Going Gaga: Jack Halberstam speaks on the end of "normal"

Posted by Sarah Barry

Jack Halberstam was met with a nearly full auditorium at his lecture, "Gaga Feminism, Sex, Gender and the End of Normal," which took place March 1 in Gannett Auditorium.

"Look at this full house for a gender studies event!" said Holly Jackson, assistant professor of the English department, who introduced Halberstam.

The lecture focused on the ways societal norms are changing and disappearing. Halberstam used Lady Gaga as an example of a figure who has broken away from the norms of popular culture and who has impacted sex, gender and feminism. "In her live performances she does literally go gaga," Halberstam said. Lady Gaga's eccentricity paired with her popularity demonstrate a broad social departure from traditional norms, a shift that Halberstam sees throughout society. 

"There are all kinds of signs in the world that the normal doesn't exist," Halberstam said.

Halberstam spoke for the Karen L. Coburn Lecture in memory of the co-author of the book "Letting Go: A Parent's Guide to Understanding the College Years." The lecture seeks to raise awareness and promote dialogue about gender studies on campus. Halberstam is a professor of English, American studies and ethnicity and gender studies at the University of Southern California.

Halberstam explored  the concept of Low Theory throughout the lecture. He explained that Low Theory is focused on communicating a given idea to a greater body of people; too often in academia, information is communicated in a manner that is difficult to comprehend. The goal of Low Theory is not to reduce a given message to banal terms but to find a middle ground that makes intellectual ideas and academic work accessible to a larger population. 

"Low Theory is about trying to bring along as many people as possible," Halberstam said. 

Halberstam also highlighted the Occupy Wall Street movement as a new form of protest for change. According to Halberstam, the unique aspect of the Occupy Wall Street was that the protesters refused to use normal protest politics. The protest was about the spectacle and the visual; protesters did not want anything and they did not do anything – they just occupied a space.

"We are allowed to think about alternatives," Halberstam said. "The point is to smash the normal in belief of alternatives."

Halberstam said that he was not in support of Lady Gaga's own manifesto. Rather, Lady Gaga serves as an example of change. Halberstam is interested in the way someone can find a way into society and do something transformative similar to the way Lady Gaga has influenced popular culture.

Halberstam was bold throughout the lecture, stating that he was not the person to ask for practical or pragmatic answers. "My project is really about taking risks," Halberstam said. Yet, Halberstam used a variety of media such as a clip from Wes Anderson's "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and a video of Lady Gaga performing with Yoko Ono to reach the audience and communicate his message. 

Attendees spoke with The Skidmore News after the event regarding Halberstam's lecture.  "The lecture was engaging and the use of humor was really good. I was fascinated with the idea of Low Theory – it's something that should be addressed more here," Molly O'Brian '12 said.

"It raised a lot of important issues for our generation. But I think that there are points particularly in her conclusion that were problematic and in need of critique - in particular the idea that violence is a necessary component of change," Stephen Bissonnette '12 said.

Catherine Golden, professor of the English Department, commented on the variety of tactics and aids Halberstam used throughout the lecture. "[Halberstam] was articulate, funny, smart, engaging, conformable and open to thoughts, [and] well researched. The lecture was provocative and has me thinking about a range of new ideas," said Golden. 

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