News of the cancellation of the Lady Gaga concert scheduled for early June in Jakarta, Indonesia is receiving a lullingly uniform spin in the American and international media. It is, we are told, a morality play about the triumph of radical Islamism over artistic freedom, and a disturbing omen of Indonesia’s supposed slide into religious fanaticism.
In reality, however, the negative response to Gaga’s hypersexualized and iconoclastic performances was not isolated to extremists, nor to the country of Indonesia. Gaga’s religion-insulting concert tour and other, similar forms of entertainment are increasingly ill-received throughout the region of Southeast Asia and beyond, and reflect a growing indignation at what is perceived as an American cultural imperialism that treats the moral values of other countries with contempt.
Blame for the Jakarta fiasco is being assigned to an organization known as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a hard-line Muslim group known for its clashes with Christians and its strict interpretation of the Koran. According to the International Crisis Group, a peacemaking organization whose verdict on the affair is being quoted by the Associated Press, it is “clear that there wouldn’t have been a thought of canceling the concert” if the FPI and other extremist groups hadn’t “mobilized” to stop it.
The FPI and kindred groups, however, were not at all alone in their opposition to the Jakarta concert. In fact, it was vigorously opposed by a dozen other Islamic organizations, including the Indonesian Ulema Council, the highest Muslim authority in a country known for its moderate religious temperament.
Moreover, opposition to Gaga’s performance didn’t stop at the border of Indonesia. In fact the tour, dubbed the “Born this Way Ball” in reference to Gaga’s scientifically-unsubstantiated claim that homosexuals are born with their “gay” orientation, has provoked protests in multiple countries in the region, mostly by Christian groups.
In the Philippines, Gaga’s appearance elicited responses from Catholics and Protestants that were similar to those exhibited by Muslims in Indonesia. Catholic Archbishop Ramon Arguelles warned that “[Gaga’s] fans are in danger of falling into the clutches of Satan,” and advocated a boycott. An Evangelical pastor who organized a large protest in downtown Manila against the event called Lady Gaga “the icon of a new religion of defamation of our faith, desecration of everything holy and deception to our young people.”
The Manila-area concert was only permitted by government officials after they issued a warning to Gaga regarding acts that might be considered lewd or offensive to morals or religion, promising to act against the singer if she broke public decency laws. The admonitions failed to placate a crowd of hundreds of protesters who attempted to march on the concert, and were stopped by police a kilometer away. A similar response in South Korea, where hundreds of Christians participated in organized protests against a Gaga concert, led to a prohibition of attendance by anyone under the age of 18.
Such uprisings against American cultural hegemony and anti-religious provocations are not limited to Asia; other countries are also exhibiting a willingness to fight the corrupting influences of foreign “artists” who attack public morals. In Russia, Madonna has been warned that she may be fined if she uses her upcoming performance in St. Petersburg to promote the homosexual agenda. In France, increasingly large groups of Catholics are protesting “Christophobic” plays from abroad that desecrate sacred images and insult Christian beliefs. In liberal Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is warning that the government will cut its grants to theaters in response to a Chilean play called The Obscene Secrets of Every Day, and other offensive works.
Lady Gaga should hardly be surprised at the reaction of Asian Christians and Muslims to her on-stage antics, which she has repeatedly acknowledged are calculated to generate controversy, and which serve her economic interests as a publicity-seeking entertainer. Americans, however, have apparently become so jaded and desensitized to the routine obscenity of such “pop artists” that we can no longer comprehend the reaction of ordinary people in countries that are still imbued with the values of religious piety, a sense of the sacred, and a visceral desire to protect their children from unhealthy influences.
Generations of American parents have blithely surrendered their children to the tender mercies of industries that openly profit by corrupting their morals, selling them a hedonistic and degraded understanding of human sexuality at the most vulnerable moment in their psychosexual development. Our cultural “race to the bottom” is justified by a libertarian ideology that deifies individual freedom at the expense of public morals, a concept that has almost disappeared from American jurisprudence. The resulting ethos is reflected in almost every manifestation of mass media, from movies and television to music, video games, and the Internet. Americans have been breathing this poisoned atmosphere for so long that they have become almost incapable of moral outrage, and are unable to interpret such indignation when it manifests itself abroad.
The true issue raised by the Gaga affair in Southeast Asia is not one of religious extremism or the sanctity of freedom of speech, themes often used by Americans to explain away the recalcitrance of foreigners in the face of our cultural exports. It is, rather, our own moral and spiritual decline, which has created a gulf between ourselves and peoples who continue to maintain the values we have abandoned, values that are essential to the health of any society.