Thursday, July 14, 2011
Decades ago, Bette Midler performed a section of her wonderful touring stage show as Dolores Lelago. She performed as a character who is a wheelchair user, who also performs campy numbers in a mermaid costume.
Lady Gaga, the master appropriator of pop culture images, provides a vague homage to Bette in one of her concert costumes, performing in a wheelchair as a mermaid; all in black.
Yet, unlike Bette, Gaga's constant sincerity and infrequent admission of her inspirations (Madonna, Bruce Springsteen) leaves a few confused about her inclusion of a wheelchair as a mere prop, not an integral part of her act, as Midler did for years. A few disability rights groups were not pleased.
Here's a little deconstructive analysis from the wonderful Bootleg Betty site. they also posted a great pic with Midler's funny Tweet: "I’m not sure @ ladygaga knows that I’ve performed my mermaid in a wheelchair for millions of people — and many of them are still alive."
Also, from the website Beauty Ability, comments by its wheelchair-using editor Tiffany Carlson offer a different perspective. Gaga has frequently used disability as a character motif in her videos and stage shows. She's even hired differently-abled dancers in some of her stage acts, and calls her wheelchair-using fans her "Little Rolling Monsters."
I imagine Gaga gets to see those fans when they get seated at concerts close to the stage. Who knows?
UPDATE: People at a recent concert threw eggs onstage during Gag's wheelchair number. Wow.
Obviously, there's a clear line between portraying a handicapped person onstage and being a handicapped performer.
I'm wondering about the responses to 'Every Time I Think of You' from wheelchair users. Will gay people think it's not representative of them? Most of the handicapped people I know are nothing at all like my character Everett.
Will straight people ignore or dismiss it as being too gay? Does the fact that the love interest, and not the narrator, becomes a wheelchair user give me some slack from accusations of misrepresenting?
Perhaps if I were to be a fraud like "JT Leroy" or other lying memoir "authors," I should be concerned. But even some circles resent it when a writer creates fiction that is far removed from his/her life, mostly with issue of race and gender. It should be interesting to see the responses.