Charisma In a Pop Culture Icon
Interpretations of power exist among all cultures with a variety of outlooks. What one does with this power is something society continues to examine. Max Weber conceptualized domination as being able to influence others to follow, believe, or even take in your commands or ideas. He then characterized domination as authority, but only when it was legitimized on the basis of it being traditional, rational legal, or charismatic. What is important to note is the way in which domination turns into authority through legitimization, something that falls heavily on the followers of these authority figures. Traditional authority was based on established beliefs, in which the legitimacy of the leader is passed down by customs, traditions. Power in this realm is present because a person, via family lineage inherits it, for example. Rational legal authority is quite different in terms of authority resting in the position, versus with the person. With rational legal authority, rules and laws govern and are established legally. Charismatic authority is legitimized through its followers because of an individual having qualities strong enough to influence the masses. An individual who posses such charisma has an influence on a wide audience, drawing attention and enabling a following that become loyal to them, their message, and the like. Barack Obama, Oprah, Angelina Jolie, Gandhi would be representative of those with charismatic authority because of their characteristics heavily influencing society.
Interestingly enough, pop culture has iconized individuals whose talents have landed them in film, music, or television. In order to emphasize Max Weber’s notion of charismatic authority we will analyze how a pop superstar has not only used fame to cultivate youth through music and activism, but also managed to garner one of the biggest, ever-growing followings and use that to advance society. Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, which some might know her as Lady Gaga, is an influential and prominent figure in pop culture. What makes Lady Gaga come to mind when discussing Weber and authority is her enormous following and persistent impact in media and culture. Along with her mother Cynthia Germanotta, Lady Gaga established a non-profit organization, the Born This Way Foundation (BTWF), in attempts to “inspire youth and build better communities” and empower everyone “to make a difference in the world” (bornthiswayfoundation.org/pages/our-mission). Lady Gaga’s charismatic authority has mobilized millions of followers to aim for individualistic qualities, while promoting tolerance through activism in order to revolutionize our social world.
Intimacy between leader and follower is of importance when analyzing charismatic authority. Advances in technology and social media have offered individuals of higher prestige and authority standing to be closely intertwined with the community of their followers. Weber describes the “disciples” of this leader to be tied together by some common thread. Lady Gaga’s following has exhibited a loyalty to her and her message from the beginning of her career, banded by ideologies imbedded deeply within her fandom. How does this reciprocation continue to exist between one of the biggest pop stars of our time and ordinary citizens like us? Furthermore, how does one benefit from this loyalty and what can be done with such domination? Mary C. Long reports Twitter being a primary source of interaction between celebrity and devotees. “In the same spirit as Lady Gaga’s Born This Way foundation, Lady Gaga’s Twitter feed promotes kindness, bravery, difference and individuality,” (Long) states Long, in attempts to shed light on how these disciples continue their allegiance to their leader. It is important to remember this interaction when speaking about the BTWF.
Through this iconography and establishment of leader-and-fandom connection, Lady Gaga has been able to use this charismatic authority to establish the BTWF and maintain its mission through various outlets: music, social media, the creation of her own website dubbed “LittleMonsters.com,” and political activism, to name a few. In order to fully comprehend the mission behind such organization, one must result to the work between Lady Gaga and her fans, the inner workings of this relationship, and how charismatic authority is in a constant field of exchange. Weber describes social action to be the exchange of two or more people and how this interaction is meant to be an understanding and create meaning of the actions one takes towards another.
To grasp the structure of an organization like the BTWF, one must first result to the ideal type form of social action Weber considered as emotional. This emotional form of social action considers choice based on emotional impulses and feelings. This interaction between Lady Gaga and her fans, which she calls “Little Monsters,” seems to coincide with Weber’s emotional form of social action. Thus, allowing for such organization to exist as the support stems from a common source. Fans who “identified as victims of bullying claimed the star ‘instilled strength in them through her acceptance of their differences, which gave them a reason to live,’” (Long) a common notion among those who continue to support this foundation for the very sake of providing youth with “skills and opportunities they need to build a kinder, braver world” all while “[moving] towards acceptance, bravery and love” (bornthiswayfoundation.org/pages/our-mission).
Empowering youth and working towards tolerance and acceptance of individuality is at the core of what the Born This Way Foundation, Lady Gaga, and her followers believe in. This is rather progressive when incorporating social media and pushing society towards a kinder place.
Long, Mary C. 2014. “Smart Marketers ‘Go Gaga’ On Twitter To Increase Following.” Social
Times. Web. 7 Feb. 2014