Recently, Lady Gaga drew strong criticism for a performance in Australia, where among her many costume changes she took the stage and performed a song in a wheelchair.
As the Daily Mail notes, this is not the first time Gaga has used a wheelchair as a prop. She also used one for her video “Paparazzi.” Her explanation at the time: she intended to “show the hilarity to which people will fame-whore themselves.”
While Gaga may feel that she is mocking celebrities and “fame-whores” and people with disabilities themselves, these incidents still reek of disrespect. They are perfectly illustrative of the lack of sensitivity that most people have for those with disabilities.
As another example of how this insensitivity is widespread, GQ Magazine recently published a list of the worst-dressed cities. Boston was ranked number one, suffering, claimed the editors, from “style down syndrome.” The offensive post has been taken down from GQ’s website, but how did this crude offense slip through in the first place?
Lady Gaga is an outspoken activist for gay rights and has long branded herself as a champion for those who can’t speak for themselves. That even she would flippantly use a wheelchair in a performance for shock value is disheartening. Furthermore, the lack of broader outrage or even notice of her insensitivity says much about how seriously disabilities issues are taken in our culture.
The greatest challenge facing those with disabilities is a lack of understanding and respect in mainstream society. This episode and the GQ matter are sadly demonstrative of that fact.