Opinion: Lady Gaga, Mideo Cruz, and Freedom of Expression

Lady Gaga Born This Way Ball in the Philippines. Image from http://www.philippineconcerts.com

I disagree with the idea that the success of the two-night Lady Gaga concert in the Philippines amid protests denouncing her “artistry” attests to our country’s high regard of freedom of expression. That’s a joke. What transpired, despite the favorable ending, is hardly a cause for celebration.

The fact that you have prominent personalities who tried to use their influence to stop the concert reveals how little some of us value artistic freedom. And while it is their right to voice their opinion and organize protests, the vehement opposition to the concert of an artist whose music is played over and over again on television, radio, and the Internet  is just absurd.

Do they really think that watching Lady Gaga perform live on stage would have a different effect from watching her performances on YouTube? Your answer is as good as mine.

Of course the permit given to the organizers of the Lady Gaga concert cites the artist’s freedom of expression. When Pasay City Mayor Antonino Calixto allowed them to proceed with the second show, he said: “Admittedly, some of the statements and choreography were provocative but the content and presentation taken all together can be considered as part of an artist’s expressions” that are protected by the Constitution.

Sure, this is a proof that there was a recognition of the mother monster’s right to perform in this so-called conservative country. I doubt, however, that this was the only reason.

In an interview with GMA News, National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera said that he considers Lady Gaga as a cultural singer, adding that her concert should be allowed to proceed because it’s her right as an artist.

Lumbera’s statement reminds me of the heavily denounced “Kulo” exhibit in the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) last year.

In August 2011, several Christian groups and conservative personalities protested Mideo Cruz’s “Poleteismo,” an art exhibit which showcased, among others, a giant cross with a penis.

Mideo Cruz’ Poleteismo. Photo by Ina Alleco Silverio, Bulatlat.

Like Lady Gaga’s performances, Cruz’ art installation was tagged by a number of prominent Catholic leaders and politicians as blasphemous. Unlike Lady Gaga’s concert, however, Cruz’ exhibit was closed down by the CCP, the very institution that was tasked to protect freedom of artistic expression in the country.

The artistry of Mideo Cruz and Lady Gaga have something in common. But why was the first one shut down, and the other allowed to proceed? I don’t think it was because of the “toned-down” performances of Lady Gaga. (She performed her controversial song “Judas”, for instance.) And definitely not because the authorities recognized the mistakes made when the Kulo exhibit was closed.

Freedom of artistic expression was not a major factor in the decision to allow Lady Gaga to proceed with her concert at the SM Mall of Asia’s The Arena.

It was her prominence, and the money involved in the performances.

Unlike Mideo Cruz, Lady Gaga is the most followed celebrity on social media site Twitter. Unlike Mideo Cruz, Lady Gaga has international recognition and had won numerous awards.

And, unlike Mideo Cruz’ art installation, Lady Gaga’s concert has sold thousands of expensive tickets.

Seriously, why would the sponsors continue to support the international artist’s performances despite the boycott threat of a former Manila lawmaker? I doubt it’s because of their high regard of freedom of artistic expression.

According to Pasay City Mayor Calixto, the performances of Lady Gaga should be taken together and not be interpreted in parts. This was the same assertion made by the advocates who defended Cruz’ exhibit. Where were the likes of Calixto when the CCP board decided to close down Poleteismo?

The recent events beg the questions, what would happen if a small-time, virtually unknown musician performs Judas-like songs in a popular venue like the CCP? What would happen if a Poleteismo-like exhibit of a renowned international artist is featured in the halls of commercial establishments like the SM Mall of Asia?

Definitely, you’d get the same protests from the same group of people. But I’m not sure if you’d get the same results.

We’re far from achieving the so-called “country’s high regard of freedom of artistic expression.” It just so happened that the conservatives tried to censure someone who’s bigger than them. I’d like to see what would happen if we encounter another Mideo Cruz incident in the future.

All this Lady Gaga stuff remind me of a funny quip I’ve read months ago. It asked, would “Friday” be heavily criticized if it was performed by Lady Gaga, and not Rebecca Black?

It’s all about the character. It’s all about the character.

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