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The Freedom of Anonymity

As I was browsing through facebook this morning, I came across a post which showcased some amazing “parallel” photos of war-torn parts of the world juxtaposed with pictures from our relatively over-privileged “first world problem” life. I was really enjoying the art, as it was jolting and thought provoking. However, when I came across this picture (which I traced all the way back to the source so properly credit the photo), I had an unexpected response. First, I realized, it was the only post that used an identifiable celebrity. Second, I have a soft place in my heart for Lady Gaga so I was contemplating what the artist could have possibly meant by making this photo and if he chose this photo because of her or because it fit into his vision of what he wanted to convey. Finally, I (unfortunately) could not stop myself from reading some of the comments that were associated with this picture circulating on facebook. After reading these comments, I was saddened and sickened by what some people have to say about fame, fortune, privilege, and of course, Lady Gaga herself.

When I look at this artwork, I see a young child who is wounded from a bomb attack, reaching out to show affection to [the woman who is actually sitting next to him]. Now the child is showing affection to a woman who is crying tears of joy and disbelief that she has accomplished something she has worked hard for her entire life – And if anyone listened to Lady Gaga’s acceptance speech at the Academy Awards earlier this year, you will know that this has been one of the highest points in her career thus far.

While some comments about this photo on facebook did have positive things to say, most of the comments were rude, disrespectful, and demeaning to the person “used” for the photo – and I’m not talking about the child… While many of these disrespectful comments had everything to do with her wealth, the value of the jewellery she was wearing, how she is so overly privileged and really has no idea what it’s means to be “poor,” etc. One comment really struck a chord with me: “Lady Gaga said “Fame is Prison” and is basically comparing her life to the lives of people in war prisons who have had their basic human rights and dignity stolen from them. How can she even compare her life to that?” If I could have reached through the screen of my phone and flicked the face of that person, I would have, and here’s why:

Just over 4 weeks ago, I had the amazing opportunity to see Lady Gaga perform Live. During her performance, she actually made mention of this comment she put on social media and the immense backlash she got from people about it. Before she even went into how upsetting it was for people to judge her and assume that they know what her life is like, I felt my heart sink for her. Here was this beautiful, confident, extremely talented, hard working, wealthy, and famous woman standing before me (and an entire audience) and all she is to any of us is “Lady Gaga.” When you strip away all of the costumes, music, fortune, and fame, she is a regular human being like the rest of us. And what are the things that all us normal people want? I’ll tell you: we want love, belonging, connection, understanding, respect, and freedom.

Freedom: That’s the real issue here, isn’t is? That person’s comment above – where they mentioned that Lady Gaga was comparing herself to people who have had their freedom taken away – I wonder if she enjoys the freedom afforded to her by the sheer fact of being anonymous. Being famous means you are never just the plain old person you want to be: instead, you are always on display, always being followed, always being photographed, always being interpreted and valued for who people think you are instead of for who you actually are.

Do you want to go out to a movie with some friends?
No, you can’t because if you are noticed in public, you will have crowds around you instantly.
Do you want to sit outside in your backyard and enjoy the weather?
No, you can’t because there might be someone hiding in the trees waiting to take photos of you.
Do you want to go to Starbucks and get a coffee?
No, you can’t because you have a stalker who knows your every move.
What about dinner with your family?
No, can’t do that either, because you might attract that mob yet again.
Do you want to just go for a walk, outside, in the fresh air?
No. See all of the above.
Do you want to complain about your life on social media (like everyone else does)?
No, you can’t because you will be scrutinized to the core and criticized to no end.

I might love my job and the (small) luxuries that it will afford me one day. But I don’t know if it would ever be worth sacrificing the personal freedom that comes with nobody knowing who I am. This freedom also means that when I meet a new person, I am a blank slate, waiting to impress upon that person who I am and what I am worth on the inside, without a big sign on my face saying “Hey, I’m someone famous, and that’s the only thing that should matter to you.” Interestingly, Lady Gaga (whom I will refer to as Stefani for the rest of my post, because that’s her “real” name) made almost this exact comment at her show; she said “before you give up your life to do what you love, you better make sure that you love it enough.”

I can see where the criticism of these comments can come from. Sure, Stefani is rich, she has enough money to pay for anything she wants… if that doesn’t make her happy, then she should give all her money away to people who will appreciate it more. People like to say that “money buys happiness” but I don’t think that statement can be further from the truth. Many wealthy people are decidedly unhappy – and especially those in the movie and music industry (why do you think addiction and mental health issues are so prevalent in that population?). I’d prefer to say that “Money buys opportunity.” Opportunity is what affords the benefits in life that could lead down the path to happiness. Of course, money buys you food, clothing, and pays your rent, among other things. However, everything else that you spend money on is only an opportunity for joy and happiness. Unfortunately, happiness doesn’t always come with those opportunities.

And what would I, a newly graduated physician, know about money and opportunity (or really, the lack thereof)? True, I may have always had my basic necessities in life taken care of; but, I did come from a family that had very little to spare. I worked my way up, with little help from those around me, to this place I’m at now. And even though I’m here, I’m behind many of my colleagues because they had a better start than I did. I know it’s still not intense poverty or serious financial struggle that some people face, but I do know what it’s like to not have what allows the people around you to move forward when you’re stuck in a place you con’t want to be.

And, what do I know about Stefani, the real person behind Lady Gaga? What gives me the right to spout truth in defence of her and her humanity? Well, I don’t know her personally, and I don’t know more about her than what’s available for any other person with an internet connection to know about her. But I see her.

I see the woman who worked her fingers to the bone to accomplish her life long dreams, despite the obstacles that she faced.
I see the teenaged girl who has picked on and harassed at school and didn’t know how to get away from that easily.
I see the young woman who was sexually assaulted and who had to pick herself up and live with the shame of guilt of such trauma.
I see the artist who works extremely hard to write meaningful songs, perform at her highest level all the time, and give nothing but the best to her fans.
I see a woman who endures the difficulty and hardship of a chronic pain disease, but does so with grace.
I see a person who advocates for those who can’t always advocate for themselves.
I see a philanthropist who gives back significant amounts of money to charities, her community, and a foundation that has a simple goal of spreading love and kindness.
I see a remarkable woman who is more than a famous musician.

When you take away the glamour and lights, the make-up and costumes… the fame and fortune, Stefani is a woman who is like any other kind, caring, and everyday woman anywhere else in the world. If only she could be given back the opportunity to just be that – a woman like any other. I don’t think it’s “entitled” or “privileged” or any other derogatory characteristic of a person like Stefani to express how she feels about her position in life, especially when it pertains to her deepest thoughts and emotions. We should be listening to these comments with compassion and empathy, and really trying to understand who she is and why she is saying these things. But instead, all people see is a rich and entitled singer who is complaining about her picture perfect life.

So, to go back to Stefani’s comment about fame being a prison, instead of criticizing this comment and judging her, we should be listening to this woman who is lamenting the loss of her freedom, her anonymity, and the opportunity to live a relatively simple and normal life. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want this back. And, there is no amount of money in the world that can give back a simple life with genuine human connection and belonging. So, if you look at this picture of a crying woman being comforted by a small injured child and all you see is Lady Gaga with a diamond necklace, a beautiful black dress, and an Oscar in her hands, peel back all those layers and try again. What you should see is a woman, who just like the rest of us, has pain, heartbreak, fears, obstacles, and who also has accomplishments worth celebrating. This here is a picture of a little boy comforting a woman who is real down to the core, and who, despite what the rest of the world might think, needs someone to reach out to her every once in a while.