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.
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.
- Part 1: Why Germany's Conservatives Can't Be Cool
- Part 2: The Hypocrisy of Lady Guttenberg