Stripper wigs and bizarre makeup aside, the great costumed one — Lady Gaga, that is — just may be a genius. Yes, a genius I say, and a political genius at that.
I was driving down the road the other day, and Lady Gaga’s pop hit “Edge of Glory” came on the radio. Now, I’ve heard the song before but I’ve never really listened to it. You know how it is; the music is playing in the background, and maybe you hum along to a few bars, but you don’t really get into it. For whatever reason this particular day though, I actually listened to the lyrics of the song.
As I listened, it hit me: Lady Gaga sounded like she was singing a John F. Kennedy speech or something.
Today we say that man is a social animal, but what we really mean is that man is a political animal. Back when the idea of politics was born over two millennia ago, there was no such thing as “society” per se, merely the public and the private. It is in the public realm that early political philosophers believed we interact with each other and where we reveal our character. It is in the public realm where the action happens.
This public interaction and revelation of our public selves to other people is what the ancient Greeks called politics. Without boring you with too much etymology, suffice it to say it is no coincidence our word “politics” closely resembles the ancient Greek word “polis” which meant a group of citizens, and “democracy” which is related to the ancient Greek word “dimos” or “dimosios,” meaning the public and the public realm.
“It’s hard to feel the rush, to brush the dangerous,” Lady Gaga sings.
Interacting in public entails people getting to know an aspect of who you are. This public character could be genuine, it could be a total fabrication, or a combination of both. For most people, it’s a combination of both. Either way, that exposure entails risk.
Letting people get to know you is dangerous. They could reject you; they could slander you; they could outright hate you. But on the other hand the risk might pay off. You might strike a chord with others; you may stumble upon a purpose that drives you for the rest of your life. And when you do — when you take that risk and hit a home run — it’s the greatest rush in the world.
Humping the air perched atop a window sill in the video, dressed like some low budget sci-fi peeping tom, Gaga proclaims: “I’m gonna run right to, to the edge with you. ... I’m on the edge of something final we call life tonight.”
In 1944, the Journal of the Royal Aeronautical Society published an article about flight, in which it defined a “flight envelope” as “all probable conditions for symmetrical maneuvering flight.” Eventually, after this, any time a pilot pushed and exceeded the mathematical limits of his aircraft and made it do things it was theoretically incapable of, he was said to be “pushing the envelope.” In pushing the envelope, he was clearly living on the edge.
A political person lives life the same way. The character of action is random, out on the tip of the spear, beyond the integer. You never know what’s going to happen when you start acting with others because life and people are unpredictable. A truly political person lives on the edge of possibility; he doesn’t have a plan, he just says, “What the hell,” jumps into a situation and sees what comes of it, much like a daring pilot pushes the limits of his craft.
“I’m on the edge of glory, and I’m hanging on a moment of truth. Out on the edge of glory, and I’m hanging on a moment with you,” her fabulousness repeats in the refrain.
The rewards of taking risks and living on the edge are the most glorious of all we can experience as human beings. We are at our best and achieve our finest moments when we act together. The American Revolution, our Constitution, World War II, the space program, civil rights reform. The list goes on. The common thread running through all of these magnificent events is that they are all feats of greatness made possible by our political interaction, during our continual pursuit of human truths.
Out there on the edge of possibilities, hanging on the moment with each other, we find the greatest, purest expressions of our individual and collective public character. Out there beyond the curve we find politics. And while Lady Gaga may think she’s singing about love in “Edge of Glory,” she’s still singing about being political. Like two new lovers come together to create new possibilities, so do we when we come together to govern ourselves.
Hopefully I’ll see you out there on the edge of glory someday. I want to be on the edge with you, right on the limits where we know we both belong. Let’s kiss the other side, shall we?