it back to the stage so it became mainstream again. Four stars. Not bad. http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2010/feb/19/lady-gaga-concert-review
hwave@web.de 09/23/2010
5. it's time to set limits
I really agree with the message, that it is time, to stand up now against money-driven porn-style in pop world. Pop stars have a huge influence on our children and that is the focus of Lady Guttenberg: protect our youngest against porn-styled behaviour, porn-styled body moves and porn-dresses. ( to pick just this certain point ) At certain points our society needs wake-up calls for limitations and i' m glad, that this book has the timing, to remind us, to think about this pop star porn wave sexism influence on our younger children and do something against it.
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