An Analysis of Lady Gaga’s “Prime Rib of America”
On a Monday in September 2010, pop music sensation Lady Gaga delivered what was arguably the most political public address of her career. She spoke to a crowd of fans in Portland, Maine, arguing that the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy approves inequality, and denies some Americans the privilege of joining the military. Dressed in a black blazer, star-spangled tie, wide-rimmed glasses, and appearing on stage against the backdrop of a billowing American flag, Gaga delivered an impassioned appeal to end the ban on openly gay and lesbian military service members. “I’m here because don’t ask don’t tell is wrong, it’s unjust and fundamentally it is against all that we stand for as Americans.” While I applaud her passionate speech she delivered, support her stance on the issue, and appreciate her as a talented musical artist, her argument had some major flaws. She uses weak analogies, provides little evidence to back up her claims, and made several fallacies throughout her speech. There are some advantages of a famous celebrity revealing her political opinions to a crowd that may not be so aware, however I believe that speaking about politics is not one of Lady Gaga’s strongest proficiencies.
Gaga inserted several weak metaphoric analogies throughout her speech, and repeated each one several times in their context. The analogies seemed to engulf her ideas entirely, leaving the reader more confused than before. Her first analogy is made obvious in her title “Prime Rib of America”, as well as in her first paragraph of writing. “Equality is the prime rib of america, but because I’m gay, I don’t get to enjoy the greatest cut of meat my country has to offer.” Generally the purpose of an analogy is to explain an unfamiliar concept by comparing it to an idea we as readers understand. Gaga compares equality to prime rib: two very different things with a weak connection to her audience. She concludes that “prime rib” (aka equality) is the most sought for, but does everyone eat meat? Does everyone believe equality is as important? Maybe I’m being too literal with the comparison, but these two ideas seem strung together by a small thread (there’s my analogy for you). Her next analogy comes towards the end of her speech:
“If you serve this country, is it acceptable to be a cafeteria American solider? Can you choose some things from the Constitution to put on your plate, but not others? A buffet, perhaps…Should the military be allowed to treat Constitutional rights like a cafeteria? In the military, is it acceptable to be a cafeteria American? What I mean to say is, should soldiers and the government be able to pick and choose what we are fighting for in the Constitution or who we are fighting for?”
When reading the first couple sentences of this analogy, it made sense, but didn’t seem entirely clever or creative. Equality is in the constitution which we are to abide by, yet the military leaders do not treat homosexuals with the same equal respect. Thus they are soldiers in a cafeteria selectively choosing which constitutional rights appear most delicious? Personally, I believe analogies should be clever, comparing two ideas nearly identical in format. Gaga gets off track towards the end of this analogy when she brings up what the soldiers are “fighting for”. Her argument is not related to what they are fighting for, rather, it’s about equality in the military: choosing to honor some rights while ignoring others. By the end of her cafeteria analogy, I was left confused. She repeated herself several times, then explained what her analogy meant, which defeats the purpose of using it to begin with.
Just when I thought she was done with these ridiculous analogies, she combined both in her last paragraph:
“I’m here today in this park, in Maine, to say that, if the Senate and the president are not going to repeal this “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, perhaps they should be more clear with us about who the military is fighting for, who our tax dollars are supporting and, ultimately, how much does the prime rib cost? Because I thought this was an “all you can eat” buffet. This equality stuff, I thought equality meant everyone. But apparently, for certain value meals, for certain civil rights, I have to pay extra, because I’m gay.”
After reading this speech I could clearly conclude that Lady Gaga loves eating, especially carnivorous meats. In this passage she brings up the “cost” of equality, which is another irrelevant issue. The speech summed up to be a giant meat analogy, concluding with her farewell line: “Shouldn’t everyone deserve the right to wear the same meat dress that I did?” She repeats the metaphors so frequently that they lose meaning, and the reader gets easily confused and entangled in her speech.
Even though she made use of some weak analogies, she still manages to connect with her audience. Lady Gaga has a stage presence, and her fans undoubtedly love her and listen to what she has to say. She is a famous celebrity, which in some cases to a young adult or teenager, is more of a role model than a politician. When watching the live speech to see it’s effectiveness, I wasn’t surprised to see the crowd cheering her on after every sentence. Even though her fans support what she says, she doesn’t provide any evidence to support her claims. There was one section in particular where she connected with the audience using pathos techniques, and really began to belt out her opinions passionately:
“Doesn’t it seem to you that we should send home the prejudiced, the straight soldier who hates the gay soldier, the straight soldier whose performance in the military is affected because he is homophobic, the straight soldier who has prejudice in his heart, in the space where the military asks him to hold our core American values, he instead holds and harbors hate, and he gets to stay and fight for our country? He gets the honor, but we gay soldiers, who harbor no hatred, no prejudice, no phobia, we’re sent home? I am here today because I would like to propose a new law; a law that sends home the soldier that has the problem. Our new law is called ‘if you don’t like it, go home.’”
This section of the speech stood out as most powerful due to it’s direct pathos emotional connection to how homosexuals are effected by the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. Her opinions are there, however the only authoritative stance she has to back herself up is that many of her fans are homosexual. Gaga does not have the authority to speak about straight soldiers in such a negative demeaning way because she is not affiliated with America’s military, and has not fought in a war to gain the perspective of a straight soldier. She also doesn’t provide any examples to back up her opinions; maybe if she had a story from the perspective of a homosexual soldier, the reader would be more persuaded. On BBC’s news website, I found an article written by Peter Tatchell, Private officer in the military. Tatchell shares a few comments about how mistreated homosexual soldiers were in the military, including himself: “They used us when it suited them, and then victimized us when the country was no longer in danger. I am glad I served but I am angry that military homophobia was allowed to wreck so many lives for over 50 years after we gave our all for a freedom that gay people were denied.” If Gaga had used a personal pathos example similar to this, her argument would be far more believable.
There is only one instance where Lady Gaga uses an outside source to back up her opinions. She states that John McCain and other republican senators use homophobia as a defense for their argument, thereby rationalizing the discrimination of gay soldiers because some soldiers are homophobic. She goes on to give an example:
“‘We have a problem with you.’ Wasn’t that the defense of Matthew Shepard’s murderers? When they left him to die on a fence in Laramie, they told the judge, ‘Oh, Matthew’s gay, and it made us uncomfortable, so we killed him.’ ‘Oh, [Soldier] he’s gay, it makes me uncomfortable, send him home.’ Both Matthew Shepard’s killers have life sentences in prison, and laws have since been passed that homophobia cannot be used as defense anymore in hate crimes in our judicial system.”
With this passage Gaga attempted to prove the point that homophobia is being used as reasoning for the unfair treatment of homosexuals. While the homicide of Matthew Shepard can be related to the discrimination of homosexuals in the military, there is a gap between the two cases. The homicide was a hate crime that occurred over twenty years ago resulting in the death of a young boy, where as the homosexual soldiers are being sent home un-harmed. Towards the end of her passage she starts talking about Shepard’s killers, which doesn’t directly relate to her argument. This creates a red herring fallacy, or when an irrelevant side issue is raised to divert attention from the real issue, changing the focus of the argument. She takes our attention away from the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy and begins talking about the results from the Matthew Shepard case without tying it into her argument.
One of the main issues with Lady Gaga’s speech is that she calls all straight soldiers who don’t repeal the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy homophobic. This is an example of the either/or fallacy, which occurs when the author says that there are only two options when there are actually more. It could also be considered an ad hominem fallacy, when a person or group is attacked instead of focusing on the issue or argument being made.
“Our new law is called “if you don’t like it, go home.” A law that discharges the straight soldier with the issue, the law that discharges the soldier with the real problem, the homophobic soldier that has the real negative effect on unit cohesion. A law that sends home the homophobe, a law that sends home the prejudiced. A law that doesn’t prosecute the gay soldier who fights for equality with no problem, but prosecutes the straight soldier who fights against it.”
Either the soldiers are homosexual and not being given equal rights, or they’re homophobic straight soldiers that are prejudiced towards the homosexuals. What happened to the middle ground? Is every straight solder in the military “afraid” of homosexuals? Are all straight soldiers bothered by having homosexual soldiers in the military? Instead of ruling out that “middle” group, the soldiers in the military who don’t mind homosexuals, she could have suggested that they help repeal the DADT policy. By implying that every straight solider is homophobic and should go home for having a “problem”, she attacks that group of soldiers, and gives reason for them not to support her claims.
In conclusion, when reviewing Lady Gaga’s speech, it’s clear she used many logical fallacies and made claims without supporting evidence. But was her activist speech effective? According to the Service Members Legal Defense Network, a group dedicated to “ending discrimination and harassment of military personnel affected by ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,'” it was. Lady Gaga encouraged listeners to check out the SLDN website, and within 72 hours after her speech, the group said 107,159 people clicked on its site, 93 percent of them newcomers. How could a speech with so many flaws be so effective? The answer is in her fame. When it comes down to it, her fans will support her and listen to her opinions no matter how ill-supported they are. If she hadn’t given her speech, many people who don’t normally follow politics would not be aware of the DADT policy and it’s effects. By making her fans more aware of the policy, even if her argument wasn’t logically convincing, she was able to create interest in the repeal. What people need to be aware of is that in the future, if more celebrities begin to vocalize their opinions, they could fall victim to faulty reasoning and end up supporting false claims.
Kirszner, Laurie G., and Stephen R. Mandell. Practical Argument: A Text and Anthology. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011. Print. pgs 113-123
“Lady Gaga’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Speech: The Full Transcript – Music, Celebrity, Artist News | MTV.” New Music Videos, Reality TV Shows, Celebrity News, Top Stories | MTV. MTV Top Stories, 20 Sept. 2010. Web. 18 Feb. 2012. <http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1648304/lady-gagas-dont-ask-dont-tell-speech-full-transcript.jhtml>.
Tatchell, Peter. “BBC – WW2 People’s War – A Gay Soldier’s Story.” BBC – Homepage. Web. 18 Feb. 2012. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/36/a2688636.shtml>.
Drake, Bruce. “Lady Gaga’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Activism Is Getting Results.” Politics News and Opinion on The Huffington Post. Politics Daily, Feb. 2011. Web. 18 Feb. 2012. <http://www.politicsdaily.com/2010/09/16/lady-gagas-dont-ask-dont-tell-activism-is-getting-results/>.